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April 27, 2012

Baseball scouts expect Winston to play football at FSU

Even in the eyes of the baseball world, Jameis Winston's athletic future seems to be clearing up.

Warchant.com spoke with two baseball scouts who evaluate in the state of Alabama and have seen Winston play baseball in person several times. Both scouts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the interest of the teams they represent, firmly believe he will be taking the football route come fall.

"I would say, right now, not very good," said one scout of Winston's chances to go in the first few rounds. "I'm really just not hearing his name at all. I would say it's probably a 95 percent chance he won't get taken in the first few rounds. You would have to have one team that fell in love to do that."

Winston, a Hueytown (Ala.) product and the nation's top dual threat quarterback, is considered one of the crown jewels of the FSU football team's 2012 recruiting class. But while he said he was a football-first athlete, because of his baseball prowess, Winston left open the possibility of spurning football if a lucrative offer from a major league team came in June's MLB draft. Given their evaluations and new MLB draft rules that take effect for this year's draft, the scouts believe that type of payday is highly unlikely.

Both scouts said they like Winston better as a pitching prospect than an outfielder - Winston had built his baseball stock behind his play in center field. A National League scout said he clocked Winston with an 88 to 91 mph fastball and a breaking ball he rated a 45 on his team's scale. But in both cases, the scouts said they hadn't seen anything that would tempt them into taking Winston in the early rounds. Based on the bonus money, it is believed that Winston would have to be taken that early to even consider letting go of his football opportunity at Florida State.

"For me, I like him better as a pitcher," the first scout said. "But still, as a pitcher he's not a top round guy either."

"He's a pretty good athlete," the NL scout said. "But he needs to go play football."

The lack of enthusiasm for drafting Winston early, both scouts maintained, was also predicated on new rules that make drafting high school players - and especially two-sport stars - a much riskier proposition.

For the first time this year, each major league team will be assigned a pool of signing bonus money to sign its picks in the first 10 rounds. According to MLB.com, that figure can range anywhere from $4.5 million to $11.5 million this season based on where the team's draft picks are located and how many picks a team has within the first 10 rounds. Houston is picking No. 1 overall and is expected to have the biggest signing bonus pool.

If teams spend more than their allotment, they could be susceptible to taxes and/or forfeiture of draft picks in later drafts.

But it's another new rule that comes into effect in the first 10 rounds that hampers dual-sport players like Winston. Within that 10-round signing bonus pool, each pick will have a "slot value," which is a determination of how much a player should get as a bonus in that spot. So, for example, if the slot value of a team's second round pick is $350,000, and the team is unable to sign that player, then the $350,000 is still subtracted from the team's bonus pool.

In essence, MLB teams either use the draft pick or lose it, they can not utilize the unused money to bolster the bonuses of its other draftees in the first 10 rounds. Bottom line, teams can't afford to gamble as much on high school/dual-sport players in early rounds who could potentially walk from the offer. And no subset would be more willing to walk than a player who already has a scholarship offer in another sport.

"It has shot a hole in all of these dual sport kids, especially if there is any inkling that he wouldn't commit to baseball, teams will be scared to to death," the NL scout said. "It is risky. The new rules are going to play havoc with this. The new rules a really to drive away the dual sport kids. If you're going to take our money, we want to know you're signing. It has shot us in the foot."

The NL scout said that for any team to consider taking Winston early in the draft, "someone has to has some firm answers."

The first scout also noted that Winston's baseball draft advisor is Kenny Felder, a former FSU quarterback who played both baseball and football in college. In 1992, after losing out in a quarterback battle with eventual Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, Felder left a year of college football eligibility on the table to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers. He believes that the Felder-Winston relationship could only bolster Winston's chances of trying both sports in college.

"I can't tell you what the other 29 teams are going to do," the NL scout said. He rated Winston as a 4th-6th round talent, not factoring in the new draft rules. "But we won't be taking that chance (of drafting and not signing Winston)."

Surely that's music to the ears to Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State football faithful who are likely to see the nation's top QB in uniform and on campus this fall.

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