A two-sport baseball and football athlete throughout his college career at Notre Dame, Samardzija joined the Cubs as their fifth-round draft pick last June. He made seven starts between Class Low A Boise and Class A Peoria before returning to Notre Dame for the start of fall football practice.
In his senior season on the gridiron, Samardzija became the school's all-time leader in touchdown catches and receiving yards. He was considered a consensus first-round NFL draft pick, but reiterated his commitment to the Cubs when he signed a five-year major league contract in January.
With Class High A Daytona this season, Samardzija has made three starts but has yet to earn a decision, going five innings each time out and allowing four earned runs for a 2.40 ERA in 15 innings.
Mainieri was asked Wednesday about the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of Samardzija. Just as he did at a press conference on the day Samardzija was drafted last summer, the coach had plenty of things to say about the Cubs' up-and-coming pitching prospect.
"Jeff Samardzija is one of the most remarkable athletes I've had the opportunity of coaching," Mainieri began. "He is a tremendous athlete and (I) usually don't use the words ‘athlete' and ‘pitcher' in the same sentence when you're talking about pitchers."
In three seasons under Mainieri in college, Samardzija was a combined 21-6 with a 3.82 ERA in 240-plus innings. This season, he has averaged one hit allowed per inning in three starts and has five walks to four strikeouts.
In his Florida State League debut earlier this month, Samardzija focused primarily on getting his fastball over for strikes. Since then, he's been working to continue the development of his changeup.
In his most recent start on Wednesday against Vero Beach, Samardzija allowed one earned run and five hits in his five innings on the mound.
"Because he's so good and so athletic, whenever you teach him something, he has the ability to really apply it quickly," Mainieri continued. "And he wants to learn, but the thing that stood out to me about Jeff was that he was the most confident athlete that I've ever coached.
"His confidence doesn't waver and he's a great competitor."
Mainieri added that he thought Samardzija would be in the major leagues "very soon" (Samardzija is on the Cubs 40-man roster).
When that happens, Mainieri said, "He's going to be there to stay and he's going to have a long and successful career."
What advice would Mainieri give Samardzija now that he's chosen baseball over football?
"My advice would be the same advice I've always given," Mainieri said. "Believe in yourself, work hard, and if you do that with your God-given ability, you should be able to succeed. It's the same thing I told him as a freshman in college, and I feel the same way now."