Quarterback Option

Clemson's Kyle Parker, a two-sport star athlete for the Tigers, leads the ACC with 11 home runs this season for the baseball team.

CLEMSON -- Kyle Parker did not pick up a bat until two days after the Music City Bowl.

Traveling back from Nashville following Clemson's bowl win in December, Parker's parents dropped him off in Atlanta to work with hitting instructor C.J. Stewart, who counts Atlanta Braves top prospect Jason Heyward among his clients.

Until that point, since the Tempe Super Regional last spring, Parker hadn't wielded a bat. While Tigers coach Jack Leggett's team was working out in batting cages and intrasquad games in the fall, Parker was earning freshman All-America honors at quarterback.

Despite the loss of baseball reps, Parker entered the weekend leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in home runs (11) and has an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of 1.279. No Tiger has finished with a 1.200 OPS since Khalil Greene and Michael Johnson both did in 2002.

His rate of improvement leads to projection and speculation of baseball upside. What if Parker exclusively played baseball? Such a prospect has become something more than simply plausible.

Aaron Fitt, national college writer for Baseball America, said Parker is playing himself into first round consideration for baseball's June draft. Fitt projects Parker as a "supplemental first round or second round" pick.

"I was actually just talking to a national scout (last week), and he said what I had sensed, that Kyle is definitely moving up, there is no question," said Fitt, whose publication ranked Parker as the 71st college prospect entering the season. "There are not a lot of power bats in the college class. And he really improved his approach, walking more, striking out less. The question is what is it going to cost to buy him out of football, and that could depress his draft stock."

"The national scout said he's probably not in that first-round range, there's a little more he's got to show. But I think he has that potential."

A scout from a National League West team felt it was potentially damaging to speculate on Parker's draft stock, but the scout did say he believes Parker has "average to above average" major league power, he liked Parker's intangibles having performed well in a high-pressure position as an ACC quarterback and is amazed at how well Parker has performed despite playing baseball part-time.

When asked about his future, Parker declined to speculate about hypothetical situations. Parker's father, Carl, told The Post and Courier last week it would take a life-changing situation to forego three years of football eligibility, and said there is no timetable to make a decision. In fact, Carl Parker says no decision will have to be made.

"It's not based on what you want to do, it's what you have to do," Carl said. "(The decision) might come sooner or it might come later."

Second-round picks in the major league draft received signing bonuses between $1.5 million and $450,000 last year. But Parker would not be a typical second-round pick, having extraordinary leverage with his football prowess and remaining baseball eligibility. If Parker were taken in the second round, a club might be willing to pay over slot money like the Kansas City Royals did with South Carolina signee Wil Myers last year, signing the third-round pick to a $2 million signing bonus, which is in line with a mid-first round bonus.

Fitt said it seems unlikely a pro baseball team would be willing to sign Parker to a seven-figure contract and allow him to continue playing college football.

But the precedent is there.

In 1998, heralded two-sport star Drew Henson was picked in the third round by the New York Yankees and signed a $2 million bonus that allowed him to continue playing quarterback at Michigan. Henson was offered another $2.7 million should he opt for baseball.

More recently, Jake Locker (10th round, Angels) signed for $300,000 last summer and continued to play quarterback for Washington.

But Fitt said splitting time between two sports is a legitimate concern for scouts. Henson, who continued playing football at Michigan after signing with the Yankees, failed as a baseball prospect.

The NL West scout said handling two-sport prospects is a "case by case" situation, but said becoming a major league hitter is not a part-time task.

Again, what might Parker be capable of if he fully dedicated himself to baseball?

The natural power has always been there, the core strength, the quick hands. In batting practice he has cleared the new left-field bleachers at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

And in less than 100 days since picking up a bat, Parker has made remarkable strides at the plate.

Parker has shortened his swing, and his ability to identify pitches also continues to improve. Clemson hitting coach Tom Riginos specifically noted a 14-pitch at-bat earlier this season against Charlotte. He has more walks (22) than strikeouts (16). Last year Parker struck out 52 times and walked 29 times.

Playing a different position could further increase his value. College baseball is not about player development; minor league baseball is. If a pro team thinks a player can move from the outfield to a premium infield position, they'll put up with 30-plus errors.

"He is some kind of talent," Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney said. "I'd be very disappointed if he weren't here in the fall. I think he has tremendous NFL ability. I don't have any doubts he could play on Sunday."

Parker's own father isn't sure if he has more ability in baseball or football, but hints his "opportunity" might be greater in baseball.

The problem is Parker measures 6-feet, 200 pounds. That's not a problem in baseball. Jeff Bagwell, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were prolific power hitters with similar frames. The NFL likes quarterbacks that are 6-4, 225 pounds.

"Every sport out there has those tangibles," Carl said. "Pro football coaches and scouts love a 6-4, 225 quarterback that has a rocket arm. Pro baseball has different prototypes for different guys."

Kyle Parker doesn't have many comparables. He doesn't fit a prototype, leaving little precedent for whatever comes next.

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com and check out his Clemson blog at www.postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks.