Arkansas SEC SEC West

How Does Arkansas Baseball Shape Up Following their Elite MLB Draft Showing?

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Razorbacks Baseball

With the 99th pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, the San Diego Padres select… Kevin Kopps from the University of Arkansas!

Kopps was just one of fifteen Razorbacks players or signees to be selected in this year’s MLB draft. The nine selections from players currently on the roster was good for second most in the nation and the five high school signees also came in at second in the country. When you throw in the selection of Junior College transfer Brenden Dixon, you get a draft full of Razorbacks.

Before we get into the analysis, let’s take a look at each selection in order:

Round 1, Pick 25- Max Muncy (OAK)*

Round 3, Pick 84- Jordan Viars (PHI)*

Round 3, Pick 93- Drew Gray (CHC)*

Round 3, Pick 99- Kevin Kopps (SD)

Round 4, Pick 123- Christian Franklin (CHC)

Round 7, Pick 201- Ryan Costieu (LAA)

Round 8, Pick 244- Casey Opitz (CHC)

Round 8, Pick 251- Patrick Wicklander (TB)

Round 9, Pick 282- Lael Lockhart (LAD)

Round 14, Pick 403- Braylon Bishop (SD)*

Round 14, Pick 409- Caden Monke (KC)

Round 17, Pick 498- Drake Varnado (ARI)*

Round 19, Pick 560- Elijah Trest (COL)

Round 19, Pick 564- Charlie Welch (SEA)

Round 20, Pick 583- Brenden Dixon (PIT)*

*Player committed to play for Arkansas but not currently on the roster.

Whew, that was a lot! The easy knee-jerk reaction here is to panic because of the sheer amount of talent that potentially will be out the door. I caution people to take a breather. It will be okay (I promise!). Yes, the roster will take a big hit when most of these guys sign with their respective club, but that was expected coming into the draft. When you have a top of the line program and some of the best players in the nation yearly these things happen. As Arkansas fans we need to thanks these guys for their contributions and wish them the best down the road.

With that being said, not all of these guys are going to sign. Among the signees who were drafted, Braylon Bishop and Drake Varnado will not be signing pro contracts. Muncy will be signing with the A’s. Viars and Gray will almost certainly be signing with their respective clubs as well. That leaves Weatherford College transfer Brenden Dixon, who has announced he will sign with the Pirates and pursue his professional career.

Next let’s get into the players currently on the Razorback roster. Of the nine selected Monke, Trest and Welch are the only ones we will potentially see back in Fayetteville. Out of these three guys, my gut says Welch stays due to his bargaining power with remaining eligibility. He also stands to jump up draft boards with the type of season we know he can have when he’s in the lineup every game. As far as Monke and Trest go, the crystal ball says we get one back but it remains to be seen who that will be. Finally, the news of Matt Goodheart signing an undrafted free agent contract with the Phillies rounds out the departures.

Now that we’ve covered all of the drafted players, we need to get into other draft headlines concerning players who did not hear their name called. One of the main surprises of the draft was Peyton Stovall withdrawing his name from consideration. The #47 nationally ranked player and top ranked player in the Hogs’ 2021 recruiting class is one of the top infielders in the country who seemed like a surefire professional player after his senior year of high school. Lucky for us, he’s now a prime candidate to fill the hole at third base with the departure of Cullen Smith. On top of Stovall’s withdrawal, current Hogs Brady Slavens and Jalen Battles both announced they will return to Fayetteville for the 2022 season. This infield is shaping up to be even better than the lethal group from last year.

Out of 2021’s starting lineup, it’s likely only four spots will need to be filled (catcher, third base, left field, center field). The catching spot will either be filled by switch-hitting Dylan Leach or graduate transfer Michael Turner from Kent State. There are several options at third base, one of them being returning Cayden Wallace to his natural position from the outfield. I can get behind this, but his errorless season and strong arm in right field were huge assets and can be very valuable moving forward. Another option is to slot in either the aforementioned Stovall or Varnado. Let’s not forget Jacob Nesbit still has a year of eligibility left. He’s another option at the hot corner. As far as the two empty slots in the outfield go, newcomers Braylon Bishop and Crowder College transfer Landrey Wilkerson can be two solid options. Wilkerson is coming off a huge season with a .360/.504/.760 line on top of 20 HR, 72 RBI and 12 SB in 63 games. Returners Zack Gregory and Ethan Bates surely will see some time in left. Sophomore Zac White can also get involved in the action with a good Fall. It will nearly impossible to replicate the offensive and defensive contributions from Opitz, Franklin, Smith and Webb, but the bottom line is DVH saw this coming and set us up damn well with more than enough replacements.

Finally we get to the shakiest part of next year’s squad in the pitching staff. The Hogs obviously in no way can replace Kevin Kopps’ role going forward so we will need a lot of guys stepping up to fill the hole the best they can. I foresaw Monke and Trest being a huge part of this, but both of their futures in Fayetteville are uncertain after the draft. Let’s say hypothetically both of them leave, the bullpen will consist of Zack Morris, Evan Taylor, Evan Gray, Gabe Starks among others. The departures of Bolden, Burton and Wohlgemuth hurt the depth badly. Peyton Pallette, Jaxon Wiggins, Connor Noland and Heston Tole figure to be the best in-house options for the starting rotation. We will need to see some major progression from a lot of guys if the staff will be anywhere near as good as the 2021 staff. My biggest worry is that Pallette will not be 100% healthy or just not able to return to previous form after an elbow injury ended his 2021 season.

On the bright side, sophomore Nick Griffin who was previously the 86th ranked player nationally in the 2020 class will be recovered from his Tommy John surgery and should be good to go for the start of the year. On top of Griffin, incoming freshmen Hagan Smith (#71 Nat.), Brady Tygart (#73 Nat.), Vincent Trapani (#128 Nat.) can carve out roles for themselves in either the bullpen or rotation with an impressive Fall. The bottom line with the pitching staff is we will need guys to carry larger roles than previously asked and if they can, we’ll be in good shape. The staff isn’t looking as bad as people think.

Barring more transfers, here’s what the Opening Day lineup could potentially look like:

C: Leach/Turner

1B: Slavens

2B: Moore

SS: Battles

3B: Stovall

LF: Wilkerson

CF: Bishop

RF: Wallace

P: Pallette

That’s still pretty damn good! Overall, this team is going to be one of the best in the nation regardless of who DVH throws out there. They might not win every series as they did in 2021, but they will certainly be in contention for back-to-back SEC titles. It’s unfair to expect them to be as good or better as last year’s team, but it’s within the realm of possibility. When you have the best coach in the nation at the helm, anything is possible.

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