Choosing a college baseball squad to follow is rather a useful topic in December and January. Games start for real in February. For all the denial and bargaining being offered online in the cold months, very few people realize the amusement I get from people claiming to crave baseball, yet being scarcely willing to acknowledge anything but MLB. Following the Arkansas Razorbacks for a month would provide some substantive baseball, and a chance to learn about some potential future Cubs.
Due to the Cubs’ middling 2019 campaign, they select 16th in June's amateur draft. If you dig college hitters, two at the top of the Hogs daily lineup may be scrutinized regularly for the spot, and they're very different types of players. Heston Kjerstad is a heart-of-the-order mashing corner outfielder, and Casey Martin is a leadoff-type hitter with gusto on the basepaths.
In their freshman season, the Hogs reached the finals. Last season, they reached Omaha again, but lost both games. Martin, a third baseman/shortstop had an OPS of .915 in the 2019 season, going 10-for-12 in base thievery. Kjerstad, who may get some looks in center this time around, had a .978 OPS. Kjerstad had 16 of the pair's 31 homers.
Here, I derail myself to debate a topic. The baseball draft continues to be called a crapshoot by many. I still call that a rubbish assessment. It revolves around a hard ten.
A "hard ten" in craps is a pair of fives. A hard eight is a pair of fours. Et cetera. Nobody in their right mind would gamble on so horrible of a wager as a one-in-36 likelihood unless they received a premium for the wager. There is one, but a "hard ten" is still a weak likelihood. Yet, people who are actual craps shooters bet on hard tend every day.
In the baseball draft, players like Martin and Kjerstad will come off the board early. Very likely, in the first round or so. Why? Is it because the rules of the baseball draft rewards fans of teams who select lousy talent early with better payouts? No. They'll go early because they're the best players on a coin-flip to return to Omaha. The guys who OPS .511 in the SEC or have 6+ ERAs? The hard tens? They don't get drafted.
Fangraphs has both Martin and Kjerstad in their top 30. Neither are currently top sixteen. Literally, either could be announced at 16. As to which is the better selection as of today? I buy Kjerstad's power a bit more. On the other hand, if Martin is South Bend's leadoff guy in August, I doubt I'll complain.
The angst over the Cubs draft/develop brings about a curious dilemma. If you're complaining, and doing so as a back seat driver, you add nothing to the knowledge base. Not a thing. With a mild bit of effort, you can watch 2019 Arkansas games today. Instead of posting how much you miss baseball, you can literally watch games that include two guys that could be Cubs prospects in seven months. Watch two full at-bats from Martin and Kjerstad, and you're already in the ninetieth percentile of Cubs draft knowledge. Go to YouTube, and search for "Arkansas 2019 baseball" during a time you might have watched a Bowl game, and you know more about baseball. Tell us if you liked what you saw. Here’s a sample, some video of Kjerstad taking BP and hitting in an NCAA game last June:
The Hogs are not just Kjerstad and Martin. 2019 sophomore Matt Goodheart exploded onto the SEC from obscurity to an OPS of .985 last season. He'll be a good pro, likely, as well. They lost quite a bit before the season to the pros and graduation, but they'll hit. And have pitchers throwing 94-plus.
Arkansas would be a nice primary college baseball follow for all the cool reasons. Two likely first rounders. Highly ranked pre-season. Veteran coaches that are good at reaching Omaha. And a cool crown for anyone who hits a homer. The pitching will be useful enough, as well. Arkansas is on my short-list of recommended college baseball follows regardless. Martin and Kjerstad make it an even easier call. Two for the price of one. Even a better deal than a hard ten.