Russell Wilson just won the Super Bowl. You'll never believe where's he going next. Surprise!
No, seriously, he's going to Surprise. It's the city in Arizona that hosts the Rangers every spring. The Rangers drafted Wilson, a former Rockies farmhand, in the Rule 5 draft in what was apparently not a gimmick or a joke. There's news on that Monday morning:
Super Bowl champ (and infielder) Russell Wilson still plans to appear at @Rangers spring training, per his baseball agent, Mark Rodgers.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) February 3, 2014
Wilson is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL right now, but this is what he was doing in his summers away from North Carolina St.:
As a baseball wonk, you'll notice a couple of things right away. First, he's baseball-fast in addition to being fast, assuming the SB/CS ratio in the Sally wasn't a fluke. Second, he has a good eye; at least, he was able to buoy his low batting averages with his walk rate. Add in the obvious tools, and he was something like a B- or C+ prospect, I'll guess. And the Rangers want him around their young players, but in more than a Garth Brooks kind of way.
I've never seen Wilson swing a bat, other than on a shaky potato-camera. Saying he could do this or that if he committed to baseball full-time would be a mostly silly exercise, especially considering he will never commit to baseball full-time or part-time, at least while his football career is still incredibly successful. The only I can write about Wilson in a baseball capacity is through analogy and comparison.
If you're actually a baseball wonk, what I'm about to admit isn't that humiliating: I have favorite Baseball-Reference.com pages. I've written paens to them before, and it's hard for me to pass up an opportunity to discuss another one. And this page has long been the first thing I think of when I think of a super-athlete like Wilson putting up intriguing minor-league numbers.
That's not a prospect, at least not statistically. Even if you were told the player had all-world tools, the responses would be pretty standard. A little on the old side for his leagues. Abysmal strikeout-to-walk ratios. More professional interceptions than stolen bases. Standard stuff.
That's Brian Jordan, former St. Louis Cardinal and Atlanta Falcon. After '91, he gave up football and became something of a prospect, hitting .264/.342/.410 in Triple-A as a 24-year-old. He flopped in the majors the following year, but became a regular for years afterward, making an All-Star Game and picking up MVP votes in three different seasons. He shouldn't have been a prospect. But the normal prospect rules didn't apply to him.
Another of my favorite pages is that of Deion Sanders, who could play about 80 or 90 games better than most professional baseball players in the world, then leave to be the very best in the world at his day job. Hitting a baseball is supposed to be hard, and it's not like Jordan or Sanders ever mastered it. But they succeeded when they absolutely should have failed.
This isn't to say that all football players succeed at baseball. The Chris Weinke and Drew Henson pages aren't nearly as interesting. But that freaky athletes can do freaky things. It's popular to give Michael Jordan polite ribbing for his season in Double-A for the White Sox. Except he hit above the Mendoza Line. He walked 51 times, had 21 extra-base hits, and stole 30 bases ... as a 31-year-old player who hadn't played baseball since high school. That's insane. That's far, far better than should have been possible. He hit even better in the AFL, too.
I've watched Russell Wilson play football quite a bit. There are fist-shaped indentations in my coffee table because of him. He has sixth, seventh, and eighth senses in the pocket, knowing when to scramble, when to duck when he's expected to leap, and an ability to chuck accurate balls in the middle of a frenzied run. There are a lot of great athletes in football, by definition. Wilson is one of the best athletes in a subset of the world's very best athletes. And it gives me heartburn as a Niners fan. Constant, constant heartburn.
The equation is this, then: Brian Jordan Baseball-Reference.com page + Wilson's .366 OBP in the Sally + Wilson's insane combination of atheticism and quick thinking = a successful major-league baseball player.
I'm not talking Mike Trout. More like Chone Figgins before he became a cautionary tale. We'll never know what Wilson could do. This is just my guesstimating against yours, and we have a fraction of the evidence needed to make a legitimate evaluation. But I've studied that Brian Jordan page for years, marveling at the natural ability it took to move from fewer than a couple hundred minor-league at-bats to a major-league regular. That shouldn't happen. For some athletes, though, it can.
Russell Wilson will take grounders and hit baseballs in March, just like the rest of the cool kids. Nothing about him is remarkable, other than everything. And I can't prove it, but I think he'd make a whale of a baseball player if he decided to switch sports. I have $26 in my wallet and a collectible copy of Leaves of Grass for him if he decides to switch. It's not that collectible, but it is old. This offer is good for the next five years, at which point I might have even $27 or $28 in there.
He should do it because football is much harder on the body than baseball is. He should do it because going out on top takes guts, I tell you, guts. He should do it because, hey, $26.
But I don't have a lot of doubt that he could do it. Hitting a baseball thrown by a professional pitcher is one of the hardest things in the world to do. Almost everyone who tries it fails repeatedly until they're forcibly ejected into civilian life. Brian Jordan could do it. Deion Sanders could do it. I'd wager Wilson could, too.