Cubs prospect bids goodbye to NFL
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry left the team's annual fan convention early last weekend with a mission in mind: to seal a deal.
Hendry got his man as Villanova baseball and football star Matt Szczur agreed to forgo a possible career in the NFL to play baseball.
The Cubs tripled their original offer to Szczur, giving him a bonus worth approximately $1.5 million, with $1.4 million coming on top of the original signing bonus.
Hendry met Sunday with Szczur in Florida, where he was preparing to play in the Senior Bowl, a game he'll now pass up.
Szczur made his announcement Thursday during a news conference at Villanova.
"I wasn't really leaning toward football," he said. "I was just playing it as it was. I wanted to see how it would play out. I had a feeling that the Cubs were going to come and meet up with me before the Senior Bowl and maybe make me an offer, and that's what they did. It ended up working out for me."
Szczur figured to go in the second or third round of the NFL draft as a slot back/receiver, depending on what scouts would have seen at the draft combine.
The 21-year-old Szczur is a right-handed hitting center fielder who combined to bat .347 with 10 doubles, 1 triple, a .414 on-base percentage and a .465 slugging percentage in 25 minor-league games for the Cubs last year after being drafted in the fifth round.
He hit safely in all 18 games at Class A Boise, with a line of .397/.439/.521. He finished his season at Class A Peoria before returning to Villanova to play football. During his junior year at Villanova, he was the MVP of the championship game of the subdivision playoffs with 270 all-purpose yards.
Baseball America rated Szczur the Cubs' seventh-best prospect this winter, but that was before the Cubs traded No. 1 prospect Chris Archer and No. 4 Hak-Ju Lee to Tampa Bay for Matt Garza.
Szczur said part of Hendry's pitch was that he envisions him as the Cubs' center fielder in 2014 between Brett Jackson in left field and Tyler Colvin in right.
"The way he talked about me, it was unbelievable," Szczur said. "For him to say that, I totally believed him. He wasn't beating around the bush. That helps out a lot. Jim put it all on the table and allowed me to make my decision."
Unlike former football star Jeff Samardzija, Szczur does not have a major-league contract, and he will report to spring training with the minor-leaguers.
He visited Wrigley Field and took batting practice last summer before heading back to college.
"Oh, my God, being at Wrigley Field was unbelievable," he said. "I don't know where to begin. Taking BP and sitting with the GM. I had my family with, so it was pretty special."
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