Like any publicity obsessed blogger, I often take a detour through my stats page to see the amount of reads I get in a given day, views from around the world, and links I get to other sites.
My mock drafts have been viewed by team-centric message boards and blogs, my opinions on controversial topics (Like Ben Wetzler-gate) have been analyzed, and recently, college football fans have debated whether or not a prized quarterback recruit will go play there or opt to be a baseball player.
The intent of this article is not a massive ego stroke, believe me, I love the attention, but I’m not a whore for it. No, rather, it’s answering the question, would said athlete, Allen High School shortstop and quarterback Kyler Murray, consider turning pro or enroll at Texas A&M.
Kyler Murray is perhaps one of the greatest beneficiaries of Lamarckism due to both his father’s and uncle’s athletic abilities. Although undersized as a quarterback, he’s made himself into one of the most sought after recruits in college football history, eventually deciding to sign with Texas A&M. In baseball, he’s considered a raw talent with a very high ceiling, a speedster with some hitting ability, and the talent to play shortstop.
Murray’s also a trailblazer in the fact that he played in the Under Armour showcases for both baseball and football, a feat that had never happened before.
Kyler Murray is no doubt one of the more interesting athletic recruits in the nation. Not only that, but he also has major leverage thanks to his uncle Calvin being a sports agent.
But that doesn’t address the question: Where will Kyler go?
To answer this question, one has to look at the past five years, where at least one major dual sport athlete was drafted out of high school.
To begin this half-decade journey, one only needs to look at current Dodgers prospect and former LSU quarterback commit Zach Lee.
Lee was the original Kyler Murray, a top prep multisport athlete considered a tough sign due to a commitment to play for Louisiana State’s baseball and football teams. In his senior year, the McKinney High School product posted NFL-style numbers, and was named the offensive player for the year in his district. It was safe to say that in order for him to sign, a team had to be willing to pay big for him to drop his commitment.
Concerns about his signability dropped him from an early first round pick to a late pick, even in mocks. In fact, some mocks took him out of the first round entirely.
Finally, on draft day, Lee was taken 28th overall by the Dodgers, and signed with a hefty $5.25 Million bonus at the deadline.
Since being drafted, Lee has been moving at a typical pace for a prep player, and expects to be in the majors by this spring. He most recently finished in AAA Albuquerque, going 7-13 with a 5-44 ERA, extreme numbers even by PCL standards.
Bubba Starling and Archie Bradley only increased awareness of the highly valued dual sport prep athlete.
Starling was a star quarterback and outfielder for Gardner-Edgerton High School in Kansas. Considered arguably one of the best athletes in memory, he had both pro baseball scouts and University of Nebraska football and baseball fans salivating. Starling was a no-doubt first rounder in baseball, mainly because he was a five tool player, rare for a high schooler.
Archie Bradley was also a highly touted two sport star from Broken Arrow High School. Considered one of the top prep athletes in Oklahoma history, Bradley was named one of ESPN RISE’s Elite 11 quarterbacks, in a class that included Teddy Bridgewater, Everett Golson, and Cody Kessler, among others. He had a commitment to the University of Oklahoma as a two sport star as well.
Both Starling and Bradley ended up being top ten selections, with Starling going to the Royals fifth overall, and Bradley going to the Diamondbacks seventh overall. Because of their leverage as potential college athletes, they were able to sign big contracts with bigger bonuses, incidentally, this would be the second to last year that bonuses went unregulated. Since then, Bradley had become arguably one of the top pitching prospects with the Diamondbacks, with a major league debut projected at 2015. Starling’s development has been more protracted, having just finished his last season in Wilmington, the high-A affiliate of the Royals.
In 2012, Hueytown High School quarterback/pitcher/outfielder Jameis Winston was a highly touted dual sport athlete. A top talent, Winston supposedly would have been a high draft pick had he not been so intent on playing football at Florida State. The Texas Rangers would draft Winston in the 15th round, and in an attempt to get him to sign on, offered to let him play football at Florida State. Winston refused, and has since become one of the top quarterback prospects in the NFL draft, and a former third team All-American utility baseball player.
Of course, Winston hasn’t ruled out professional baseball either, and has considered a baseball and football career, like Bo Jackson, another former Heisman winner.
