The Chicago Cubs’ thinning prospect corps just received a shot in the arm when Villanova wide receiver Matt Szczur, drafted by the Cubs in the 5th round last year, but thought to prefer a future in the NFL, agreed to stick with baseball for good. The $1.5 million to which the Cubs upped their signing bonus probably didn’t hurt.
This is the kind of thing Tom Ricketts is talking about when he says the Cubs will keep spending, though it may not all be on the ML diamond. And they should continue to do more of it if they want to be competitive with the big boys long term.
The Cubs fell in love with Szczur’s hitting ability, athleticism and makeup and drafted him in the fifth round last June. He began his pro career with a 21-game hitting streak and batted .347/.414/.465 overall in 25 games before returning to Villanova for his senior year of football. Though he missed time during the regular season with a high ankle sprain, he accounted for five touchdowns in a quarterfinal playoff game before the Wildcats were eliminated in the next round.
Though Chicago has little to show for its last big investment in a star wide receiver—Jeff Samardzija has gone 4-5, 5.95 in 53 big league games after landing a $10 million major league contract in 2008—Szczur’s tools may translate better to baseball. His hitting skills could make him a special player.
Szczur has a knack for barreling balls, which combined with his top-of-the-scale speed will allow him to hit for high averages. He has hit some 400-foot bombs in batting practice, and once he gets more coaching and learns to finish through the ball better, he could have average or better power. He’s still refining his basestealing and baserunning, but his speed alone makes him a threat. Villanova football coach Andy Talley says Szczur is his fastest player ever, ahead of star NFL running back Brian Westbrook.
In his short time in pro ball, Szczur’s center-field play and his throwing made significant strides. He’ll have plus-plus range once he improves his jumps, and his arm strength rated as average after he loosened up and lost some of his football tightness. His competitiveness and work ethic are impeccable. Baseball America.
To be clear: this is not Jeff Samardzija redux. In addition to the Sczcur’s more natural baseball ability, and more experience playing the game, the Cubs have committed just $1.5 million to Szczur – Samardzija cost them $10 million.
Szczur (man, that is not a fun name to type) was not ranked in a number of the recent spate of prospect lists because of his uncertain future with the Cubs. Baseball America, however, did rank him, and placed Szczur 7th in the system – before Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee were sent off to the Rays. This is a first round talent, no doubt about it.