Cubs outfield prospect Matt Szczur played his senior football season at Villanova last fall before agreeing Jan. 18 to give up the gridiron for good and concentrate on baseball. He and the Cubs ultimately agreed to a deal worth $1.5 million that will effectively morph into a major league pact this winter.
Chicago originally signed their 2010 fifth-rounder for $100,000 July 2. That deal 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. A wide receiver, Szczur led Villanova to the 2009 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision championship, winning MVP honors in the title game with 270 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. He projected as a mid-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
Szczur officially signed his new contract on March 18. After consulting the commissioner's office, the Cubs determined that the cleanest way to alter Szczur's bonus amount was to first release and then re-sign him to a new minor league deal. By signing him to a second contract, however, the Cubs triggered a provision that will make Szczur eligible for December's major league Rule 5 draft—but only if he's not a member of Chicago's 40-man roster.
That scenario seems unlikely, given how well Szczur played during last summer's pro debut and how much money and energy the Cubs have invested in him. In all likelihood, Chicago will add Szczur to its 40-man roster in November in order to shield him from the Rule 5 draft.
According to agent Rex Gary, Szczur increased his profile in both baseball and football in the eight months since his selection by the Cubs.
"Matt quickly surpassed what a lot of people thought was his performance level," Gary said. "He played so well that the Cubs realized that they not only had a good player, but they potentially had a special player." Gary also emphasized that Szczur's pro debut, in which he collected a hit in his first 21 pro games and batted .347/.414/.465 while reaching low Class A Peoria, was even more impressive in light of a two-month layoff before signing.
The Cubs plan to send the 21-year-old Szczur to Peoria to begin his first full season as a baseball player.
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