Tim Wilken on Jeff Samardzija

Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken was present for day one of the annual Cubs Convention on Friday when the club announced a five-year, $10 million major league contract with pitcher Jeff Samardzija -- a 2006 fifth-round draft pick and a former two-sport athlete in college. Afterward, Wilken shared several of his thoughts on Samardzija with InsideTheIvy.com.

"As (Cubs General Manager) Jim Hendry said, it's not only a wonderful day for the Chicago Cubs, but a wonderful day for all of baseball when you can get one of the finer athletes in the United States to commit to baseball (over football). I'm extremely happy about it," Wilken said.

Samardzija was as a standout pitcher and wide receiver throughout his college career with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He played three seasons for coach Paul Mainieri and the Irish baseball team, and four seasons divided up between coaches Charlie Weis and Ty Willingham on the gridiron.

The right-hander will now forego any possible career in the NFL.

Soon to be 22, Samardzija made seven starts between Class Low A Boise and Class A Peoria for the Cubs a season ago. He was 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA before returning to Notre Dame for the start of fall football practice.

Wilken admitted that he was "pretty nervous" watching Samardzija dazzle many NFL scouts this past season, but not for the obvious reasons.

"I got to see at least eight, maybe 10 of his games on TV," Wilken said. "Every once in awhile, I'd have to cross my fingers watching some of those crossing routes over the middle."

Samardzija caught 78 passes for 1,017 yards this past season. He finished a decorated college football career as the all-time Notre Dame leader in receptions (179), receiving yards (2,593) and touchdown catches (27).

Still, baseball remained Samardzija's first love and Wilken tips his hat to Hendry for trusting his instincts when drafting the Valparaiso, Ind., native.

"I'm not blowing smoke, but I will tell you this: I don't think there are a lot of other people in baseball that could have pulled all this off from the negotiating side," Wilken said. "I think Jim truly trusts his instincts when he deals and I think he loved this situation."

Hendry's instincts won out despite skepticism of the Cubs' decision to draft Samardzija. (Many fans and pundits alike viewed the 6'6, 215-pound athlete as a probable first-round selection in the NFL draft.)

For his part, Wilken believes that Samardzija became more drawn to a career in professional baseball after seeing what the Cubs' Scouting Director called a "good wave of people coming into the farm system."

"Guys like (fellow 2006 draftees) Josh Lansford and Tyler Colvin, he can grow with them," Wilken said. "He's struck up a good relationship with both of those players. They went out and had that first good season together and I think there are some good things to happen from here."

The next step for Samardzija will be his first Big League Spring Training, which starts Feb. 14 in Mesa, Ariz., when all pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park. Samardzija, Wilken said, will get an early start and head down to Mesa some time in the next three days.

"He's very anxious and is wasting no time," Wilken said.

The early odds on where Samardzija will begin the 2006 season seem to be in favor of always sunny and warm Daytona, Fla., home of the Cubs' Class A affiliate in the Florida State League. Nothing is set in stone, though.

"Spring Training will tell us more and more about where he'll end up starting," Wilken said. "I don't think it's such a bad thing for him to start at Daytona, but after five weeks of pitching in Arizona, maybe all of a sudden we'll see a more advanced version of Jeff because he's gotten into a routine and it's not as inconceivable that he'll be somewhere else."

"I'm just anxious to see what the 2007 season holds for him," Wilken said.

Anxious as he is, Wilken isn't unrealistic. He expects Samardzija to make a few mistakes, but says, "I'm sure he's going to correct those pretty quickly ... He's a quick learner and has a great baseball attitude."

In the days leading up to Friday's announcement, Wilken said he had come in contact with officials from the Chicago Bears, who will face the New Orleans Saints this Sunday for a berth in Super Bowl XLI.

The Monsters of the Midway were perceivably looking to get a head start on 2007-2008 by inquiring into the status of Samardzija's relationship with the Cubs and how it might pertain to the upcoming NFL draft in April.

"The Bears had called me up and wanted to know how serious we were about Jeff," Wilken said. "Well, I think when they pick up the paper in the morning, they're going to find out."


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