Restocking The Cupboard

In his weekly recruiting column for Hawgs Illustrated, Dudley E. Dawson chats with Arkansas head baseball coach Dave Van Horn about his hopes to get speedy hit machine Andrew Benintendi(5-10, 170 and two-way star Dominic Taccolini (6-4, 230) among other signees to campus as the Major League Draft looms next week.

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Whether it ends here in Manhattan or in the College World Series a few weeks later, this will be the last hurrah for many Arkansas baseball seniors and some talented juniors who will be taken in next week's Major League Baseball draft.

There are some players already on campus who will be ready to step into the spotlight like former Bentonville catcher and Arkansas Baseball Player of the Year Blake Baxendale (6-3, 215), who sit out this season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and pitcher Colin Porche, who basically put his toe in the water with some mid-week starts this season.

But how has Arkansas, who has lost four signees in each of the last three years to the draft, gone about trying to filling other holes via recruiting?

One way was to sign 12 pitchers last fall.

"We recruited a bunch of pitching because we are going to lose seven or eight guys off of our staff that are big-time guys for us or big contributors," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said Thursday. "We do have some good young pitchers that are really going to help out next year, but we feel like there are a couple of guys in this class that could be huge for us.

"We also signed some infielders, but also some guys that can play both the infield and the outfield to have some versatility," Van Horn added. "We did that because we believe we have some good young position players already here."

Arkansas is not expecting to land either a pair of signees in Yukon (OK) catcher Jon Denny (6-2, 205) or former Keller (Texas) prep standout and current Seminole Junior College standout Teddy Stankiewicz (6-4, 215), a second-round pick last year of the New York Mets last season.

Denny is expected to be a top 10 pick like Arkansas ace pitcher Ryne Stanek and is one of eight players invited to the draft while Stankiewicz – who was looking for a $1 million to sign last year – is expected to be be drafted in the first five rounds.

But Arkansas is very hopeful that it will be able to keep Cincinnati (Ohio) Maderia outfielder Andrew Benintendi (5-10, 170), the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state who was a career .564 hitter and started every game of his four-year career.

It was believed that Benintendi had broken the state's record for hits with 213 in his career, but former Hamilton star and 10-year Major League Baseball player Mark Lewis (1991-2001) was declared the unofficial state record holder by the Ohio High School Athletic Association with 222 hits from 1985-1988.

Benintendi had 12 home runs, 57 RBI, scored 63 runs and had 38 steals in just 30 games his senior season and is drawing comparisons to Kentucky's Austin Cousino, who was the SEC's Freshman of the Year in 2012.

"We really need him to show up because I feel like he could be our starting center fielder or left fielder," Van Horn said. "He can hit leadoff for us as a true freshman. He has been compared to Cousino, the young outfielder from Kentucky."

Three pitchers Arkansas signed that are ranked in the top 175 nationally by Perfect Game USA are Sugar Land (Texas) Kempner star Dominic Taccolini (6-3, 230), Spring (Texas) standout Andrew Kelly (6-8, 220) and Bartlesville (OK) hurler James Teague (6-0, 180). Taccolini (6-4, 230) is an intriguing double threat who posted a 9-1 record with a 0.58 ERA and 101 strikeouts as a junior while also hitting .323 with five homers and 34 RBI in his junior season.

"Taccolini from Houston is a big 6-4 right hander that has a really good arm with a lot of sink," Van Horn said. "He kind of reminds me of a bigger Jess Todd. Maybe not a starter at this level, but maybe a closer. Who knows?

"He is a guy that is projected in the top five, six, seven rounds, but I don't know if there is going to be enough money to get him away from school," Van Horn added.

Arkansas has also signed a pair of lefties in Round Rock (Texas) hurler Chris Falwell (6-5, 170) and Glenpool (OK) standout Nolan McCutcheon (6-4, 175).

Arkansas also signed right handers Berryville (OK) star Zach Johnson (6-3, 195), Nacogdoches (Texas) pitcher Alex Phillips (6-4, 225), Pulaski Academy's Lawson Vassar (6-3, 190). Weatherford (Texas) JC pitcher Jacob Stone (6-1, 205) and Kokomo (IND) star Parker Sanburn (6-1, 190), the brother of former Razorback standout Nolan Sanburn.

To fill junior Jake Wise's catching role, the Razorbacks will add the North Little Rock's Alex Gosser (6-0, 220) and Baxendale to go along with current back-up Jean Ramirez.

The other fall signees were St. Louis (MO) St. John Vianney infielder Matt Brown (6-2, 208), Pottsville outfielder/infielder Corey Campbell (5-11, 185) Appleton (WI) North athlete Clark Egan (6-2, 180), Moore (OK) Southmoore infielder Tre Edwards (5-9, 173) and infielder Aaron Kincaid (6-2, 175) of Prairie Grove.

"We have recruited a lot of kids that are good students and position player-wise, I feel pretty good talking to all the guys," Van Horn said. "We feel like we are going to get most of the guys. We know we are going to lose a few of them, but we plan for that."

Andrew Benintendi as his signing ceremony last fall.

Dominic Taccolini signed with the Razorbacks last November.

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