Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in journalism.
McKinney, Bonfield highlight Diamond Hogs' class
Ankeny, Iowa pitcher Keaton McKinney signed a letter of intent to play at Arkansas.
FAYETTEVILLE Two of the nation's top baseball prospects signed national letters of intent to play at Arkansas during the fall signing period.
Right-handed pitcher Keaton McKinney and outfielder Luke Bonfield signed with the Diamond Hogs on the first day of the fall signing period for high school seniors. Both are considered among the nation's best players at their respective positions.
McKinney (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 43 prospect in 2014. The Ankeny, Iowa native played for the 18-under USA National team over the summer and earned the win at the Perfect Game All-American Game in San Diego earlier this year.
*Jack Benninghoff, OF, 6-0, 190, Overland Park (Rockhurst), Kan.
*Luke Bonfield, OF, 6-2, 190, Bradenton (IMG Academy), Fla.
*Matt Campbell, INF, 6-0, 170, Chesapeake, Va. (North Carolina, McLennan CC)
*Mark Clark, OF, 6-5, 200, Fort Smith (Southside), Ark.
*Ryan Fant, LHP, 6-5, 210, Texarkana (Texas High), Texas
*Keith Greishaber, INF, 6-2, 182, Chesterfield (Marquette), Mo.
Mark Hammel, RHP, 6-0, 195, Cypress (Woods), Texas
*Sam Hentges, INF, 6-6, 245, Shoreview (Mounds View), Minn.
*Trenton Hill, LHP/DH, 6-3, 200, Bentonville, Ark. (Maple Woods CC)
*Max Hogan, INF, 5-11, 195, Belton, Texas (Dallas Baptist, McLennan CC)
*Keaton McKinney, RHP, 6-5, 225, Ankeny, Iowa
*Kyle Pate, LHP, 6-1, 190, Fayetteville, Ark.
*Jonah Patten, RHP, 6-3, 200, Ossian (Norwell), Ind.
*Nathan Rodriguez, C, 5-11, 190, Placentia (El Dorado), Calif.
Darien Simms, OF, 5-8, 140, Spring (Northland Christian), Texas
*Chad Spanberger, C, 6-3, 210, Granite City, Ill.
*Blake Wiggins, INF, 6-1, 195, Little Rock (Pulaski Academy), Ark.
*- Denotes player signed a national letter of intent
As a junior, McKinney went 8-0 on the mound with a 0.61 earned run average. He also hit 8 home runs and drove in 39 at the plate.
“Keaton is a two-way player," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "He’s a hard throwing right hander that played with the 18 and under USA national team this summer. We recruited him to give him the opportunity to do both, to pitch and play either third or first. He has a chance to be a major impact player when he gets here. He’s a player that will have significant pro interest.”
Bonfield (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) committed to Arkansas following an official visit in September. The Skillman, N.J. native is rated as the No. 57 prospect nationally by Perfect Game.
As a junior, Bonfield batted .375 with 5 home runs and 36 RBIs at Immaculata High School. He transferred prior to his senior year and will play at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“Luke is one of the top high school hitters in this year’s class," Van Horn said. "He’s a tremendous player. He’s someone that will have a lot of pro interest. If we can get him to school, he has a chance to make a major impact as a freshman.”
Because of their high draft stock, McKinney and Bonfield could potentially never make it to the Fayetteville campus. High school seniors are allowed to sign with MLB franchises but are required to play three years once they enroll in college.
Arkansas has lost 13 signees to professional baseball contracts since 2010.
Other out of state players to sign with the Razorbacks included right-handed pitcher Jonah Patten from Norwell High School in Ossian, Ind., outfielder Jack Benninghoff from Rockhurst High School in Overland Park, Kan. Patten and Benninghoff are rated among the top 220 players nationally by Perfect Game.
Other highly-recruited players to sign with the Razorbacks include shortstop Keith Grieshaber from Marquette High School in Chesterfield, Mo. and Ryan Fant, a left-handed pitcher from Texarkana, Texas. Fant is the younger brother of former Arkansas pitcher Randall Fant, who was a four-year weekend starter from 2010-13.
Arkansas signed three in-state seniors - infielder Blake Wiggins (Pulaski Academy), left-handed pitcher Kyle Pate (Fayetteville) and outfielder Mark Clark (Fort Smith Southside). Wiggins is considered a top 200 recruit nationally.
“Blake is one of the top hitters in the country and is probably the top hitter coming out of high school in the state of Arkansas," Van Horn said. "He has tremendous power. He has a chance to hit in the middle of the lineup as a true freshman. He can play both corner infield positions.”
The Razorbacks signed eight high school players rated in the top 300 by Perfect Game. The class reflects a combination of players who were recruited by current assistant coach Tony Vitello and former assistant Todd Butler, now the head coach at Wichita State.
“I think this is one of the more well-rounded classes we’ve had here at the University of Arkansas in the last 10 years,” Van Horn said. “There’s some outstanding pitchers, a good mix of right- and left-handed pitchers. If we can get them here, this is probably top to bottom the best offensive class we’ve brought in since I’ve been here. There’s a lot of guys in this class that can come in and contribute as young players.”
In addition to the seniors, Arkansas has also signed three junior college players, including two infielders from McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. Max Hogan played last season at Dallas Baptist and Matt Campbell is a transfer from North Carolina. Van Horn transferred to Arkansas from McLennan in the 1980s.
Trenton Hill, a left-handed pitcher and designated hitter at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City, also signed. Hill played at Bentonville High School.
Two recruited players, right-handed pitcher Mark Hammel and outfielder Darien Simms, signed letters of agreement to attend Arkansas. Unlike national letters of intent, those documents are non-binding.
The players signing this week will be eligible to play for the Razorbacks beginning in the 2015 season.