Kuhn Leaning Toward Return

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Collin Kuhn will likely return to school next season, and there's a possibility others could follow suit.

FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas outfielder Collin Kuhn will likely return to school next season, Razorback coach Dave Van Horn said Tuesday.

Kuhn, a redshirt sophomore in 2010, was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 15th round of last month's MLB Draft. But with two years of eligibility remaining, Kuhn has another year of negotiating power with major league franchises.

"Unless something changes he's coming back," Van Horn said. "I don't know if the negotiations are done but he hasn't heard from Detroit in a while. He's playing summer ball and the last I heard from him over the weekend his plan was to come back.

"We're holding our scholarship for Collin. We're planning on him being here but if they come in and make him a great offer, we understand."

Kuhn was the leadoff hitter for much of last season for the Razorbacks and excelled in the role. He finished the year batting .336 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs. He also set a school-record by getting hit by a pitch 25 times and had a team-best 17 stolen bases.

He hit four home runs in four games en route to being named the most outstanding player of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional, helping lead the Razorbacks to their second super regional in as many years.

Kuhn was one of eight players drafted off that team in June and would be one of only three returning full-time starters next season.

"It would be huge for us if he came back," Van Horn said. "He has a lot of experience and it helps just knowing you have your leadoff man back with a tremendous season under his belt and a lot of confidence. He's going to be a catalyst. He can set the tone for our offense for the fall."

Kuhn began playing for the Green Bay Bullfrogs of the Northwoods League on July 1. As of Tuesday he was hitting .231 with seven doubles.

"They like him," Van Horn said. "He's getting hit by pitches and taking his walks, and doing a good job. Now that he's just about past the idea of playing pro ball this summer he's probably starting to get focused and get it done."

While Kuhn is likely the only of the eight drafted Razorbacks to return next year, Van Horn said there is still a chance more could join him. Pitcher Drew Smyly and third baseman Zack Cox - both all-SEC selections in 2010 - have yet to sign their contracts and, like Kuhn, have an additional year of negotiating power.

Cox was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round with the 25th selection overall, while Smyly was drafted by the Tigers in the second round with the 68th pick.

"With Smyly there's always a chance he could come back," Van Horn said. "With him having another year of bargaining power, I think Drew could go in the first round if he came back. He likes it here, he's got a fresh arm because he hasn't been playing this summer and he's getting a little antsy. I think if they don't get it close to his asking price there's always that opportunity for him to come back and we'd love to have him back heading up our pitching staff.

"I feel like Cox will get done. I just can't see the Cardinals letting a first round bat go like that, unless they're just too far apart in negotiations. Obviously we'd love to have him back but we don't see that."

Van Horn said he is confident Brett Eibner, who was taken with the Royals' second round pick, will come to terms before the Aug. 16 deadline. Four more players - seniors Mike Bolsinger (Diamondbacks) and Jeremy Heatley (Marlins), and juniors Andy Wilkins (White Sox) and Jordan Pratt (Tigers) - have already signed professional contracts this summer.

In addition to current players signing, Arkansas had a combined nine signees or verbal commitments selected in the June draft. Of those, only one - Justin O'Conner - has signed a professional contract to date. O'Conner was a first round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Van Horn said pitchers Ryne Stanek (Mariners, third round) and Ben Wells (Cubs, seventh round) are still in contract negotiations.

"I'm still not sure what they're going to do," Van Horn said. "The teams have not offered them what they want yet and I don't think they'll be able to get close to that until August. In Ben Wells' case he could come to school and be a first round pick, get first round money and have three years of school under his belt. Chicago is going to have to pay a pretty good amount of money to get him away from here. The same goes for Ryne Stanek. He was a third round pick but he could easily be a first round pick and he's draft-eligible after two years.

"I think it's 50-50 on both of them. If we can keep one of them that will be great and if we lose them both, that's life and we'll deal with what we've got. But it's a great class regardless of what happens with those guys. It'd be even more great if they get here."

