LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long is to blame for a slight of Razorback right-hander Ryne Stanek.
Engrossed in identifying the next football coach in late November, I missed that Baseball America rated Stanek the No. 3 college prospect for the 2013 Major League Baseball draft.
Selected in the third round of the 2010 MLB Draft, the junior from Overland Park, Kan., is one of many reasons — most of them pitchers — why Dave Van Horn’s team is No. 1, 2, or 3 in the preseason polls. In fact, after the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll agreed with two others this week that the Razorbacks are No. 1, the mission was to explore the views of the dissenters. The best I could come up with was Baseball America which has Arkansas No. 3 behind North Carolina and Vanderbilt.
The day that Stanek’s lofty standing was revealed, Baseball America also identified Arkansas pitchers Colby Suggs and Barrett Astin as No. 16 and No. 65 college prospects.
No mention was made of Randall Fant, who has added a slider to his repertoire and might have been Arkansas’ best pitcher in the fall. Add that quartet to a handful of other returning pitchers, mix in freshman Trey Killian, and Arkansas is loaded at a position where many college teams struggle to come up with starters for all three games of a weekend series.
A year ago, Fant had trouble throwing his curve for a strike. Relying on a fastball and change, it was so difficult for him to get through a lineup the second time around that Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn hoped the left-hander would complete four innings or so.
In the third game of Arkansas’ fall intrasquad series, Fant only needed 86 pitches to negotiate eight innings in a four-hit shutout. At the time, Van Horn said Fant had “made a jump as far as his pitch-ability and mentally the way he approaches the game.”
Suggs pitched in 30 games last year out of the bullpen and was 7-1 with a 1.38 ERA. Astin pitched in 32 games with 11 saves and a 1.99 ERA. Astin is penciled in as the third starter, but he could return to the bullpen if Killian is all that he is supposed to be. In that case, Van Horn would have two closers; many teams don’t have one.
Van Horn said last week that Killian will get a start against New Orleans a few days after the Feb. 15 opening weekend. With eight games during the first 10 days of the season, Van Horn will get a quick start sorting out the pitchers.
He went so far as to compare Killian to former All-American Nick Schmidt who became a starter early in his first year in Fayetteville. Van Horn said Killian throws his secondary pitches for a strike and described his accuracy as a gift.
Baseball America, using a 20-80 scale to assess its top 25 teams, assigned an 80 to the Razorbacks’ bullpen. “Without question, the bullpen is Arkansas’ greatest strength — and it is the nation’s best, assuming Astin stays in the bullpen instead of moving into the rotation,” the article said.
Compliments for various individuals were available, but I prefer the opinions of former Arkansas coach Norm DeBriyn, who still does some work with the Colorado Rockies. He said Suggs has an “almost unhittable breaking ball with good velocity in the mid 90s,” and that he loves Astin’s “breaking ball and his competitiveness.”
Even though the Razorbacks did not top 60 in any of the other half-dozen categories, the bullpen’s superb grade was enough to produce a 65 overall for Arkansas. No team was graded higher.
A year ago, Baseball America decided that Florida had no weaknesses and assigned the Gators an 80. They did not win a game in Omaha.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.