Heston Kjerstad is high on Phil Elson’s beloved Pittsburgh Pirates’ draft spot at No. 7 and ESPN insider Kiley McDaniel said on Halftime Wednesday afternoon they have him on their radar.
Arkansas is one of the rare college baseball facilities with all natural grass but Dave Van Horn said Tuesday he might not be that opposed to putting in some of the fake stuff.
“It’s more just a maintenance nightmare,” he said Tuesday with Phil Elson and Matt Jenkins (Halftime) on ESPN Arkansas. “For what we do I would almost like to have some of the synthetic turf around home plate and in the foul areas. It is difficult sometimes.”
That may come as a little bit of a surprise to some Razorback fans.
“I’m in the middle on it, really,” he said. “In fall ball and early in the year we tear up the field so bad. We’re trying to baby that grass and it’s kind of a pain, bot be honest with you.”
That was why former athletics director Frank Broyles loved the fake grass, especially in the winters in Northwest Arkansas that can be harsh at times, especially with natural turf.
Broyles put Astro-Turf down in 1969 and in just a few years had one of the longest straight runs of the fake stuff from the North End Zone facility down to George Cole Field.
Changes in MLB draft affecting college baseball
Van Horn didn’t really have enough time to go into a lot of detail on the announcement last week the Major League Baseball Draft would be shortened to just five rounds, but he knows some players might be coming back he didn’t really expect.
Naturally, he’s in favor of players staying in college longer, especially if they are not chosen high and he’s realistic about the financial part of it.
“If I was a parent I’d take no less than $2 million to buy my kid out of college,” Van Horn said. “The goal is to make it to the big leagues and stick.”
The signing bonuses if you’re picked higher are a false promise. Many don’t realize the best-case scenario is 40 percent of that is gone before they get it (for taxes), then the agent’s part and that $400,000 suddenly turns to about $250,000 … if they are lucky.
The change this year will have some players back in school that would have normally been gone.
“It’s going to make college baseball a little bit older for a year or two,” Van Horn said. “It’s going to get a few really good players to skip pro ball and go to college. It’s so much better for the kids that don’t get to the big leagues and don’t get their degrees.”
The Hogs’ Heston Kjerstad and Casey Martin will probably be picked high and gone. Catcher Casey Opitz might be on the bubble.
Kjerstad’s missed chance at big season
Van Horn knows Kjerstad won’t be back, but was looking forward to him putting up some monster numbers the way things were shaping up before getting cancelled in mid-March.
“He would have been one of three invited to Golden Spike awards,” he said about the top award in college baseball.
It was a hot start as Kjerstad was living up to all the pre-season hype and expectations as the original schedule had them heading to Knoxville on Wednesday for the final regular-season series.
“If we were heading to Tennessee tomorrow Heston would have close to mid-20’s in home runs and be hitting around .370,” Van Horn said. “He wore it out and I don’t think he was even hot.”
That was based in large part of Kjerstad’s work in developing his game.
“He’d be there on the weekends and working later, more on speed and athleticism,” Van Horn said.
Arkansas outfielder Curtis Washington, Jr., is in the transfer portal after just six games in the shortened 2020 season and little playing time over his two seasons in Fayetteville.
He had one start in 2020.
Washington was a speedster with skills, but he’s been battling for time in an outfield group loaded with talent the last couple of years.
He played both right field and left field and was used as a pinch hitter in some situations. This past season, he went 1-for-5 from the plate for an average of .200.
Washington is the second player to go into the portal after pitcher Collin Taylor entered it last week.
Taylor didn’t appear in any games for Arkansas in 2020 as a sophomore. The Hogs got off to an 11-5 start to the 2020 season.
With no games being played, former Razorback pitching coach Dave Jorn told Phil Elson, Matt Jenkins and Matt Travis (Halftime) on ESPN Arkansas he’s disappointed to miss what was looking like a good season for the Hogs.
Being married to former Arkansas softball catcher Rachel Box has given Blaine Knight someone to at least catch balls so he can throw … at least to a certain limit.
“She tried to catch one full out a couple of weeks ago and she told me never again ,” Knight said Friday afternoon to Phil Elson and Matt Jenkins (Halftime) on ESPN Arkansas. “She was kinda upset with me. I spiked one fastball on her and she thought the world was ending.
“She wasn’t too happy about it.”
Like the rest of the world that is slowly to starting to re-open after shutdowns due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Knight is just waiting.
“I know about as much as ya’ll know,” he said. “They are trying to piece things together right now. I’m just sitting here on standby.”
He’s trying to work out as much as he can, but it’s better when he has someone catching, which is not going to be Rachel for anything really serious.
“She will catch some touch and field,” Knight said. “We reached a ceiling with it the other day. It has saved me days not being able to throw. It’s different throwing to a person than a wall or a net.”
And he would rather be shaking off signs from former catcher Grant Koch than Rachel.
“It was way easier to shake off Grant,” Knight said. “She’s pretty critical. She has a full report after my games. She always thinks she’s right. She’s been around it long enough … she knows.”
The popular thought when Arkansas’ baseball season was halted last month was shortstop Casey Martin would be joining teammates Heston Kjerstad and Casey Opitz in going to professional ball after the MLB Draft.
