Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Veteran Hogs improve draft stock with strong seasons
Arkansas second baseman Jack Kenley gets ready to throw during a game against LSU on Saturday, May 11, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Coming into the 2019 season, Arkansas' potential was unknown because of a lack of players with starting experience.
The Razorbacks lost six everyday position starters and 430 innings pitched from last year's national runner-up team, either to professional baseball or exhausted eligibility.
What was undervalued in the preseason was the leadership that came about from having several older players still on the roster - 10 who had been in the Arkansas program for at least three years, but many of whom had been in supporting roles and not asked to contribute nearly as much as they would be this year.
Among them was second baseman Jack Kenley, who was asked to replace Carson Shaddy, an All-SEC performer as a senior who was a spark plug on the team's road to the College World Series last year.
Sixty-one games later, Kenley's steady play at the plate and in the field is a reason Arkansas has exceeded preseason expectations and will play this week at home in the NCAA super regionals.
"He got his shot this year and he's really taken advantage of it," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Sunday. "We wouldn't be sitting right here right now if it wasn't for him having the year he's had. He's been incredible."
The same could be said for junior pitchers Isaiah Campbell, Jacob Kostyshock and Cody Scroggins - all of whom have had far and away the best seasons of their collegiate careers and filled the vacuum created by the departures of Blaine Knight, Kacey Murphy, Barrett Loseke, Jake Reindl and others in the bullpen.
Professional franchises have taken notice.
Kenley, Kostyshock and Scroggins were drafted Tuesday - Kenley in the eighth round, 232nd overall by the Detroit Tigers; Kostyshock in the eighth round, 249th by the Colorado Rockies; and Scroggins in the ninth round, 287th overall by the Boston Red Sox - to bring the number of drafted Razorbacks to six through the first 10 rounds.
Campbell (Seattle Mariners) and outfielder Dominic Fletcher (Arizona Diamondbacks) were selected in the second round Monday, and pitcher Matt Cronin was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round Tuesday. All six drafted players are expected to sign six-figure signing bonuses following the end of the Razorbacks' season.
Campbell, Cronin and Fletcher were all high draft prospects, according to Baseball America. The rest of Arkansas' drafted players were predicted to have strong seasons by Van Horn prior to the year.
When discussing his infield positions in the preseason, Van Horn was asked why Casey Martin - a projected first-round pick in 2020 - would play shortstop instead of Kenley, who had been a backup there behind Jax Biggers the year before.
"Kenley is going to be drafted after this season," Van Horn said, "so we'd be replacing our shortstop again."
It might have seemed like a bold proclamation at the time. Coming into the season, Kenley had started in only 22 games and had a career batting average of .190.
But Van Horn saw consistency from Kenley during practice that correctly suggested a big year was in store.
Kenley has been a strong contributor at the bottom of the Arkansas order this season, batting .324 in 61 games. He has hit 12 home runs after hitting none prior to this season, and his 50 RBI are third-most on the team. He leads the team in two-out RBI with 22.
"I knew it was coming," Kenley said of his home run potential in March. "It's no surprise to me."
Van Horn was also high on Scroggins and Kostyshock prior to the season, noting that both had increased their velocities and the effectiveness of their off-speed pitches over the year before when they threw 15 2/3 and 14 innings, respectively.
"They both throw the ball in the mid 90s when they want and both have good sliders and good changeups," Van Horn said Sunday night after Scroggins and Kostyshock combined to throw four scoreless innings and strike out seven batters in the Razorbacks' 6-0 victory over TCU.
Kostyshock has appeared in 20 games this season and has a 2.89 ERA in 28 innings, mostly as a setup man. Scroggins has become mostly a long reliever after beginning the season in the starting rotation, and has a 4.19 ERA in 43 innings spanning 16 appearances.
Scroggins and Kostyshock both missed time in April because of elbow soreness.
Arkansas still has a handful of draft-eligible players available Wednesday for rounds 11-40, including senior infielder Trevor Ezell and catcher Zack Plunkett. Other eligible players are junior utility player Jordan McFarland, redshirt sophomore right-handed pitchers Kevin Kopps and Marshall Denton, and redshirt freshman infielder Jacob Nesbit.
No Arkansas signees have been drafted through two days.
Name, Position, Round (Overall), Team, Slot Value
Dominic Fletcher, OF, 2nd (75th), Diamondbacks, $831,100
Isaiah Campbell, RHP, 2nd (76th), Mariners, $818,200
Matt Cronin, LHP, 4th (123rd), Nationals, $464,500
Jack Kenley, INF, 8th (232nd), Tigers, $181,200
Jacob Kostyshock, RHP, 8th (249th), Rockies, $164,700
Cody Scroggins, RHP, 9th (287th), Red Sox, $148,200
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