Knight will get second chance in 2018

By: Nate Olson
Published: Saturday, June 17, 2017
Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight throws during an SEC Tournament game against Mississippi State on Friday, May 26, 2017, in Hoover, Ala.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight throws during an SEC Tournament game against Mississippi State on Friday, May 26, 2017, in Hoover, Ala.

Blaine Knight wasn’t selected in the early rounds of the Major League Baseball draft earlier this week like many experts predicted.

Instead, the Texas Rangers picked the Arkansas sophomore pitcher in the 29th round, 884th overall. Knight, from Bryant, was projected as one of the top 100 players in the draft by various outlets.

Word is that teams were interested in Knight the opening night of the draft, but Knight wouldn’t back down on his asking price. So he slipped further and further.

I don’t blame Knight for standing firm. It’s easier to do that when you like the program you play for and with a solid nucleus returning that could make another postseason bid next year. Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said before the draft that the star pitcher was considering returning. It was on his mind before teams started passing.

I’m not going to say this is a blessing in disguise for Knight because he could just as easily be signing a lucrative deal and getting ready to start a pro career like teammate Trevor Stephan, a third-round pick of the New York Yankees. He would have had liked to make the tough decision over having a solid offer or returning to school.

Instead, he has a no-brainer of a decision, even though his father, Blake, has declined to comment on his future. We can only assume Knight is going to return set on leading the Hogs to the College World Series and improving his draft stock.

The news is outstanding for Arkansas. Knight was one of the better pitchers in the SEC this year. He was 8-4 with a 3.24 ERA. He struck out 96 and walked just 20 in 90.2 innings.

Knight will be among the best returning starting pitchers in the nation in 2018. What’s even more important is that with Stephan’s emergence that led to his unexpected high drafting, the Hogs would have been without two star pitchers and its staff in full on rebuilding mode.

The return is a good Plan B for Knight, too. His mother, Karen, said last month that the decision to sign or return was a tough one. There have been months of phone calls with scouts, but all the while Karen said her son was really enjoying playing college baseball with a good group of teammates and enjoying campus life.

Now, instead of playing Rookie League ball in some remote outpost, Knight can use the summer to prepare for what will almost assuredly be his final year of college baseball. With Knight as the No. 1 starter, the pitching staff looks much more promising and with key position players returning, a run to the College World Series seems much more possible.

Knight has a chance to pitch in a College World Series and be a selected in the first few rounds of the 2018 draft. That’s something Stephan cannot say after Arkansas was upset in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional.

Knight has a chance to make history and to earn redemption from this year’s disappointing end to the season.

The downside to returning for another year in any collegiate sport is injury. It could be a dice roll but a torn rotator cuff can happen in the minor leagues, too.

It’s a risk but a necessary and small one that could reap big rewards for the Hogs and Knight.

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