Second base/quarterback prospect Russell Wilson informed the Colorado Rockies yesterday that he will pursue a career in the NFL. The Rockies drafted Wilson in the 4th round two years ago. Rockies executive Bill Schmidt wished Wilson well and said this about the team’s decision to draft him: “It was worth the gamble.”
Coming off a stellar season at the University of Wisconsin, the NFL is a gamble for Wilson. He adds his name to a quarterback heavy draft and faces an uphill battle in terms of his scouting report, as he is considered undersized at 5’11”. That leads us to the question: which gamble should Wilson choose, the tough road through baseball’s minor leagues or a relative long shot as an NFL quarterback?
Presuming Wilson makes the roster of the NFL team that selects him, we can assume he will be a third string quarterback. In that position his duties will include looking good in a baseball cap (check), high fiving teammates, waving a towel at exciting moments, looking thoughtful with his hands in his shoulder pads while standing on the fringe of the quarterbacks’ meeting with the offensive coordinator during timeouts, and entering games in only the most extreme circumstances with almost no expectations. If not for T.J. Yates and the Houston Texans, the bar for this last item would be even lower.
Let’s consider the typical account of what it is like to play in the minor leagues. Low pay, shoddy motel rooms, inexplicably long road trips, sometimes having to ride on a bus (still can’t believe that’s true), all in hopes of grinding your way up through the system to the major leagues. Wilson batted around .230 in his time in the Rockies system, so his production would have needed to improve significantly. Similar to his NFL skills, his greatest asset was his speed and athleticism (15 SB in 2011). He was a “long ways away,” according to Schmidt, so he would have been roughing the minor league lifestyle for the foreseeable future. When you consider it in those terms, it is difficult to argue with Wilson’s decision.
It is too early to say what Wilson’s hopes were with the Rockies, but most fans are probably comfortable losing another light-hitting second baseman. Depending on how things work out Wilson is under Rockies control for the next five years. For now the team says they wish him well in his pursuit of the NFL.
Presumably the organization will now turn their attention to the next group of college quarterbacks who can also play baseball. If you haven’t noticed by now, it’s kind of their thing.