By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — The MLB First-Year Player Draft is set to start Sunday, July 17, and last three days with several University of Arkansas athletes looking to be picked.
Dave Van Horn knows a lot of his roster building is somewhat on hold until he knows who is heading to Arkansas and who will be playing professional baseball. Van Horn will be looking to see what pitcher Connor Noland and second baseman Robert Moore do.
“On Connor I think that he loves wearing this uniform,” Van Horn said. “I just think if things aren’t exactly what he wants then there is an opportunity. Obviously there is a chance he’ll come back. I’ve met with him about it. We’ll see how it goes. I think he might be on vacation right now with his family and they’re thinking about some things, talking some things over. I don’t think Connor’s just gonna go because somebody says ‘Hey, we’re gonna give you a little bit of money and go play.’ It’s gonna have to be a situation where he feels really good about it, the organization is serious, and if not you could see him back. And obviously we’d love to have him back. But he’s got to make that final decision.
“With Robert, yeah, I don’t think the door’s closed. But I do think he’ll get picked pretty good. If he would’ve had a little better year offensively I think it would’ve been a slam dunk. But he still had a lot of good days. He played incredible defense. You know, I look on the stat sheet and it says he made two errors. One of them was late in the season and I think it was a tough play that could’ve been scored a hit. I think if we were at home it would’ve been scored a hit. It was a back-hand up the middle that kind of took a bad hop on him. And then the other was on a double play turn at A&M where our first baseman tried to really stretch and get the ball, he just didn’t catch it. It was a good throw. So I think he fielded 1.000, which is almost unheard of. That’s the way I see it. Pro people see that and I would be surprised if Robert came back.”
Noland was the ace of the Arkansas staff. He was 8-6 with an ERA of 3.65. Noland pitched 116 innings, struck out 113 and walked 34. Moore hit eight home runs, had 44 RBI and a .232 batting average. His fielding average was .992. Van Horn talked about some conversations he’s had with his players who are likely to be drafted.
“Well, the guys that are already in the program, and they’ve been here for three years, or whatever, for example, nobody has brought up Cayden Wallace,” Van Horn said. “He’s only a sophomore, but he’s draft eligible. He’s going to be picked in the first two rounds in my opinion. There’s not much conversation there. Figure out if that’s what you want to sign for and sign. They have advisors helping their families now. A lot of those conversations are with them.
“With, say, Robert, or even Connor, there’s not much going on there. I mean, Robert Moore’s dad basically knows what he’s doing. Connor is very well educated, and he knows what he wants to do with the rest of his life. And if it’s play another year at Arkansas and then take a chance in the minor leagues, Connor is going to be fine whatever he does. Really smart. Very popular in the state, obviously. He’s got a lot going for him.”
Van Horn also talked about his conversations with the seniors and recruits who will hear their names called in the draft.
“So really our conversations like you’re speaking of are going to be more with maybe the freshmen or the seniors that are going to have to deal with the draft, and they’ve never been here,” Van Horn said. “So, they’re the ones that, to me, that need a little more advising.
“So we put in our two cents, honestly, but when it starts to get up there to be pretty good money, we just want them to be upfront with something. Like, ‘Hey, Coach Van Horn, if I don’t get $800,000 I’m coming to school.’ Okay, then stick to that. I’m good with that. If you tell me that, and then I’m talking to the scouts and I’m hearing, ‘Well, there’s no way he’s getting more than 400,’ I’m planning on him being here. Then when I find out he agrees to sign for 425, then we’re frustrated with that. We just want them to be upfront. And that’s why honestly, we wish the draft was two weeks ago and we all know what to do today. So there are those conversations, but it gets a little touchy when you’re talking guys are gonna go really high.”
Van Horn is correct on Wallace, who played third base this season after starting in the outfield as a freshman. Wallace his 16 home runs, had 60 RBI and hit .298. Few, if anyone, expects Wallace to return to Arkansas for another season. Jayson Jones, 6-2, 190, is one of the gems of Van Horn’s recruiting class. Jones would be a candidate to replace Wallace at third base if the Savannah, Texas, standout chose to come to school.
“Jayson is a guy that a year ago sitting here, I would’ve said that it’s going to be really tough to get him to school.” Van Horn said. “He came to his visit in September, absolutely loved it, loved the feeling. I think he relaxed a little bit. I think if he comes to school here, he’ll have a lot of success. I think he’s one of the true freshmen that has an opportunity to get on the field. He has big-time power. He can really field the baseball. It’s going to be up to them. When they were here, I talked with Jayson and his dad and we had some candid conversations.
“Bottom line, the door is still open either way. I think that if he ends up in school, he’s fine with it. If he signs, they’re going to have to give him a lot of money. If he shows up, I don’t want him to feel the pressure say Peyton Stovall dealt with this year. It takes time. It takes time when you’re facing the arms that we face in this league —and even out of league sometimes — to adapt to be able to hit it every day. But Jayson will have a great career here if he shows up.”
Left-handed pitcher Zack Morris was 6-1 with an ERA of 2.31 this season. The junior from Cabot is someone who may or may not be back at Arkansas for the 2023 season.
“Draft wise, I think Zack could be drafted,” Van Horn said. “I don’t think he’s going to sell himself short. I think he’ll come back unless he gets pretty good money. We’re hoping he comes back. We’re planning on it right now. But we also know that he has a decision to make. I’m sure there’s scouts calling him now and they’re talking about money and opportunity. But yeah, he was outstanding down the stretch.”
Van Horn is rebuilding the 46-21 Razorbacks and the goal in 2023 will be the same and that is get to the College World Series.