In 2006, Notre Dame had the top collegiate two-sport prospect in the First-Year Player Draft in wide receiver/right-hander Jeff Samardzija. He lasted until the fifth round of the Draft because of signability questions, but turned pro with the Cubs for $250,000 that June and landed a $10 million big league contract seven months later after playing one more season of football for the Fighting Irish.
Eight years later, Notre Dame again has the top two-sport college talent in the Draft. A three-year starter as a guard/forward for the basketball team, Pat Connaughton ranked second on the Irish in scoring (13.8 per game), rebounding (7.1) and assists (3.0) in 2013-14. Yet his future is brighter as a right-handed pitcher.
The Padres took a flier on Connaughton in the 38th round in 2011, but the St. John's Prep (Danvers, Mass.) product opted to play two sports in college. NCAA rules would permit him to play professional baseball while returning to Notre Dame for his senior basketball season.
Connaughton puts his 6-foot-5, 214-pound build to good use on the mound, creating an angle and plane that make his pitches more difficult to hit. The leverage in his frame helps him deliver fastballs up to 95 mph, and his athleticism endears him to scouts. Connaughton's upside could make him a top-three-rounds pick, though he didn't pitch like one in his first four starts this season.
Connaughton's late arrival from basketball and terrible weather were legitimate excuses, but it was still hard to reconcile his upside with his 6.89 ERA, 11-18 K-BB ratio and .349 opponent batting average in 15 2/3 innings. He took a huge positive step forward last weekend, when he beat Boston College with a complete-game six-hitter. Connaughton fanned six and walked only one while delivering 75 of his 116 pitches for strikes.
"Last Saturday, he was up to 94 mph, pitched at 92-93, spun some better breaking balls and threw more strikes," an area scout said. "He's intriguing because of the makeup and the athleticism and the velocity. He needs a better breaking ball, but I could see him in the first three or four rounds if he continues to perform."
Connaughton should draw plenty of high-level scouting officials to his next start. Notre Dame scheduled its weekend series against Miami around Good Friday, so he'll take the mound on Monday -- the hardest day of the week to find quality players to evaluate. Another strong outing would go a long way toward pushing Connaughton up Draft boards.