Manuel: Early Selection of Wilson a Surprise

Baseball America Editor-in-Chief John Manuel has worked with the publication since 1996, and he covers baseball draft prospects who reside in North Carolina. We caught up with Manuel to get his thoughts on Russell Wilson and his athletic future.

Baseball America Editor-in-Chief John Manuel has worked with the publication since 1996, and he covers baseball draft prospects who reside in North Carolina.

He recently released his top 50 rankings of the best draft prospects in the state, and NC State's Russell Wilson was at the bottom of the list.

"I ranked fifty guys from within the state, and that includes high school players and college prospects, and Russell Wilson was No. 49," said Manuel. "We didn't have him high... he was towards the bottom. He was right ahead of Colin Bates over at North Carolina. I had Wilson at No. 49 on my list, and the only reason I had him that low was not really on talent but on the likelihood of him getting drafted. He probably would have been around 23 or 24 [based on talent]... I had Kyle Roller of East Carolina at No. 24, and I'm not a real big Kyle Roller fan.

"The guys at the bottom, we put them there just in case... college hitters, college pitchers. Russell Wilson is a different situation from all those guys though. Honestly, I really didn't think he played enough to get a long look to go this year, but obviously I was wrong."

Baseball America is a publication with writers like Manuel who gather feedback on prospects from scouts to gauge where they could potentially go in the draft. Because he didn't think Wilson had played enough to get drafted high, perhaps at all, Manuel admits he was surprised when he found out the Rockies selected Wilson No. 140 overall in the fourth round.

"Well, I was definitely thrown off by the fact that he didn't play much baseball this year," said Manuel. "When he did play, he was okay... he didn't blow anybody away. I did ask scouts about him... but obviously it only takes one to feel strongly about a player, to believe a kid is a player.

"Clearly the consensus is that scout think this kid can hit. They just want to see him hit... they want to see him play, but in a draft where there really weren't a lot of great college hitters, the more I think about it, it does make some sense."

"With him being drafted out of high school there is some history, and scouts have liked him for a long time. But, I think it was still a surprise. It was a pretty decent surprise that he went to the Rockies, but they did a good job of keeping their feelings about Wilson under wraps. I think he's going to play professional baseball, but we will see if his college football career is over. I don't know about that, but it's very possible it could be."

It clearly makes sense to Manuel as to why Wilson would appeal to the Rockies, a team that has a history of drafting college quarterbacks.

"They like quarterbacks."

"The Rockies make sense as a fit," said Manuel. "They like quarterbacks. They've got Todd Helton, who backed up Peyton Manning at Tennessee, and they have Seth Smith, who backed up Eli Manning at Ole Miss. They also used their first-round pick this year on Clemson's Kyle Parker, who ACC fans know is their starting quarterback. Now they go out and select Russell Wilson so obviously the quarterback thing does not scare them off."

Perhaps even a bigger influence in Colorado's selection of Wilson is their familiarity with him through their scouting department.

"The Rockies have a very strong scouting contingent in North Carolina," Manuel stated. "Their area scout is Jay Matthews, and he is one of their top area scouts. Also, their scouting coordinator, Danny Montgomery, is essentially their No. 2 guy on the amateur scouting side and he's based in Charlotte. Those guys are in this area a lot, so you know they both saw a lot of Russell Wilson.

"The other factor is Colorado is one of those teams that really trusts their scouts. If the local scout is strongly convinced on Russell Wilson as a guy he liked, and then you go up the ladder to your cross-checkers... your national guys, scouting director, I'm sure they all saw him."

Now that Wilson has been selected, he knows what team he will begin negotiating a pro contract with and signability becomes a factor. Pro baseball scouts can actually speak with prospects and their family before drafting them to gauge signability.

"Scouts go through front channels," said Manuel. "They go through the kids. That's the way the rules are and the way you have to go. To go through someone else, anyone other than the family or the kid, you're jeopardizing the eligibility of the player and that's the last thing that the teams want to do.

"They try as hard as they can to talk to the players and their family. That takes a lot of hard work and the building of personal relationships. You have to think Jay Matthews did all that work... he must have ascertained the signability of Wilson."

According to Manuel, the lowest signing bonus given to a fourth-round selection in the 2009 MLB Draft was $75,000, and that was given to a pitcher coming off arm surgery. The next lowest amount was $140,000. Clemson left-hander Chris Dwyer was given $1.45 million, and Oakland gave Max Staffey, a high school catcher, $1.5 million, which was the highest amount in that round.

"The Rockies really take signability very seriously," Manuel stated. "They had an ugly holdout in 2000 when this current scouting director started. They've tried to learn their lessons from that situation and really emphasize signing their guys if they can. As far as their reputation for going over slot, in my mind they are not an organization known for doing that. They did it last year with Tyler Matzek, their first-round pick, but I don't think it's normally how they like to do things.

"They will negotiate but if they feel like the player doesn't want to play, they'll move on... as they did a couple of years ago with Chris Dominguez from Louisville. Colorado is willing to pay what they are willing to pay... that is a fair way to put it. With that being said, I think both sides here are going into this with eyes wide open."

Russell Wilson's situation isn't the norm and that will factor into his signability and the kind of deal he secures. It's entire possible that the Rockies look to buy him out of football by awarding him a lucrative signing bonus, or they could ink him to a slot figure and allow him to continue as quarterback at NC State.

"If you don't want him to play football then you have to give the guy a reason to give up Saturday's," said Manuel. "He clearly likes playing football, so maybe you pay him less and allow him to play football in the fall. There are a lot of variables, but they definitely can sign him as a professional in baseball and allow him to still play college football. The New York Yankees once signed Drew Henson to a two-million dollar contract and allowed him to play multiple seasons at quarterback for Michigan.

"Wilson's situation is really hard to compare to anybody from last year drafted in his range, but I don't think he's going to get a million dollars or 1.5 million. If he did that I would be pretty shocked. I'd be even more shocked that he signed a seven-figure bonus than I am that he went in the fourth round. I hear he turned down nearly a quarter of a million coming out of high school, and that would be a reasonable expectation. I think that's the ballpark he's likely looking at."

Whenever he signs it will be up to Wilson to prove he has what it takes to reach the Major Leagues. He still needs more reps , and according to Manuel, the Rockies will likely start him out in the infield or in centerfield.

"He really does need the reps," he said. "He needs to go out and play. You'd like to have him play the infield... second base or third base. If he's going to play the infield he needs to go out and take a lot of grounders.

"Everybody I've ever talked to about Russ have said they would like to try him in the infield. He does have arm strength. He did pitch some this year... upper 80's, he had a couple in the low 90's. There's arm strength so you think he might be able to play third but with his build he looks more like a second baseman.

"I just think you get more value out of a guy if you can keep him in the infield. If he doesn't play the infield then you want to try centerfield because a lot more is expected offensively out of the corner outfield spots. The bar is set lower at second or center. We'll see, but I expect they will start him out in the infield."

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