State Report: Arkansas

THIS YEARS CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
Rating compares this years group to what a state typically produces, not to other states

Talent in the state of Arkansas usually goes as the Razorbacks go, and the Hogs had yet to live up to their No. 4 preseason ranking, entering the NCAA postseason as a No. 2 regional seed. The team’s top prospect, righthander Nolan Sanburn, never seized the closer job, and its top prospect for 2013, sophomore righthander Ryne Stanek, didn’t finish strong either. The state’s biggest draft stories included the death of longtime area scout Larry Chase in April, and the fate of the Baxendale brothers: Arkansas righty D.J. and prep slugger Blake. There’s a chance the two could play together in 2013 at Arkansas, but also a chance both could go in the first three to five rounds in this draft.

NATIONAL TOP 500 PROSPECTS

1. Nolan Sanburn, RHP, Arkansas (National Rank: 55)

Arkansas had one of the nation’s deepest pitching staffs this spring, allowing the Razorbacks to use a premium arm like Sanburn in a relief role. He was just seventh on the team in innings pitched in May, but scouts had seen enough of him to put him toward the top of a large group of college relief pitchers. He cemented his place with a dominant outing against Missouri, striking out seven in four shutout innings and sitting in the 94-99 mph range. Sanburn hits 97 consistently with his fastball and has a power curveball in the low 80s, though he doesn’t locate it well. He has dabbled with a slider and cutter to give him a breaking ball he can control better. He needs innings, having thrown just 62 in college so far after pitching and hitting in high school, where he was primarily an outfielder.

2. D’vone McClure, OF, Jacksonville (Ark.) HS (National Rank: 91)

Arkansas’ top prep hitter, McClure put himself on the map in 2011 when he won several matchups with eventual Indians supplemental first-rounder Dillon Howard. McClure has consistently hit the top arms he has faced (including Trey Killian this year), and gave up football to sign a baseball-only scholarship offer to Arkansas. Few expect him to get to Fayetteville, though. Some scouts compare McClure to Austin Jackson, while others are unsure if he can stay in center field. Like Jackson, McClure takes a big swing and is just an average runner, at times turning in below-average times to first. He’ll have to improve his instincts to play center as well as Jackson, but he should have more power. McClure has excellent bat speed and the handsy looseness scouts look for in hitters, and many project him to hit for plus power. Teams that aren’t as high on McClure say he has an inconsistent motor and modest speed. Even teams that give him a chance to stay in center realize they are mostly buying the bat.

3. Matt Reynolds, 3B, Arkansas (National Rank: 147)

Reynolds opened his college career as a shortstop before a torn thumb ligament short-circuited his freshman season. He has played more at third base since, both for the Razorback and for USA Baseball’s college national team last summer. He’s a solid athlete with a tweener profile: defensive tools suited for third and a bat that profiles better up the middle. Reynolds lacks third-base power, with a line-drive, gap-to-gap approach. He doesn’t have the proper load in his swing to produce more than fringe-average power. He responded well to last summer’s challenge of playing with Team USA and later in the Cape Cod League, improving his preparation and pushing himself to improve. He was Arkansas’ best hitter this spring (.350/.460/.541) thanks to a more consistent approach and better patience at the plate. He’s an average runner who can steal a bag as well. Reynolds may hit his way into an everyday role if he gets the chance to play shortstop or second base as a pro, as he has soft hands, good footwork and an above-average arm.

4. Trey Killian, RHP, Mountain Home (Ark.) HS (National Rank: 249)

Arkansas’ best prep pitcher this year is righthander Trey Killian, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder with who has flashed four average pitches. His fastball generally sits in the 88-91 mph range and touches 92-93, often with above-average life. He throws a slider, curveball and changeup as well, and while all of them are somewhat raw, he has some feel for his offspeed stuff. He’s a key Arkansas recruit without a true present plus pitch, leading many scouts to believe he’d be tough to buy away from the Razorbacks.

5. Blake Baxendale, C, Rogers (Ark.) Heritage HS (National Rank: 265)

Arkansas righthander D.J. Baxendale entered the season with a chance to be drafted in the first three rounds, but his stuff backed up early in the spring. Conversely his younger brother Blake, a physical 6-foot-3, 220-pound righthanded hitter, was moving up draft boards. The scouting consensus is that the younger Baxendale may not be agile enough to remain a catcher, but his righthanded power is too much to ignore. He has plenty of arm strength but it may wind up being wasted at first base. He’s committed to play college ball for the Razorbacks, who hope the Baxendales choose to play together for a year like brothers Austin and Aaron Nola did last year for Louisiana State.

6. Jacob Lee, RHP, Arkansas State (National Rank: 307)

Arkansas’ No. 4 prospect last year, Lee wasn’t drafted after an up-and-down spring. He was better as a sophomore, with more consistent velocity in the 89-91 mph range and even touching 93. His curveball remains his best pitch, earning 55 grades for its shape and consistency, and his changeup is fringe-average to better. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder lacks upside but is a solid senior sign.

7. D.J. Baxendale, RHP, Arkansas (National Rank: 319)

Baxendale had come on strong down the stretch for Arkansas, which might mitigate an ugly start to a season that began with great expectations. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound righthander always has relied on an excellent curveball as his putaway pitch; it allowed him to thrive as a reliever as a freshman and post a 1.58 ERA as a sophomore starter. Baxendale was pitching at 88-90 mph with his fastball early in the season, while his breaking ball was down to the 69-72 mph range. He regained some zip later in the season, as he stopped overthrowing and trying to pitch to the radar gun. Baxendale figured to be picked later than his brother Blake, a prep catcher in Arkansas, but it’s possible both players could suit up for the Razorbacks next season.

8. Mike Faulkner, OF, Arkansas State (National Rank: 393)

Faulkner ranked second in Division I with 41 stolen bases and had been caught stealing only once. He’s a 70 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and turns in some 80 times on bunts and jailbreak swings, and his overall game resembles that of Juan Pierre. Faulkner lacks even Pierre’s strength and hitting ability, however, as a weak-bodied 5-foot-11, 155-pounder with a well below-average arm. He’ll have to get stronger to be a factor at the plate, but his speed will earn him plenty of chances.

9. Randall Fant, LHP, Arkansas (National Rank: 440)

Fant lost his spot in Arkansas’ rotation for part of the season before regaining it in the final third of the season. The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder has good size and two average pitches at 88-91 mph and a solid changeup. His breaking ball remains below average, which hinders his ability to profile as a reliever.

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

10. Hunter Wood, RHP, Rogers Heritage HS, Sherwood, Ark.

Wood has potential to be a two-way college player with a quick bat and solid power potential. He has more ability on the mound, with an average fastball in the 87-91 mph range that has bumped higher and a loose arm to go with a projectable 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame. His curveball lacks bite and power.

11. Jacob Morris, OF/C, Arkansas

12. Daniel Young, 3B, Southside HS, Fort Smith, Ark.

13. Sean Bignall, OF, Arkansas-Little Rock

Bignall led the Sun Belt Conference and ranked among the national leaders with 19 home runs. He’s a short, all-or-nothing corner outfielder without a plus tool, but the Canadian’s power and bat speed should get him a place in the 20th-round range.

14. Derrick Bleeker, OF/RHP, Arkansas

15. Brandon Farley, RHP, Arkansas State

16. Chance Cleveland, RHP, Arkansas-Little Rock

17. Cameron Bentley, OF, Arkansas-Little Rock

18. Garrett Rucker, SS/2B, Arkadelphia (Ark.) HS

19. Logan Uxa, 3B, Arkansas State

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