NORMAN, Okla. — Most of Oklahoma’s football players returned to their homes late last week. The spring semester is over. They have a respite from workouts until the summer semester begins on June 4.
It may be a while before Kyler Murray returns to his hometown of Allen, Texas. The Oklahoma quarterback spent Wednesday taking a long bus ride to Lawrence, Kan., where the Sooners (33-19, 13-8 Big 12) wrap up the baseball regular season with a three-game series with Kansas, beginning at 7:05 p.m. ET today.
The Big 12 tournament and the NCAA Tournament follow. If all goes according to plan, Murray will be a full-time center fielder until late June.
Preparing to be the Sooners’ quarterback is on hold until then. But there’s also the matter of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, which begins on June 4.
Like all college players who are at least 21 years old, Murray is eligible. His stock continues to rise as his second-half tear continues. He belted two more home runs in last weekend’s series at Central Florida. For the year, Murray is hitting .295 with 9 home runs and 44 RBI.
“Kyler’s in a win-win situation,” Oklahoma baseball coach Skip Johnson said. “When you’re a quarterback, you can come back and still get drafted in the first round. He can go in the first round this year, still play quarterback, come back next year and still be in the first round or go play baseball and not play football. He’s in a win-win situation. He has nothing to really worry about too much.”
Oklahoma hasn’t made Murray available for interviews since spring football ended. In April, he was starting to get questions about the baseball draft. He watched the pitches go by like fastballs in the dirt.
“I’m not worried about that right now,” Murray said.
How serious is the Oklahoma QB’s baseball pursuit?
Most of the headlines Murray earned in high school were due to his ability as a quarterback. Football is king in Texas, and Murray was its prince, leading Allen High School to three straight Class 6A-1 state titles and going 42-0 as the Eagles starting quarterback.
But he was a dual-sport athlete just like his father, Kevin Murray. The elder Murray pursued a baseball career before enrolling at Texas A&M and becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the Aggies’ history from 1983-86.
Kevin Murray was an 11th-round pick when he signed with Milwaukee in the 1982 MLB Draft. His son’s stock is much higher. The younger Murray could receive a first-round grade as the draft nears.
Oklahoma right fielder Steele Walker grew up a few miles away from Murray in Prosper, Texas. They played baseball against each other on rival teams.
Walker is projected as a first-round pick in this year’s MLB Draft. But he’s not surprised that Murray’s stock is rising.
“A lot of times back in high school he didn’t play summer ball because he was so busy with football,” Walker said. “Now they’re just getting to see him play an extended amount of games. Obviously, they love what they see. It is moving very quickly for him. His future’s probably switching up on him a little bit.”
Murray’s baseball stock has many Oklahoma football fans concerned. Could Murray leave to pursue professional baseball before the 2018 football season?
Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley isn’t concerned. During an appearance on the Associated Press Top 25 Podcast, the Sooners coach said he believes Murray will play football this season.
“Kyler and I have had some good private conversations about it, and I am comfortable where he and his family are at with it,” Riley said. “I think he’s comfortable where we are at with it, so we’ll proceed and certainly expect to have him.”
But that could depend on when Murray is drafted. If he’s selected in the top 10, that would likely guarantee a signing bonus in excess of $4.5 million. That’s hard money to turn down. At present, Murray isn’t projected to be drafted early in the first round. But, any player taken in the top 64 picks is likely to get a $1 million signing bonus.
However, Murray is well-schooled in the financial dealings of the baseball draft. His father went through it. His uncle, Calvin Murray, has the rare distinction of being a first-round selection in the 1989 and 1992 MLB Drafts.
One unknown about the draft is what Murray’s family is telling teams about his willingness to sign. If he’s only willing to sign for a $5 million bonus, he might not get drafted at all.
Why has Kyler Murray’s stock risen this season?
Murray could’ve been a high-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. But he and family told the baseball teams they were wasting their time. Any baseball pursuits would trail his dreams of being a college quarterback. That pursuit started at Texas A&M and moved to Oklahoma with his transfer.
Johnson was well aware of Murray’s baseball talents back then. He was an assistant coach at Texas when Murray narrowed his collegiate choices to Texas A&M, Texas and Oklahoma. Johnson had a relationship with Murray’s uncle. There were many visits, and Johnson saw Murray play summer ball several times.
“You could always see the talent,” Johnson said.
But that didn’t show last season for the Sooners. Murray’s batting averaged sank to .122 by the end of the 2017 season. In 49 at-bats, he had zero extra-base hits.
What changed this year?
The adjustments Riley and Johnson made to Murray’s schedule are well chronicled. He was allowed to work out with the baseball team later in the day, allowing him to get more sleep. It also helped that the Sooners played only five road games while the football team was going through spring practice.
But what really changed was Murray’s approach at the plate. Johnson had Murray hitting at the bottom of the batting order until he moved him to the clean-up spot in March.
Johnson put Murray behind Walker in the lineup. Walker is No. 5 in the Big 12 with 49 RBI. Murray is tied for eighth. Both saw better pitches to hit and both flourished.
But Johnson believes Murray’s value goes beyond mere talent.
“How Kyler grew up, he grew up winning all the time. That’s a part of who he is all the time. It’s his presence,” Johnson said. “He brought that over to our team. He’s used to that. That presence is a good presence for not just him but it’s for the whole team. He shares that with them.”
Oklahoma fans hope they’ll get to see that on the football field starting in September. Riley believes they will. Murray hasn’t said anything to indicate something otherwise. All he’s shown is that anything he puts his mind too is feasible. Murray is a two-sport star.