Two sport athletes have always been a fascinating subject to me. Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson are arguably the most famous of such players, haven played both baseball and football and an incredibly high level, with Jackson becoming the first and only player to appear in both the NFL Pro Bowl and the MLB All-Star Game.
Toby Gerhart is the most recent example of a player that excels in both sports at the college level, as he currently is enjoying a phenomenal season for the Stanford Cardinal in which many people consider him to be the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.
And he is gaining momentum, having big games against Oregon, USC, Cal and Notre Dame to close out Stanford’s regular season schedule.
Gerhart currently has 1,736 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. This year’s effort blew away what he did last year when he set the single-season rushing mark with 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also broke Tommy Vardell’s single-season and career touchdown mark this past year.
His numbers haven’t been quite as gaudy playing all three years for Stanford’s baseball team. Collectively over those three years he has hit .275 with a .387 on-base percentage and a .455 slugging percentage in 141 games played. Last spring he hit .288 with seven home runs, and he hit .310/.459/.655 with two home runs in five games during Stanford’s fourth-place finish in Omaha in 2008.
Since his primary focus has been on football, he hasn’t participated in any summer collegiate baseball leagues, and that has caused some to wonder just how good he could be if he had focused on baseball from day one. That has also limited his exposure in front of scouts, who always like to get a look to see how players handle themselves swinging a wood bat.
In addition, injury slowed both his freshman and sophomore years. He fractured his right forearm early during the 2007 season against Texas, and a knee injury from football caused him to get off to a slow start in 2008.
Most of the tools are all there. He has the foot speed to cover more than enough ground in centerfield and be a threat on the basepaths. He has the bat speed and physical strength that makes him a legitimate 30-30 threat. His ability to hit for average is in question, largely because he hasn’t devoted himself to baseball, while his arm strength is the one physical tool he possesses that doesn’t rate above average.
While he remains raw as a baseball player, he does show good instincts and an overall high baseball acumen. His on-base percentage relative to his batting average indicates that he knows what he’s doing at the plate, and he has committed only one error in the outfield, which occurred late last spring. He takes good routes on fly balls, and has been perfect (12 for 12) in stolen base attempts.
He participated at the 2005 Perfect Game National Showcase, earning a perfect grade of 10 by showing off his impressive five-tool package. Here is his scouting report from that event:
Toby Gerhart is a 2006 outfielder from Norco, CA with a very athletic strong build at 6-1, 218 lbs. With that build it's not surprising that Gerhart is a national level prospect as a football player as well. He is an excellent runner at 6.35 in the 60 and 4.26 to first base on a full swing from the right side. Defensively, Gerhart has very good range in the outfield and a strong, accurate throwing arm. He gets rid of the ball quickly with a short arm stroke. He has the same type of shortness to his swing at the plate. Gerhart has very good bat speed and doesn't need a big swing or big extension to hit the ball hard. He hits with his hands in a low hand position and has very good power potential. Unlike many two sport stars, Gerhart shows advanced instincts on the bases, which really makes him a weapon with his speed once he gets on base. Gerhart is an outstanding student in addition to being a high level baseball prospect.
That same summer Gerhart, who is now a chiseled 232 pounds, posted a SPARQ rating of 92.85 at the Area Code Games, which remains one of the highest marks ever for a baseball player. That alone is a tribute to his overall athleticism.
As noted in the report above, he is also a very good student, and was the valedictorian of his high school class graduating from Norco High School in 2006.
Gerhart follows in the footsteps of former Cardinal two-sport stars such as John Elway and Joe Borchard, both of whom played quarterback. Elway was drafted by the Yankees in the second round in 1981, and did play 42 games in 1982 in the Yankees system before embarking on his Hall of Fame football career with the Denver Broncos.
The $5.3 million bonus Joe Borchard signed for as the 12th overall pick in the 2000 draft by the Chicago White Sox was a record at the time that has since been broken. While he hasn’t live up to his considerable promise and hype, the switch hitter has played in over 300 games at the MLB level, and is currently a member of the San Francisco Giants organization.
