If he returns to old form, Arkansas baseball might just be *the* national title favorite

arkansas-arkansas baseball-keaton mckinney

Arkansas football rules the world of Razorbacks sports. So, with your bacon, have some Hogs for Breakfast and get caught up. It’s SEC Country’s weekday column and roundup on all things Arkansas … especially Arkansas football. Opinion, numbers, inane babble and more! And now with ironic exclamation points! There is no place like it on the web.

My, oh, my, what a wonderful day. If you’re an Arkansas baseball follower and fan, that is.

The Diamond Hogs open their season in just one more day — Friday at Baum Stadium against Bucknell. Of course, that’s been known for months. It was a fresh batch of news that piqued the interest of the diehards and I’m here to tell you, the casual fan, is of real consequence.

Arkansas junior right-hander Keaton McKinney is getting a shot in the weekend starting rotation.

Perhaps you remember him, those who tend to only follow baseball when it’s going swimmingly. His freshman season, a season Arkansas went to the College World Series, he was, for all intents and purposes, the staff ace. McKinney started 18 games that year and his 3.21 earned-run average was a whole run better than any starter on the team. The .225 opponents’ batting average against was second best on the roster behind future early round pick Zach Jackson. He looked like a star.

Then, it came crashing down. A hip problem grew worse as the season progressed. By the time Omaha came around, he was pitching on one leg, practically. His sophomore year, he decided to test it, instead of taking off a season for rehab and surgery. A 6.66 ERA followed and the hip worsened. After that, more disaster. McKinney needed Tommy John surgery.

Only, the surgery ensured, this time, he would rest. Apparently, it’s paid off.

After not having pitched in more than a year in a Diamond Hogs uniform, McKinney is set to go Sunday against Bucknell. Coach Dave Van Horn said McKinney will throw only 40-50 pitches or thereabouts for the trial run, but it’s something to behold that a guy whose career looked derailed is starting for a top 5 team in the country.

Can you imagine what that will do for the Diamond Hogs if he sticks? Wow.

Daniel Gafford, NBA player?

A few weeks back, nah. Would have said the odds were long that Arkansas freshman big man Daniel Gafford would leave after one season for the NBA.

Things have changed.

Long shot no longer. Gafford still may not leave the Razorbacks after his freshman season, but the NBA is knocking whenever he is ready to answer it. ESPN has him as a top 15 available player. Sports Illustrated has him going 18th overall to Portland.

Might think the cart is being put in front of the horse here. In a way, maybe. But no doubt that I routinely receive more than one question along the lines of: “Is Daniel Gafford going to be back next year?” Seriously. Rarely do I receive queries about whether the current Arkansas team can make the NCAA Tournament or how the Hogs will finish the season. Almost every week, though, Gafford’s pro prospects come up.

Well, fans best hope he wants one more year in Fayetteville because the carrot is dangling.

ICYMI

  • My former colleague at the Arkansas News Bureau — and the best sportswriter in the state — Harry King wrote how times have changed for freshman quarterbacks in college football.
  • Freshman Arkansas diver Brooke Schultz won the SEC 1-meter springboard title with a score of 363.45, a record at Texas A&M’s pool.
  • Let’s not make any bones about it: The Arkansas defensive line has been brutal the last two years. That’s the first thing new defensive coordinator John Chavis has to fix.
  • Perhaps the biggest immediate impact Chad Morris has made is recruiting in Texas. East Texas, especially, is looking like a fertile ground for the football team.

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Tweets and the like

• Jon Sundvold was the color commentator for Arkansas’ win over Ole Miss on Tuesday. He saw Gafford’s best game of the season.

• Funny. Seems I have heard this somewhere before. Where … where … where …?

The post If he returns to old form, Arkansas baseball might just be *the* national title favorite appeared first on SEC Country.

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