By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – The NCAA doing the right thing by granting all its 2020 spring sports athletes their 2020 athletic 2020 class eligibility for 2021 should empower 2020 juniors for this summer’s Major League Baseball draft.
If there is a Major League baseball draft.
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic causing the NCAA since March 12 cancelling all men’s and women’s spring sports seasons like baseball, softball, outdoor track, golf, tennis, etc. has indefinitely postponed and could cancel altogether the Major League baseball season that had been scheduled to start on March 26.
Speculation abounds with the possibility of zero 2020 season income that Major League baseball could just skip its June draft this year or draft far fewer than its scheduled 40 rounds.
Arkansas Razorbacks Coach Dave Van Horn believes “there will be a draft” though not 40 rounds.
“I think if Major League baseball doesn’t play all summer they’ll have a 5-round draft,” Van Horn said on a Tuesday teleconference. “And they’ll have free agency after that where they’ll limit how much money they can give free agents.”
He cited other scenarios.“If Major League baseball plays half their season or a little more it could be all the way up to 20 rounds,” Van Horn said. “If they play 100 games it will probably be closer to 20 rounds is what I’ve been told. If they play less it could be 10 or somewhere in there. It’s all hearsay, but there’s been some people in the know I’ve talked to about it.”
And he does feel the option of returning to the Razorbacks as 2021 draft eligible juniors give 2020 Preseason All-American Razorbacks Heston Kjerstad, Casey Martin and Casey Opitz an extra bargaining chip in post draft negotiations.
“I think it will give them a good option to go back to school if they feel like they are not going to get the type of bonus they need to skip a year of school,” Van Horn said. “So I think it’s definitely an advantage for them and at least frees them up to make a decision instead of feeling like they don’t have any bargaining power and pretty much take what they can get.”
Van Horn harbors no illusions that consensus All-Americans outfielder Kjerstad of Amarillo, Texas, “probably the best left-handed hitter in the country,” and shortstop Martin of Lonoke, extraordinary gifted with speed, range, power and arm strength, would return to the Razorbacks.
Both would seem to be prospects within the top two rounds after two years leading the Razorbacks to the College World Series in 2018 and 2018 plus Kjerstad holding a 16-game hitting streak for the 11-5 Razorbacks of the shortened 2020 season batting .448 with six home runs, five doubles and 20 RBI in 67 at bats.“ I feel like they will have bargaining power and will be paid the way they’re supposed to if they go in the first round or second round, third round possibly,” Van Horn said.
Kjerstad and Martin starred as freshmen on the 2018 national runner-up team. Opitz only played 19 games as the 2018 freshman backup to 2018 June drafted Grant Koch so only has the 2019 season and Arkansas’ 16-game abbreviated season as a regular for the pro scouts to evaluate.
“They don’t know Casey like we know him,” Van Horn said. “I feel like Casey is probably one of the top three catchers in the country right now. There are some scouts that are not sure, but I think he should have a good draft. If he doesn’t get the money that he really wants, I mean obviously we would love to have him back.”
Van Horn said some in his draft-eligible incoming freshman class also could highly considered in a June draft.
Meanwhile Van Horn prepares for 2021 knowing he’ll be dealing with an NCAA allowed expanded roster with a team that likely won’t have its usual summer options of playing summer ball or working out on the on campus facilities.
He’s hoping an extended fall practice period with more than just the current two exhibition games allowed.
“I truly believe that there needs to be some type of rule where we can bring our guys in early,” Van Horn said. “Or if we can’t bring them in early that we could go longer if we need to. And maybe we could play outside competition whenever we want to, whether we play 10 games, or 15 or 20. We could play Division I, junior college, Division II schools. Whatever. We want guys to get better and our guys want to get better. You do that by playing.”