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Arkansas had nine players and six signees taken in the 2021 MLB Draft this month.
Of those 15 players, only two – signees Braylon Bishop and Drake Varnado – aren’t expected to sign a professional contract ahead of the Aug. 1 deadline.
This story will be updated with each signing as they become known…
(NOTE: This list doesn’t include Matt Goodheart, who has signed with the Phillies as an undrafted free agent.)
OF Christian Franklin – Chicago Cubs
Pick: 4th round, 123rd overall
Signing bonus: $425,000 (source: MLB.com’s Jim Callis)
Slot value: $464,500
A true junior, Franklin signed for 8.5 percent under slot. Even though he has leverage, it isn’t uncommon for third-year college players to sign slightly under slot like that.
Widely considered the top prospect on the team, Franklin was the second Arkansas player off the board in the 2021 MLB Draft, following Kevin Kopps. He’s the Razorbacks’ third center fielder taken in the top four rounds since 2015, following Andrew Benintendi (1st round, 2015) and Dominic Fletcher (2nd round, 2019).
Franklin is coming off a season in which he hit .274 with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs while also making numerous highlight-reel plays that landed him on the SEC All-Defensive Team.
During his three-year career in Fayetteville, which included the pandemic-shorted 2020 season, the Overland Park, Kan., native slashed .288/.402/.499 with 22 home runs and 99 RBIs. His speed was not only used in the field, but also utilized on the base paths, as he was successful on 26 of 33 stolen base attempts.
The biggest negative for Franklin throughout his time in college has been his swing-and-miss issues at the plate, as his 158 career strikeouts rank seventh in UA history and each of his two full seasons (2021 and 2019) rank among the top five highest single-season strikeout totals.
LHP Caden Monke – Kansas City Royals
Pick: 14th round, 409th overall
Signing bonus: $125,000 (source: Baseball America’s database)
Slot value: $125,000
Players taken in the 11th round and beyond technically don’t have a slot value. Instead, teams are allowed to give bonuses up to $125,000 without being penalized. Anything above that number counts against their bonus pool for the first 10 rounds.
Much like Franklin, Monke is a third-year player with two years of eligibility remaining, but his leverage still would have decreased being another year older next year. That is likely why he took the full $125,000 from the Royals.
Teammate Kevin Kopps got all of the attention, rightfully so, but Monke was the Razorbacks’ next best reliever in 2021.
As a junior, the Texas native made 27 appearances – behind only Kopps’ 33 – and went 5-1 with a 3.71 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 34 innings. Although he struggled with command at times, as evidenced by his 21 walks, Monke was hard to hit. Opponents batted just .162 against the left-hander, which is the same as Kopps.
Including the pandemic-shorted 2020 season, Monke posted a 3.42 ERA and averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings over the last two years at Arkansas. Even including his freshman year, when he struggled with command and pitched only three innings, he still held opponents to a minuscule .159 batting average during his college career.
LHP Lael Lockhart – Los Angeles Dodgers
Pick: 9th round, 282nd overall
Signing bonus: $2,500 (source: Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo)
Slot value: $149,800
It may be shocking, but it is actually very common for college seniors with no remaining eligibility to receive four-figure signing bonuses. Teams routinely draft players like Lockhart near the end of the first 10 rounds because they have no leverage and can sign for well under slot, helping them save money for earlier, more expensive picks.
A graduate transfer from Houston who took advantage of his extra year of eligibility at Arkansas, Lockhart was a weekend starter for the Razorbacks in 2021.
The left-hander went 3-3 with a 4.47 ERA, 68 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 58 1/3 innings this season. Opponents hit just .233 against him. His season was highlighted by a near seven-inning perfect game at the SEC Tournament.
LHP signee Drew Gray – Chicago Cubs
Pick: 3rd round, 93rd overall
Signing bonus: $900,000 (source: MLB.com’s Jim Callis)
Slot value: $627,900
To get him to skip college and begin his professional career immediately, the Cubs gave Gray a signing bonus that is 43.3 percent above slot.
Signed with Arkansas as a two-way player, his future is likely as a left-handed pitcher, as he has elite spin rate and his fastball has already touched 94 mph – despite still being a raw prospect.
Playing at IMG Academy his senior year, the Illinois native went 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings across seven appearances this year. His biggest issue appears to be command, as he also had 18 walks.
Gray is considered a top prospect as an outfielder, too. He hit .474/.630/.578 with three RBIs and only two strikeouts with eight walks in 19 at bats this season at IMG.
Last summer, Gray participated in the Perfect Game National Showcase and was selected to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic. He also made the Area Code Games All-Tournament team as a pitcher.
Gray is the younger brother of current Arkansas pitcher Evan Gray.
C Casey Opitz – Chicago Cubs
Pick: 8th round, 244th overall
Signing bonus: $90,000 (source: MLB.com’s Jim Callis)
Slot value: $168,500
Although he technically has another year of eligibility remaining because of the pandemic relief from the NCAA, Opitz is still a fourth-year college player who turns 23 at the end of this month. That is likely why he received a bonus 46.6 percent under slot value.
Considered one of the top defensive catchers in the country, Opitz threw out an incredible 43 percent of the 107 would-be base stealers during his career at Arkansas. He also drew praise from the coaching staff for his ability to block and frame pitches, as well as how he called games behind the plate.
The biggest knock on Opitz is his bat, as he slashed just .257/.367/.346 with only 12 extra-base hits – including just two home runs – this year. Although he never displayed much power, with only six career home runs, Opitz had very good plate discipline as evidenced by his 32 walks and 33 strikeouts.
Many expected the Colorado native to turn pro last year, but he went undrafted in the five-round draft and returned to Arkansas for an extra year. With the Cubs selecting him, he could be reunited with Christian Franklin in Chicago’s system.