Van Horn Recalls Stressful Draft Process
FAYETTEVILLE - The summer of 2010 is one Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn won't soon forget, no matter how much he'd probably like.
Arguably the best signing class the Razorback skipper had ever assembled was cherry-picked by MLB franchises with four signees opting to sign professional contracts prior to Monday night's 11 p.m. deadline. In addition, the Hogs lost five underclassmen and two more seniors off last year's roster to the draft.
"I'm glad it's over," Van Horn said Tuesday. "This is probably as bad as it has ever been. If we could have kept a couple of those incoming pitchers, this recruiting class would have been ranked in the top two, three, four in the country.
"It's a tough process. It's very stressful on the families and for us, because we don't know who's coming and who's not. If you don't oversign and over-recruit a little bit, you're going to be left holding the bag and be short, and we need to put a good team on the field and win ballgames."
Three players signed seven-figure deals off Arkansas' team that went to an NCAA Super Regional in 2010. St. Louis Cardinals' first round pick Zack Cox inked the largest contract of any player with Arkansas ties, worth $3.2 million.
Second-rounders Brett Eibner (Kansas Royals) and Drew Smyly (Detroit Tigers) also took home nice pay days, worth $1.25 million and $1.1 million, respectively.
"Between those three guys you've got about $5 million," Van Horn said. "It's exciting to see that. Those are three guys that have been responsible for a lot of the success we've had and we're going to be able to recruit off that.
"The money that was spent in the draft was incredible. Most of the kids that come through our program want to play professional baseball. We think there's a right way to do it and that's if you don't get just an incredible amount of money - life-changing money - you should go to college, and in some cases go to college anyway. You have a much better chance of making it to the big leagues if you have three years of college ball under your belt."
Despite significant losses in roster numbers, there was some silver lining for the Razorbacks. Outfielder Collin Kuhn will return for another season after the 15th round selection failed to come to terms with the Tigers. Kuhn had a breakout season last year as Arkansas' leadoff hitter, hitting .336 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs, and was named the most valuable player of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional.
"Collin got offered good money for that round," Van Horn said. "I think he just felt he should get a little more. He's only about 33 hours from graduation and still has a little bit of bargaining power. Getting him back is huge for us."
Arkansas was also able to keep its second-highest drafted signee, right-handed pitcher Ryne Stanek - a third round pick by the Seattle Mariners. Stanek's draft stock soared after his fastball jumped from 90 mph to 97 mph between his junior and senior years at Blue Valley High School in Overland Park, Kan.
Stanek was the 99th overall selection by the Mariners in June's draft, but sources said his asking price was around $1.2 million, nearly triple the amount Major League Baseball advises for that slot.
"We were on pins and needles with Stanek," Van Horn said. "We got the call from his dad at about 11:05 Monday night that he was still a Razorback. Coach (Todd) Butler and I kind of celebrated when we got the news.
"He wanted a lot of money and Seattle came close. His dad was very complimentary of Arkansas and our program when we talked to him. He told us if it had been any other school it would have been a no-brainer to sign. I think our staff handled that well, gave him some space and it paid off.
"We were just trying to hold on to some guys. Of the nine drafted players coming in we were pretty sure we'd lose (first-rounder) Justin O'Conner. We lost four guys but were able to keep five, and to keep Stanek was huge for us."
Stanek joins infielders Dominic Ficociello and Sam Bates, pitcher/catcher Nolan Sanburn and pitcher Jeff Harvill as drafted signees that opted to attend school. Like Cox, Stanek will be a draft eligible sophomore because he will turn 21-years-old before the 2012 draft. Until then he will add some much needed depth to an Arkansas bullpen torn apart by both the draft and graduation.
Smyly, Eibner, Mike Bolsinger, Jordan Pratt, Jeremy Heatley and TJ Forrest were all major contributors on the mound that won't return next year. In addition two Razorback pitcher signees - Ben Wells (Chicago Cubs, 7th round) and Robbie Ray (Washington Nationals, 12th round) - signed pro contracts Monday.
Arkansas also lost Jared Lakind, a 23rd round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lakind was expected to make it to campus because of his low draft pick, but was offered $400,000 after the Pirates failed to sign several high round picks.
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