Image credit: Kyler Murray (right) and Tua Tagovailoa (left) (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)
Thanks to the exploits of Kyler Murray, Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and the Athletics’ first-round pick, there has been an undercurrent of baseball throughout the college football season. And with Murray’s Sooners preparing to play Alabama in the College Football Playoff, that has extended into bowl season.
As the CFB Playoff approaches, with No. 1 Alabama taking on No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 2 Clemson facing No. 3 Notre Dame on Dec. 29, Baseball America has identified the best baseball players on every playoff team and the best football players on their school’s baseball team.
For baseball fans tuning into the CFB Playoff, here are the players to keep an eye on, as well as some premium athletes to watch this spring.
No. 1 Alabama
Best baseball player on the football team: Tyrell Shavers, WR
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa—a lefthander—would surely have big upside if he played baseball, but he’s always been focused on football. Instead, it’s another ultra-athletic lefthander who gets the nod.
Redshirt freshman Tyrell Shavers is listed at 6-foot-6, 216 pounds and in high school ran a 4.38 40-yard dash. He’s played in all 13 of Alabama’s games this fall, but he has not caught a pass.
Football was Shavers’ primary sport throughout high school in Texas, but he showed enough promise on the diamond to get an offer to play baseball at Texas Tech. He was raw, as is typical of two-sport players, but had a pretty lefthanded swing to go with his plus-plus speed and long, athletic frame.
Best football player on the baseball team: Keith Holcombe, OF
This is the first fall Holcombe has spent away from the Alabama football team since arriving on campus in 2014. He was a part of two national championship-winning teams (2015 and 2017), playing mostly on special teams and as a backup linebacker.
Before last spring, Holcombe had split his springs between baseball and football. But in 2018 he played baseball full-time and was one of the Tide’s best players, hitting .290/.372/.386 with two home runs and six stolen bases. He decided after that season to give up football and to this year focus on baseball.
Holcombe is slated to be Alabama’s left fielder and is coming off a solid fall. Listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, the lefthanded hitter is tapping into his raw power better and figures to play a key role for the Crimson Tide.
No. 2 Clemson
Best baseball player on the football team: Hunter Renfrow, WR
Renfrow has become a hero at Clemson after ascending from walk-on to a key part of the Tigers’ offense and catching four touchdown passes in two national championship games against Alabama—including the game-winner in 2016—but he was also a two-sport star in high school.
Renfrow (not to be mistaken with Padres outfielder Hunter Renfroe) was an outfielder in high school and had some offers to play baseball in college. A speedy center fielder, he had a reputation as a grinder and likely would have been a solid college baseball player. But the senior has had an impressive football career, catching 15 career touchdowns and this season winning the Burlsworth Award, given to the best football player in the nation who began his career as a walk-on.
Running back Adam Choice was also a standout baseball player before college. As a 12-year-old, he appeared in 2008 in the national finals of the MLB Pitch, Hit & Throw competition at Yankee Stadium. Choice was a talented prep baseball player but after a shoulder injury, he has been focused on football.
Best football player on the baseball team: Kier Meredith, OF
Freshman catcher Adam Hackenberg is the younger brother of former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who in 2016 was drafted in the second round by the New York Jets. Adam Hackenberg was a good football player in his own right, but he quit the sport to focus on baseball halfway through high school.
Meredith, however, stood out on the football field throughout high school and drew some interest from Power Five conference schools as a wide receiver. In his senior year of high school, he caught 10 touchdowns and had 693 receiving yards in eight games, despite missing time to participate in USA Baseball’s 18U National Team trials.
It has long been clear that Meredith’s future is on the diamond. Drafted in the 28th round by the Cubs in 2017, he has plus speed and a good feel at the plate. Injuries limited him to 13 games as a freshman, but he’s healthy now and is expected to start this spring for the Tigers.
No. 3 Notre Dame
Best baseball player on the football team: Cole Kmet, TE
Best football player on the baseball team, Cole Kmet, LHP
Notre Dame’s recent history with football/baseball players is perhaps the best in the country and includes players such as Jeff Samardzija, Golden Tate and Torii Hunter Jr. Kmet, a sophomore, is the latest to join that group and has impressed in both sports early in his college career.
Kmet was a prominent football recruit and was the third-ranked tight end in the 2017 class. His time playing baseball was limited to his high school season in Chicago and, as a result, he flew under the radar. That started to change during his senior year, when he broke out and helped St. Viator High to its first baseball state title as an outfielder/lefthander. He hit .443/.503/.918 with 12 home runs and on the mound went 8-3, 2.02 with 105 strikeouts in 62.1 innings.
Kmet quickly found a role on Notre Dame’s football team and appeared in all 13 games as a freshman. This year, he has 14 catches for 151 yards and has helped the Fighting Irish to a 12-0 record.
Kmet has also been impactful on the diamond at Notre Dame. Listed at 6-foot-6, 258 pounds, he is an imposing figure on the mound and made 26 appearances as a freshman, working as the Irish closer for much of the season. He went 2-5, 5.05 with eight saves and 39 strikeouts in 46.1 innings, while also participating in spring football practice. He made his only start of the season the day before Notre Dame’s spring football game.
Where Kmet’s professional future lies remains to be seen. As a big lefthander who has run his fastball up to 90 mph without ever having focused on baseball, he certainly has upside on the diamond. He’ll also likely have a chance to play professional football. For now, however, he’ll keep doing both at a high level for Notre Dame.
No. 4 Oklahoma
Best baseball player on the football team: Kyler Murray, OF
Murray’s exploits have been well documented this year. He excelled on the diamond for Oklahoma, hitting .296/.398/.556 with 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases while also participating in spring football. He went on to be drafted ninth overall by the A’s.
This fall, Murray reminded everyone why he was one of the top quarterbacks in the 2015 recruiting class as he led Oklahoma to a 12-1 record, the Big 12 Conference title and won the Heisman Trophy in his first year as a starter. He leads the nation in total yards (school-record 4,945 yards), threw for 40 touchdowns and ran for 10 more.
The conversation around Murray’s future continues unabated as some view him as a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft, despite being undersized for an NFL quarterback at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds. For now, however, Murray is a dynamic playmaker and one of the most exciting players in the country.
Best football player on the baseball team: Justin Mitchell, C
Six months ago, Murray would have been the obvious pick. But with him moving on to pro ball, the nod goes to Mitchell, who was an accomplished high school quarterback in Missouri.
Mitchell was a three-year starter for Platte County High and was named second-team all-state as a senior. He set the career school record for passing yards (5,563) and touchdowns (59) and ran for 21 touchdowns.
But Mitchell has always had a brighter future on the diamond and coming out of high school was drafted in the 39th round by the Royals. He hit .203/.250/.304 in limited action as a freshman but figures to take on a bigger role this spring.