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5 Pro Athletes Who Could Be Major League Stars

Jameis Winston played two years of varsity baseball at Florida State. Photo by Thomson200 (Flickr) [CC License]
  • Tim Tebow and Russell Wilson aren’t the only pro athletes capable of playing in the Majors. We’ve rounded up five other stars who could be Big Leaguers.
  • Would Tom Brady be Cooperstown-bound if he had stuck with baseball?
  • Will Pat Connaughton ditch the Blazers for the Orioles?

You can’t watch Spring Training highlights this year without seeing elite quarterbacks crushing balls and shagging flys. Over in Port St. Lucie, Tim Tebow has had Mets fans in a tizzy with his prodigious displays of power, while Russell Wilson was greeted by thousands of adoring fans in Tampa last week as he took his cuts with the New York Yankees.

As fascinating as it’s been to watch Tebow and Wilson, they’re far from the only pro athletes capable of playing in the Majors. We’ve lined up five other contemporary stars who have the talent and drive to be Big Leaguers.

1. Tom Brady (New England Patriots)

Tom Brady is destined to be remembered as the greatest quarterback ever, but there was a time in the not-so-distant past that it looked like he would be throwing balls to second basemen rather than wide receivers. The five-time Super Bowl champ was an elite catcher in high school whose expert handling of pitchers so impressed the Montreal Expos that they took him in the 18th round of the 1995 MLB Draft.

According to Expos general manager, Kevin Malone, Brady was the total package. “He was a left-handed, power-hitting catcher who was cerebral,” he told Sports Illustrated. “He had arm strength. He had everything that would warrant him being projected as a major league all-star. He had everything.”

Brady was flattered by the team’s interest, but he chose to stick with football instead and enrolled at the University of Michigan. All things considered, it seems to have worked out pretty well for him.

Odds Tom Brady ever has a Major League at bat: 200/1

2. Pat Connaughton (Portland Trail Blazers)

Pat Connaughton is currently logging 19 minutes off the bench for the Trail Blazers, but he could be starring for the Orioles if he had stuck with baseball. The two-sport star was drafted by Baltimore in the fourth round of 2014 MLB Draft and went 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts that summer with the team’s Class-A affiliate in Aberdeen.

The Orioles allowed Connaughton to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, but they probably wish they hadn’t after he caught the attention of NBA scouts.

The Orioles allowed Connaughton to return to Notre Dame for his senior season that fall, but they probably wish they hadn’t after the six-foot-five shooting guard caught the attention of NBA scouts by leading the Fighting Irish to the Final Four. Connaughton was nabbed by Brooklyn in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft that summer and was promptly traded to Portland, where he’s been plying his trade ever since.

To this day, Orioles GM Dan Duquette still considers Connaughton to be the one who got away. “I’m going to leave a candle at the window for Pat,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “And in the meantime, I might go to church and light a candle that he has an epiphany that he can be a major league pitcher.”

The Orioles hold Connaughton’s baseball rights through 2020, and it isn’t a stretch to think he could end up in the Major Leagues once his NBA career comes to an end.

Odds Pat Connaughton ever throws a pitch in the Major Leagues: 7/1

3. Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Bucaneers)

Jameis Winston was picked by the Texas Rangers in the 15th round of the 2012 Draft, but don’t let his late selection deceive you. The Alabama native had a lively 94 MPH fastball and likely would have been a first rounder were it not for the fact he had already committed to playing quarterback at Florida State.

Winston’s football exploits are well documented, but you may not know that he also excelled on the diamond as a relief pitcher and outfielder during his time in Tallahassee. The six-foot-four star had nine saves and a 1.95 ERA in two years with the Seminoles and was named a preseason All-American as a 3rd-team utility player.

Alas, the Rangers can stop holding their breath that Winston will join them anytime soon. His contract with the Buccaneers contains an iron tight clause prohibiting him from playing professional baseball.

Odds Jameis Winston ever throws a pitch in the Major Leagues: 80/1

4. Brandon Weeden (Tennessee Titans)

No player on our list came closer to having a Major League career than Brandon Weeden, who was selected in the second round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees and spent five seasons in the minors with three different organizations. His best season came in 2003, when the six-foot-four right-hander went 2-0 with a 1.73 ERA in seven games in the Gulf Coast League.

Weeden eventually put aside his dreams of being a Big Leaguer in 2007 and enrolled at Oklahoma State to take a crack at playing college football instead. Even now, he admits it was one of the hardest decisions of his life. “I’d played baseball since I was three years old and I never missed a season,” he told The Plain Dealer. “That was kind of hard until I got to Oklahoma State and realized this is what I really wanted to do.”

Weeden took control of the Cowboys’ offense by his junior season and went on to become the school’s all-time leader in total pass attempts, completions, yardage, and touchdowns.

Weeden took control of the Cowboys’ offense by his junior season and went on to become the school’s all-time leader in total pass attempts, completions, yardage, and touchdowns. The Cleveland Browns were suitably impressed and grabbed him with the 22nd pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

He has since played for four different teams and spent the 2017 season backing up Marcus Mariota in Tennessee.

Odds Brandon Weeden ever throws a pitch in the Major Leagues: 60/1

Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn’s summers were devoted to hockey before being signed by the Stars. Photo by DalStars9 (Flickr) [CC License]

5. Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)

Hockey may pay Jamie Benn’s bills, but baseball has always been his first love. The Art Ross winner grew up in the Pacific Northwest on Vancouver Island, where he was the first baseman and MVP of the provincial AAA champion Victoria Capitals.

His strong arm and exceptional athleticism made him a natural on the diamond, and he had plans to play in the highly-touted Alaska Baseball League during the summer of 2007 before the Dallas Stars took a flyer and picked him with the 129th pick of that year’s NHL Draft. It turned out to be a good move for everyone involved as Benn ripped through junior hockey and has become one of the NHL’s most prolific scorers ever since.

The 28-year-old still follows Major League Baseball closely, buy says he has no regrets about the path he chose. “I think deep down, I knew I had a better shot in hockey,” he has said.

Odds Jamie Benn ever has a Major League at bat: 50/1

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Ryan Murphy began his love affair with sports journalism at the age of nine when he wrote his first article about his little league baseball team. He has since authored his own column for Fox Sports, and now serves as SBD’s resident NBA and MLB expert.