Photographs by Ben Goff
Former Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight, who was 14-0 with the Razorbacks this season, agreed to a deal with the Baltimore Orioles on Friday with a reported signing bonus of $1.1 million.
Saturday, July 7, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE -- The final verdict is in for the Arkansas Razorbacks after Major League Baseball's deadline to sign drafted players passed Friday.
Nine players and two signees will go pro, and two drafted players will return to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville for the 2019 season.
Junior right-handed pitcher Blaine Knight was the final Arkansas player to sign professionally Friday, inking a third-round deal with the Baltimore Orioles just before the 4 p.m. deadline that will pay him a $1.1 million bonus, according to multiple reports.
Knight's signing bonus is nearly 66 percent more than the suggested value of $663,200 for his slot in the draft, 87th overall, and is more in line with second-round money.
As Arkansas' No. 1 starter, Knight was 14-0 with a 2.80 ERA in 19 starts as a junior. The Bryant native struck out 102 and walked 25 in 1121/3 innings, and he was voted to the All-America first team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Knight won both of his starts at the College World Series to break the single-season record for victories by an Arkansas pitcher. He was the starting pitcher for 16 of the Razorbacks' 48 victories.
In his final two seasons, Knight had head-to-head victories over six pitchers drafted in the first round -- Auburn's Casey Mize, Florida's Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, and Ole Miss' Ryan Rolison in 2018; and LSU's Alex Lange and Missouri's Tanner Houck in 2017.
"I can't remember all the guys he beat on Friday nights in our league, but he was phenomenal," Florida Coach Kevin O'Sullivan said last month. "He's a true Friday night guy, and I'm glad he's leaving after this year, to be honest with you."
Other players from Arkansas' 2018 national runner-up team to sign professionally in the past week were:
• Junior outfielder Eric Cole, Kansas City Royals, fourtth round, $497,500
• Junior catcher Grant Koch, Pittsburgh Pirates, fifth round, $364,600
• Junior infielder Jax Biggers, Texas Rangers, eighth round, $166,400
• Senior infielder Carson Shaddy, Washington Nationals, 10th round, $10,000
• Junior pitcher Kacey Murphy, Detroit Tigers, 11th round, $145,000
• Sophomore utility player Evan Lee, Nationals, 15th round, $125,000
• Junior pitcher Jake Reindl, Chicago Cubs, 17th round, $100,000
• Junior pitcher Barrett Loseke, New York Yankees, 17th round, $125,000
In addition to the nine players from the 2018 season, both of Arkansas' signees that were drafted will go pro. Junior college catcher Josh Breaux signed a second-round offer from the Yankees worth $1.497 million, and Horatio High School right-handed pitcher Wade Beasley signed a 24th-round deal with the Milwaukee Brewers for $257,500.
Breaux signed for nearly 38 percent more than slot value for the 61st pick in the draft. There are no slot values for rounds 11-40, but any signings in excess of $125,000 in those rounds count against the amount of money available in a team's bonus pool. The Brewers were penalized $132,500 for Beasley's signing figure.
Right-handed pitcher Isaiah Campbell (Los Angeles Angels, 24th round) and catcher Zack Plunkett (Arizona Diamondbacks, 37th round) turned down the opportunity to go pro this summer and will return to Arkansas.
Campbell was in the same signing class with several of the Razorbacks who went pro this year, but he has an additional year of signing leverage because he redshirted the 2017 season with bone spurs in his throwing elbow. Baseball America rated him the 76th-best prospect in this year's draft, but he fell to the 721st overall pick because of a presumed high asking price for a signing bonus.
"I'm excited about being able to come back, get stronger and fine tune my craft," Campbell said in a statement Friday. "There's nothing better than putting on that Razorback uniform and playing in front of the best fan base in all of college baseball."
In 2018, Campbell started 17 games in an up-and-down campaign that resulted in a 5-7 record and 4.26 ERA, but he is in position to be Arkansas' top starter next year.
"If he comes back and has a really good fall, he could be our No. 1 guy, a guy that we can build our rotation around," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said last month. "He's seen what is going on with other guys who passed up signing when they have another year of bargaining power left. I'd say for nine out of 10 of them, it's a really good thing."
Plunkett, who transferred from TCU after the 2016 season, will be a fifth-year senior. He was the Razorbacks' third-string catcher this season behind the departing Koch and freshman Casey Opitz.
Arkansas will lose at least 11 players from the 27-man roster at the College World Series, meaning it might have to rely quite a bit on newcomers in 2019. Some of the Razorbacks' top signees to go undrafted this summer included pitchers Steven Sanchez, Patrick Wicklander, Jacob Burton and Liam Henry, and fielders Christian Franklin, Matt Goodheart and Dillon Lifrieri.
Arkansas should return everyday position players Casey Martin, Heston Kjerstad and Dominic Fletcher, and regularly-used relievers Matt Cronin, Cody Scroggins, Kole Ramage and Bryce Bonnin from the 2018 team. Kevin Kopps, a top reliever in 2017, will be available again after redshirting this year because of Tommy John surgery.
Sports on 07/07/2018
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