FAYETTEVILLE – The University of Arkansas baseball coaches have been hard at work on the recruiting trails over the past year and added another six signees to their class as the early signing period came to a close. The latest group of players includes four pitchers and two players that could play either the infield or outfield. The Razorbacks’ signing class is ranked No. 3 in the nation by Perfect Game USA which is the first recruiting service to rank the collegiate signing classes.
"I think that as a staff we did a very good job of recognizing our needs not just for the 2012 season, but beyond that," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "We have catchers, infielders, pitchers and a couple of outfielders in this class. We have guys with power and athletes that can play more than one position. We signed a larger class this year than we have in the past because of guys that we have lost to the Major League Draft as well as the players that we could lose this year."
Van Horn’s final batch of signees includes pitchers Dillon Howard, Landon Simpson, Nevin Wilson and Tyler Wright, and infield/outfield prospects Drake Roberts and Joe Serrano. The players bring Arkansas’ total number of signees to 16 which include seven pitchers, two catchers, six infielders and one outfielder. Of the 16 players signed, five are capable of playing multiple positions including three that could be either infielders or outfielders.
Howard is a product of Searcy and is the No. 1 ranked player in the state according to Perfect Game USA and the No. 7 high school prospect in the nation. A right-handed pitcher with a live arm, Howard has been a part of several national showcases including the 2010 Perfect Game WWBA World Championship and the 2010 AFLAC All-American Game to name a couple.
"Obviously, Dillon is a polished right-handed pitcher with a good arm," Van Horn said. "He is consistently in the low 90s and can touch the mid 90s. He has outstanding command of all his pitches and has a lot of pitch ability coming out of high school. He is projected as a high pick in the upcoming draft."
Another Arkansas product out of Magnolia, Simpson is 15-3 for Magnolia High School in three years and has 136 strikes outs to just 50 walks over 107 innings. He boasts a 2.48 career ERA, but as a junior posted a 1.99 ERA while also hitting .500 and driving in 29 runs. He is a multi-time all-state and all-conference player in both baseball and football. His brother Hayden was the No. 1 draft choice of the Chicago Cubs in the 2010 Major League draft.
"Simpson is an athletic hard throwing right hander," Van Horn said. "His command has been impressing as has his pitch ability. He is a player that I feel could make an immediate impact."
Joining Arkansas from Scottsdale, Ariz., Wilson is a two-sport athlete in basketball and baseball. He was named a 2010 Rawlings Underclass Honorable Mention All-American as a junior and led his team to a first-place finish in his district and third-place finish in the region.
"Wilson is a hard throwing lefty who grew up in Florida playing a lot of basketball," Van Horn said. "He did not start playing baseball at a high level until the last few years and has really blossomed. I think that he could have a big senior year with his plus fastball."
Wright is originally from Houston, Texas, and went to San Jacinto College after graduating from Mayde Creek High School. In 2010 he went 1-1 on the mound and in 23 innings posted a 5.09 ERA while striking out a batter an inning. He was a first-team unanimous selection all-district performer as a senior at Mayde Creek and earned honorable mention honors as a junior.
"We saw Wright as a young player at camps and suggested that he go to junior college," Van Horn said. "He did that and has developed an upper 80s fastball with a good breaking ball. It will be nice to have a pitcher with some game experience joining us."
Roberts is another highly-touted player by Perfect Game and is ranked No. 76 overall and the No. 10 player in the state of Texas. A native of Brenham, Texas, Roberts has been a part of several Perfect Game events including the 2010 PG WWBA World Championships, WWBA South Qualifier, the Area Code Games and WWBA 2011 grads or 17u national championship.
"Very athletic, infielder or outfielder," Van Horn said. "He can play either of the middle infield positions or any of the three outfield spots. He hits for a high average and likes to steal bases. He has shown very good baseball instincts."
Rounding out the Razorback signees, Serrano is another Arizona product from Tucson who hit .455 as a junior with 35 RBI and six home runs. He is a two-time first-team all-conference player for Salpointe Catholic High School who helped the Lancers finish second in the Southern Arizona 5A1 conference in back-to-back seasons. Playing club baseball with the 520 Elite, Serrano has played in the Area Code Games and Power Showcase.
"Serrano is a guy that we had in one of our camps and continued to follow," Van Horn said. "He is a hard-nosed player that can play anywhere in the infield. He likes to steal bases and is very aggressive. His baseball instincts could help get him into the lineup early."