Is Kyler Murray making a mistake?

Oakland Athletics outfielder Kyler Murray is set to turn his back on baseball for a career in American football. Will it be the biggest mistake of his life?

When the Oakland Athletics selected outfielder Kyler Murray with the ninth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft and subsequently signed him to a contract which included a $4.66 million bonus, it looked like his future in MLB was assured.

The assumption was that Murray would play quarterback for the University of Oklahoma in the autumn and then focus solely on baseball.

There are many articles on the 21-year-old’s extraordinary American football performances, which culminated with him securing the Heisman Trophy; the MVP award for college football.

There are even more articles about Murray’s decision to potentially forfeit Oakland’s signing bonus by declaring himself available for the NFL draft. Even the BBC and British newspapers have covered it, albeit with the focus on the NFL rather than baseball.

If taken in the first round of the NFL draft, Murray’s signing bonus would eclipse Oakland’s money. No NFL team will waste a first round pick on a bench player, so Murray would undoubtedly be the starting quarterback, with an astronomic salary compared to the wages paid in Single-A.

The advantages and disadvantages of choosing NFL over MLB are many and varied.

Star quarterbacks are household names. Tom Brady is known across the globe, but Mike Trout could walk into a pub in Manchester without being recognised.

Extraordinary wealth for NFL stars is instantaneous. Murray wouldn’t have to endure years of Minor League pay, followed by three years of pre-arbitration MLB minimum wage.

He is already more recognisable than 90% of Major League baseball players, and to take the MLB route, would mean the 21-year-old turn his back on this new-found fame.

Although Murray was the best athlete in the June Draft, and despite having exceptional upside, he will still need considerable time in the minors to develop his contact skills. It could be years before he makes it to The Show.

As the quarterback, he is the boss; the star of the team. The same can’t be said about patrolling the outfield of Oakland. Do you even know the Oakland outfielders?

For all of his athleticism, it should not be overlooked that Murray is only 1.75M. That’s 5-foot-9 in old money. It wasn’t a problem at college, but the NFL is a different beast.

Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann is concerned about the impact Murray’s undersized stature will have on his potential:

“Defensive coaches in this league are going to figure out how to keep you in the pocket. And if you can’t throw from the pocket, or you can’t see from the pocket, it’s going to become a problem.”

It’s not an easy decision for the young man, but MLB offers the expectancy of a longer career, and the injury-risk is far lower. Should he make it to the big leagues, then the earnings potential from baseball should outweigh that from the NFL.

So what is the likely outcome of the ninth pick of the MLB Amateur Draft? Well, to be honest, it’s not great.

The best player taken with the ninth overall pick over the last 10 years is the Cubs’ defensive magician Javier Baez. Now 26, Baez will make $5.6 million in 2019. A modest sum considering he was second in NL MVP voting.

Although he only has three full seasons in the big leagues under his belt, Baez is already one of the ten best players taken with the ninth overall pick. Top of the pack is Kevin Appier (sorry, before my time), followed by former Athletics’ ace/Giants’ millstone, Barry Zito.

A year before Baez was taken, the ninth pick was high schooler Karsten Whitson, who (according to Wikipedia) turned down a $2.1 million signing bonus from the Padres and opted to attend college instead. After shoulder surgery, he eventually signed with the Red Sox in 2014, and his Baseball Reference page shows a solitary line of seven innings in Low-A with an ERA of 7.71.

In 2012, Andrew Heaney was taken with the ninth pick by the Miami Marlins. He was traded along with Austin Barnes, Chris Hatcher and Kike Hernandez to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Miguel Rojas, before being flipped the following season to the Angels for Howie Kendrick.

Heaney made 30 starts in 2018 with 4.15 ERA and will make $3.16 million this year.

Austin Meadows was taken with the ninth pick in the 2013 draft. The hitters taken around him were Clint Frazier, Hunter Dozier, Colin Moran and Dominic Smith. It was a rather uninspiring first round, with the obvious exception of the number two overall pick, Kris Bryant.

After stagnating in the Pirates system, and with prospect-fatigue growing, Meadows was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays as part of the Chris Archer deal last summer. He is making $535,000 (the Major League minimum) this season and will earn the same in 2020. Oh, and in 2021 as well.

In 2014, Jeff Hoffman was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, before being entangled in the Jose Reyes/Troy Tulowitzki swap. Hoffman has made a total of 23 big league starts with 5.36 ERA. He will also be on the Major League minimum in 2019.

Versatile Ian Happ was taken with the ninth pick in the stacked 2015 draft by the Cubs. The first round also included Dansby Swanson (1), Alex Bregman (2) and Andrew Benintendi (7). Happ took a significant step backwards last season as pitchers adjusted, so it will be interesting to see how he combats that in 2019.

The number nine picks in 2016 (Matt Manning) and 2017 (Keston Hiura) are yet to make their MLB debuts. Both are acknowledged as top-75 prospects in the game.

So what does this tell us? Not much.

Despite being blessed with extraordinary athletic ability, Kyler Murray’s paths to superstardom and unimaginable wealth are both fraught with risk, no matter which one he chooses.

The 21-year-old must decide whether to take the instant guaranteed money and fame of the NFL or be prepared to take the slow, near-anonymous route offered by MLB, but one that could lead to a $300 million contract and a career stretching into his late-30s.

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