That may still happen, but Martin left a crack there Tuesday on ESPN Arkansas’ Halftime with Phil Elson and Matt Jenkins.
“Honestly I haven’t even made a decision yet,” Martin said. “That’s a big decision. From what I’ve heard they’ve dropped the draft to five rounds now. They decide something one day, then choose something else the next. It’s kinda in the air right now. I have all possibilities locked and loaded.”
Again, that really doesn’t mean anything one way or the other. Everybody has an opinion but the current COVID19 pandemic that has shut everything down has Martin dealing with something new.
“Without baseball you feel lost,” Martin said. “I’m just lost at this point.”
If you’re still playing baseball nearing the end of your junior year in college it’s become a lifestyle more than anything else.
“Honestly I can’t tell you the last time I haven’t been playing baseball around this time,” he said. “There’s probably never been a time since I started baseball.”
Elson, the play-by-play announcer for Hogs’ baseball, asked Martin what area of his game he felt needed work and it produced a remarkably candid response.
“Probably my pitch recognition,” he said. “We all know I struggled with that at times.”
Then it turned into a deep-dive hitting clinic.
“You’ve got to train your eyes,” Martin said. “Obviously you’ve been doing that since you’re little and just playing baseball a whole lot. We’ve got some VCR sets at the field to help train eyes to pick up the spin out of the hand. You look for different slots between the hands turned. Do they hide the ball better … do they not?
“You just go back on video and look at little things. Just keep your head still which goes back to training your eyes. You’ve got to keep your eyes in a locked position and you can’t be looking at every other place. (The pitcher) arm slot is a big deal. There’s usually a little square window and that’s usually the best place where you can pick up the spin out of their hand.
“You’ve just got to continue to train your eyes. It’s a lot easier said than done. Seeing pitches and not swinging is probably the best thing to do.”
The MLB draft is tentatively scheduled for July, but details are on essentially on hold due to the current global health crisis.
Razorback players Casey Opitz and Heston Kjerstad talked with the media Tuesday about how they are each dealing with the shutdown of the baseball season back at home, the draft and disappointment.
Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn talked during a teleconference Tuesday about he he’s dealing with the different things when he should be coaching games during the spring and Baum-Walker Stadium’s field may be best he’s ever seen it.
Arkansas’ baseball team had about the same reaction when the word came down from the SEC and NCAA about the jarring premature end of the season due to the national emergency over the COVID-19 virus.
“They were just in shock,” Dave Van Horn said Wednesday morning on a teleconference.
In what ended up being the last game of the 2020 season last week, there was about as much side discussion about the crisis as it was the game going on so the situation was not completely unexpected.
“You start getting wind of it after the win over Grand Canyon and next day we’re supposed to fly out to Starkville,” Van Horn said about the opening SEC series against Mississippi State. “Then we’re put on hold and we pretty much knew what was going to happen there.
“We kinda knew it was going to go away.”
But there was still a glimmer of hope until Tuesday when the NCAA and the SEC slammed the door shut on all sports for awhile.
Van Horn normally stands up to address the team and assistant coaches are scattered around. Not this time. He brought them to the front to stand with him.
“I wanted them to see what I was going to see in the players’ faces,” Van Horn said. “It was tough. It was really hard to look at the players and their reactions.”
All sports function on a routine schedule that becomes a part of both coaches and players. Baseball plays so many games at such a fast pace that routine is a necessity. The Razorbacks pretty much figured it was just a matter of time.
“Behind closed doors we were thinking we’re done,” Van Horn said. “When are they just going to tell us this is over? You have to train for a certain date. Hitters have to swing the bat nearly every day.”
All that’s over and it’s not coming back for this season.
Which means star players Heston Kjerstad, Casey Martin and Casey Opitz won’t be back for the Hogs whenever things resume.
““I haven’t discussed anything with them as far as that goes,” Van Horn said. “I just know how highly those guys are going to be sought after in the draft and the kind of money that’s going to go out there to them.”
A couple of others may leave, too, but Van Horn wasn’t naming any names with those guys.
“There are a couple that are iffy,” he said.
With just 16 games played (and the Hogs’ record will remain 11-5 for all time), this team was starting to get things straightened out and the frustration slipped through at times in Van Horn’s voice.
Especially Kjerstad and Martin.
“He was starting to heat up,” Van Horn said of Kjerstad. “He would have hit mid-20 or 30 home runs this year.”
And Martin had finally matured to the point he was handling some early-season adversity and turning things around.
“He was really starting to come out of it,” Van Horn said. “His demeanor when he wasn’t having a good day was getting so much better. I think he was getting ready to take off.”
Others were developting, too.
“Some guys having great years,” Van Horn said. “I really wanted I wanted Christian Franklin to keep developing.”
There will be changes to the roster. There is some accepted expectation that eligibility will be restored to some players, but Van Horn admitted that’s going to be a tricky area.
The not knowing may be the biggest problem of all for Van Horn.
“There’s so many unknowns right now,” Van Horn said.
Razorback coach Dave Van Horn talked with the media on a teleconference for the first time since the remainder of the college baseball season was cancelled last week.