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Hayden Hurst Leads Baseball Ties to 2018 NFL Draft

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(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

When Hayden Hurst hears his name called in the NFL Draft in the coming days, he will join the exclusive group of athletes to have played both baseball and football professionally.

Hurst, a standout tight end for South Carolina, was drafted by the Pirates as a pitcher out of high school in 2013 and signed as a 17th-round pick. He played two seasons with the Pirates' Gulf Coast League affiliate before quitting to play football.

Here is BA’s draft report on Hurst from 2013:

“Hurst has already had Tommy John surgery, but at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, he's a power arm, having touched 95 mph. More regularly, he sits in the 88-92 mph range with cutting action and life on the pitch. His slurvy breaking ball doesn't do much for scouts right now, though he has the hand speed to spin it. His early Tommy John surgery is likely to scare teams off his trail. He's committed to Florida State.”

Hurst developed the yips in pro ball—he walked five batters and threw two wild pitches in 1/3 of an inning in what would be his only professional outing in 2013— and converted to the outfield in 2014. He hit .245 with zero extra base hits in 15 games and didn’t return the following summer, instead walking on to the South Carolina football team.

It turned out to be right move. Now 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Hurst was named first-team All-Southeastern Conference last year and was a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, awarded annually to the nation’s top tight end. NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock ranks Hurst the No. 35 prospect available, and he has a chance to be selected in Thursday's first round. If all goes according to plan, Hurst will join Russell Wilson, Ricky Williams and Shaq Thompson as players who found NFL stardom after their baseball careers ended in the minors.

Here is a look at the baseball ties of other top 2018 NFL Draft prospects:

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: The reigning Heisman Trophy winner was a middle-of-the-order hitter on a loaded Lake Travis (Texas) High team his junior and senior years. Mayfield hit .338 with 22 doubles, 47 runs scored and 41 RBIs in his two-year varsity career. His teammates included current Marlins minor league lefthander Daniel Castano and Royals minor league righthander Connor Mayes.

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia: Michel was a backup outfielder for perennial power American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla for two seasons. His teammates included White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins, Giants minor league righthander Shaun Anderson and Red Sox minor league shortstop C.J. Chatham.

Jessie Bates III, S, Wake Forest: Bates was under-recruited as a football player out of high school in part because he split his time playing three sports, including serving as a starting outfielder for Snider High in Fort Wayne, Ind. His athleticism in the outfield is part of what attracted Wake Forest coach David Clawson to Bates in the first place.

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Pirates Focus On Improving Player Development

The fact that Pirates prospects tended to improve dramatically with new organizations did not go unnoticed by ownership.

Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky: White was a standout prep righthander at University High in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and was named as an honorable mention on the Louisville Slugger All-America team as a junior. As a senior, White won the starting quarterback job, began focusing on football and never looked back.

Dorance Armstrong Jr., DE, Kansas: Armstrong played baseball through his sophomore year at North Shore High in Houston. He threw out the first pitch at a Royals game last summer.

Dante Pettis, WR, Washington: Pettis didn’t play baseball himself, but his dad, Gary Pettis, played 11 years as an outfielder in the majors and won five Gold Gloves.

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