Matt Szczur has committed to the Cubs and given up a possible NFL career for $1.5 million, a baseball source has confirmed.
Chicago originally signed Szczur for $100,000 on July 2. His initial contract called for an additional $500,000 payment if he declined to attend the NFL combine and made a written commitment to baseball before Feb. 10. His new deal is contingent on him passing a physical.
Clarification: The total of the two deals is worth $1.5 million, Szczur's original $100,000 bonus and an additional $1.4 million payment.
Szczur led Villanova to the 2009 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title, winning MVP honors in the final game with 270 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. He made additional headlines last May, when he took time out of his baseball season to donate peripheral blood cells to a 1-year-old girl fighting leukemia (Aaron Fitt covered that story in detail here .) After missing three weeks, he homered in his first at-bat back.
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.
As a slot receiver/return specialist, Szczur projected as a mid-round pick in the NFL draft in April. He had been planning on attending the Senior Bowl, an all-star game for NFL draft prospects, before the Cubs signed him away from football. Based on his tools and performance, he easily could have been a first-round pick in the 2011 baseball draft had he been eligible.
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