Draft : : State Preview
Sunday, May 29, 2011

State Preview: Arkansas

Allan Simpson         David Rawnsley        

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. These overviews will list the state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as well as providing mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.

Arkansas State-by-State List

Arkansas Overview:
Arkansas Draft Class Shallow Beyond Obvious Talents Howard, McCann

The 2010 draft was outstanding by Arkansas’ modest standards. Two players—Southern Arkansas righthander Hayden Simpson (16th/Cubs) and Arkansas third baseman Zach Cox (25th/Cardinals)—were taken in the first round, and six more players had their names called in the top 10 rounds. Altogether, 16 players with Arkansas connections signed professional contracts, an exceptionally-high total for the state.

Those memories will have to satisfy an Arkansas draft fan base, as 2011 looks to be as shallow as 2010 was deep. Only two players, Searcy High righthander Dillon Howard and Arkansas catcher James McCann, appear likely to be drafted in the top five rounds.

Howard has a realistic chance to become the highest-drafted high-school player from the state since Arkansas High (Texarkana) righthanders Dustin Moseley in 2000 (34
th overall/Reds) and Tony McKnight in 1995 (22nd overall/Astros), and possibly even since Pine Bluff High outfielder Torii Hunter in 1993 (20th overall/Twins).

His signability could be an interesting puzzle for scouts to figure out, though, as he is being advised by the Boras Corporation, which has a documented history of steering high-school clients to college before entering professional baseball. In addition, Howard would be eligible to re-enter the draft as a college sophomore, due to his age, if he chooses to honor his scholarship to Arkansas.

If those factors aren’t enough for Howard to ponder, his stature as one of the top high-school prospects ever raised and developed in Arkansas may put added pressure on him to play for the extremely-popular state school, and potentially even lead that program to its first-ever College World Series title.

Howard has been considered a near first-round lock since he was clocked at 92 mph in his first high-school appearance as a freshman, and homered in his first at-bat. Within a year, he was touching 95 with regularity. Even though he throws no harder now than he did then, Howard has developed into a pitcher, instead of just a thrower. His steady 91-95 mph fastball gets nice running action, and he’s increasingly able to spot the pitch to different parts of the strike zone while mixing in two types of breaking balls.

Though Howard has dominated his competition in Arkansas since his freshman year, his Searcy High team lost in the 6-A state final in each of the last three years. This year’s setback was the most gut-wrenching for Howard as he was cruising along with a tidy one-hitter through six innings, and took a seemingly insurmountable 5-1 lead into the final inning. But Jacksonville High scored four runs in the seventh to tie the game 5-5, the final three coming on a two-out, two-strike, bases-loaded double.

With Howard moving to shortstop in the eighth inning, Jacksonville quickly pushed across the winning run for an unlikely 6-5 victory. To add insult to injury, Howard went 0-for-4, hitting in the cleanup spot. A year earlier, Howard was unable to take the mound in the state final because of a minor shoulder injury. While Howard’s otherwise distinguished prep career ended on a sour note, he has the draft squarely in his sights.

The state’s other top high-school prospect, lefthander Mark Reyes, meanwhile, closed out his career in style by striking out 17 and slamming a two-run homer in leading Jessieville High a 9-1 win over Elkins High in the state 3-A title game. Reyes’ fastball peaks out at 92 mph, and like Howard, he is committed to Arkansas.

The University of Arkansas’ contribution to this year’s draft is expected to be minimal, unlike last year when the Razorbacks produced a first-rounder (Cox), two second-rounders, a fifth-rounder and seven players in all that went in the top 16 rounds.

McCann, a California native, stands out this year as the only Razorback with obvious top-10 round potential.

With his superior defensive skills, refined mechanics and take-charge approach, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound McCann could catch in the big leagues right now. He is regarded in a class of his own defensively among college catchers. Not only is he strong, durable and athletic behind the plate, but has very mature instincts for catching.

Where McCann’s athleticism is readily evident defensively, he struggles to show the same kind of consistent athleticism in his approach at the plate. He hit just .105 last summer as the regular catcher for Cotuit, the Cape Cod League champion, as pitchers routinely exposed his long swing and stride. He has quickened the hip rotation in his swing this spring, though, enabling him to turn on balls more consistently and he has shown marked improvement with the bat, also hitting a number of timely home runs.

Had junior lefthander Geoff Davenport (3-1, 4.95) not succumbed to Tommy John surgery earlier this season, he might have been a second Razorback player to go in the top 10. Davenport had shown an ability to pitch with a fastball in the 88-92 mph range and a solid breaking ball. A team still may take a flier on him in the middle rounds. Outfielder Kyle Robinson (.280-8-42), who tops the Razorbacks in home runs, is also a consideration in the top 10 rounds as one of the better senior signs in the draft.

