Ranking College Football's Best Baseball Players In 2019
Kyler Murray last fall took college football by storm just a few months after the A’s drafted him ninth overall and signed him to a $4.6 million bonus. His success leading Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff, winning the Heisman Trophy and eventually being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft sparked a conversation about multi-sport athletes and the drawbacks of specialization in youth sports.
Murray’s 2018 was also simply fun to follow from Opening Day of the baseball season in February through the Heisman ceremony. There isn’t a crossover superstar like Murray for college baseball fans to watch this fall, but that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of two-sport players suiting up this fall.
Here are the top 10 baseball players to watch as the college football season begins in earnest this weekend.
1. Maurice Hampton, Louisiana State
Hampton starred as an outfielder and safety at Memphis University High in Tennessee. He ranked No. 35 on the 2019 BA 500 and became the highest-ranked position player to make it to campus, in part because of his football commitment. Hampton was rated as four-star football recruit and is expected to contribute on the gridiron but did not make the Tigers’ depth chart for the opener against Georgia Southern. On the diamond, Hampton was among the most athletic players in the 2019 draft class and showed the bat speed to handle high-end pitchers. He’s still learning some of the finer points of the game, but he is instantly one of the toolsiest college baseball players in the country.
2. Jerrion Ealy, Mississippi
Ealy, like Hampton, was among the best athletes in the 2019 draft class and arrived on campus to plenty of hype in both baseball and football. He ranked No. 62 on the BA 500 as an outfielder and was a five-star football recruit, ranked as the No. 3 running back in the class by 247 Sports. He’s listed as one of the backups to senior Scottie Phillips ahead of Ole Miss’ opener against Memphis and is expected to play an important role this fall. On the diamond, he’s one of the most dynamic players in the country and offers significant upside, though he also needs to round out some rough edges to his game.
3. Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
Kmet will miss at least the first game of his junior season as he recovers from a broken collarbone he suffered during training camp. The tight end is supposed to take on a larger role in the offense this year after Alize Mack moved on to the NFL. Kmet himself is an NFL prospect thanks to his size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and athleticism. Those traits also play well on the diamond, where the lefthander has served as Notre Dame’s closer. He went 0-2, 2.89 with a 27-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18.2 innings last spring before elbow soreness ended his season in late March. He is expected to be back with the baseball team this spring and figures to again play a key role on the pitching staff. As a big lefthander with a fastball that gets into the low 90s, plenty of raw athleticism and such good control, he’ll draw MLB interest as well.
4. Thayer Thomas, North Carolina State
Thomas had a big redshirt freshman year for the Wolfpack. In the fall, he was a backup wide receiver and caught 34 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns, while also serving as NC State’s punt returner. In the spring, the outfielder hit .222/.364/.500 in 14 games and got drafted in the 33rd round by the Red Sox. He turned down Boston’s offer, however, and will continue as a dual-sport athlete at NC State. The former walk-on is now listed as a starter at wide receiver on the Wolfpack’s depth chart as NC State prepares to open its season against East Carolina.
5. Lucas Krull, Florida
Krull began his college career as a baseball player at Arkansas. The lefthander had a big arm and a fastball that reached the mid-90s, but he struggled with his control and never pitched in a game before he transferred to Jefferson (Mo.) JC, where in 2018 he went 2-1, 10.26 with 38 walks and 27 strikeouts in 16.2 innings. Ranked as the No. 9 prospect in Missouri that spring, He was drafted in the 34th round by the Giants but chose to instead transfer to Florida to play football. He last year played in all 13 games for the Gators, mostly on special teams, but also made six catches for 75 yards as a backup tight end. Florida began its season last week with a win against Miami and Krull again played on special teams but did not register a reception.
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6. John Rhys Plumlee, Mississippi
Ole Miss had two football players in its recruiting class this year. Ealy got the most attention, but Plumlee shouldn’t be overlooked either. He was a four-star quarterback recruit and ranked No. 341 on the BA 500 as an outfielder. He is listed as one of the Rebels’ backups to redshirt freshman Matt Corrall on the football depth chart and gives the baseball team another intriguing athlete with a good combination of speed and power. He’s more advanced as a football player, but he’s made a strong early impression with the baseball team as well.
7. Justin Fields, Ohio State
Fields, who was the No. 2 ranked quarterback in the class of 2018, was named Ohio State’s starter after transferring from Georgia. He’s not a two-sport athlete for the Buckeyes, but he has the talent to be. He played at PG National in 2017 and, while he was raw, he impressed with his tools. He has plenty of speed and athleticism and had quick hands in the batter's box. Fields never spent much time on baseball growing up but has upside if he ever wanted to return to the game.
8. Feleipe Franks, Florida
Franks expressed interest in being a two-sport athlete out of high school but by the time his football recruitment ended with him enrolling a semester early at Florida, he had settled on just playing quarterback. He’s established himself as the Gators’ starting quarterback and last year threw for 2,457 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for another 350 yards and seven touchdowns. That didn’t stop the Red Sox from drafting him as a righthander in the 31st round in June. Unlike Thomas, he took the deal, signing for $40,000. Whether Franks ever truly starts his professional baseball career remains to be seen. He has NFL upside, but has something to prove this fall as a redshirt junior.
9. Trevon Flowers, Tennessee
Flowers was originally committed to play baseball at Kentucky out of high school but came back to football in his senior year of high school and played well enough to land with Tennessee as a three-star recruit as a defensive back. He played in seven games last year and became the second true freshman defensive back to start a season opener for Tennessee since 2013. There had been talk of the infielder getting back on the diamond for the Volunteers, but that has not yet happened. As a baseball player, he was a plus runner with good hands on the infield and an approach at the plate geared toward hitting for average.
10. Jake Fromm, Georgia
Fromm took over as Georgia’s starting quarterback as a freshman and led the Bulldogs to the national championship game. He hasn’t looked back since and is a big part of the reason why Georgia is on the shortlist of national title favorites this fall. But his first brush with athletic fame came on the diamond. He starred in the 2011 Little League World Series, where he hit three home runs and struck out 11 of the 18 batters he faced on the mound. Fromm kept playing baseball throughout high school—both for Houston County High and the acclaimed East Cobb Astros—but his focus was increasingly on becoming a star quarterback instead of a third baseman.