Razorback MLB Draftees Stay to Play at UA

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Unlike some past years under retired Arkansas Coach Norm DeBriyn (1970-2002) and Dave Van Horn, head coaching Arkansas since 2002, the Razorbacks weren’t left out in the cold by the Major League baseball draft.

Van Horn and assistants Nate Thompson and Matt Hobbs certainly recruited well enough and returns enough of draft eligible players from his 56-13 SEC regular season/SEC Tournament champions for the since completed Sunday through Tuesday 20-rounds draft to impact the 2022 Razorbacks roster including UA signed out of high school shortstop Max Muncy  drafted in the first round by the Chicago Cubs, but the impact could have been significantly more severe.

Second baseman/shortstop Peyton Stovall of Houghton, La., equally touted with Muncy, apparently let it be known it would take millions for him to sign out of high school.  Stovall formally withdrew his name from draft consideration after Sunday’s first round  and announced he would fulfill his signed commitment to come to the UA.

Later round UA signed high school senior draftees Braylon Bishop, a center fielder, 14th-round, Pittsburgh Pirates and  Drake Varnado, a shortstop, 17th-round Arizona Diamondbacks, also let it be publicly known they will attend the UA and play for the Razorbacks.

Stovall and Varnado may initially find themselves challenging each other at third base.

Cullen Smith, a senior transfer, and fourth-year junior Jacob Nesbit alternated at third base most of 2021.

Smith completed his eligibility in 2021 and Nesbit Wednesday announced on social media he’s retiring from active baseball but will join the Razorbacks athletic department as a graduate administrative assistant. 

Because in addition to returning All-SEC second baseman Robert Moore, not third-year draft eligible until 2022, the Razorbacks unexpectedly return SEC Tournament MVP junior transfer shortstop Jalen Battles.

Battles let it be known it would take more than the customary third or fourth round money draft money for him not to return to Arkansas.

Subsequently Battles went undrafted and announced no intentions of any pro free agent deals and that he would return to the Razorbacks.

First baseman Brady Slavens also is a Razorbacks regular undrafted and announced he’s returning to a hearty Van Horn welcome.

Graduated All-SEC designated hitter Matt Goodheart of Magnolia announced he’s signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Bishop of Texarkana’s Arkansas High, has a shot at playing right away in center since Arkansas 3-year starter Christian Franklin was drafted in the fourth-round by the Chicago Cubs and is expected to sign.

Van Horn also has talked of All-SEC Freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace of Greenbrier playing center and from the transfer portal has added Oklahoma Sooners outfielder Jace Bohrofen and returns outfielders Braydon Webb, Zack Gregory and Ethan Bates.

Charlie Welch, the pinch hitter so superb he became the late-season DH moving Goodheart to the outfield, has a late-round draft decision to make as do Razorbacks relief pitchers Caden Monke and  Elijah Trest.

Catcher Casey Opitz, likely a steal for the Chicago Cubs as an eighth-round draft choice perhaps without a collegiate defensive peer, and seventh and eighth-round drafted pitchers, Ryan Costeiu, a hard-throwing right-handed middle reliever, and left-hander Patrick Wicklander, the 7-1 staff starting ace, and certainly closer Kevin Kopps, the 12-1, 11 saves, 0.90 earned run average third round draft choice of the  San Diego Padres after named College Baseball’s Player of the Year by the Dick Howser Award, presumably will turn pro.

Dylan Leach, the 2021 freshman backup to Opitz, and Kent State’s Michael Turner via the transfer portal face the major task of replacing Opitz, the combination of on field pitching coach and defensive mastermind.

Welch, who arrived as a catcher but so far seen exclusively as a hitter, also could figure behind the plate should he turn down his 19th-round draft status with the Seattle Mariners.

The pros passed on pitchers Connor Noland and Zebulon Vermillion, both injured through much of 2021 but at the top of the starting rotation when healthy in the past.

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