Hogs appear to dodge draft with minimal damage

By: Matt Jones
Published: Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight throws during an NCAA Tournament game against Missouri State on Saturday, June 3, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight throws during an NCAA Tournament game against Missouri State on Saturday, June 3, 2017, in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn liked the look of his 2018 team prior to the MLB amateur draft.

Chances are Van Horn loved the team’s look at the draft’s conclusion.

Several of the top names associated with the Razorbacks went much lower than projected or weren’t selected during the 40-round draft that ended Wednesday.

Among the notables: sophomore pitcher Blaine Knight was drafted by the Rangers in the 29th round; Mont Belvieu, Texas, right-handed pitcher Bryce Bonnin was drafted by the Cubs in the 26th round; and Richmond, Texas, outfielder Cole Turney was selected by the Indians in the 34th round.

Knight and Bonnin were top 90 draft prospects, according to Baseball America, and Turney was rated No. 128. Jackson Rutledge, a right-handed pitcher from St. Louis who was rated No. 183 by Baseball America, went undrafted.

Prospects can go undrafted or much lower than projected for various reasons, including high asking prices for a signing bonus or a stated desire to play college baseball. Draft picks have until July 15 to sign with the professional franchise that drafts them, and can return to college if they don’t sign with an agent.

Multiple sources told WholeHogSports.com that Knight plans to return to Arkansas for his junior season and the Dallas Morning News reported the “Rangers acknowledge chances (are) less than 50-50 they will be able to sign” Knight.

Knight did not accept an interview request through a team spokesperson Wednesday. Van Horn also was unavailable.

Van Horn said last week that he was optimistic Knight will return for his junior season. Knight, who spent most of this season in Arkansas’ No. 1 role and finished the year with a 3.28 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 90 2/3 innings, was draft-eligible as a sophomore because his 21st birthday is on June 28, within 45 days of the draft.

“I had two or three coaches in our league tell me, ‘That kid needs to come back,’” Van Horn said Friday. “He’ll be the guy they all talk about next year.

“People know what he can do. Now if he gets better, bigger and stronger - which he will - he moves way up. And when you move way up, (the money) can go way up.”

In a tweet Tuesday, Bonnin indicated he would play for the Razorbacks in 2018.

“Here’s to the next chapter of my life as (a) Razorback,” Bonnin wrote after he wasn’t drafted in the first 10 rounds.

Junior outfielder Luke Bonfield, a top 100 draft prospect out of high school in 2014, went undrafted for the second consecutive year that he was eligible. Bonfield is a three-year starter for Arkansas who had 9 home runs and 49 RBI as a junior.

“One more year!” Bonfield tweeted Wednesday, referencing his final season of eligibility with the Razorbacks.

Redshirt junior infielder Carson Shaddy also went undrafted.

"There were opportunities for me but none greater than having the opportunity to not only go to Omaha, but compete for Coach Van Horn's first national title," Shaddy wrote on Twitter. "That is what we will do. Our goal isn't to be complacent going to a city, it's to win the hardware."

Arkansas could return seven position players who started its final NCAA Tournament game against Missouri State last Monday.

“I’m excited for the future,” Van Horn said last week. “I’m looking forward to getting through the summer, getting through the draft, seeing where we’re at.”

Senior pitcher Josh Alberius was taken by the Marlins in the 36th round. Draft-eligible players who went undrafted included underclassman right-handed pitchers Keaton McKinney and Cody Scroggins, who both underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this year, and senior outfielder Jake Arledge.

At least one Arkansas signee will go pro after being drafted Wednesday. Eva, Ala., left-handed pitcher Dakota Bennett told DecaturDaily.com that he had agreed to a $350,000 signing bonus with the Marlins after he was drafted in the 11th round.

“I had been in contact with the Marlins, so I sort of knew this was going to happen,” Bennett said. “My mind was already made up. If they drafted me, I was going to take the contract. This is something I’ve always wanted. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Other Arkansas signees drafted Wednesday were Denver area catcher Casey Opitz by the Indians in the 27th round and Amarillo, Texas, outfielder Heston Kjerstad by the Mariners in the 36th round. Baseball America rated Opitz the No. 305 prospect in the draft.

Arkansas signee Hunter Milligan, a left-handed pitcher from Greenbrier who was ranked No. 499 by Baseball America, went undrafted.

Two former Arkansas players were drafted Wednesday. College of Southern Nevada infielder Blake Wiggins was selected by the Reds in the 20th round and Missouri Southern State College infielder Max Hogan was selected by the Orioles in the 32nd round.

Arkansas Players and Signees in 2017 Draft

Daniel Tillo, LHP, Royals, 3rd Round*^

Trevor Stephan, RHP, Yankees, 3rd Round^

Canaan Smith, OF, Yankees, 4th Round*^

Chad Spanberger, 1B, Rockies, 6th Round^

Cannon Chadwick, RHP, Mets, 9th Round^

Dominic Taccolini, RHP, Padres, 10th Round^

Dakota Bennett, LHP, Marlins, 11th Round*^

Bryce Bonnin, RHP, Cubs, 26th Round*

Casey Opitz, C, Indians, 27th Round*

Blaine Knight, RHP, Rangers, 29th Round

Cole Turney, OF, Indians, 34th Round*

Josh Alberius, RHP, Marlins, 36th Round^

Heston Kjerstad, OF, Mariners, 36th Round*

*-Denotes player is an Arkansas signee

^-Denotes player is likely to sign professionally

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