The Chicago Cubs drafted Villanova baseball star Matt Szczur in the fifth round of this year’s draft, and expectations were high. Szczur, 21, is an athletic outfielder – whom the Cubs liked enough to hand a $100,000 signing bonus – and the team’s expectations were met this summer when Szczur hit in 21 straight games between low-A Boise and A-ball Peoria.
But there’s a problem. Szczur is also a Villanova football star. And he likes football better.
An invitation to January’s Senior Bowl has the two-sport standout still considering pursuing an NFL career.
The Villanova wideout had been ready to accept the Chicago Cubs’ $500,000 bonus to walk away from football before he and Wildcats offensive lineman Ben Ijalana received their invites last month to the all-star game.
A factor in Szczur’s leaning toward baseball is the left high-ankle sprain that has sidelined the Football Championship Subdivision all-American for the last four football games.
Selected in the fifth round of June’s Major League Baseball draft, the former all-Big East baseball player received a $100,000 signing bonus from the Cubs. The senior would receive the additional $500,000 by committing completely to the Cubs before February’s NFL scouting combine.
“If I didn’t get invited . . . I would be like, ‘All right, I’m just going to play baseball,’ ” said Szczur, who hit in 21 straight games this summer as an outfielder in the Cubs’ organization. But the invitation “is more like a second chance.”
“So I have something to work for, something to go for.”
In July, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Szczur could be selected as high as the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft.
“Obviously, if I get drafted for football, I will pursue that,” Szczur said at the time. “If you get drafted in the top five rounds, you are going to secure a spot if you outperform your expectations in camp.” Philadelphia Inquirer.
I guess you can’t expect all of your players to be 100% committed to baseball, but there’s something uncomfortable about having to bribe a kid to play baseball over the sport he really loves. For what it’s worth, experts loved the Szczur pick, believing he was more of a round 2 or 3 talent, who fell – predictably – because of his football aspirations.
The $500,000 walkaway bonus wouldn’t be the first the Cubs have paid to a two-sport star. In 2006, the Cubs gave Jeff Samardzija a $10 million Major League contract to stick to baseball, and forgo entering the NFL draft where the wide receiver was expected to go in the first few rounds. That one has, well, not quite worked out yet.