Bubba's big decision

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MAJOR LEAGUES

Starling is a unique QB prospect

Luginbill By Tom Luginbill
ESPN.com
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It is hard to imagine Bubba Starling turning down what will likely be a bonus in the neighborhood of $5 million in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft. Quite honestly, I would not advise it, but if he does Cornhuskers fans will have a lot to be excited about with Starling playing quarterback at Nebraska.

Imagine a taller version of current Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez as a runner, only with better pure skills as a passer. Now don't get me wrong, Starling can be raw as a passer. But it's not a result of a lack of ability, but more because of a lack of experience in the passing game as he was utilized in high school much like Tim Tebow was when he was at Florida. (Starling threw just 93 passes his senior year, completing 40 of them for 812 yards and 8 TDs. By contrast, he ran the ball 172 times for 2,417 yards and 31 TDs.) Starling, with his size and great speed, was the primary rushing weapon in a run-dominated scheme at the high school level. He is a deceptively fluid, long strider who builds to top speed much quicker than you might think. If Starling gets a seam, he will win footraces.

As evidenced by his skills on the diamond, his arm strength translates well to the football field. At 6-foot-5, he can scan the field easily and has a dangerous arm to threaten all areas of the field physically, much in the same way Jake Locker does.

In fact, Starling and Locker, who was a first-round pick out of Washington in the 2011 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans, are very similar in a lot of ways. Locker is a great athlete who was also considered a baseball prospect. Nebraska fans will certainly hope Starling is far more accurate than Locker when he arrives in Lincoln. Having not played in a pro-style scheme in which footwork away from center is a must, it may take some time for Starling to adjust and become a balanced pocket passer, which will certainly enhance his accuracy. But Starling is one of those rare athletes who can play multiple sports, and in football he could play in multiple schemes and thrive.

Of course there is always the caveat of how steep the learning curve would be for him in regards to how quickly he could see the field. That is the area that no one can forecast until it happens, but athletically Starling is a unique prospect.

Starling has Josh Hamilton talent

Bowden By Jim Bowden
ESPN.com
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Bubba Starling, who has upper deck power, a 94 mph fastball and bat speed that says he should hit, is a top-10 talent in this year's MLB draft and is looking at a bonus in the $5 million range. Comparisons to Josh Hamilton and Dale Murphy are realistic if he achieves his true ceiling, and he could be the most talented player in this year's draft when all is said and done.

Starling and his family are being advised by Scott Boras, who is a master at getting players such as Starling to drop far enough in the draft for a big-market team to step up and pay well beyond baseball's unofficial slot value recommendations. The drafting of Rick Porcello by the Tigers in 2007 is a perfect example. That year, David Price and Rick Porcello were the top-two players on most clubs' draft boards, but the asking price on Porcello resulted in him falling to the Tigers at No. 27, where he received the second-highest bonus ever paid out by Detroit. Starling is another talented player who will fall somewhat in the draft and eventually will get offered his true value, which will dwarf slot recommendations.

As a former general manager, I have experience with players having to choose between two sports, and it's the club's responsibility to determine whether the player's heart and passion lean toward baseball or another sport. If the player has ability to succeed in both sports, he should play the one he loves the most. It's important for the club to lay out all the advantages that baseball has over football, including length of career, long-term earning power, injury risks, family environments, etc. Like football, you have to do your recruiting.

Still, some players aren't sure which sport they prefer. I have always been a supporter of letting the players play both sports in college until they decide what's best for them. For example, after drafting Adam Dunn in the second round of 1998, we allowed him to play QB at Texas while playing baseball for us during the remainder of the calendar year. Other clubs passed on him because they didn't want the risk of him playing both sports, but we tried to allow him to convince himself that baseball was the best sport for him. When Texas moved him to tight end, we flew him into our major spring training facility and put an addendum to his contract, making it a baseball only contract. It was his decision, and he preferred playing baseball rather than playing tight end at Texas. It turned out pretty well as he's averaged 39 home runs a year at the major league level ever since.

If the talent and potential of a player are clearly better in one sport than the other, the player should make that a significant part of his decision. Otherwise, he should follow the heart and the passion and play the sport he loves most. The money will follow or, in this particular case, the money will be there. By Aug.15, 2011, Starling will choose baseball and be on a path to reach that Hamilton- and Murphy-type ceiling because that is his first love and passion.