Though only recently completing his sophomore year, Gibault High slugger Jordan McFarland's quick jump onto the Division I baseball recruiting radar has resulted in an early commitment to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
"I think the first school I actually talked to was Arkansas and when I got there I thought it was really special," said McFarland, a first-team News-Democrat All-Area selection who hit .437 this season with a team-leading 10 doubles, seven home runs and 41 RBIs. "I just wanted to get it out the way early and get the stress off. When a school that big offers you that early, you have to make your mind up and give them something back."
McFarland tied for second in the St. Louis area in home runs and his 41 RBIs were the region's sixth-highest total.
Also having a strong summer for Rick Strickland's St. Louis Pirates travel team, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound right-handed hitting infielder-outfielder had a scholarship offer from Mississippi and interest from Missouri and other Division I schools.
"Saying you're going Division I is one thing, but the SEC is a whole other level," Gibault coach Andy Skaer said. "He's the first guy I've ever had commit before his junior year. In my 10 years he is the biggest recruit that we've had.
"He had a lot of strong interest from different SEC schools and it's one of the best conferences in the nation. It's going to be a great opportunity for him."
McFarland also visited Ole Miss and Missouri before deciding on the Razorbacks, a Southeastern Conference power who reached the College World Series in 2013. Arkansas was 40-25 this season and reached the NCAA Tournament.
"I really liked Ole Miss too," McFarland said. "If I didn't pick Arkansas, that probably would have been my second (choice)."
McFarland isn't the only prominent member of the metro-east Class of 2016 to already make a Division I baseball commitment. O'Fallon outfielder-pitcher Bradley Harrison has committed to Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
McFarland said he was impressed with the Arkansas coaching staff and its facilities, which include a new indoor hitting facility. The coaches includes head coach Dave Van Horn and longtime pitching coach and O'Fallon native Dave Jorn. Former Missouri player and coach Tony Vitello from St. Louis is the recruiting coordinator.
McFarland said the Arkansas staff projects him as a corner infielder or outfielder.
"This summer I've played a lot of outfield," he said. "It's kind of a toss-up. I like third base a lot but I really enjoy the outfield, too. I guess I'd say right or left field if I could pick one position."
McFarland was part of Gibault's state baseball championship team as a freshman, the year he set a school record by hitting four homers in consecutive at-bats.
In two varsity seasons, he's hitting a combined .401 (55-for-137) with 12 doubles, three triples, 11 home runs and 52 RBIs.
What does Skaer think is McFarland's best attribute?
"I would have to think it's his power. That's his No. 1 ability when you talk about the tools he has," Skaer said. "Throughout the summer when he's switched over to wood bats and still has shown that impressive power."
McFarland keeps pushing himself and setting the bar higher, using his work with the Hawks and the Pirates to lay a strong foundation.
"I always think you have to expect a bunch from yourself," McFarland said. "I had fun playing with guys like Wes Degener and Zach Neff (at Gibault), they were really good teammates and I looked up to them.
"Right now I'm at the stage where I'm doing well, but I'm trying to improve every year with my mental game. Coach Strickland and (Pirates assistant) Coach (Brett) Huber have done a good job of keeping us focused on our mental game, not just our physical game as far as our tools."
McFarland's father, David McFarland, played college basketball at McKendree University and uncles Kevin McFarland (McKendree) and Brian McFarland (SIU Edwardsville) both played college baseball.
His grandfather, East St. Louis native Bill McFarland, played minor-league baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees organizations from 1945 to 1950.