8 things to know about Arkansas baseball's 2017 early signing class

By: Matt Jones
Published: Thursday, November 17, 2016
Bryant relief pitcher Austin Kelly warms up against Conway Friday, May 20, 2016, during the Class 7A state championship game at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Bryant relief pitcher Austin Kelly warms up against Conway Friday, May 20, 2016, during the Class 7A state championship game at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas has officially announced 19 players who have signed from the high school class of 2017.

The players signed with the Razorbacks during the early signing period. More could sign in the spring, although spring signees typically consist more of junior college transfers.

“We feel like we achieved what we wanted with this class,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “It’s a great class that is going to help us continue to build for the future. I think this is a top five class given the amount of talent that each player brings to the table. Each of them adds some depth to our roster and we think a lot of them can play right away.”

Here are eight things to know about Arkansas' newest group of signees:

Ranking: Perfect Game rates the Razorbacks' class No. 8 nationally behind Florida International, Florida, Miami, Vanderbilt, LSU, Southern Cal and TCU.

Stars of the class: As always, the Razorbacks' class will be impacted by the MLB Draft next June. Cole Turney is the jewel of the class and is expected to be a high-round draft pick (possibly first round). Others to watch include pitchers Hunter Milligan and Jackson Rutledge, infielder Bryce Bonnin and outfielder Alerick Soularie. All are rated 10 out 10 by Perfect Game. Catcher Casey Opitz and outfielder Evan Hooper received ratings of 9.5. According to Perfect Game, a 10 rating indicates a player could be a very high draft pick, while a rating of 9.5 indicates a player could be drafted in the top 10 rounds.

SEC steals: Three of the four left-handed pitchers in the class were once committed to other SEC programs. Hunter Milligan switched his commitment from Mississippi State to Arkansas when the Razorbacks hired away Bulldogs pitching coach Wes Johnson earlier this year. Dakota Bennett was committed to Alabama's previous coaching staff, but committed to the Razorbacks after attending the Arkansas-Alabama football game in October. Daniel Tillo played for Kentucky in 2015 before transferring to Iowa Western College last season. Tillo was also a standout basketball player in high school and was named Iowa's Mr. Basketball as a senior after scoring more than 2,000 career points.

Texas ties: Arkansas signed eight players from the state of Texas, mostly from the Dallas and Houston areas. The Razorbacks have strong recruiting ties in the state. Hitting coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Vitello previously spent three seasons in the same capacity at TCU, and pitching coach Wes Johnson spent four seasons at Dallas Baptist. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn played junior college baseball in Waco, Texas, and began his coaching career at Texarkana Community College.

Kansas City ties: Arkansas signed two players from the Kansas City area this season. Expect that trend to continue in future years. The Razorbacks have five more players from the Kansas City area verbally committed to future classes. Arkansas will attempt to reinforce its presence in the city in 2017 when it is scheduled to play Kansas State at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Royals. Van Horn grew up near Kansas City in Grandview, Mo.

In-state talent stays home: Arkansas signed the top four prospects from the state, as rated by PrepBaseballReport.com. The website rates Casey Martin as the state's best player in the class of 2017, followed by Hunter Milligan, Evan Hooper and Austin Kelly.

Bonds coming home: Left-handed pitcher Dylan Bonds is originally from Arkansas. He grew up near Conway before his family moved to Tennessee prior to his sophomore year of high school.

What's in a name: Arkansas signed a pitcher named Jackson Rutledge for the second consecutive year. The Razorbacks had a left-hander by the same name go through fall practice this year. That Jackson Rutledge is from Louisiana.

2017 Signees

Dakota Bennett, LHP, 6-3, 170, Eva (Brewer), Ala.

Dylan Bonds, LHP, 5-10, 180, Mt. Juliet, Tenn.

Bryce Bonnin, SS, 6-1, 180, Baytown (Barbers Hill), Texas

Evan Hooper, OF, 6-0, 187, Cabot, Ark.

Austin Kelly, RHP, 6-1, 200, Bryant, Ark.

Heston Kjerstad, SS, 6-3, 180, Amarillo (Randall), Texas

Casey Martin, SS, 5-11, 165, Lonoke, Ark.

Benjamin McClain, OF, 5-11, 185, Lee's Summit (West), Mo.

Hunter Milligan, LHP, 6-4, 215, Greenbrier, Ark.

Easton Murrell, INF, 6-0, 195, Prosper, Texas

Jacob Nesbit, SS, 6-0, 170, Coppell, Texas

Casey Opitz, 5-11, 175, Centennial (Heritage), Colo.

Kole Ramage, RHP, 6-0, 180, Southlake (Carroll), Texas

Jackson Rutledge, RHP, 6-8, 240, St. Louis (Rockwood Summit), Mo.

Canaan Smith, C, 6-0, 210, Rockwall (Heath), Texas

Alerick Soularie, OF, 6-0, 185, Humble (Atascocita), Texas

Daniel Tillo, LHP, 6-5, 215, Sioux City, Iowa (Kentucky, Iowa Western)

Cole Turney, OF, 6-1, 200, Richmond (Travis), Texas

Zebulon Vermillion, RHP, 6-5, 175, Prairie Village (Shawnee Mission East), Kan.


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