After draft deadline, Hogs' future roster begins to take shape

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, July 6, 2018
Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight throws the ball during a College World Series finals game against Oregon State on Tuesday, June 26, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight throws the ball during a College World Series finals game against Oregon State on Tuesday, June 26, 2018, in Omaha, Neb.

— The final verdict is in for Arkansas after Major League Baseball's deadline to sign drafted players passed Friday.

Nine players and two signees will go pro, and two drafted players will return to the Razorbacks for the 2019 season.

Junior right-handed pitcher Blaine Knight was the final Arkansas player to sign professionally Friday, inking a third-round deal with the Orioles just before the 4 p.m. deadline that will pay him a $1.1 million bonus, according to multiple reports. Knight is one of three third-round picks that signed for at least $1 million, along with South Carolina infielder Carlos Cortes (Mets, $1 million) and Texas high school pitcher Adam Kloffenstein (Blue Jays, $2.45 million).

Knight, Cortes and Kloffenstein were the third-highest draft picks by each of their organizations, which is not always the case for third rounders because of compensatory and competitive bonus rounds early in the draft.

Knight's signing bonus is nearly 66 percent more than the suggested value of $663,200 for his slot in the draft, 87th overall, and is more in line with second-round money. Knight is represented by veteran baseball agent Darek Braunecker of Little Rock-based Frontline Athlete Management.

As Arkansas' No. 1 starter, Knight was 14-0 with a 2.80 ERA in 19 starts as a junior. The Bryant native struck out 102 and walked 25 in 112 1/3 innings, and was voted to the All-America first team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Knight won both of his starts at the College World Series to tie and break the single-season record for wins by an Arkansas pitcher. He was the starting pitcher for 16 of the Razorbacks' 48 wins.

Knight was a projected second- or third-round pick last year, but fell to the Rangers in the 29th round and did not sign. He was draft-eligible as a sophomore because his 21st birthday was within 45 days of the draft.

In his final two seasons, Knight had head-to-head wins over six pitchers drafted in the first round - Auburn's Casey Mize, Florida's Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, and Ole Miss' Ryan Rolison in 2018, and LSU's Alex Lange and Missouri's Tanner Houck in 2017.

"I can't remember all the guys he beat on Friday nights in our league, but he was phenomenal," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said last month. "...He's a true Friday night guy, and I'm glad he's leaving after this year, to be honest with you."

Other players from Arkansas' 2018 national runner-up team to sign professionally in the past week were:

• Junior outfielder Eric Cole, Royals, 4th round, $497,500

• Junior catcher Grant Koch, Pirates, 5th round, $364,600

• Junior infielder Jax Biggers, Rangers, 8th round, $166,400

• Senior infielder Carson Shaddy, Nationals, 10th round, $10,000

• Junior pitcher Kacey Murphy, Tigers, 11th round, $145,000

• Sophomore utility player Evan Lee, Nationals, 15th round, $125,000

• Junior pitcher Jake Reindl, Cubs, 17th round, $100,000

• Junior pitcher Barrett Loseke, Yankees, 17th round, $125,000

In addition to the nine players from the 2018 season, both of Arkansas' signees that were drafted will go pro. Junior college catcher Josh Breaux signed a second-round offer from the Yankees worth $1.497 million, and Horatio High School right-handed pitcher Wade Beasley signed a 24th-round deal with the Brewers for $257,500.

Breaux signed for nearly 38 percent more than slot value for the 61st pick in the draft. There are no slot values for rounds 11-40, but any signings in excess of $125,000 in those rounds count against the amount of money available in a team's bonus pool. The Brewers were penalized $132,500 for Beasley's signing figure.

Right-handed pitcher Isaiah Campbell (Angels, 24th round) and catcher Zack Plunkett (Diamondbacks, 37th round) turned down the opportunity to go pro this summer and will return to Arkansas next season.

Campbell was in the same signing class with several of the Razorbacks that went pro this year, but he has an additional year of signing leverage because he redshirted the 2017 season with bone spurs in his throwing elbow. Baseball America rated him the 76th-best prospect in this year's draft, but he fell to the 721st overall pick because of a presumed high asking price for a signing bonus.

"I'm excited about being able to come back, get stronger and fine tune my craft," Campbell said in a statement Friday. "There's nothing better than putting on that Razorback uniform and playing in front of the best fan base in all of college baseball."

In 2018, Campbell started 17 games in an up-and-down campaign that resulted in a 5-7 record and 4.26 ERA, but he is in position to be Arkansas' top starter next year.

“If he comes back and has a really good fall he could be our No. 1 guy, a guy that we can build our rotation around,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said last month. “He’s seen what is going on with other guys who passed up signing when they have another year of bargaining power left. I’d say for nine out of 10 of them it’s a really good thing.”

Plunkett, who transferred from TCU after the 2016 season, will be a fifth-year senior. He was the Razorbacks' third-string catcher this season behind the departing Koch and freshman Casey Opitz.

Arkansas will lose at least 11 players from the 27-man roster at the College World Series, meaning it might have to rely quite a bit on newcomers in 2019. Some of the Razorbacks' top signees to go undrafted this summer included pitchers Steven Sanchez, Patrick Wicklander, Jacob Burton and Liam Henry, and fielders Christian Franklin, Matt Goodheart and Dillon Lifrieri.

Arkansas should return everyday position players Casey Martin, Heston Kjerstad and Dominic Fletcher, and regularly-used relievers Matt Cronin, Cody Scroggins, Kole Ramage and Bryce Bonnin from the 2018 team. Kevin Kopps, a top reliever in 2017, will be available again after redshirting this year because of Tommy John surgery.

"We've got to fill some holes," Van Horn said following Arkansas' season-ending loss last Thursday. "We've got to get better.

"We've got to mix the new in with the old and take a shot at it again in '19."

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