State Report: Arkansas

Prospects popping up everywhere in Razorback State






See also: Baseball America's Complete 2010 Draft Map


THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
The state of Arkansas produced only one first-round pick in the last decade (Nick Schmidt in 2007), yet could have two this year in Arkansas teammates Zack Cox and Brett Eibner. Another Razorback, Drew Smyly, is one of the top lefthanders available, and Southern Arkansas righty Hayden Simpson is one of the best small-college prospects in the draft. The high school crop was nondescript until righthanders Ben Wells and Richie Tate popped up late in the spring.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Zack Cox, 3b, Arkansas (National Rank: 6)
2. Brett Eibner, rhp/of, Arkansas (National Rank: 23)
3. Drew Smyly, lhp, Arkansas (National Rank: 86)
4. Hayden Simpson, rhp, Southern Arkansas (National Rank: 191)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

5. Ben Wells, rhp, Bryant HS
6. Andy Wilkins, 1b, Arkansas
7. Richie Tate, rhp, Market Tree HS
8. Mike Bolsinger, rhp, Arkansas
9. Adam Champion, lhp, Arkansas-Little Rock
10. Andy Ferguson, rhp, Arkansas State
11. Jeremy Heatley, rhp, Arkansas
12. Jonathan Dooley, rhp, Henderson State
13. Jordan Spears, rhp, Sylvan Hills HS, Sherwood
14. Murray Watts, 1b, Arkansas State
15. Brandon Moore, rhp, Van Buren HS
16. Barrett Astin, rhp, Forrest City HS
17. Cole Lohden, rhp, Southern Arkansas
18. Jordan Pratt, rhp, Arkansas
19. Collin Kuhn, of, Arkansas
20. T.J. Forrest, lhp, Arkansas

SCOUTING REPORTS

Zack Cox, 3b

Arkansas


Cox is the best pure hitter and top sophomore-eligible player in the draft. He hit just .266 as a freshman on Arkansas' College World Series team a year ago, but improved as the season went on and adjusted his pull-happy approach when he arrived in the Cape Cod League. He hit .344 with wood bats and ranked as the top position prospect in the summer circuit, setting the stage for a breakout spring in which he was hitting .432/.514/.606 entering regional play. Cox has very good hands, a short, lefty stroke and nice command of the strike zone. He has an uncanny ability to hit the ball with authority to the opposite field. There's some debate as to how much power he'll have in the major leagues, but he has the bat speed to do damage once he adds more loft to his swing. He has plenty of strength, as evidenced by a titanic shot he blasted off the top of a 90-foot-tall scoreboard at the 2009 Southeastern Conference tournament. Six feet and 215 pounds, Cox is a decent athlete with fringy speed and range at third base. Not all scouts are sold on his defensive ability. He does have a strong arm—he threw in the low 90s as a reliever a year ago—and will put in the work to improve his reactions at third base. He also has seen time at second base, and one scout said his actions looked better there, but his athleticism is more suited for the hot corner. Cox turned down an $800,000 offer as a Dodgers 20th-round pick out of high school, and he's in line to make two or three times as much as a top 10 choice this June. A pulled back muscle that kept him out of the Southeastern Conference wasn't expected to affect his draft stock.

Brett Eibner, rhp/of

Arkansas


Eibner is the best two-way prospect in the 2010 draft. Teams are evenly split about whether he has more potential as a pitcher or an outfielder. A fourth-round pick out of high school by the Astros, he has impressive power in his arm and bat. He has added significant polish as both a pitcher and a hitter this spring, making the decision about his future no easier. After not pitching during the fall while recovering from a mild elbow strain sustained in the Cape Cod League, he has refined his command and secondary pitches. His fastball velocity can be inconsistent, as he'll sit at 88-91 mph during some games and 92-94 in others, peaking at 97. His mid-80s slider/cutter is a plus pitch at times, and he has improved his feel for a changeup. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder has a loose delivery that he repeats well. Eibner also has considerable upside as a power hitter. He can crush the ball to all fields, and he has done a better job this year of recognizing pitches and using the opposite field. Though he's strictly a righthanded hitter in games, he wowed Cape observers with a lefty batting-practice display last summer. His arm is an asset in the outfield, and while his solid speed and athleticism give him a chance to stick in center field at the next level, he projects more as a right fielder. Eibner's preference is to hit, but it remains to be seen if he'll get his wish. He didn't hurt his cause by hitting three homers in the Razorbacks' regional opener against Grambling State, his first game back after missing the Southeastern Conference tournament with a hairline fracture in his right hand.

