Looking back at Russell Wilson, baseball prospect, after Rangers take him in Rule 5 draft
Unless you're a scout or an industry insider, you're generally safe ignoring the annual Rule 5 draft. You've never heard of most of those players, and only a few will even see big league action the following season. The Triple A and Double A portions of the draft are even more obscure, but from Thursday morning's draft, one name does stand out: Russell Wilson, better known as the Pro Bowl quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks.
Wilson was selected by the Rangers in the Triple A phase of the draft despite not having played in the minors since 2011. Originally drafted in the 41st round by the Orioles in 2007, he was chosen again by the Rockies in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of North Carolina State. After signing for a $200,000 bonus, NC State questioned his commitment to football and released him from his scholarship; he transferred to the University of Wisconsin for his senior season in 2011. Meanwhile, he spent two seasons in Colorado's system, playing second base and hitting a combined .229/.354/.356 with five homers and 19 steals in 93 games at two levels of A-ball. Baseball America ranked him as the Rockies' 19th-best prospect in its 2011 Prospect Handbook, noting that while earning All-ACC honors as a QB, he was essentially a platoon player on the diamond, playing almost exclusively against lefties.
The Handbook noted that scouts liked his compact swing, adding, "He has the athleticism and aptitude that gave scouts reason to believe he could be a quality infielder. He has game-changing speed but has to learn the subtleties that will allow him to turn it into an asset." It also noted that he showed plus range and a solid arm but had to adjust to the speed of the game, and that his goal was to reach the majors in both sports.
By the time of the 2012 Handbook, Wilson had slipped out of Colorado's top 30, and shortly afterward he was drafted in the third round by the Seahawks. He led them to an 11-5 record and threw for 3,118 yards and 26 touchdowns in his rookie season, adding another 489 yards rushing. This year, Seattle has gone 11-2, and he's on pace for similar passing and rushing numbers.
The Ranger have previously taken fliers on 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams and potential 2013 winner Jameis Winston. Williams, a star running back at Texas and in the NFL, spent four years (1995-1998) in the Phillies organization, hitting .211/.265/.261; he was chosen in the 1999 Rule 5 by the Expos, then flipped to Texas, though he decided not to continue playing baseball. Winston, the quarterback at Florida State who has also pitched in relief and played the outfield for the Seminoles, was drafted by the Rangers in the 15th round in 2012 but didn't sign.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told reporters that choosing Wilson, which cost them $12,500, was more than a publicity stunt, and given the strength of their scouting and development system, it's clear that they see something in him. Via ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett, Daniels said, "We talk to our scouts about the makeup we want of our players and the work ethic it takes to win, and Russell Wilson has been an example of that… He has off-the-charts character and focus. We want to be respectful of where he's at right now."
That same piece from Durrett reported that "Daniels said Wilson wants to come to spring training and work out, and that it's open-ended; if Wilson wants to do more than that, he certainly can" but Jack Curry of the YES Network tweeted, "Rangers don't expect Russell Wilson to partake in baseball activities, but want to take advantage of his leadership/motivational skills."
Wilson will remain on the team's restricted list — meaning that he won't cost a roster spot — so long as he's in the NFL. At the moment, he's far from the next Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders and probably would have never matched their level. Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks praised Wilson's defensive skills but noted, "He was never going to hit the breaking ball. He made the right choice."