Editor's Note: Four of Arkansas' top pitchers in 2010 — Drew Smyly, Brett Eibner, Mike Bolsinger and Jordan Pratt — are now in professional baseball organizations. The Razorbacks have a plethora of young hurlers competing to fill the quartet's shoes, including highly-touted freshman Ryne Stanek.
The 6-foot-4, 180-pounder was ranked the No. 25 high school player in the nation for the class of 2010 by Perfect Game USA and will challenge for a spot in the starting rotation this spring. The Overland Park, Kan., native was drafted in the third round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, but turned down a sizable signing bonus to honor his commitment to the Razorbacks.
In this edition of Q&A, Stanek talks about choosing Arkansas over professional baseball, the evolution of his mid-90's fastball and the Razorbacks' optimistic outlook on the 2011 season, despite their youth.
Hawgs Illustrated: Seattle offered you an $850 thousand signing bonus when they drafted you No. 99 overall last summer. What went into your decision to come to Arkansas instead of taking the money and playing professional baseball?
Ryne Stanek: It was hard. It was a lot easier saying that I'd turn the money down before it was actually in front of me. When the signing deadline got there, it was one of the most stressful things I've had to do. My parents left it all up to me. It was awful. The last couple of nights before the draft, after the draft and up to the deadline, it was bad.
I went back-and-forth. I really wanted to play pro ball and I still do, but I went back and thought about how I had a lot of goals I wanted to accomplish in college, too. I had to weigh both. It was not as fun as people would think it would be.
HI: What did Arkansas' coaching staff talk to you about from the draft on July 8 to the Aug. 16 signing deadline?
Stanek: They were as supportive as they could be. I talked to them at least once a week. They just wanted me to be honest with them, let them know what was going on and not lie to them. That's not how me and my family operate — we're straightforward people. They just wanted me to not lead them on and say I was coming, so they could be ready for everything.
HI: How much of a relief was it when you made the decision to go to Arkansas in August?
Stanek: I thought about both and I felt like I really wanted to sign until like two weeks before the deadline. Then I started moving back toward wanting to go back to school. The whole negotiation process was going really slow and it was pretty much annoying.
I was sick of it and decided I just wanted to be done with all of it. The day after I decided, I felt so much lighter and I didn't have anything hanging over me.
HI: Your fastball went from being in the low 90's as a high school junior to touching 96 mph one year later. Do you attribute the large increase in velocity to anything aside from natural growth?
Stanek: I lifted, but I didn't really apply myself in the weight room that much my sophomore and junior year. My junior fall, winter and spring going into my senior year, I hit the weights really hard, put on 15 pounds and fine-tuned a lot of small mistakes in my delivery to make the ball come out better.
I made my motion more fluid. I had a couple hitches in my delivery where my arm would get behind my body. I fixed little things like that and worked on my drive leg. That helped a lot. I didn't really use my legs very much before.
HI: What have you and Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn worked since you arrived on campus?
Stanek: We focus on my stretch because I was really long and slow to the plate. I quickened that up because he told me that I needed to speed it up to control the running game better. He wants like 1.3 seconds to the plate, which is really quick. I was really slow — like 1.8 — when I got here.
That's the biggest thing I've worked on, along with working on fastball control and being able to hit where I want every time.
HI: You verbally committed to Arkansas in August 2009 and signed that in November. What went into your decision to choose the Razorbacks?
Stanek: It's kind of close to my house. It's three-and-a-half hours from my home and my parents can come watch me play. Arkansas is always good and I wanted to go somewhere I can win and go to Omaha for the College World Series.
That's my biggest goal here. I've gone to Omaha to watch the World Series since I was like 10. I was always playing baseball with my team, so we'd always play then sit up on the hill outside of Rosenblatt Stadium waiting to get in, just hang out and check out all the stuff. Then we'd walk in and get to watch the College World Series and there wasn't much better than that.
HI: What other schools did you consider and what did Arkansas offer that they didn't?
Stanek: I looked at a lot of big schools around my area, like Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri — not really KU as much because I grew up a Mizzou fan. I looked at Wichita State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, schools that are within a few hours. I wanted to go away from home, but not be too far.
My last two were Mizzou and Arkansas. I'd always been a Mizzou fan, so that made it hard. When I came down here on an unofficial visit, right before I committed, I was all but going to Mizzou. Then I came down here, saw all the facilities, met all the coaches and I was sold. There was no reason to look anywhere else.
It seemed like where I needed to be. The coaches know what they're doing. Arkansas has had great players come out of here and get to the next level and they win. That's what I'm here for.
HI: Baum Stadium is widely regarded as one of the top stadiums and atmospheres in the country. What did you think of it when you visited?
Stanek: The first time I ever came down here they played Florida. It was on spring break of my junior year and I came down with a couple of my buddies. We went down to Oklahoma State and then came here.
Oklahoma State didn't compare to Baum. I don't remember who OSU played, but there were 300-to-400 people in the stands, 500 people max. We get here and the weather was worse here at the time than it was in Oklahoma and there was 4-to-5,000 here. There was no comparison. It was crazy here. The fans were nuts. I thought this would be one of the coolest places to play.
HI: Arkansas lost a lot of pitching experience from last season, particularly Drew Smyly, Brett Eibner, Mike Bolsinger and Jordan Pratt. Has there been a pitcher that's stepped up as a leader and taken you under their wing since you arrived on campus?
Stanek: I've talked a lot to D.J. Baxendale and Geoffery Davenport. They've kind of helped me work through everything and kept me focused. With James McCann behind the plate, it makes it a lot easier having a guy like him back there. He's just a leader. He sees things to help you out and work through your delivery. If he sees something messed up with it, he's going to guide you in the right direction and force you to make an adjustment. He's a really good catcher.
HI: Arkansas has gone to the College World Series and an NCAA Super Regional the last two years, respectively, but a lot of people feel like this will be a down year because of the talent that left and the youth of this team. What do you say to people who think the Razorbacks are going to be down?
Stanek: We're going to be good. We're young, but youth doesn't mean that we're not going to be good. We have plenty of talent on the team to win. Everybody's goal is SEC tournament, win a regional, win a super regional, get to Omaha and win a national title. If that's not your goal when you get here, then why are you here?
HI: There's an opportunity for you to compete for a job in the starting rotation. Have you set any personal goals for this season?
Stanek: Being a weekend starter is one thing, but I just want to win. I just to get out, play and help the team win. That's all I can ask of myself.
HI: The NCAA regulated new bats in the offseason, making it more difficult for hitters. How does this affect pitchers?
Stanek: The bats help the pitchers out a little bit, but if you make a mistake people are still going to hit the ball out. It just makes hitters have to put a better swing on your mistakes this time, instead of getting a little cheap home run. A ball that would have barely made it out or made it out by 10-to-15 feet last year will probably be right around the warning track. That's my estimate.
No matter what the bats are, I like to challenge them. I'm not going to pitch around them because of the bats, but it definitely makes it better for pitchers.
Ryne Stanek worked on his stretch mechanics in the fall.
Photo by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated
Q&A: Ryne Stanek
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