05/24/06 8:00 AM ET
Pitch or catch? Samardzija won't say
Fighting Irish wide receiver has scouts intrigued, concerned
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
It has yet to be determined whether he will opt to continue catching passes and rack up impressive yardage totals or turn in his helmet and shoulder pads for a full-time career on the mound. The lanky right-hander hasn't made a full-time commitment to one sport or the other. That has some clubs worried, as does the fact that he continues to insist regardless of what happens in next month's draft, he'll be suiting up for coach Charlie Weis and the Fighting Irish this fall.
The consensus among several scouts polled by MiLB.com is that Samardzija could have a bright future playing baseball, though if he's expecting to go very high in the draft, he'll be disappointed. That he won't give up football has some teams shying away, and those that remain interested don't seem inclined toward expending a pick on him in the first two rounds, which would give him the type of payday that accompanies such a selection and the club that takes him enough leverage to possibly force his hand.
"He's got the things you look for in a pitcher," said one American League scout of the 6-foot-5 Samardzija. "He just hasn't had a lot of the innings other pitchers have had because he's been playing football. He obviously doesn't spend a lot of time in the summer playing baseball. As a team, you just have to be prepared to sit down with him now and see what he wants to do and be prepared in case he doesn't like baseball.
"He has what you're looking for in terms of arm and body type, and he's got a good frame. But if he's determined to play football, he's determined."
Samardzija emerged as a football force last fall, setting a school record with 1,190 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. That came on the heels of posting an 8-1 mark with a 3.89 ERA as a sophomore. He has been almost as effective this season, going 7-2 with a 4.30 ERA through 13 starts, though he took time off to attend some spring practice sessions for the football team as well as participate in the annual spring scrimmage game.
Samardzija is 19-6 overall for the Irish as he winds down his collegiate career, but when you ask him where he's headed, he just smiles and gives you nothing. He's not arrogant or cocky about either set of skills he possesses. Rather, he's a young man who is still trying to figure out which career path to take or if he can continue to do both, much like a regular student would vacillate over which major to choose.
"It's the dream of any athlete to play two sports at the highest level," Samardzija said. "And I understand there are different opportunities with each. I also understand that some people will try to steer me away from one of them, but I'm going to give the best I can to both. And right now I want to be a winner [for the baseball team] and just put myself and the team in a position to win games.
"I will keep my options open and try to take both as far as I can take them. I love baseball and I love football, so I'm going to try and be greedy and do them both as long as I can. I am guaranteed to come back and play football [this year]. Given any situation, I'm going to try and make that a reality."
Samardzija says he has no expectations as far as the draft is concerned, that he would just like to get with an organization that is "excited for me and has an itch to get me in their system."
If Samardzija is insistent on going the Deion Sanders/Bo Jackson/Brian Jordan route, though, it may be difficult to find a team willing to scratch that itch.
Because he is a pitcher and can potentially be hit very hard, especially if he comes over the middle as a wide receiver to catch a ball, the risk for injury would appear to be much greater than if he were a position player in baseball. Samardzija would make a living with his arm, shoulder and elbow. Few teams would want to make the investment if he was to suffer an arm injury, especially if he's not a sure-fire first-round pick in baseball.
"He's a big kid with a good arm and a good slider," one National League scout said. "He's got the package to make it work if he decides to play baseball."
It's a big if. As the draft approaches that "if" just keeps getting bigger.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.