FORT MYERS, Fla. – In the months and weeks before the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft got under way on June 6, a lot of baseball-football questions were swirling around top high school prospects Bubba Starling and Archie Bradley.
The same questions are likely to swirl again next June when draft conversations turn to Jameis Winston and Anthony Alford from the class of 2012.
Starling and Bradley have signed letters of intent to play football and baseball at Nebraska and Oklahoma, respectively. The catch is, they are not just run-of-the-mill football players. They have signed their letters in anticipation of one day being the starting quarterback at their respective powerhouse football schools, perhaps helping the Cornhuskers and Sooners challenge for a BCS title.
They have also been promised they will be able to continue their baseball careers in Lincoln, Neb., and Norman, Okla., as well.
Then, on June 6, everything changed. On the first day of the draft, Starling was selected by his “hometown” Kansas City Royals with the fifth overall pick of the first round, and Bradley went two picks later – No. 7 to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Neither young prospect had signed to play professionally as of June 19, but it seems inevitable. Millions of dollars are on the table and there is nothing Husker or Sooner fans can do about it.
Now enter Winston and Alford, stage right.
The two top-85 prospects in the class of 2012 were at City of Palms Park on Sunday as the 2011 Perfect Game National Showcase completed its successful four-day run under the smoldering Florida sunshine.
Winston and Alford have been thinking about nothing but baseball during their time here, but they also can’t escape the fact they are two of the most sought-after quarterback recruits in their class.
In fact, at this point they are higher ranked football players than they are baseball prospects.
WINSTON, FROM HUEYTOWN, ALA., is a 6-4, 208-pound outfielder and pitcher who ran a 6.59-second 60-yard dash and threw a ball from the outfield to home plate that reached 93 mph during his workout session at the PG National. Perfect Game ranks him the No. 85 top national prospect in his class, but based on his performance here he should vault toward the top of the next rankings.
Then there’s the flipside of the coin. The recruiting website rivals.com ranks Winston as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation in his class (No. 52 top prospect regardless of position).
He has received scholarship offers from 17 Division I colleges, including his in-state schools of Alabama and Auburn. Florida, South Carolina, LSU and Vanderbilt from the SEC have also offered, as have Nebraska and Ohio State from the Big Ten and Stanford and UCLA from the Pac-12.
When considering a college, Winston has but one requirement. He will insist on being able to play both baseball and football.
“That’s a must,” he said Sunday after taking and pitching BP at City of Palms’ outdoor batting cages. “If I can’t play both, I probably won’t go to school.”
A school would be foolish not to grant him his wish. A PG blogger at the National noted Winston “is an outstanding two-way talent and athlete. He showed it on the mound in a game. He has a nice arm and was able to get up to 92 mph with his fastball.”
Another blogger noted, “Winston is another very interesting switch-hitter with good hitting tools that really projects.”
His stats from his junior football season need no explanation.
He passed for 2,342 yards and 18 touchdowns with only four interceptions while completing 65 percent of his throws, and rushed for another 870 yards and 11 TDs. National recruiting analyst Tom Lemming has compared Winston favorably to 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
Winston wasn’t thinking about football on Sunday. Instead, he spoke briefly about how the PG National was a good way to kick off his summer baseball season.
“It was real nice and it was a really good opportunity for me,” he said. “Just being out here around all these good players is nice.”
ALFORD IS A 6-2, 220-POUND outfielder and shortstop from Petal, Miss., who Perfect Game ranked as the nation’s 46th top 2012 prospect before the PG National – a ranking that is sure to rise. A PG blogger at the event identified him as a player who “is very strong and showed a fast bat with good power potential.”
And while rivals.com has Winston ranked the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the land, Alford isn’t far behind. In fact, rivals.com ranks him No. 2 (No. 105 overall regardless of position).
He had received nine D-I offers through June 19, with in-state schools Ole Miss and Mississippi State among them. Other notables that have offered include Alabama, LSU, South Carolina, Texas and Nebraska.
On Sunday, Alford wasn’t thinking about any pending decisions that need to be made.
“Right now I’m trying not to worry about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to be a kid and have fun and be young, and when the time comes I’ll make that decision.”
Like Winston at Hueytown High School, Alford put up ridiculous quarterback numbers during his junior year at Petal High School.
He passed for 1,399 yards and 16 touchdowns and added 1,253 yards and 19 TDs on the ground. He was named the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year, a rare accolade for a junior.
Alford said right now he probably enjoys playing football a little bit more, but added, “I still have a passion for the game of baseball.”
Alford’s father, Anthony Alford Sr., said the family will wait and see how the 2012 MLB draft unfolds before any decisions about Anthony Jr.’s future are set in stone.
“Right now he’s just being a kid, trying to do ‘em both,” Anthony Sr. said. “Whatever season it is, he just pours whatever he’s got into it. As a father, I’d say it will be baseball, but I love football, as well.”
Starling and Bradley in 2011. Winston and Alford in 2012. Whatever decision those young athletes ultimately make, all four will emerge as winners.