From a football perspective, Last year at this time Gerhart was frequently compared to the man whose single-season rushing record he broke, “Touchdown” Tommy Vardell. However, Gerhart is a completely different athlete, a true five-tool star should he pursue a baseball career, and a player with surprising quickness and vision on the football field as a tailback.
Because he’s caucasian, he is also frequently compared to former NFL and college stars such as Mike Alstott, Craig James (the last white player to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in the NFL) and even John Riggins. Without delving too far into the race issue, that may play a part in many questioning his explosiveness and future production.
That also causes some to question what his future role will be at the NFL level. Is he a feature tailback, would he be best used as a tandem back, an H-Back or even a fullback? Despite his lofty rushing totals, many NFL draft sites project him as more of a second or third rounder than as a first, often citing the lack of ideal timed speed and his upright running style. Where he is taken in the draft may depend on the eventual 40-yard dash times he posts at the combine and/or his individual pro day at Stanford.
Prior to the 2006 draft, many felt as though Gerhart was leaning towards a professional baseball career. He was considered a premium, early round pick, but his commitment to Stanford couldn’t be bought out as he went undrafted. He also went undrafted last year, intent on returning to Stanford to build off of his impressive 2008 college season.
That 2006 draft in particular was loaded with premium two-way talent that starred in both baseball and football. Jared Mitchell, D’Vontrey Richardson, Riley Cooper, Derrick Robinson, Jake Locker and Brent Brewer were among the more notable two-sport stars that were eligible for that year’s draft.
Mitchell, Richardson and Cooper attended college and continued to play both football and baseball. Mitchell and Richardson were first and fifth round picks last June and have already began their professional baseball careers with the White Sox and Brewers respectively.
Riley has continued his two-sport collegiate career at Florida, where he’s catching touchdown passes from Tim Tebow (who also starred in baseball in high school) and may be poised to achieve his second consecutive national championship.
Robinson (Royals) and Brewer (Brewers) were both early round picks that signed for high six-figure bonuses to pursue professional baseball careers and forego their football potential.
Locker went to the University of Washington, and despite a short stint playing in the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League during the summer of 2008, he has focused almost entirely on football. He did sign for $200,000 with the Angels as a 10th round selection this past summer, although he isn’t expected to play baseball unless injury or some other unforeseen event ends his football career.
For other recent examples outside of the loaded prep class of 2006, Jeff Samardzija passed on the opportunity to play wide receiver at the NFL level when he signed a hefty deal with the Chicago Cubs. Drew Henson began his career expected to focus on baseball before switching back to the gridiron. Both Javon Walker and Kelley Washington began their professional careers in baseball before returning to college and eventually became weapons in the NFL.
The threat of injury in football is one that played a part in all of these players’ decisions. A hip injury, that required hip replacement surgery, ended Bo Jackson’s promising football career and also significantly changed his baseball career. Current college star Eric Decker finished each of his last two season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers with injuries, and may not be able to play baseball in the spring even if he wanted to (he reportedly plans on pursuing a professional football career).
Former Stanford running backs that went on to enjoy NFL success not only include Tommy Vardell, but also Brad Muster, who was also a first-round pick that went on to enjoy a long and productive career as a fullback for the Chicago Bears. Although both of their careers were pretty much over by the age of 30, as the abuse football players, particularly running backs, is well documented (both Barry Sanders and Robert Smith left the game early to try and ensure better prolonged personal health).
Football is definitely in Gerhart’s blood. His father, Todd, was Toby’s head coach at Norco High School and also was a star running back at Cal State Fullerton that went on to play for the Denver Gold in the USFL in the 80s. One of Gerhart’s brothers, Garth, is currently an offensive lineman for the Arizona State program, and the other, Coltin, is also a multiple-sport star in junior high.
At this point in time it is hard to imagine Gerhart not pursuing a professional football career given the amount of success he has had the past two years to go along with his background. We will likely have to wait until after the college football bowl season to learn whether or not he intends to join the Stanford baseball team, but there are definitely enough reasons for him to consider what could be a longer, healthier career and overall life should he choose the diamond over the gridiron.
The thoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA. Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net, and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.