- Full name Jeffrey Alan Samardzija
- Born 01/23/1985 in Merrillville, IN
- Profile Ht.: 6'4" / Wt.: 233 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- School Notre Dame
- Debut 07/25/2008
Drafted in the 5th round (149th overall) by the Chicago Cubs in 2006 (signed for $250,000).
View Draft ReportIf Samardzija were solely a baseball player, he'd be much more advanced as a pitcher and a lock first-rounder. But he's not. A consensus football all-American who set Notre Dame records for receptions (77) and touchdown catches (15) last fall, he's also the top-rated wide receiver for the 2007 NFL draft. His fastball has increased from 89-92 mph in 2005 to 91-94 mph this year, touching 96 on occasion. His 6-foot-5 frame and three-quarters arm slot give him power sink on his fastball. He has scrapped a sloppy curveball in favor of an 81-84 mph slider that already is an average pitch. He still has a lot of work to do on the mound. He gets hit more than he should because his control, command and secondary pitches are works in progress. While his mechanics are free and easy, he lacks deception. Samardzija has told Fighting Irish coaches that he'll return for his senior season of football, and he has made it clear to baseball teams that he'll at least explore the NFL next spring. While baseball clubs can give him a backloaded five-year deal as a two-sport star, few want to risk an early draft pick on a player who might walk away in a year. He makes the most sense to a team that has extra picks and can afford to gamble one, or to a club with few picks that wants to try to hit a home run. The Cubs fall into the latter category. Chicago GM Jim Hendry is a close friend of Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri, and the Cubs spent well over slot money to land Irish righthander Grant Johnson in a similar situation two years ago.
Organization Prospect Rankings
Samardzija had an NFL future after setting every significant receiving record at Notre Dame. The Cubs initially signed him for $250,000 as a fifth-round pick in 2006, then gave him a five-year, $10 million big league contract to keep him away from football. His development was painfully slow until he got to Triple-A Iowa in late June, but a month later he was pitching vital innings out of Chicago's bullpen. Samardzija took off after he absorbed changes to his delivery and started turning his stuff loose. He gets good run on a fastball that touches 96 mph when he starts and 98 when he relieves. His splitter can be a devastating swing-and-miss pitch, and his slider is a plus offering at times. He's an intense competitor who thrives on pressure and big crowds. Samardzija is still a work in progress, and hitters solved him more easily his second time around the National League. He lacks consistency with his control and secondary pitches, which include a changeup. His fastball gets more groundouts than strikeouts despite its velocity and life. Slowing down his delivery has enabled him to pitch more under control, but it also has cost him deception and one scout said it puts more stress on his shoulder. The Cubs would like to continue developing Samardzija as a starter and will do so in Triple-A if they have enough other bullpen arms this spring. They think he can become a frontline starter, though outside observers believe it's more likely that he'll be a top set-up man or closer.
Samardzija set every significant receiving record at Notre Dame, and the Cubs, who signed him for $250,000 as a fifth-rounder in 2006, ponied up a five-year major league contract worth $10 million last January to get him to give up football. In his first outing in big league camp, he retired Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis and Travis Buck on eight pitches and broke two bats. It's easy to dream on Samardzija, who has size, athleticism, makeup and a nasty fastball. His heater has a rare combination of velocity (low to mid-90s, touching 98 mph) and sink. His slider could also be a plus-plus pitch, though it's inconsistent. He stayed healthy, maintained his velocity and threw strikes in 2007 despite pitching far more than ever before. For a guy with Samardzija's stuff, his statistics don't add up, including a .306 opponent average and 4.1 strikeouts per nine innings last season. His slider and changeup need a lot of polish. Samardizja is an enigma, still capable of becoming a frontline starter, a closer or a bust. After pitching better following a promotion to Double-A, he'll return to Tennessee to start 2008.
Samardzija is the most accomplished wide receiver in Notre Dame history, owning school records for single-season and career catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He also has a big-time arm that would have made him a first-round pick in baseball if not for his football commitment. The Cubs didn't have second- through fourth-round picks in the 2006 draft, and they compensated by taking Samardzija in the fifth. They drew Major League Baseball's ire by signing him to a record $7.25 million bonus, though the payments are spread over five years and they'll be out just $250,000 in up-front money if he leaves for the NFL this spring. Samardzija usually pitches at 91-94 mph with his fastball, but he has touched 99 and Chicago thinks he'll operate in the mid-90s if he focuses on baseball and cleans up his mechanics. His low-80s slider is inconsistent, but it presently grades as average and has plus potential. He's a phenomenal athlete who proved coachable and able to make quick adjustments in his first summer of pro ball. The biggest concern is that Samardzija will bolt for the NFL, though his football draft stock seems to be dropping. Because football has been his priority, he's still raw in baseball. He'll open up early in his delivery and sling the ball, costing him deception and flattening his pitches. He rarely has used his changeup, a below-average pitch. Samardzija's dream would be to play both sports, though that's difficult to imagine. The NFL draft is in April, and he projects as a second-round pick. If he stays with baseball, he'd start the season at one of the Cubs' Class A stops. They think he'll move quickly if they hang onto him, with one club official comparing him to John Smoltz.
Minor League Top Prospects
Samardzija bounced back and forth between starting in Iowa and relieving in the majors as the Cubs continued to try to find him a role. The former Notre Dame football star wasn't as successful in either job as he had been in 2008. His best pitch is a 90-94 mph fastball with armside run and sink, but Samardzija doesn't command it or throw his secondary pitches with much consistency. His 80-82 mph slider can be a plus pitch and his changeup can be an average offering, but neither is reliable. Samardzija's best fit may be in the bullpen, even if he can improve his command and secondary pitches. He has an unorthodox arm action that makes him a higher risk for injury, and his stuff seemed to regress after 60 pitches, though that may have been a result of constantly switching roles.
Samardzija struggled with his command and secondary pitches in the FSL, and the results were ugly. He had a 45-35 K-BB ratio in 107 innings, and FSL hitters batted .323 against him. So why is he on this list? The reality is that Samardzija was over his head in the FSL in his first full pro season after being more of a football player at Notre Dame. He's an outstanding athlete with an easy delivery, long arms and the frame to soak up innings. Samardzija gained velocity as the season went along, and he threw harder (94-96 mph) after a promotion to Double-A. His two-seam fastball has boring action that should lead to plenty of groundballs once he improves his location. He needs to sharpen his loopy curveball and refine his changeup so hitters can't sit on his fastball. He may be a long ways away, but his arm gives him the chance to be special.
Top 100 Rankings
Best Tools List
- Rated Best Fastball in the Chicago Cubs in 2009
- Rated Best Fastball in the Chicago Cubs in 2007