Russell Wilson driven at an early age


SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers area scout Chris Kemp remembers the first time he saw current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on a baseball field four years ago.

"I was watching batting practice, and he's laying out in center field and jumping up against the wall to catch balls," Kemp said. "Then he's sprinting to shortstop when the groups switched and scooping up balls there. I'd never seen anybody get after it in pregame like he did.

"I watched the guy a bunch, and I thought he was athletic enough to play any position. The only question was whether he could hit."

Kemp said defensively, Wilson's athleticism was noticeable. He had terrific character and intangibles. But to make it at the big league level, his offense would need to improve.

"He was 89 to 90 [mph] off the mound, had good hands and, obviously, a tremendous arm," Kemp said. "I thought he could be a super-utility guy and be that 12th guy offensively that could play second, short and even center. I do think he could have been a major league player. An everyday guy? I wasn't so sure. But I knew he could have a role on a big league team. His work ethic was a separator."

Kemp's assessment was echoed the past few days by several scouts and coaches who watched Wilson play before football became his full-time passion.

Wilson will be back on a baseball field Monday, but it's unclear how many -- if any -- drills he'll participate in as a member of the Rangers. Texas drafted the 25-year-old former infielder in December's Rule 5 draft, paying $12,000 for the chance to add what the Rangers felt was a high-character, winning piece to the organization.

Wilson will be in uniform -- wearing No. 3, of course -- when the Rangers host the Indians at Surprise Stadium on Monday afternoon, but manager Ron Washington has said the quarterback won't be swinging a bat in that game. The skipper did offer Wilson the chance to work with him on one-on-one defensive drills, if he wants to do so.

Before Wilson became a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, he was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft by the Colorado Rockies, who believed that Wilson's versatility could make him a long-term asset. They showed how much they believed it by paying him a $200,000 bonus, part of which he returned when he signed with the Seahawks.

The scout who pushed the hardest to draft Wilson: Jay Matthews.

The longtime Rockies evaluator -- now a national crosschecker for the organization -- got to know Wilson as a junior in high school as he constantly scouted him. Even then, Matthews was struck by Wilson's attitude, commitment and work ethic, which went alongside a supreme athleticism.

"He wanted to play football and baseball and be the best he could at both," Matthews said. "Years later, he was still that focused, motivated player. We saw him as a Jerry Hairston-type big leaguer -- athletic enough to be versatile at multiple positions, possibly second, third, left field and center.

"The defense was ahead of the offense. But we thought if he had at least 1,500 minor league at-bats, the upside was there and he was going to be a big league player. We wouldn't have drafted him in the fourth round if we didn't think that."

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