FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn has had plenty of signing classes damaged by pro baseball during his tenure with the Razorbacks.
Prospects have been selected in the Major League Baseball Draft much higher than expected. Others have accepted generous offers to skip college. And there have been plenty of signing deadline deals that have left Arkansas disappointed.
But everyone was quiet this summer. And Van Horn had no complaints.
“We did hold our class together, maybe the best since I’ve been here,” Van Horn said.
Van Horn, who recently returned to Fayetteville after his stint as manager of the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team this summer, believes his team is in good position after escaping any draft disappointments last month.
Five Arkansas signees were drafted in June and only one — left-handed pitcher Sam Hentges, a fourth-round pick of the Cleveland Indians — turned down college baseball to begin a pro career by the July 15 deadline. It means Van Horn will have plenty of new talent arriving later this summer to blend with returning Razorbacks like Tyler Spoon, Trey Killian, Zach Jackson, Joe Serrano and Andrew Benintendi.
Spoon also was drafted, but has decided to return for his redshirt junior season.
“It’s going to be a very interesting fall because we have some returners back that could definitely help with all the time they have in the league and the experience,” Van Horn said. “They can help these young guys who are going to get better and push them a little bit. We’ll figure it out.”
The new group will include outfielder Luke Bonfield, right-hander Keaton McKinney, infielder Blake Wiggins and catcher Nathan Rodriguez. Bonfield and McKinney are highly rated prospects that slipped in the draft after letting teams know they would only sign to play pro baseball for the right price.
Van Horn credited both for sticking to their price throughout the process.
“You just never know going into the draft if kids get scared or just decide they don’t want to go to school or they don’t want to deal with going to class or whatever,” Van Horn said about the professional signing process. “We were fortunate that we selected some of the right guys and they stuck to what they told us.”
Several of the newcomers will have opportunities to help Arkansas right away.
The Razorbacks went 40-25 last season, but couldn’t advance out of the Charlottesville (Va.) Regional. Killian, who will return as the staff’s ace next season, said he was surprised Arkansas didn’t lose more of the prospects in the draft.
But he said the fact most are coming to campus is “unreal” for the Razorbacks.
“I think this is going to be a good year for us,” Killian said. “We didn’t lose hardly anybody to the draft and I don’t think anybody left here JUCO out of our class. I’m already excited. I have been talking to Coach Van Horn about it a little bit. We just want to get back out there on the field and give those freshmen what we are going to do this year and get things rolling and try to make it to Omaha this year.”
Van Horn said there is one downside to getting most of his prime prospects on campus. He’ll have to work through some roster issues, considering college baseball teams are only permitted to award 11.7 total scholarships.
There has been one significant departure so far this offseason. Left-hander Colin Poche has transferred to Dallas Baptist. Van Horn said there may be other roster moves as well as he finishes his fall roster the next few weeks.
But working through those issues are much better than the alternative.
“We’re going to have a lot of guys in here that are good baseball players and guys want to play,” Van Horn said.