FAYETTEVILLE – Let’s start that nobody deems the cancellation of college sports to a speck of importance vs. curbing and combatting this worldwide coronavirus pandemic that canceled them.
But this is a sports page and Dave Van Horn coaches a sport and was interviewed by sports media.
So of course he was asked about this baseball season that might have been for his 11-5 Razorbacks that sought a program unprecedented third consecutive appearance in the of course canceled College World Series that was set for June in Omaha, Neb.
Foremost, he was asked about three stars apt not to shine in Fayetteville for the 2021 season. Draft eligible juniors Heston Kjerstad, Casey Martin and Casey Opitz surely will sign once negotiations begin after the still on schedule June 10-12 Major League draft.
Outfielder Kjerstad, a left fielder in 2018 and a right fielder since 2019 and also occasional first baseman in 2020, and Lonoke’s Martin, a third baseman in 2018 and shortstop ever since, were pivotal parts to last year’s 46-20 Razorbacks and the 48-21 national runner-up Razorbacks of 2018.
Both began 2020 as Preseason All-Americans.
Opitz was the 2018 freshman backup catcher to Grant Koch, signed in the 2018 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and blossomed into the outstanding defensive and switch-hitting catcher last season and through this season.
Getting at least one hit in all 16 games, Kjerstad in 2020 performed beyond All-American superlatives. He hit .448 with six home runs, five doubles, 20 RBI and scored 19 runs in just 67 at bats.
“Heston Kjerstad,” Van Horn said. “We won’t get to see that guy swing the bat in a Razorback uniform again and what a pleasure that was. I think he might have broken the home run record before it was over with. He was starting to heat up, the weather was starting to change. I think he’d hit mid-20s to 30 home runs, I truly do.”
He discussed Martin and Opitz, too. Martin is the fastest, 6 of 6 stolen bases, and all-tools player battling striking out too much, 22 times in 16 games.
Opitz’s arm and defense stand out in an Arkansas program that under retired Coach Norm DeBriyn sent All-American Ronn Reynolds and Jimmy Kremers to the Major Leagues and under Van Horn sports current Chicago White Sox catcher James McCann.
“Just seeing Casey Opitz catch, there’s probably not a better receiver in the country,” Van Horn said. “And then Casey Martin, who has really battled through some things as far as on the field and I think he was really starting to come out of it. I think we were getting ready to see the best of him. I think he was getting ready to take off.”
Now they’ll all take off for the pros as all knew since last season’s close.
“ I just know how highly those guys are going to be sought after in the draft and the kind of money that’s going to be out there,,” Van Horn said. “They’re going to sign a contract and be ready to move on to the next level. And there’s a couple others that are iffy. I think a lot depends on where they get drafted, how much money and what status are they – are they a senior or do they get to be a junior again?”
The NCAA has discussed but still determining how to implement restoring the 2020 class eligibility to 2021 for all the spring sports athletes since their seasons either were curtailed or never commenced.
Next year’s likely high junior draft pick, Christian Franklin, the sophomore defensive whiz center fielder batting .381 with four doubles, a triple, three home runs, 11 RBI and stealing 3 in 4 attempts, saw a great start stopped after hitting .274 as the 2019 left fielder.
“Christian Franklin made a huge jump,” Van Horn said. “He was hitting about .400 on (much of) the year and wanted him to keep developing and have that special junior year.”
Sophomore pitcher Connor Noland of Greenwood about to come back from an oblique injury on his third after two outstanding outings, and freshman flash second baseman Robert Moore … so many chapters unfinished.
“For me personally, you just didn’t get to finish the book,” Van Horn said. “I mean, you’ve got guys a team that had been to Omaha two years in a row and was going to try to get there three and we don’t get to accomplish that.”