Arkansas had six signees selected in the first 23 rounds of the draft. As of now the rest of the class has plans to come to school, Van Horn said. That would include the likes of Robbie Ray (Nationals, 12th round), Jared Lakind (Pirates, 23rd round) and Dominic Ficociello (Tigers, 23rd round).

"You know, Lakind and Ficociello could have been a lot higher picks if they didn't have their money up so high," Van Horn said. "We're very fortunate and it looks like they're both coming; they say they are. They've done all they're supposed to do to get here. If we can keep this class together it will be one of the best classes to ever come through here.

"If we lost three or four of them we lose a lot of the future. We have some guys in our program that are getting better and they'll be ready to go. If we can keep them together you'll definitely see three or four freshmen in our lineup next year that are very talented. Hopefully we can continue to watch them develop and we can make a run at the end of the year."

Until then coaches continue to balance the waiting game with the recruiting game. Van Horn said Arkansas' back-to-back 40-win seasons haven't gone unnoticed and he hopes to have the Razorbacks' 2011 signing class wrapped up by the end of the summer.

"There are a lot of kids that are interested in the University of Arkansas," Van Horn said. "They see us as one of the top programs in the country and a place that has a chance to win a national championship. This is going to be a smaller class and we've tried to be picky. Kids are committing earlier and earlier all the time, and you just find that it's amazing out there. Sometimes the early bird gets the worm but they might have gotten the wrong worm. We're trying to be smart about it and so far it's gone pretty good. We've got about three commitments right now and we'll take about five more, and that'll be about it.

"It's hard to concentrate and it's hard to know where you're at (with the drafted players). Basically what we try to do as a staff is get out and recruit the 2011 class and hit tournaments...We're just trying to figure out what to do if we lose this guy or that guy, and have a little bit of a plan on scholarships. It's very difficult."

The NCAA allots college baseball teams 11.7 scholarships each year for a 35-man roster.

Assistant Could Be Named Soon

In addition to waiting out contract negotiations and hitting the road recruiting, Van Horn also lost an assistant off his staff this summer. Volunteer coach Chris Curry was hired as the head coach at Meridian Community College last week after spending the last two years at Arkansas, working primarily with the catchers.

Former Razorback catcher Brian Walker has been rumored to be the leading candidate for the vacated position, which could be filled this week. While Van Horn didn't mention any names in talking about the search, he did outline an ideal candidate.

"It's always nice to have someone that is familiar with the state, and more importantly with the program," Van Horn said. "It's nice if you can get a former player. The main thing is just to get the best guy out there that fits your staff and can work with the players at the position you need. If we can land a catcher-type guy, that will be the best for this team."

Walker, 25, retired from professional baseball on June 21 after spending four years in the Angels' minor league organization. In a July 14 article in the Northwest Arkansas Times, Walker said he had moved back to Fayetteville in hopes of finding a coaching position, possibly on the college level.

Injury Update

Both second baseman Bo Bigham (shoulder) and outfielder Kyle Atkins (wrists) underwent surgeries following the season. Van Horn said both are healing fine, though Bigham will likely miss fall practice, which begins in September.

"Bigham had a lot of damage," Van Horn said. "At first they weren't sure if he would even need surgery. They did an MRI and when they got in there it was torn up pretty good. It was good he had that surgery."

Bigham tore the labrum in his left shoulder during Arkansas' season opener in February but missed just two weeks of action. Atkins had surgeries on both of his wrists stemming from a high school pole-vaulting injury that never fully healed.

In addition, Van Horn said outfielder Jarrod McKinney (ACL) is ahead of schedule in his rehab and could see limited action swinging a bat in the fall. Infielder Matt Reynolds (shin) is 100 percent, Van Horn said, after suffering a stress reaction in late March. Reynolds is playing this summer in the Northwoods League.

"He hasn't played much baseball," Van Horn said of Reynolds. "He missed his entire senior year because of a back injury and only got to play in about five games the summer before he came here. He played fall ball and looked good in the fall, but got off to a bad start during the season and then got hurt. He's played less ball than almost all the guys on our team. It's good to see him playing."

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