Cue the 30 for 30 voice: What if I told you there’s a place where the No. 1 football prospect in the country was just another face in the crowd?
That place exists. It’s called a baseball diamond. And Baseball America expert Carlos Collazo was blind to the gridiron hype when he watched 5-star high-school quarterback Justin Fields play shortstop this summer.
“I actually didn’t know much about him on the football field,” Collazo told SEC Country this week. “I looked him up and I was like, ‘Whoa, this guy is pretty legit.’ ”
Legit is right; Fields — the No. 1 football prospect in the Class of 2018 — has offers from dozens of prominent programs, including serious overtures from Florida, Georgia, Auburn and Florida State. He de-committed from Penn State in June.
They all want him to play quarterback, and the Harrison (Kennesaw, Ga.) High School senior has given every indication that football is his first choice.
But there are plenty of Major League Baseball scouts who wish he would change his mind. Fields, a middle infield prospect, is considered a promising talent on the diamond, so much so that he competed in a prestigious Perfect Game showcase in Fort Myers this summer.
One American League scout told SEC Country that Fields compares well to Jameis Winston, a former dual-sport star who won a Heisman Trophy and also pitched for the Seminoles baseball team.
“Fields has more foot speed,” the scout said. “Both have similar arms.”
Justin Fields, baseball star?
Based on his conversations with SEC Country’s Jeff Sentell, Fields does not see baseball as a serious option at the moment.
“My dad really wants me to do it so bad. But I am kind of distant from baseball,” he said last month. “My love for the game is all in football. But I guess my dad is talking about not closing any doors, because I’m pretty good at baseball. … I realize how hard it is to be fighting for a job. You can’t go play baseball. You have to be all in with football until you have the job secured.”
Once that job is secured, though, Fields said he could play college baseball “my second or third year, just to kind of keep my skill set up.”
In order to get him interested in a pro contract, MLB teams likely will need to make an unusually high offer next summer (or later in Fields’ college career).
The American League scout estimated that such an offer could be north of $1 million, while Sentell estimated that a $2 million offer might be necessary. All of this is complicated by the fact that Fields doesn’t spend much time on the diamond anymore.
“Baseball instincts are lagging, and not playing fall ball doesn’t help, especially when you are talking $1 million-plus to buy him out of college,” the scout said. “The bat, of course, is behind due to the lack of at-bats. Would be a 2-year GCL [Gulf Coast League] kid just to get him reps on both sides of his games.”
Still, Fields is “high-risk, high-reward to an [organization] that is willing to wait it out.”
Justin Fields scouting report
Collazo, the Baseball America expert, spoke with multiple scouts to give SEC Country an idea of Fields’ strengths and weaknesses on the diamond.
Read the breakdown below.
- “The general consensus is that he’s a raw, interesting prospect on the baseball field. Scouts don’t have a ton of history with him. I know this summer, he’s only gotten a few ABs in real games. He was at the showcase at Perfect Game National in Fort Myers earlier this year, which is a very big showcase. It’s impressive for him to be in that field.”
- “But I think scouts are still trying to figure out what he is, exactly, as a baseball player. Defensively, they’re not sure where he fits. He took some balls at shortstop.”
- “Personally, I don’t think he would be a shortstop at the next level. Just because his actions are still a little bit raw. I don’t think he has the glove or the footwork for shortstop, just on my one look.”
- “At the plate, he has some quick hands. There’s a lot of stuff he’ll have to iron out in the box if he’s going to pursue baseball at the next level. His stance is slightly wide, slightly open, with a medium leg kick. He’s got kind of a little hitch in his load, and a downhill bat path. He had a lot of ground balls in batting practice. He’s far from a finished product on the baseball field.”
- “He had a fringe to average arm [at the Perfect Game event]. I think the arm strength is in there. Obviously, at quarterback, he’s throwing the ball from a different arm slot than what you normally see in baseball players, but I definitely think there’s some arm strength in there.
- “His footwork to the baseball and getting the ball out of the glove was a little fringey. Fringier than most of the guys you see take reps at shortstop or playing shortstop in game. I don’t know where I’d project him at. That’s another big question I got from scouts, is they don’t really know defensively where he fits.”
- “He is a ‘plus’ runner. I know he ran the 60 in 6.63 [seconds] at Perfect Game National. That’s definitely a plus run time. So maybe he can figure it out in the outfield, if he gets some range. He definitely seems like he’s an athletic guy at 6-foot-3, I imagine he’s got the ability to track down some balls out there just with that speed.”
- “A lot of scouts think it will be hard to get him to play baseball at the next level just because of the attention that he has on the football field — how highly rated he is there — and just because they haven’t seen it on the baseball field at this point.”
- “I think at this point, most people see Fields as a much better football player than a baseball player. So I think that will create some caution for some scouts, as far as how much time they spend on him. I think another part of it is, he’s got a long ways to go to get where scouts want to see him on the baseball field.”
- “That’ll raise his price tag, because he’ll have a scholarship to whatever school he wants to go to. The professional scouts, they’re gonna have to put a price on him that they wouldn’t normally have to because of the football aspect. So that will definitely make it difficult for scouts to jump in on him and want to get him signed.
There are a couple factors that could still lead Fields to the baseball diamond instead of the football field.
For one, the health risks inherent in football are making more national headlines than ever, and football contracts are notoriously unfriendly for players. Baseball, on the other hand, offers guaranteed money and much lower risk of brain damage.
Second, regardless of health, Fields’ college football career is not a guaranteed success. If he becomes frustrated by performance or playing time at his new school, he could turn to baseball as an alternative professional option.
Corrazo said the Class of 2018 features a few other dual-sport players, most notably North Carolina commit Jordyn Adams, a 4-star wide receiver and highly touted outfielder.
Like Adams, if Fields doesn’t want to choose baseball now — but plays some college baseball while focusing on football — he could find himself in the same decision-making position two or three years down the line. Any number of factors could influence his thinking between now and then.
And as long as he shows at least a small amount of interest in baseball, MLB teams will be keeping an eye on him.