Ask BA: How Good Is Jameis Winston As A Baseball Prospect?

We’ve rounded third and are heading home on our annual look at the Top 10 Prospects for each organization, with just seven organizations left to go. That means we’re not far from rolling out our College Preview. With that in mind, today’s question is about the most famous college baseball player in the country.

As always, a reminder that you can send your own questions to Ask BA by emailing us at askba@baseballamerica.com.

Q: Can you revisit Jameis Winston’s pre-draft scouting report from 2012?  Where did he project if football was not a factor in signing?  Thoughts on the 2015 draft with and without football as a factor?

Eric Rothfeld,
Livingston, N.J.

A: It’s hard to imagine an athlete challenging himself more than Winston has in his first year and a half at Florida State.

Winston is the Seminoles’ quarterback—the most challenging position on the football field and the one that requires the most off-field work as well. Winston has to study defenses, memorize the playbook and audibles, and master a variety of pre- and post-snap reads.

Winston also is a right fielder for the Seminoles, with all the work that requires both to get good reads on balls in the outfield, work on his throwing (it’s a different motion than throwing a football), as well as put in plenty of work as a hitter.

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston (Photo by Alyson Boyer Rode)

And oh, Winston is a switch-hitter. So he has to work on a pair of swings at the plate.

If all that wasn’t enough, Winston also pitches for the Seminoles.

So he’s a two-sport star and a two-way baseball player. And he’s a potential first-round talent as an outfielder, a pitcher and a quarterback.

For the NFL draft, some draft experts are already saying that he would be the No. 1 player taken if he were eligible for this year’s draft.

On pure baseball talent, Winston was regarded as a top-three-rounds pick coming out of Hueytown (Ala.) High in 2012. Baseball America ranked him No. 2 in Alabama (behind current Rockies outfielder David Dahl) and 59th overall heading into the 2012 draft.

Here’s what we wrote about him back then ($):

2. Jameis Winston, OF, Hueytown (Ala.) HS (National Rank: 59)

Winston is part of a long line of Florida State quarterback signees who also have baseball as a possibility. The group includes the likes of Chris Weinke, Danny Kanell, Joe Mauer and more recently D’Vontrey Richardson. Winston may be the most anticipated football prospect of them all, and his football prowess has clouded his baseball potential. He is one of the better athletes in the draft class, and at times it appears there’s nothing beyond his reach. He’s a 6.6-second runner in the 60 who switch-hits and has excellent arm strength, having touched 92 mph on the mound. Winston has shown premium bat speed in showcases as well, and at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, it’s easy to project him to hit for plus power down the line. He has not had a great spring, turning off scouts with his on-field demeanor and looking less polished than hoped. Winston has handled all the attention he has received—much of it negative—for being an Alabama football stud who spurned the Crimson Tide for Florida State. It’s difficult for many scouts to imagine him turning down big-time college football, and many hope to check in again in three seasons to see how he has handled playing both sports for the Seminoles.

The Rangers picked Winston in the 15th round in the 2012 draft, knowing he would likely head to college to play both baseball and football. As a freshman, Winston hit .235/.345/.377 for the Seminoles in 41 games, becoming a starter after a virus shelved outfielder Josh Delph. He also went 1-2, 3.00 in 27 innings as a reliever, allowing 18 hits and 12 walks while striking out 21. He had his season interrupted in April by spring football.

If football weren’t a factor, Winston would have a solid chance to be a 2015 first-round pick in baseball. On the mound, he showed a 92-94 mph fastball and a promising slider. Because he has gained weight for football, he isn’t the well above-average runner he used to be, but he’s still a solid-average runner with a right fielder’s arm.

“For me, if he pitches enough, someone could say first round easily. Someone can dream and say that’s a starting pitcher,” said a longtime National League amateur scout. “Someone would dream on him as a starter. He’d go somewhere around 15 to 20 in the first round as a starting pitcher.”

If Winston focused on baseball and got plenty of at-bats as an outfielder, he also has first-round potential there.

“If he had 100 ABs his senior year, 200 at-bats last summer, say 200 this next summer in the Cape Cod League, he would be a first-rounder as a hitter, too,” the scout said. “He doesn’t strike out all that much, he’s not overmatched. You wonder if swing is a little long, but he’s got a pretty good contact rate . . . He just hasn’t had the at-bats. He can handle the bat. He handles it better as a lefthanded hitter than a righthanded hitter, but he’s a prototype right fielder.”

Because he doesn’t get those summer at-bats, Winston is a less polished hitter than scouts would like to see in a college sophomore. Another NL scout said he can’t see Winston as a top prospect as a hitter simply because he will continue to fall behind his contemporaries as he splits his time between the mound, outfield and gridiron. As the scout sees it, it’s easier for a pitcher to make up for lost innings than it is for a hitter to make up for lost at-bats.

It’s probably a moot point because of Winston’s earning potential as a football player, however. Winston clearly loves baseball—he has already announced he’ll play baseball for FSU again this spring—and has a feel for the game. But with the current draft rules limiting baseball teams’ spending, it’s hard to envision him playing professional baseball unless injuries become a factor.

The No. 1 pick in the most recent NFL draft, offensive tackle Eric Fisher, signed a four-year, $22 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. If Winston ended up going in the top 10 picks in the NFL draft, he would net a guarantee of more than $10 million. Kris Bryant’s $6.7 million signing bonus from the Cubs last year is the most anyone has received in the past two baseball drafts. No team, even the team with the No. 1 pick, could sign a player for much more than that without incurring penalties or sacrificing the rest of its draft. And while Winston is good in baseball, he’s not that good.

If Winston opts to declare for the 2015 NFL draft after his redshirt sophomore season, as most NFL draft observers expect, he would be drafted in football a month before the baseball draft, and he might not even play college baseball in 2015. Players who are potential first-round picks in the NFL draft often take the spring semester off from school to train and prepare for pre-draft workouts. With millions of dollars on the line, it’s hard to go to class, study and still get in all the work needed to shave time off a 40-yard dash, work on accuracy for throwing drills and to excel in the film sessions that teams expect before they make an investment in a new franchise quarterback. If Winston follows that path, he wouldn’t be able to play baseball in the spring either.

So before he’s ever draft eligible again, baseball scouts will know where Winston’s loyalties lie. If he plays baseball at Florida State in 2015, it’s a clear sign he’s interested in keeping his baseball options open. If he doesn’t, he’ll clearly be focused on the NFL.

Maybe Winston will decide that he’ll stick with baseball because it’s a sport where the end-of-career downside is usually an aching elbow in your retirement years, while NFL players battle chronic injuries including head trauma. But for now, most baseball scouts think they’ll be watching him play on Sundays for years to come.

Draft | #Ask BA #Jameis Winston

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