Notre Dame pitcher Pat Connaughton won't take long to make a splash in professional baseball, but it will take at least another year of college basketball—that's right, basketball—and finishing his degree with the Fighting Irish before that comes.
Whichever team is willing to accept that and work a contract around it will get one of the best picks of the 2014 MLB draft.
The rising senior out of Arlington, Massachusetts has put teams interested in him in a precarious situation by insisting a different kind of return to school. Instead of wanting to play another year on the diamond, Connaughton aims to return to Notre Dame's basketball team for his senior season and has made that known to teams interested in taking him over the weekend.
Teams can sign Connaughton and still allow him to finish out his hoops career and his college degree in 2014-15 before getting into a minor league program heading into the 2015 baseball season.
247 Sports' Andrew Owens reported Connaughton's intentions to return to the hardwood for one more year and captured a quote from the two-sport standout on his stock approaching the draft:
“There’s many that are willing to and I think those are the ones that are the most interested in me slash I’m the most interested in,” he said at a press conference Wednesday. He listed the New York Yankees, his childhood favorite Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as three of the most interested in his services.
“At the end of the day, worst case scenario, not even worst case scenario, but one scenario is I come back and play baseball for the University of Notre Dame. It’s been a great time doing it now and it’s been a success and I love the team on both sides and the coaches on both sides. If that happens, then I’ll attack it again next year.”
That's the catch in Connaughton's situation. Signing with a pro team will effectively end his college baseball career, but he can play his senior year of hoops if the team that drafts and signs him allows it.
Judging by his words, it's either that, or refuse to sign with whoever drafts him, play two sports at Notre Dame for one more year and re-enter in 2015.
It remains to be seen which of the 30 MLB teams will invest in Connaughton. He's ranked as the 129th-best prospect overall in the draft by Baseball America, meaning he's likely to come off the board in the fourth or fifth round. His situation certainly will turn some teams off, but as he himself stated, there are suitors that will adhere to his wishes.
It's not hard to see why. Connaughton has been a weekend starter all three years that he's been at Notre Dame.
He finished with a 3-5 record and a 3.92 ERA, but his 1.71 ERA from his breakout sophomore campaign is more reflective of his command.
There's no doubt, however, that Connaughton's biggest impact has come off the diamond for Mike Brey's basketball squad.
Connaughton quickly cracked the rotation as a freshman, starting 18 games and has been a staple in the lineup ever since. Averaging 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a junior has made him the virtual leader of the team heading into next season.
To add to that, it's not like any fourth-to-fifth-round pick has ever been on a fast track to the majors. Connaughton has more to lose by giving up his senior year of college hoops than he would gain from late October to March.
Of course, it's not his ability on the court that is earning him praise—although his posterization of Jabari Parker was quite impressive.
Instead, it's his ability on the mound. And that, unlike his play on the court, has wowed draft prospects into thinking he'll make a quick transition to the majors.
With a 6'5" frame and weighing in at about 215 pounds, Connaughton has the perfect pitcher's body. It's shown in his blistering fastball, which consistently surpasses 90 miles per hour and can get as high as 94, per Baseball America's Clint Longenecker.
The Notre Dame family seems to be pulling for him heading into the weekend, per its official athletics Twitter:
The scary thing about Connaughton's potential is how little time he's seen on the mound. Shuffling two sports has certainly taken time out of his preparations, and that will change when he soon makes the transition.
Is Pat Connaughton's insistence on playing hoops a good move?
Considering how good he's been on the basketball court and how much potential he's shown on the mound, there's no telling how dominant he'll become when he enters a major league training program over the offseason and returns after his final season of college hoops.
Plus, similar transitions have been done before—at the same school, even. Jeff Samardzija was signed by the Cubs after his junior year and was allowed to play his senior season in football before joining Chicago and flourishing into one of the game's premier pitchers.
First, a team has to bank on Connaughton and prove that he's worth the risk of allowing him to play one last season of college basketball.
Whichever team that ends up being will end up quite happy a few years down the road.