Baseball and football are often intertwined, as you'll see in our first question of the latest edition of our Pipeline Inbox. You'll also notice that if you watch the second round of the NFL playoffs this weekend, as three of the eight starting quarterbacks were selected in baseball's First-Year Player Draft.
Russell Wilson of the Seahawks actually signed with the Rockies for $200,000 as a fourth-round pick in 2010. He batted .229/.354/.356 in two summers as a second baseman while continuing his college football career. The Rangers took him in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft in December, though he's unlikely to return to the diamond.
The Expos chose Tom Brady of the Patriots in the 18th round out of high school in 1995, and the Cubs nabbed the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick in the 43rd round when he was at Nevada-Reno in 2009. Neither of them signed. Peyton Manning of the Broncos never was drafted in baseball, but his father Archie was picked four times from 1967-71 before beginning his NFL career.
Baseball-football connections are everywhere. Of the three players elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, Frank Thomas went to college on a football scholarship and played both tight end and first base for Auburn. This weekend's MLB Rookie Career Development program will include former Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker of the Rockies, the only college athlete to throw 20 touchdown passes and hit 20 homers in the same academic year; the D-backs' Archie Bradley, who might be the starting quarterback at Oklahoma right now if he hadn't signed for $5 million and become the game's top pitching prospect; and the Cubs' Logan Watkins, who was an all-state quarterback in Kansas before reaching the big leagues.
Among three recent quarterback/baseball players, which of Jake Locker, Russell Wilson and Jameis Winston had the best chance of making it to the Major Leagues?
-- Paul M., Atlanta
If they were willing to give up football, both Locker and Winston could have been first-round picks out of high school. Locker was widely considered the best athlete in the 2006 Draft, a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder with a low-90s fastball, at least plus raw power and 6.4-second speed in the 60-yard dash. Winston was a similar prospect, with maybe a tick less speed and arm strength.
The Angels drafted Locker twice, in the 40th round as a right-handed pitcher out of high school in 2006 and in the 10th round as an outfielder in 2009. He signed for $200,000 in 2009 but never played in a professional baseball game. Winston turned down the Rangers as a 15th-round pick in 2012.
While Locker and Winston were possible five-tool outfielders, Wilson was a different type of player. He was a speedy second baseman who could have been a better hitter for average but didn't have nearly the same power ceiling. His baseball prowess was apparent in high school, too, as the Orioles drafted him in the 41st round in 2007.
For any of these guys to make it to the Major Leagues and have any kind of impact there, they would have had to focus on baseball, which none of them did. Locker never played at Washington, though he did play one summer in the West Coast Collegiate League, while Wilson was a part-time starter at North Carolina State and the same has been true of Winston at Florida State.
The commitment required to play quarterback in college is so extensive that it cost these guys too many at-bats. I still think Drew Henson could have been a star in baseball had that been his focus -- one evaluator I highly respect compared Henson's skills to those of Mike Schmidt -- but doubling as a quarterback ultimately meant he didn't realize his potential in any sport.
In terms of pure tools, Locker had the best chance to become a big leaguer, followed closely by Winston. But considering how much aptitude and savvy Wilson has shown on top of his athletic ability on the gridiron, he might have had the best chance to hit of any of them.
What do you think about the Dodgers' top pitching prospects in Zach Lee and Chris Reed? And how soon do you think they will called up?
-- Kirk W., Riverside, Calif.
Personally, I rate Julio Urias as the Dodgers' best pitching prospect, and I wouldn't put Reed right behind Urias and Lee.
Lee famously gave up the chance to play quarterback at Louisiana State for a $5 million bonus when Los Angeles drafted him 28th overall in 2010. His stuff hasn't gotten better as he has developed physically, but he still throws four pitches for strikes and his fastball, slider and changeup are all solid offerings. He's a good bet to reach his ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter, and I could see him contributing to the Dodgers in the second half of this season if needed.
The 16th overall pick in 2011, Reed went a little higher than expected in the Draft because he was relatively signable. He has a quality sinker but has yet to display a reliable secondary pitch, and his control and command have been inconsistent as well. He might be a No. 3 or 4 starter, or he might be a reliever, which was his role at Stanford. He won't be ready for Los Angeles until his stuff and location take a step forward.
With the Rangers announcing that Shin Soo-Choo will play left field, what will happen to Michael Choice?
-- Justin D., Houston
When the Rangers acquired Choice from the Athletics in a December trade, he immediately became their front-runner to start in left field. That changed after Texas signed Choo to a seven-year, $130 million deal, but Choice still should have no problem getting at-bats.
Choice looks like the Rangers' primary backup at all three outfield positions. Leonys Martin and Mitch Moreland have struggled against big league left-handers, so the righty-swinging Choice could get platoon at-bats as a center fielder or designated hitter. And if Martin and Moreland scuffle as much as they did in 2013, Choice could eat into more of their playing time.
I envision Choice getting 300 or so at-bats as a rookie, which, given his power and his new home ballpark, should be enough for him to produce double-digit home runs.
What is Angels first baseman C.J. Cron's potential? Is he going to have Mark Trumbo kind of numbers in the Majors or better?
-- Jesse R., Santa Paula, Calif.
When Cron came out of Utah as the 17th overall pick in the 2011 Draft, some scouts thought he was the best all-around hitter available. He figured to produce for both power and average, but he has fallen short of expectations. His batting averages, on-base percentages and slugging percentages have declined in each of his three pro seasons, bottoming out at .274/.319/.428 last season in Double-A.
For a player who derives 100 percent of his value from his bat, that's not enough. He did rebound in the Arizona Fall League, winning the batting title (.413) while ranking second in homers (five) and RBIs (20), though AFL stats don't mean much. He still shows above-average raw power but doesn't always get to show it because he isn't selective enough at the plate.
If Cron can develop better plate discipline, then he still could become a solid big league regular. But that's easier said than done, and his ceiling doesn't appear as high as it did when he turned pro.
Should the Yankees, or any team, be prevented from gaming the international signing rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement?
-- M.G.V., Barnstaple, United Kingdom
Word is that the Yankees plan on blowing well past their international spending pool for 2013-14, which figures to be roughly $2 million. I wouldn't call that "gaming" the rules, however. There are specific penalties for exceeding the bonus pool, and New York apparently will take them willingly in an attempt to add more talent to its farm system.
The maximum penalty kicks in if a team surpasses its bonus pool by 15 percent or more. If that happens, the club gets hit with a tax that equals its overage and won't be able to sign an international player for more than $300,000 in the next two signing periods. But if the team gets what it believes is the equivalent of multiple years of talent upfront, there's little downside to incurring the penalty.
The Yankees aren't the first club to get this aggressive internationally. The Rays accepted the maximum penalty for their 2012-13 international spending and the Cubs and Rangers did the same for 2013-14. Those penalties were a 100-percent tax and a $250,000 limit.
MLB ultimately wants an international amateur draft, and I'll bet one is worked out as part of the negotiations for the next CBA, if not before then. Under the current system, if a team wants to go all-in during one international spending period and is willing to be restricted in the next two, that's fine.
The Yankees aren't doing anything wrong, and neither were the Rays, Cubs or Rangers. They're trying to amass as much talent as they can and they're not breaking any rules.