Arkansas prepares for tonight’s draft


FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas baseball season ended with a 9-2 loss to Virginia in the Charlottesville Regional final on Sunday.

But the most nerve-wracking time of the year is just beginning for Dave Van Horn.

Van Horn and the Razorbacks will learn which current players and signees are selected in the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft when the three-day event begins tonight at 6. The first two rounds will be completed tonight, while rounds 3 through 10 are scheduled for Friday. Rounds 11 through 40 will take place Saturday.

Arkansas, which had an NCAA-high 11 players selected in the 2013 draft, isn’t expecting the same number pulled off the board this year. The Razorbacks do have a pair of intriguing pro prospects that will be selected in second baseman Brian Anderson and pitcher Chris Oliver. There’s also a handful of Arkansas signees whose draft outcome will play a hand in whether they make it to campus next season.

Van Horn said he’ll be in Oklahoma recruiting and has no plans to watch it unfold.

“I’ll just wait for people to tell me who got drafted where,” Van Horn said. “I’m not going to sit around and watch my computer or listen to it. I’m just going to work and try to find some players for the future. But it’s very nerve-wracking. Make or break.”

The Razorbacks have 15 draft-eligible players on their roster and know they’ll likely lose veterans like Oliver, Anderson, pitcher Jalen Beeks, first baseman Eric Fisher and reliever Michael Gunn to pro baseball. The five make up the most attractive prospects on campus and the group is led by Oliver, who is ranked 48th on MLB.com’s top 200 prospects for the 2014 draft.

Oliver is expected to be the first Razorback pulled off the board even after being arrested for driving while intoxicated in Fayetteville early Tuesday morning.

Van Horn said a few teams did inquire about the arrest in the hours after it became public and the mistake could hurt Oliver financially. But Van Horn doesn’t believe it will have a dramatic affect on his draft status this week.

“It might cost him a little bit of money, but time will tell,” Van Horn said. “It was a mistake, a bad mistake. Chris is a good kid. But when he got off the bus here he probably felt that was it. He wasn’t going to be a part of the Razorback baseball team and he’s going to be a professional in a couple of days and he went out and did what he did. A bad choice. I’m just glad nobody got hurt. I just feel bad for everybody involved. Hopefully he learned a lesson and will be able to grow from it.”

Anderson is rated No. 121, according to MLB.com, after hitting .328 with 7 home runs and 51 RBI as a junior. Beeks is rated No. 174 after finishing 6-4 with a 1.98 ERA. The left-hander’s draft status took a late-season hit because of the elbow injury that sidelined him for a month, but Van Horn believes his performance in the Charlottesville Regional was proof Beeks is healthy.

“The fact that they’re going to know he touched 90 miles an hour and struck out nine in five innings and more than anything, that he’s he doesn’t have a serious injury,” Van Horn said. “He just got hurt and he needed to heal up a little bit. I think that should get him back in the rounds where he needs to be.”

Arkansas will likely have some holes to fill next season if it does lose its leaders in wins (Oliver), ERA among starting pitchers (Beeks), batting average and RBIs (Anderson), home runs (Fisher) and saves (Gunn). The Razorbacks also could lose reliever Jacob Stone, who became the team’s closer late in the season.

But Van Horn believes two other draft-eligible players — outfielders Joe Serrano and Tyler Spoon — will be back for 2015. Van Horn said Serrano hasn’t garnered much interest from scouts after hitting .289 this season, while Spoon struggled to match his 2013 production in hitting .256 with 3 home runs and 37 RBI.

“I feel like we are going to get Spoon back,” Van Horn said. “He didn’t have the year that he thought he was going to have and we’ve talked a lot about it.

“I think he wants to come back and have a big year next year.”

Arkansas is hoping Spoon, Serrano and the rest of the returning Razorbacks will be joined by the bulk of a talented signing class. But Van Horn and the coaching staff will have to hold their breath throughout the process because a few signees are expected to be selected early and tempted to skip college for pro baseball.

Right-handed pitcher Keaton McKinney is at the top of the list after being rated as the 89th prospect by MLB.com and No. 80 by Baseball America. Outfielder Luke Bonfield is rated No. 168 by MLB.com and No. 187 by Baseball America as well.

“He’ll go in the top 10 rounds,” Van Horn said of Bonfield. “Our conversation with him is, if you want to sign, you’ll get to sign. It’s going to be up to you. You’ll get the money that you want. I don’t know what he wants exactly. Sometimes there’s a gray area. Do you want to come to school or not? Do I think we’re getting him? 50-50.”

Van Horn hopes the damage to the signing class will be minimal. Other signees Arkansas will keep a close eye are infielder Blake Wiggins, catcher Nathan Rodriguez (No. 176 by Baseball America), left-hander pitcher Sam Hentges (No. 213 by Baseball America) and right-hander Jonah Patten (No. 451 by Baseball America).

Van Horn’s biggest goal is getting at least one of the pitchers on campus.

“I’m a little worried about pitching next year,” Van Horn said. “We have four or five kids signed, the top two young kids, one of them is ranked in the top 100 and the other one is ranked in the top 200 and the third is just out of it.

“We really need to keep one of those big time arms.”