After a conference championship weekend in which Kyler Murray locked up the Heisman trophy with a victory over the University of Texas, the all-world athlete became perhaps the most talked about individual in the sporting world. Having set the NCAA football world on fire after a high-profile transfer and a year in waiting behind Baker Mayfield, Murray surpassed all expectations, leading to speculation that he might renege on his agreement to leave football behind after the 2018 campaign. While there is some lively debate over how successful Murray might be, and where he might be drafted, as an NFL quarterback, his talents have already made him a top-10 selection in baseball.
What hasn’t been discussed as much in recent weeks is precisely how Murray projects as a baseball prospect. Whenever a football star is plucked by an MLB team, they tend to grade out on the upper end of the athletic spectrum, as the average football player at a skill position has more raw physical talent than their counterpart on the diamond. Murray is no exception, and to my eye brings at least three potential plus to plus-plus tools to the outfield. It should surprise no one familiar with Murray’s exploits on the gridiron that the Heisman winner’s speed is at the top of the charts- he’s been clocked in the 4.3s in the 40 yard dash, an elite figure even by NFL standards. Although his arm has looked less impressive in the outfield than the football field, most agree that the strength should translate as he gets more outfield reps.
At the dish, Murray also brings a lot to the table. His brand of quick-twitch athleticism is seldom seen in pro baseball, and he makes excellent use of it as a hitter. Murray is able to generate easy plus power with his hips and plus bat speed, making him a true 30/30 threat down the line. He has a fairly substantial leg kick that Oakland may want to tone down, but overall he does not have a very complex setup at the plate. While he has never been a feared hitter for contact, his quick-trigger swing should allow him to get there if his mental game progresses alongside it. While he has struck out at a high clip in the NCAA game, evaluators have attributed those issues to his pitch recognition lagging behind the rest of his profile rather than glaring mechanical flaws.
Typically, a college bat drafted inside the top ten will be fast-tracked to the major leagues, but Murray isn’t a typical case for obvious reasons. His 10/10 sophomore campaign at Oklahoma included a troublesome 56 strikeouts in 217 plate appearances, and his hitting skills will likely come along a bit slowly as he adjusts to the pro game, and baseball full-time. He has also spent significant time in the infield in the past, and will likely need a bit of polish as a center fielder as well. Murray is reminiscent of a JUCO prospect in terms of experience level, and his trajectory through the minor leagues could be similar.
While Murray was drafted 9th overall, there is not a single player in the 2018 draft class with as much raw upside. With elite speed, unparalleled body control and surprisingly huge strength, Murray could follow a number of paths to value on the baseball field. His speed and willingness to take a walk could make him a leadoff man, and he has enough power to hit in the heart of an order if he hits enough to get to all of it. He has drawn some stratospheric comps such as Rickey Henderson, and while his baseball skills have a long way to go to reach the majors, let alone superstar status, the sky is truly the limit. Although somewhat similar prospects such as Anthony Alford have flamed out in recent years, scouts are unlikely to be scared off of Murray, whose intangibles are another aspect of his mammoth prospect status. It’s very difficult to bet against a physical prospect like Murray who has dominated the highest levels of high school and college football and seems to succeed to any athletic endeavor he commits himself to. I’m certainly not going to.