Red Sox prospect prefers ballpark to backfield

Gammons: Sox prospect not pining for gridiron days

Red Sox prospect prefers ballpark to backfield
Brandon Jacobs works out every day in his hometown of Lilburn, Ga. He hits, lifts, runs and -- like everyone else in the land of the Southeastern Conference -- is waiting for Monday's BCS Championship Game.

Jacobs has more of a personal stake than most who are not tied to Auburn University. He could have been lining up at tailback behind Tigers quarterback Cam Newton against Oregon.

"I think about it," says Jacobs. "They told me I would have a chance to play as a freshman, so by now, as a sophomore, I might have been playing."

Jacobs originally signed to play for Auburn in the summer before his 2008-09 senior year at Parkview High School in Lilburn, Ga. He looked hard at the University of Georgia and a couple of other schools but signed with Tommy Tuberville and Auburn to play tailback, as well as play baseball. He was described by one scouting service as "a tailback in a fullback's body," somewhere around 6 feet tall and between 225-240 pounds.

Tuberville eventually was replaced by Gene Chizik, and Jacobs listened to the charge put on him by the University of Florida, but by then he was wrapped up in his high school baseball season.

"Baseball was always my first love," says Jacobs.

At the time, Donavan Tate, a quarterback and center fielder, was the toast of Georgia high school baseball and so much the darling of the scouts that he eventually was the third overall pick by the San Diego Padres in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

But one area scout described Jacobs as one of the "best pure hitters I'd ever seen. He reminded me of an 18-year-old Kevin Mitchell. He could run, he played hard and he made contact. I think he struck out four times his entire senior year."

Jacobs continued to prepare to report to Auburn that July, but as the baseball Draft approached, he worked out for several teams. He went to Turner Field in Atlanta and put on what one scout described as "a show," hitting rocket after rocket into the seats. But when the Draft arrived, most teams thought it would cost too much to sign him away from the opportunity to play big-time SEC football, even though the coaching staff had changed.

The Red Sox took Jacobs in the 10th round, and within days had the framework of a deal somewhere in the $800,000 neighborhood, well above the Commissioner's Office's slot level for that round, which meant they had to sit on the signing to get it through.

Boston did the same thing last June with 6-foot-2 running back and outfielder Kendrick Perkins from LaPorta, Texas, who had signed to play football at Texas A&M but, after being picked in the sixth round by the Red Sox, quickly announced his intention to play baseball. In past years, Boston did the same thing and signed QB-pitcher Casey Kelly, safety-outfielder Ryan Kalish and punter-third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who were signed with Tennessee, Virginia and Texas A&M, respectively.

Jacobs says that while he will be watching intently and rooting for friends on the Auburn team like tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.

"I have no regrets," Jacobs said. "I don't miss [football]. I love baseball, I had a great experience playing in Lowell [New York-Penn League] this past summer, where the ballpark was packed every night.

"A lot went into my decision to sign with Boston. I thought a lot about the longevity of the career, the injury risk. I really thought baseball was what I was going to play in the long run, and why wait four years to get started. I know I have a long way to go, but I'm very pleased with the decision I made."

In his first full professional season, Jacobs had modest numbers in his 64 games for Lowell -- a .242 average, .308 OBP, .411 slugging percentage, six homers, 26 extra base hits. Most scouts who saw him used the word "raw," yet were intrigued by his bat and athleticism.

It's not as if Jacobs couldn't turn back to football should he not hit. Take Brandon Weeden. He was the Yankees' second-round pick as a right-hander in 2002, signed, was traded after the '03 season with Jeff Weaver and Yhency Brazoban for Kevin Brown, was taken by the Royals in the Rule 5 draft and eventually retired. This fall, at the age of 27, Weeden led Oklahoma State to an 11-win season, completing 25 passes in the Alamo Bowl.

Major League Baseball frowns on clubs going above slot to sign amateurs, but those who want to see a continued influx of athletic talents -- and know that with the NCAA scholarship limits, college baseball programs cannot attract many lower income and minority kids -- feel that teams have to do what the Red Sox did with Jacobs, Kelly and Kalish. Without Kelly, Boston wouldn't have Adrian Gonzalez, and Kalish is expected to be a regular outfielder by 2012. The Yankees didn't get what they hoped from Weeden, but they went above slot to sign the Georgia Tech-bound shooting guard Austin Jackson and turned him into a trade for Curtis Granderson. The Tigers went above slot to sign Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin and dealt them for Miguel Cabrera, who may well be headed for Cooperstown.

"I'll be watching [Monday]," said Jacobs, "but, to be honest, I'm more excited about Spring Training. I'm a baseball player. I'd love to be there in Arizona, but I'd rather be playing in Boston someday."

Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.