Cubs claim two-sport star on Day 1
Notre Dame righty, receiver Samardzija tabbed in fifth round
HOUSTON -- The Chicago Cubs selected a right-handed pitcher who can throw 99 mph in Tuesday's First-Year Amateur Player Draft. Trouble is, the pitcher also is a football player.
The Cubs tabbed Jeff Samardzija, a two-sport star player at Notre Dame, in the fifth round of the draft.
Baseball America listed Samardzija as the second-best athlete among college prospects for the draft, and some pre-draft polls ranked him as a first-round pick.
"Obviously, I'd heard the Cubs were interested and I didn't know what to expect, but to be a local kid and picked by the Cubs -- that's amazing," Samardzija said.
But will he play football or baseball? Samardzija will be eligible for the NFL Draft in spring 2007. He could sign with the Cubs and then play a short season of Minor League baseball this year before reporting to Notre Dame preseason football camp in early August. He would maintain his college football eligibility despite becoming a pro baseball player.
"I want to do both [sports] for as long as I can," he said. "Who knows when that may be. I hope I can find a team that'll allow me to do both."
As far as Cubs manager Dusty Baker is concerned, that's fine.
"I like football players as baseball players," Baker said. "They tend to be tougher. I've always said the kids I like to play baseball are football players, basketball players and wrestlers, and water polo guys because they know what hard work and training is all about.
"I'm not taking anything away from baseball, but you can do sprints and think you had a pretty good workout. I remember those wrestlers, they'd run around the gym when I was playing basketball. I like those mentality guys, to tell you the truth."
Bo Jackson played both. Deion Sanders did, too. Baker would have if given a chance.
"I was a running back, wide receiver, quarterback, safety, kick-off return, punt return -- anything. But I couldn't kick it," Baker said.
Still, wouldn't it be unnerving to watch a pitcher who can throw 99 mph be leveled by an NFL defensive back?
"This kid is used to being [hit hard]," Baker said. "That wouldn't bother me."
Samardzija made his first impact at Notre Dame in baseball as a pitcher, finishing second in the Big East in both ERA (2.95) and opponents batting average against (.209).
In football, he was a reserve for his first two seasons, catching 24 passes, and not starting until the 2005 Insight Bowl at the end of his sophomore season. In 2005, he ended the regular season with 72 catches, 15 for touchdowns, and totaled 1,215 yards.
His 15 starts this season drew an average of nearly 2,000 fans per game, and his game against Rutgers drew 3,507 on April 21.
He was named first-team All-Big East. and in his career with the Irish has posted a 13-4 record and 3.47 ERA, striking out 98 over 142 2/3 innings. He was 8-2 last season with a 4.33 ERA in 15 starts. The right-hander hit 99 mph on the radar gun three times during the Big East tournament.
Is football his best sport?
"All I can say is come out and watch me play," Samardzija said. "Anyone who has seen me practice and pitch and my approach to the game knows. I've proved that [talk] all wrong. Obviously, with my situation in football, if I didn't love baseball, I'd have stopped playing a long time ago. I love baseball."
Can he play both sports?
"I wouldn't bet against it," Notre Dame baseball coach Paul Mainieri said.
On the first day of the draft, the Cubs also tabbed third baseman Joshua Lansford of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the sixth round. Lansford earned the team's Ozzie Smith MVP award for 2006. Lansford was the team's top hitter with a .353 average. He had the longest hitting streak of the season for the Mustangs, a 16-game streak when he batted .397. He totaled seven home runs, 12 doubles, three triples and 39 RBIs in 56 games.
Right-handed pitcher Billy Muldowney was the Cubs' pick in the eighth round at No. 239. Muldowney struck out 99 batters in 82 2/3 innings this year. He was one strikeout away from becoming the third Pitt pitcher to fan 100 in a single season. Despite playing two years with the Panthers, Muldowney is second all-time in strikeouts with 188 in 166 1/3 innings. He was 12-7 with a 2.81 ERA in 25 starts.
In the ninth round, the Cubs picked center fielder Clifford Andersen out of Cottonwood Senior High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. His team won the state 4A baseball title this year.
The Cubs tabbed right-handed pitcher Jake Renshaw in the 10th round. Renshaw starred at Ventura College in Ventura, Calif. He throws a fastball, curve, changeup and split finger.
"When Jake pitches, we can beat anybody," coach Don Adams told Ventura, Calif., reporters.
Kopach, of Darien, Ill., played at Downers Grove South High School. He has some interesting stats at Illinois State. He was 3-9 with a 4.17 ERA in 16 games, including 12 starts. He has one complete game, one save and has struck out 59 over 69 innings.
Camp rebounded from a sub-par junior season to earn third-team All-American honors as a senior, hitting .387 with 22 doubles, two home runs, 46 RBIs, 64 runs scored and nine stolen bases. In nine postseason games, including the ACC Tournament and NCAA Austin Regional, he batted .375 with four doubles, one triple, seven RBIs and nine runs scored. He wound up fifth in NC State history in hits and runs scored and this season became the fifth player in school history to record 100 or more hits in a season.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.