Early Thursday morning, Adam Schefter broke the news that Tim Tebow has signed a contract to play baseball for the New York Mets. You all know who Tebow is, you all saw the workout, and if you’re curious what the general consensus was, it adds up to: Impressive for a guy who hasn’t played baseball competitively for a very long time, very unlikely to make an impact on an MLB roster.
While Tebow Watch 2016 may have annoyed the heck out of you, it inspired me. Not because I’m a huge fan, I’m indifferent at best and worst. It inspired me to think of how many great athletes who played baseball that went on to play other sports.
Rather than just think about it, I decided to act. I asked four scouts who the best baseball player they saw who didn’t end up making their living on the diamond was, and whether or not they felt like they ever had a shot to sign them.
NL East Scout: Jake Locker — “He had as high of an upside as any player I scouted in the Northwest in that timeframe. That might not seem like much to you, but that region has produced some good players. Locker had everything. He was a top of the charts runner, he had a cannon of an arm, the power potential was obvious, so on and so forth. [Locker] was so good of athlete, it wouldn’t really shock me if he went out and put on a show like [Tebow]. Just a freak athlete.
Was there ever a shot?: “Oh yeah, when he was deciding between…I think it was Washington and USC where to play football, I think that what he was really deciding was whether or not he wanted to play baseball or not. I can’t prove it, but it was clear he loved Washington so much that I knew he if he committed to play there there was no shot. But for a moment there, there was a chance. A slim one, but a chance.”
NL Central Scout: Kyler Murray — “I guess we can’t guarantee he won’t play, but if he doesn’t, it’s unfortunate. He was raw, but the athleticism was elite; a 70 runner who would occasionally post 80 times. He also could throw the heck out of the baseball, if he couldn’t stick at shortstop he could have easily played center field. The swing needed work but the hand-eye was obvious, and there was some power potential here, too. I think if he would have been a first-round lock had football not been the route.”
Was there ever a shot?: “I never got that impression. He had offers to play quarterback at some of the great football programs in the country, and it was pretty clear he loved football. Maybe if he doesn’t hack it as a quarterback and he doesn’t have his development impeded too bad by football he can become a prospect again, but to me, it was clear that football is the first love. Good for him, bad for baseball.”
NL East Scout: Golden Tate — “I didn’t get to see Tate until he was playing at Notre Dame, so I think I was even more impressed because of how easy the game came to him. He tracked the ball well in the outfield, and the only thing missing from him being a great center fielder was the arm strength. I saw him make a lot of hard contact, and he even had a solid approach at the plate. And, of course, he could fly, so he might have been a future leadoff hitter, or maybe a fourth outfielder. Either way, it was all very impressive when you consider baseball was basically a hobby to him.”
Was there ever a shot?: No. Of course not. Guy was one of the best wide receivers in the country. There was never any chance he was going to play baseball unless he failed out of football or something.”
AL West Scout: Senquez Golson. — “Man, what an athlete this kid was, it’s a shame that he didn’t stay on the diamond. He had 70 speed, and he also had a ridiculous amount of bat speed, so I think the power would have developed. It wasn’t the strongest of arms and you would have had to make some adjustments with the swing, but this kind of athlete could have been special if he wasn’t a football player. I guess he petered out at Ole Miss, but I think with professional coaching he could have been really something.”
Was there ever a shot?: “Yeah, I thought there was. I really thought he was going to play baseball. Unfortunately, football got in the way, and he also had some bonus demands that were pretty excessive. I was actually surprised the Red Sox didn’t get him done, though, just because they had the pockets for it and we didn’t have the rules we did. Alas, he did not.”
Me: Russell Wilson
Full honesty, I would have gone with Locker, but for the sake of non-repetition, I’ll go with Wilson. He certainly wasn’t a flawless prospect; he had trouble making contact with anything that wasn’t straight, and he wasn’t exactly a world-class defender at second base. Still, let’s keep a couple of things in mind. First, the approach was impressive; he drew more than his fair share of walks, and he showed a line-drive stroke that could make hard contact to all parts of the field. Second, when you consider how much time he spent away from baseball, being even remotely successful is impressive. Baseball is hard. Baseball is a game that requires a commitment of more than a few months. It’s why I’m always so impressed by what guys like Deion Sanders, Brian Jordan, and yes, Michael Jordan did. It shouldn’t be possible, but those guys were good enough athletes to pull it off. Russell might have been another one.
Was there ever a shot?: Nah, Go Hawks.
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