FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas pitching staff lived up to its preseason expectations as the best in the nation after posting a 1.89 earned run average in 2013.
The first two days of the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft further proved just how productive the group was during their time with the Razorbacks.
Barrett Astin became the third Arkansas pitcher selected in the draft early Friday afternoon when the Milwaukee Brewers took him in the third round with the 90th overall pick. He followed teammates Ryne Stanek (No. 29 to the Tampa Bay Rays) and Colby Suggs (No. 73 to the Miami Marlins), who were drafted Thursday.
“I started talking to some teams and this morning we had a lot of phone calls and we had some stuff figured out,” Astin aid. “I knew it was going to be them or a couple of other teams. It worked out with the Brewers and I’m excited.”
Astin was selected after spending most of his career bouncing between starting and relief roles. Most of his junior season was spent as the team’s Friday night starter, where Astin went 4-4 with a 1.79 ERA. His win total could’ve been higher if not for an offense that averaged just two over his final nine starts.
Astin also proved to be a dependable reliever. He worked in long relief and in the closing role his first two seasons. Astin ranks fourth on the school’s single-season list with 11 saves in 2012. His 15 career saves is tied for second all-time.
The Forrest City native believes versatility helped him become a third-round pick.
“That was one of the big things coming into the draft that I can come out of the bullpen and I can start,” Astin said. “That’s the way the Brewers saw me and that’s the way they are going to take me.”
It also meant Arkansas has had three pitchers selected in the first three rounds of the draft for the first time since 2007, when Nick Schmidt, Duke Welker and Jess Todd were among the first 82 picks.
Astin also was part of a 2010 Arkansas signing class that also included Stanek, Suggs, Brandon Moore and Nolan Sanburn. Four of those five pitchers have been selected in the first three rounds of the MLB Draft the past two seasons.
Moore should be selected between the 11th and 40th rounds today. He’s waiting for the draft call along with teammates like first baseman Dominic Ficociello, outfielder Matt Vinson, catcher Jake Wise and pitcher Trent Daniel.
“We knew coming we were going to have some high draft picks from the pitching standpoint,” Astin said of the draft class. “But there are going to be some guys taken again (today). A few hitters and a few more pitchers.
“That just shows how well coaches recruit and how they develop here.”
Astin said his third-round spot was a nice reward for hard work after not being drafted out of Forrest City High in 2010. He wasn’t alone. Suggs wasn’t drafted out of high school either, but heard his name called during the last pick of the first night.
“I was actually just kind of nervous. I was gritting my teeth,” Suggs said. “I heard that they might be taking me there so I was just sitting there with my eyes closed just kind of thinking, ‘If I don’t get picked (Thursday) I’m going to be kind of upset.’”
Suggs — who set Arkansas’ single-season saves record with 13 in 2013 — sounded confident Friday he could move through Miami’s minor league system quickly.
“I think they drafted me maybe because they’re wanting some more bullpen help,” Suggs said. “Even though they already have a great bullpen right now with (closer Steve Cishek) in there. He’s great. I’ve watched him pitch and I love watching him pitch. But at the same time, maybe they wanted some more bullpen help this season or at least to start off next season.”
Astin took a more cautious approach about his pro career, leaving the door open on a return to Arkansas for his senior season. It’s not likely, but Astin said he would evaluate options over the next few days and make a decision as soon as possible.
“It’s not a sign-ability problem because I’m ready to play,” Astin said. “But if there’s certain factors that don’t pan out and I don’t like, I will come back to school. But other than that, I’m looking to sign and go play.”
In addition to the three Arkansas pitchers, two Razorbacks signees have been selected through the first 10 rounds of the draft.
Jon Denney, a catcher from Oklahoma, was picked in the third round (No. 83 overall) by the Boston Red Sox on Friday. Denney was considered a top 25 prospect by Baseball America, but it doesn’t appear the slide will push him to Arkansas.
“This is awesome I have been a Red Sox fan my whole life! Ever since I started watching MLB baseball, now I’m apart of their organization!” Denney wrote on his Twitter page after learning of his selection.
Junior college pitcher Teddy Stankiewicz was taken in the second round Thursday. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he didn’t expect Stankiewicz to come to campus.
Arkansas is hopeful signees like pitcher Dominic Taccolini and outfielder Andrew Benintendi will make it to campus after neither was picked in the first 10 rounds.
“I hope Dominic gets in here,” Van Horn said Thursday of Taccolini. “I think he has a chance to help right away. He’s a low-90s guy. Big kid that throws a heavy ball with sink. He’d have an option to start or close games. That’s what we see him doing.”