Jameis Winston wants the best of both worlds, but can he actually be a star quarterback in the National Football League and a Major League Baseball player at the same time?
The vast majority of the sports world knows Winston as the playmaking, Heisman Trophy-winning QB for Florida State, but the freak athlete is also a member of the Seminoles baseball team as a right-handed pitcher and outfielder.
Before his award-winning campaign in football this fall, Winston, who turns 20 on Jan. 6, spent last spring splitting his time on the mound and in the outfield. In 17 appearances as a pitcher—all in relief—he threw 27 innings, allowing only nine earned runs (3.00 ERA) and just 18 hits (.176 BAA) with a 21-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Meanwhile, in 41 games as a position player, the switch-hitting Winston went 28-for-119 (.235 BA) at the plate with 10 extra-base hits (no homers), 22 walks and 33 strikeouts.
Given his pedigree, profile, athleticism and specs—he's listed at 6'4" and 220 pounds on his official Seminoles bio page—Winston's best path for baseball is to make use of his electric right arm, the one that throws touchdown passes by the bushel as well as mid-90s heat and frozen ropes from right field.
Winston recently indicated that he's of the mind to continue his dream of playing both football and baseball professionally. Winston, who will play in the BCS Championship Game against Auburn on Jan. 6, said the following, per Jon Solomon of AL.com:
You can do anything you put your mind to. A lot of people are going to say, no way, he's a quarterback, Bo Jackson was a running back. But if I put my mind to it -- and the one thing I always seem to do is gain the trust of my teammates -- if I can convince those guys I can be your quarterback and still go play baseball for the Atlanta Braves or New York Yankees ...
That echoes what Winston told Matthew Muench of ESPN two years ago, when he was a highly sought after recruit in both sports: "A lot of people ask me which sport I will choose. I want to play both. I want to be the next two-sport pro athlete."
Considered a good prospect on the diamond coming out of high school, Winston was actually drafted in 2012 by the Texas Rangers in the 15th round—and likely would have gone higher if not for his commitment to play football at FSU. Still, if he's serious about playing in the NFL and MLB, Winston has a long way to go and a number of obstacles to overcome, like these.
The number of athletes who have played in the NFL and MLB at the same time in the past few decades can be counted on one hand.
There's Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan, who was the last to pull off this incredible feat—and Jordan's playing days ended in 2006.
It's not like others haven't tried or at least been considered candidates to do both, either. In fact, there's a rather extensive list of players drafted in both baseball and football.
Sticking within just the past handful of years, two-sport stars like Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies prospect Kyle Parker and Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Zach Lee—to name just a few notables—were successful in both football and baseball at the high school and/or college levels. All three wound up choosing baseball over football, foregoing the idea of attempting both.
On the other side, Russell Wilson was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2010, but after two seasons in the low minors, he went the opposite direction and is now the star quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks.
Those who managed to make it to the NFL and MLB, well, that is simply a very, very special—and small—batch of athletes.
The Quarterback Challenge
It's no secret that quarterback is the most difficult position to master in the NFL. They're not called "field generals" for nothing. Among all positions, the quarterback has the most to learn, prepare for and grow into.
"I guess the main concern was the physical end of it," said Rick Patterson, Winston's baseball coach at Hueytown High School, per Solomon, "especially being quarterback in football and learning the game."
That brings us back to those three names again—Jackson, Sanders and Jordan. You'll remember that none of those three were quarterbacks: Jackson was a running back, while Sanders and Jordan played in the defensive backfield.
That puts even more on Winston's shoulders, since he'll be expected to be the franchise player for an NFL team at the most important position in the sport.
Football Fame and Riches
Coming off his star-making turn as the Heisman winner as a redshirt freshman, Winston has taken the football world by storm. Much as he may want to play baseball, this has to have him picturing a career filled with the fame and riches that come along with being a high-profile quarterback in the NFL.
Sure, there are all sorts of dangers—including life-altering kinds—in playing professional football, but it's tough to imagine that Winston would be tempted to potentially hinder his burgeoning football career for the chance at, what, being a hard-throwing pitcher whose best outcome in baseball might be as a late-inning reliever?
In terms of career path, prestige and salary, that's not really a comparison that makes it worth compromising the former to also be the latter.
Similar to the way quarterback is the most challenging position in football, baseball is, in many ways, typically the more challenging sport to break into as a rookie.
At this stage of his career, Winston is clearly more advanced in football than in baseball. That's unfortunate because baseball usually requires more in terms of time, effort and development in order to reach the highest level.
As proven every year, football players can step off a college campus and have immediate success in the NFL. By comparison, though, even the most big league-ready collegiate baseball players spend at least a season or two in the minor leagues.
That's the sort of thing that might try Winston's patience, especially if he breaks into the NFL in a big way.
Besides, whereas Winston is a quarterback in football, he would have that whole hitter-or-pitcher decision to make on the diamond.
Sure, Winston did manage last year to get three hits off Carlos Rodon—presumed to be the No. 1 overall pick in next June's MLB draft—as fellow Bleacher Report MLB lead writer Joe Giglio pointed out for the News Observer. But as mentioned above, given his arm, his best baseball path is on the mound.
Except that would only serve to make Winston even more rare, since there isn't exactly a lengthy history of NFL players who have made it to the majors as a pitcher. In case your memory needs to be jogged, Jackson, Sanders and Jordan were all outfielders.
There's also the strong likelihood that whichever NFL team drafts Winston once he declares is going to force him to give up baseball and focus solely on pigskin.
Winston will have some leverage in that matter—he could ask for more money, for instance—but it's tough to imagine any NFL franchise being just fine with the potential No. 1 overall pick spending some of his time on the baseball field.
Certainly, it would behoove Winston's football team to work a clause into his contract that prevents him from continuing his baseball career as long as he's in the NFL. That might come across as the team restricting or limiting a player's options or rights, but it's simply a matter of the team protecting itself.
Continuing that thought, can you imagine the controversy were Winston to become a star QB, only to blow out his arm while pitching, and thus interrupting or ending his quarterbacking career?
Or how about the inverse: What if Winston becomes a star closer for an MLB team but has his shoulder wrecked while being tackled on the football field?
Teams in both sports pay players way too much money today to allow them to risk their future by playing in two physically demanding professional leagues.
Double dipping on sports at the professional level is only going to increase the chances that Winston suffers a serious injury or three along the way, which could ruin his career in not one, but two sports at the same time.
Just ask Jackson.
None of this is to say that Winston won't be able to go pro in both the NFL and MLB. In fact, odds are that he will be drafted in both in the coming years, so he very well could have the option and opportunity. Whether he can make it, though—or rather, whether he's allowed to make it—is another question.
And another obstacle.
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