Draft wait, see for Razorbacks

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, June 5, 2014
Chris Oliver pitches for Arkansas during the game against Eastern Illinois at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville on Saturday Feb. 22, 2014.
Photo by Ben Goff
Chris Oliver pitches for Arkansas during the game against Eastern Illinois at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville on Saturday Feb. 22, 2014.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Major League Baseball's amateur draft starts with the first two rounds and compensatory picks tonight at 6 p.m., which means the great balancing act will begin for college coaches across the land.

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn expects to lose standout juniors like second baseman Brian Anderson, first baseman Eric Fisher and pitchers Chris Oliver, Jalen Beeks and Michael Gunn, as well as some of the team's signees.

MLB Amateur Draft

WHAT Major-league baseball’s amateur draft for first-year players. 40 rounds.

WHEN Today-Saturday

SCHEDULE Today: Rounds 1-2 and compensatory picks (6 p.m.). Friday: Rounds 3-10 (noon). Saturday: Rounds 11-40 (noon).

TV MLB Network

NOTEWORTHY The Houston Astros have the first pick of the draft. … The Braves, Orioles, Rangers and Yankees forfeited their first-round picks after making free-agent signings.

Other current Razorbacks -- like reliever Jacob Stone, outfielders Joe Serrano and Tyler Spoon and possibly shortstop Brett McAfee -- and additional signees are likely to be drafted, but perhaps not high enough to meet the financial criteria they have established for signing professional contracts.

It is that brush with the unknown, which affects the makeup of their 2015 rosters, that makes college coaches edgy this time of the year.

"I'm not going to sit around and watch my computer or listen to it, I'm just going to work and try to find some players for the future," said Van Horn, who will be recruiting in Oklahoma during Friday's second day of the draft. "But it's very nerve wracking, make or break.

"One guy can make a huge difference. Like in football, you get the quarterback or you don't. Basketball, you get the 6-9 or 6-11 center that can just change the whole dynamics of your offense or your pitching staff.

"There are a lot of good times and a lot of heartbreak in recruiting."

Baseball America ranks Oliver No. 66, Anderson No. 69 and Beeks No. 125 among the top 500 players available in the draft.

Van Horn said he has received a few calls from major-league teams regarding Oliver's arrest early Tuesday morning on a DWI charge, but Van Horn said he expects the 6-4 right-hander from Farmington will probably be taken in the same range of the draft he was originally projected, possibly in the second round or in the compensation picks after the first round.

"What's it going to cost him? It might cost him a little bit of money, but time will tell," Van Horn said. "Chris is a good kid, but when he got off the bus here he probably felt that was it. He wasn't going to be a part of the Razorback baseball team and he's going to be a professional in a couple of days and he went out and did what he did. A bad choice.

"Everybody makes mistakes, and I'm sure that's the way Major League Baseball will look at it. They know that he doesn't have issues. They just know that he made a mistake."

Beeks, a left-hander from Prairie Grove, was inactive for nearly a month before throwing 77 pitches and striking out 9 in 5 shutout innings Sunday in Arkansas' 10-0 victory over Bucknell, hours before the Razorbacks were eliminated by Virginia.

"If I come back next year, I don't really know what's going to happen with that, but Arkansas is my dream," Beeks said Sunday night. "That was my first dream. Whatever after that is a bonus."

Van Horn said he was pleased to see Beeks pitch pain-free on the last day of Arkansas' 40-25 season.

"For him to go out there and throw five scoreless innings, strike out nine, it's going to help him in the draft," Van Horn said. "They're going to know he's healthy."

Van Horn said he thinks Anderson has the tools pro teams are looking for and could go in the top three rounds. Arkansas signee Keaton McKinney, a right-handed pitcher from Ankey, Iowa, is ranked No. 80 and could go early as well.

"McKinney is a very, very good student and if we could keep him that would be huge," Van Horn said.

Catcher Nathan Rodriguez of Placentia, Calif., is ranked No. 176, outfielder Luke Bonfield of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is No. 187 and left-handed pitcher/first baseman Sam Hentges of Arden Hills, Minn., is No. 213. Right-handed pitcher Jonah Patten of Ossian, Ind., is also highly regarded and could be chosen in the draft.

Van Horn called the 6-6 Hentges a guy Arkansas desperately wants.

"If he goes in the first three rounds, he'll sign," Van Horn said. "If he doesn't, I think we've got a good shot at keeping him."

Any or all of the signees could be offered enough money to forego college baseball, particularly the pitchers.

"Right now there's just an arms race," Van Horn said. "Watch how many high school pitchers are drafted tomorrow and the next day. There are a lot of them out there, and they [major-league teams] want to get them before we do."

Sports on 06/05/2014