FAYETTEVILLE — Dave Van Horn glimpsed Friday an Arkansas Razorbacks future for Blaine Knight he apparently wasn’t seeing last Monday night.
Last Monday night after Van Horn’s Razorbacks’ season ended in their 3-2 Fayetteville Regional loss to Missouri State at Baum Stadium, the Arkansas coach was asked about “having” to pitch Knight in relief Monday after the right-hander from Bryant had thrown 105 pitches starting last Saturday’s night’s 5-4 winner’s bracket loss to Missouri State.
Knight retired the two batters he faced Monday.
Van Horn explained it wasn’t “have to” on his part pitching Knight in Blaine’s presumable Razorbacks’ farewell. Knight concluded a great season as a turning 21 draft eligible sophomore in the upcoming Major League draft.
“He didn’t have to,” Van Horn asserted Monday. “Blaine Knight really wanted to go after those two guys. He really wanted to go out and pitch one more time. He’s a draft-eligible sophomore. He’ll probably be moving on here shortly.”
But in his Friday season wrapup press conference, Van Horn said, “If Blaine Knight comes back…”
What changed from Monday’s “He’ll probably be moving on here shortly” to Friday’s “If Blaine Knight comes back?”
“He does,” Van Horn said. “His family. A few other things probably I can’t talk about.”
Obvious ones are that it’s been Knight’s lifelong dream to pitch for the Razorbacks and to enter the 2018 season as the staff on team team that just went 45-19 must have appeal.
So would adding another 10 pounds like Knight did after the 2016 season bringing his weight to a still too slender 165 on a 6-3 frame.
“If he gets better, bigger and stronger, which he will, he moves way up,” Van Horn said of Knight’s potential. “And when you move way up, it (draft signing money) can go way up. We’re optimistic. It’s his decision. We don’t get involved when you start talking about that kind of money. But if they call and ask, we’re going to give them our opinion. There’s a chance. I had two or three coaches in our league tell me ‘That kid needs to come back.’ He’ll be the guy they all talk about next year.”
Knight’s All-SEC catcher, returning junior-to be Grant Koch, was asked how big for the 2018 Razorbacks should Knight, 8-4, 3.28 ERA with 96 strikeouts vs. 20 walks, return.
“It would be huge,” Koch said. “Selfishly for us it would be really huge knowing everything he’s done for this program and how he competes and stuff. But you know ultimately that’s up to him. That’s a decision that he has to make with him and his family. It’s whatever he thinks is best and whatever his family thinks is best.”
Whatever Knight chooses, Koch said, “We have his back - I have his back - no matter what decision he makes. But selfishly we would love to have him back because of how good we know he is.”
Off the great years they compiled, junior first baseman Chad Spanberger, .305, 20 home runs and 67 RBI, and junior transfer pitcher Trevor Stephan, 6-3, 2.87 with a high 90’s fast ball and 120 strikeouts vs. 20 walks, surely will get draft offers too good to refuse, Van Horn said.
Van Horn said he also anticipates fourth-year junior/3-year letterman second baseman Carson Shaddy and junior 3-year letterman left fielder/DH Luke Bonfield turning pro.
Though Jared Gates hit a home run in both of the final games with Missouri State, Arkansas won 11-10 from Sunday night into past 3 a.m. after Sunday evening beating Oral Roberts, 4-3 in the loser’s bracket final, Van Horn anticipates the junior third baseman returning to improve his draft stock after hitting just .246.
Sophomore right-hander Isaiah Campbell, projected to be the staff ace coming off the 2016 season but hardshipped after surgery removed bone chips in his arm, should return full go, Van Horn said.
The coach said the 2018 prospects are more dicey for pitchers Keaton McKinney and Cody Scroggins, neither pitching in 2017 after Tommy John arm surgery.
Hunter Wilson, the junior transfer third baseman from Spiro, Okla., should get a hardship restoring his junior eligibility having played only 14 games when his season ended with a stress fracture in his leg.
Van Horn, pitching coach Wes Johnson and for volunteer coach Josh Elander do all the recruiting since last Tuesday hitting coach/recruiting coordinator Tony Vitello became Tennessee’s head coach.
Van Horn lauded Elander as an eventual big-time coaching prospect but said the plan is for him to continue his 2-year volunteer coaching commitment.
“Right now, Josh Elander is going to come back in the same position that he’s in as our volunteer,” Van Horn said. “Run our camps, be our catching coach and assistant, work with hitting. This (Vitello’s former) position, the way we’re set up with Coach Johnson and myself, is someone that can work with hitters - which Josh can do - but we need someone who has a little more experience out on the road that can really grind it out recruiting. It’s a huge commitment, the recruiting part.”
Van Horn said he’s not lacking for interested candidates.
“The interest level is very high,” Van Horn said. “Former head coaches. Some head coaches. Obviously some recruiting coordinators at other schools. up and comers. A little bit of everything. Really the last 36 hours my phone has been non-stop, either with texts or phone calls.”
Koch playing for Team USA
Arkansas Razorbacks All-SEC sophomore catcher Grant Koch has been invited to play for college baseball’s Team USA, Koch told media Friday as part of Razorbacks Coach Dave Van Horn’s season wrapup press conference.
“ I recently got invited to compete for a spot with the collegiate national team,” Koch said. “So I am excited about that to go out and compete. It won’t be as much as a normal summer team but I’m really excited to get out. It’s going to be a great opportunity.”
Koch said he will report “in a week and half.”
“We start out in North Carolina and then we travel all over,” Koch said. “I don’t know all the details yet.”
Has he been invited to be on the team or already made the team?
“The message I got is I’ve got to compete for my job,” Koch said.
Koch played the entire summer last year in the Cape Cod League but after playing in 62 of the 45-19 Razorbacks’ 64 games says he won’t play this summer beyond Team USA’s short season.
“After that’s done I’ll get ready for the season and for the fall,” Koch said.