It’s not that Arkansas (36-18 in the regular season) is suffering from a lack of talent this year; most of it just isn’t draft-eligible. Sophomore righthander D.J. Baxendale (8-2, 1.62) is the staff ace, and corner infielder Dominic Ficociello (.347-4-47), who leads the team in batting and RBIs, and righthander Ryne Stanek, an unsigned third-rounder in last year’s draft, are two of the nation’s top freshmen. Each is a potential first-round talent and should significantly impact the 2012 and 2013 drafts.

Additionally, the Razorbacks have recruited one of the nation’s top 2011 high-school classes, headlined by local prospects Howard and Reyes, but also including noteworthy prospects such as Wyoming outfielder Brandon Nimmo, Oklahoma righthander Michael Fulmer, Colorado catcher Greg Bird and Texas shortstop Drake Roberts.

The state’s other Division I programs—Arkansas State, Arkansas-Little Rock, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Central Arkansas—all finished with sub-.500 records, combining for a 79-125 mark. Their contributions to the draft are expected to be minimal.

One scenario that definitely won’t repeat itself in 2011 is a surprise first-round selection of a Division II player, such as occurred a year ago when the Chicago Cubs threw a curveball by taking Southern Arkansas’ Simpson with the 16th overall pick. Simpson was a dominant D-II pitcher with plus raw stuff, but his short, slender build painted him more as a 3rd-5th rounder for most scouts. Interestingly, Simpson has a younger brother, Landon, who has drawn some attention this spring as a righthanded pitcher at Magnolia High, but he is similarly undersized at 5-foot-9. He has signed with Arkansas.

With the reclassification of Arkansas-Fort Smith from a junior college to a four-year school, that development seemed to close the door in Arkansas on another talent source. But an obscure junior college, Arkansas Baptist, has a potential five-tool talent in outfielder Kentrell Hill, who had local scouts buzzing this spring. An Oral Roberts recruit, Hill hit .401-11-49 with 35 stolen bases.

Arkansas in a Nutshell:

Dillon Howard, James McCann.
WEAKNESS: College pitching, high-school prospects.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 2.


PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Kentrell Hill, of, Arkansas Baptist JC:
Hill is an Arkansas native who attended Cisco (Texas) JC as a freshman, before transferring back to his home state as a sophomore. He’s an excellent athlete with superior speed and defensive skills in center field, and his rapidly-emerging offensive skills could make him a draft-day surprise.

Jarrod McKinney, of, University of Arkansas. McKinney came to Arkansas three years ago as a very highly-regarded prospect with a well above-average power/speed combination. That power simply hasn’t developed in three years of college (.285-2-18 this season).

WILD CARD: Geoff Davenport, lhp, University of Arkansas.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Davenport projected as a 5th-8th round pick in this year’s draft, until he injured his elbow in March and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery. Though he is expected to slide because of the injury, he could still be a significant draft for a team prepared to be patient with his rehab process. Prior to the injury, Davenport showed a good ability to mix three pitches, including an 88-92 mph fastball.

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Arkansas Connection:
Austin O’Donnell, rhp, Northeast Texas JC (Attended high school in Magnolia).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: D.J. Baxendale, rhp, University of Arkansas.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: Dominic Ficociello, 3b/1b, University of Arkansas.

Draft History: Jeff King, 3b, U. of Arkansas (1986, Pirates/1st round, 1st pick).
2006 Draft: Dan Stegall, of, Greenwood HS (Mets/7th round).
2007 Draft: Nick Schmidt, lhp, U. of Arkansas (Padres/1st round, 23rd pick).
2008 Draft: Logan Forsythe, 3b, U. of Arkansas (Padres/1st round, 46th pick).
2009 Draft: Dallas Keuchel, lhp, U. of Arkansas (Astros/7th round).
2010 Draft: Hayden Simpson, rhp, U. of Southern Arkansas (Cubs/1st round, 16th pick).


(Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)

1. DILLON HOWARD, rhp, Searcy HS
Long-established HS arm; strong build (6-4/205), FB 92-95, + power CU/developing CH, better pitchability.
2. JAMES McCANN, c, University of Arkansas (Jr.)
Quality athlete for C; + quickness/agility on defense, strong arm; bat speed just fair (.308-6-31), flashes pop.

(Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)

3. KENTRELL HILL, of, Arkansas Baptist JC (So.)
+ CF/leadoff tools with 6.48 speed, ++ range, strong arm; solid bat speed (.401-11-49, 35 SB); ORU signee.
4. MARK REYES, lhp/of, Jessieville HS, Hot SpringsVillage
Loose-armed 6-2/180 LHP; FB up to 92, + CU; K’d 35 in 2 playoff games for 3-A champs; Arkansas signee.

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