Drew Smyly, lhp

Arkansas


Smyly's senior high school season in 2007 was marred by back trouble, and he redshirted in his first year at Arkansas after sustaining a stress fracture in his elbow during an intrasquad game. He started to come on at the end of last season, striking out 12 and coming within two outs of a no-hitter in an NCAA regional championship game against Oklahoma. Though he doesn't have a signature pitch, Smyly has been the Razorbacks' ace this spring. He mainly works with a fastball and a cutter/slider. He can add and subtract from his fastball, ranging from 86-93 mph, and works in the low to mid-80s with the cut/slider. He also mixes in a curveball and changeup. Smyly has exceptional feel for pitching, which allowed him to thrive even when a blister on his middle finger prevented him from gripping the seams on the ball for a couple of starts at midseason. Six-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he throws strikes on a good downward angle to the plate. In a draft bereft of lefthanders, Smyly shouldn't last past the top three rounds, though his extra leverage as a draft-eligible sophomore could scare off some clubs.

Hayden Simpson, rhp

Southern Arkansas


Southern Arkansas coach Allen Gum found the most successful pitcher in school history literally right next door. Simpson, his next-door neighbor in Magnolia, Ark., has gone 35-2, 2.39 with 323 strikeouts in 271 innings in three seasons with the NCAA Division II Muleriders. Though he's just 6 feet and 175 pounds, he has a strong lower half and a quick arm that delivers 91-93 mph fastballs that peak at 96. His fastball is fairly straight and he tends to pitch up in the zone, which could lead to difficulty with tougher competition. He has a pair of hard breaking pitches, an 82-83 mph slider and an 78-80 mph curve. He also has a changeup that he uses sparingly, and he commands his entire repertoire well. His velocity decreased a little toward the end of the season, and some scouts are wary of his size and the fact that he's never ventured far from Magnolia. Nevertheless, his fastball could get him drafted as high as the fourth or fifth round.

Perfecto Caps Wells' Emergence

Ben Wells pitched at 84-87 mph most of his amateur career, but by the end of this spring he was throwing 90-94 mph and pitching a five-inning perfect game in the state 7-A championship game. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound righthander has a good feel for pitching, too, as he pounds the strike zone with a three-pitch mix that also includes a hard slider and splitter. He committed to Crowder (Mo.) JC and now is drawing attention from Southeastern Conference schools. Wells has the size and stuff to go in the first five rounds of the draft, though he may not have been scouted extensively enough to go that high.

Another high school righthander who popped up late in the spring is Richie Tate, who also didn't get seen by many clubs. He can run his fastball up to 93 mph, and while his delivery needs work, he has good body control for a 6-foot-6, 230-pounder. His secondary pitches and control also need refinement. Committed to Connors State (Okla.), Tate should be signable if he goes in the first 10 rounds.

First baseman Andy Wilkins offers lefthanded power and has hit 42 homers in three seasons at Arkansas. A lot of scouts question how well the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder's pop will play with wood bats, however. He hit just .232 with two homers in 24 games while using wood with Team USA last summer, and was batting just .274 with metal entering NCAA regional play. He has a deep load in his swing that makes it hard for him to turn on quality pitching. He's a well-below-average runner, but he has improved defensively and does a decent job at first base. A team that really believes in his power could go get him in the third round, but the consensus would place him somewhere between the seventh and 10th.

Righthander Mike Bolsinger has served as a swingman this spring, and his pro future is as a reliever, his role on Arkansas' 2009 College World Series team. Coming out of the bullpen, he has an 89-92 mph sinker and a slider. The 6-foot-2, 212-pounder throws strikes, competes well and could make a useful middle reliever in the big leagues. The Athletics drafted him in the 33rd round as a junior last year.

Lefthander Adam Champion, a 23rd-round pick by the Giants in 2009, is another senior sign. Though he's 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds, he relies more on deception, usually working from 88-91. He's mostly a one-pitch pitcher with command and delivery issues, but he's a big southpaw who has touched 93 mph.