Focused Szczur has bright future
Former football standout all baseball, and moving fast
PHOENIX -- For basically the first time in his athletic life, the middle of July does not signal that football is near for Matt Szczur.
The Chicago Cubs outfield prospect decided back in January that he was all-in with baseball and would not pursue a career in the National Football League after a standout career as a wide receiver at Villanova.
One of his first tangible rewards for that decision occurred on Sunday afternoon, when the center fielder represented the Cubs in the Futures Game presented by XM at Chase Field.
The event is a showcase for the top prospects in the game. Szczur came off the bench and went 0-for-1 for the U.S. Team, which topped the World, 6-4.
"Oh my God, it's awesome -- I'm surrounded by such great players," Szczur said. "It's very humbling as well to be surrounded by guys who are just unbelievable and are going to be in the big leagues pretty soon. It's a great experience. Mike Piazza is the manager. You couldn't ask for anything more. My family is here."
Szczur was drafted by the Cubs in June 2010, and wound up hitting .347 in 25 games after signing. But then he nullified his contract by going back to Villanova to play football for his senior year.
Once that was over, it was decision time. Baseball won, and Szczur signed a new deal for the Cubs for $1.4 million. There doesn't seem to be any turning back now.
"To be honest with you, I don't miss it at all," Szczur said of football. "I have no regrets. I'm having the time of my life playing baseball. It's just been awesome. It's the first time I've ever focused on one sport. I think sky's the limit for my potential."
For all his athletic ability, the 21-year-old Szczur already understands that his work ethic will probably decide how far he gets in baseball.
"I'm going to go out and work hard every day and try to get early hitting as much as possible," Szczur said. "Even the outfield work, just trying to get out there and get as much experience as I can. Unlike some other guys, I don't have the [same] baseball experience because I've been juggling sports my whole life."
The juggling act has been replaced by tunnel vision for baseball.
In 66 games for Class-A Peoria, Szczur hit .314 with five homers, 27 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. He will be promoted to Daytona -- a higher level of Class A -- to start the second half.
Szczur credits some mechanical adjustments at the plate as the catalyst for his solid season.
"As a hitter, just stay back and be able to drive the ball," Szczur said. "I struggled a little bit in the beginning. I was trying -- I kept on trying. You have to feel comfortable to be comfortable. Everybody says it. If you're willing to change, you have to be comfortable with it. It's starting to help me now and hopefully for the rest of the season."
And if Szczur ever needs any added motivation, all he needs to think about are the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.
"I've been to Wrigley once," Szczur said. "I left Peoria last year to go to football camp, and I went to Wrigley and took BP on the field, watched the game -- it was awesome."