How Scouts Approach Evaluating Two-Way Stars Like Kyler Murray

Image credit: Kyler Murray (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Gary Hughes can understand the lure of Kyle Murray to the Athletics, despite his NFL potential. He also knows firsthand that there is no sure thing in the world of scouting, and never is that truer than with multi-sport athletes.

A baseball lifer, who made his mark in the game in scouting, Hughes has been down that road before with the two-sport star.

And he doesn’t regret it.

Yes, John Elway made only a brief stop with the Yankees’ short-season New York-Penn League team in Oneonta on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And, yes, John Lynch started the first game played by a team in the Marlins organization before he had second thoughts and wound up back at Stanford on his way to the NFL.

But Hughes also can smile when he thinks back to the signing of Delino DeShields fresh out of high school as a Montreal Expos first-round pick in 1987. At the time, the Expos agreed to allow DeShields to play basketball at Villanova, only to have DeShields, in the midst of his baseball debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, make the decision to make a lifetime commitment to baseball.

“You do your homework, you try to get a feel for the player, but there is no guarantee,” Hughes said. “You have to be willing to accept any possibility.”

Win some, lose some. It’s all a part of the game of scouting and player development.

And one thing that can’t be ignored is a player can change his mind along the way.

There are players like DeShields, who get in uniform and get bitten by the baseball bug, even though in his case his basketball potential was high enough that he was the only recruit of Villanova the year he came out of high school. He was even penciled into the starting lineup by Rollie Massimino.

And there are players like Lynch, who was done with football after his junior year at Stanford and made a complete commitment to the expansion Marlins in the spring of 1992, when Florida made him a second-round pick. That’s when Stanford hired a new head coach, and Lynch bought into the sales pitch of Bill Walsh to return to school for his senior year.

Elway was a longshot from the start. An area scout for the Yankees at the time, Hughes turned in his glowing report of the athletic abilities of Elway, but with the disclaimer that he was going to play football. The late George Steinbrenner, however, was intrigued. The Yankees owner ordered Elway drafted, and told Hughes to get the job done.

Hughes did—sort of. Coming out of Stanford, Elway made it clear he did not want to play for Frank Kush, the head coach of the Baltimore Colts, who had the first pick in the draft. When the Colts drafted him, anyhow, Elway refused to sign and took an offer from the Yankees as a second-round pick in 1981.

The next year, he reported to short-season Oneonta, where his potential was evident. A lefthanded-hitting outfielder, Elway hit .318/.432/.464 with four home runs and 13 stolen bases in 42 games.

Knowing they would lose the rights to Elway if they didn’t make a move, the Colts finally broke down and worked out a deal that sent Elway to the Denver Broncos, a decision that sent him down the path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Win some, lose some.

Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt used his fourth-round pick in 2010 on a 5-foot-11 second baseman from North Carolina State. Russell Wilson had been basically a platoon player in college because he was also the school’s starting quarterback.

Given Wilson’s size and athleticism, Schmidt felt it was worth a shot. Wilson’s football coach at N.C. State was pressuring him to give up baseball or lose his job to a younger quarterback, so Wilson was ready to pursue a future on the diamond.

But he also decided to give football one more shot. He transferred to Wisconsin, had a great season, and today he is a Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowl selection.

Schmidt believed that if Wilson got 750 minor league at-bats, he would iron out his swing. But in his second season of pro ball, having hit .228 in 61 games for low Class A Asheville, he signed with the Seattle Seahawks, who drafted him in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft.

Today? There’s talk he could become the first $35 million a year player in NFL history.

“The reality with a multi-sport player is there is always that lure of the other sport,” Hughes said.

As Charles Barkley so aptly put it: “If you are afraid of failure, you don’t deserve to be successful.”

It’s true for athletes like Kyler Murray.

And it’s true for scouts.

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