Before Kyler Murray, however, Texas A&M fans had to look forward to Kohl Stewart as Johnny Manziel’s replacement. Stewart was a highly rated two sport star who was set to play both sports. There were questions about his health, however, as he was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. This however did not deter the Twins, who took him fourth overall. Stewart signed rather quickly, with a signing bonus set at $4.5 million and in his first two seasons, has made it to Low-A Cedar Rapids, a good pace for a prep pitcher
Lee’s Summit High School outfielder Monte Harrison was an immensely talented wide receiver as well and was considered a tough sign from the beginning. His strong commitment to play football and baseball for Nebraska dropped him to the second round. The Milwaukee Brewers drafted him, and he signed quickly, however. Harrison had a so-so year to start his career, but is one of the Brewers’ top prospects already given the strength of the Brewers’ system.
Even if a prep baseball player isn’t a dual sport athlete, teams will often look for ways to ensure a commitment to them as opposed to a college. Look at the Chicago Cubs last season. In order to get highly rated prep pitcher Carson Sands, the Cubs spent their first three picks on high floor college talent, catchers Kyle Schwarber from Indiana and Mark Zagunis from Virginia Tech, and pitcher Jake Stinnett from Maryland. Knowing full well they could sign their first three picks for less money, they treated Sands as their first round pick and signed him for about the amount of a late first rounder.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for football fans, but in the business of sports, money rules everything. Draft a player high and offer him the moon, while still being within the limits of the bonus pool, and a player will sign. It doesn’t matter if the player could be the best quarterback in university history, the player will go where the money is. Unless Kyler Murray explicitly tells teams not to draft him because he wants to play football in college, ensuring that he drops to a day 2 or 3 pick, you can bet there is going to be at least one team willing to pay whatever amount is necessary to get him on their team as the shortstop of the future.
Normally, exhibition games between Major League teams and college teams is often regarded in the same vein as a private cocktail party reserved for only the extremely interested baseball fans. However, Tuesday’s game between the New york Yankees and the Florida State Seminoles was clearly more than that.
Boasting the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston, who serves as both the team’s closer and an outfielder, the Seminoles made this game something more of a huge attention grab, which is entirely up to the fan’s perspective as positive or negative.
Winston was probably the most scrutinized player on George Steinbrenner Field, even more than Derek Jeter, who is playing his last spring training, and Masahiro Tanaka, who’s playing his first. For Winston, the game was nothing to write home about; he entered the game as a defensive substitute, grounded out, and then struck out. Still, Winston’s mere presence was more than enough; the only thing that could have made the day better for him would have been if he had been allowed to pitch to the players as well.
Still, Winston clearly enjoyed the opportunity to meet his favorite players and said that it was almost as great as winning the National Championship.
Now that the excitement has likely died down and college baseball can go back to its regular pace, the question is if Jameis Winston can add more exposure to college baseball. We already saw how negative attention from college baseball has been covered, with the Ben Wetzler case, but how about a positive story, even if it’s on par with a Tim Tebow-esque gimmick?
Winston is by every definition of the word, an athlete. While there are probably people, diehard Seminole football fans and NFL scouts in particular, who cringe at the thought of Winston becoming a two sport professional athlete, there is no denying that Winston, if he can prove that he can manage both sports and find what he works best at, in this case as the Seminoles closer.
And to be honest, a Heisman winning football star, even a football star alone playing baseball is actually a fun thing to watch. Look at Bo Jackson. Jackson was a star at Auburn in football and baseball. He would have been one of the greatest athletes of all time had he not gotten hurt in football and limited his strikeout numbers in baseball.
If Jeff Samardzjia had chosen to play both football and baseball at the same time, instead of strictly staying as a pitcher, in all likelihood, he would have been an exceptionally popular athlete.
Winston is, however, a very raw baseball player. Despite being named a preseason All American, he needs to figure out where he wants to play if he is serious about playing two sports. As a hitter, he’s below average. He has high strikeout numbers, and while he does have some value as a switch hitter, having him in a daily lineup would be more of a liability. As a pitcher, Winston is actually very good. His season has started reasonably well with a save, only one hit allowed, and an 0.00 ERA, but the concern here is that pitchers are high maintenance. Winston would not be able to play both baseball and football if he was a starting pitcher. As a reliever, maybe a closer or a set up man, there wouldn’t be as much stress on his throwing arm.
The other thing that needs to be noted is how Winston plans to balance the training for baseball and football. Does Winston join a summer league? Does he use the summer to do football drills? Winston has the projectability and the hype to play in a big summer league, like the Cape Cod League or the New England Collegiate League.
He even had the hype to be a first round talent out of high school; had he not been so insistent on his Florida State commitment, scouts theorized he would have been a low first round draft choice, and rightfully so, as his fastball reaches the high 90’s.
While most football people wouldn’t want Winston to be a two sport athlete, he has gotten an endorsement from perhaps the most important person he knows right now: Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. Fisher, who was out to throw the first pitch, and probably monitor his quarterback, said “I think he definitely has ability, but it has to be the right situation.” Now, if your coach is that honest and isn’t sugarcoating, you know that he really believes that Winston may have a future as a two sport star.
In a spring training which will see the Super Bowl Champion quarterback suiting up for the Texas Rangers, the first trials of the new home plate collision law, as well as a preview of instant replay, nothing’s out of the realm of possibility. Perhaps Winston does end up showing that he is serious about being a two sport athlete. Perhaps also he improves his stock to the point where next year, he could be a first round pick in both baseball and football in the same year (It is entirely possible if he either leaves in 2015 or stays until 2016).
Still Winston could be the best thing for college baseball in terms of publicity right now. Time will tell if he is serious about being a two sport star and how good he could be.
The NCAA is often criticized for its Draconian measures against student athletes who try and prepare for a professional career, as well as its nonstandard punishments for apparent rules violations, see University of Oklahoma’s “Pastagate” as an example of such ludicrousness. But the case of Oregon State pitcher Ben Wetzler, who was turned in by the Philadelphia Phillies for hiring a financial advisor and ultimately electing to return for his senior season at Oregon State University, this has to be one of the most absurd, if not the most absurd case of the NCAA going on its “As you go” rules policy.
For those who are uninformed, Wetzler was a 5th round draft choice of the Phillies. Had he signed with them, he would have earned a $400,000 signing bonus. Obviously, Wetzler felt that he wasn’t ready, and wanted to be sure he was making the right choice, so he hired a financial advisor. When it became apparent that it would be better if he stayed in school, he did. In a plot that draws loose similarities to the 2006 Academy Award winning foreign film Das Leben Der Anderen, the Phillies, likely upset at having been jilted by the young starter, reported that Wetzler had hired an agent for the negotiations. The NCAA came down on this, and suspended Wetzler “indefinitely”. Incidentally, Wetzler wasn’t the only player that the Phillies tried to blackball, as Washington State outfielder and first baseman Jason Monda was also reported, yet was cleared by the Cougars and the NCAA to play this year.
What’s even more remarkable is that this is the first time that this has happened. Never before has a player been reported by a major league team. Granted, a player has been suspended and his eligibility has been revoked before, see Aaron Crow, Luke Hochevar, and James Paxton, but the teams that drafted them, the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Toronto Blue Jays never did report them.
This is undoubtedly low on Philadelphia’s part. A player should not be stabbed behind the back like that just because they chose to return to school, money or otherwise. It unfairly disqualifies a player, and ruins a team’s reputation. Agents who represent collegiate talent are now likely going to advise their clients to avoid signing with Philadelphia because of this. Similarly, the NCAA should be ashamed. There have been far worse examples of the same thing happening. Mark Appel for instance.
Appel, who had been chosen by the Pirates with the 8th overall pick out of Stanford, elected to return to school under the advice of Scott Boras, who wanted first overall pick money for his client. Incidentally, Appel also wanted to return because he wasn’t a first overall pick. A year later, Appel, who wasn’t suspended by the NCAA because the Pirates didn’t rat him out despite his being a more blatant transgression of the rules, was drafted first overall by the Astros. It amazes me that something this blatant wasn’t addressed, yet a fifth round pick deciding to return to school was. It’s hypocritical.
It’s likely that the Phillies will have a very severely damaged reputation now that Wetzler has decided to hire an attorney. This attorney is the same attorney that dealt with Houston based college football booster Willie Lyles. in the case of Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk. The fallout likely could mean that the Phillies would be banned from drafting Oregon State, or by extension, Pac-12 baseball players. This would be a big loss, especially considering one of Philadelphia’s alleged biggest targets could be Oregon State star Michael Conforto.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a team was banned from recruiting certain players. The Baltimore Orioles cannot attend Korea Baseball Association* sponsored baseball camps in South Korea after signing then-high-school pitcher Kim-Seong Min before he graduated.
*Recently signed Orioles pitcher Suk-Min Yoon is a product of the Korea Baseball Organization, which governs the professional leagues in South Korea. The Orioles are allowed to attend KBO games and sign KBO players.
Could Wetzler have a legitimate case against the NCAA and the Phillies by extension? It’s possible. This is the first time that such an incident has happened, and usually the ruling in the first case will set a precent. If the Appel case can be cited, it is likely that Wetzler could have his suspension overturned, thus allowing him the opportunity to pitch his senior season. For now, we will wait and see what happens.