Throughout the off-season, we will highlight players and staff weekly who stopped through Iowa on their way to making history with the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs. Today, we take a look at the career of Matt Szczur.
Matt Szczur, OF
Drafted: By the Chicago Cubs in the 5th round of the 2010 draft
MLB Debut: August 17, 2014
Iowa Cubs Career (2014-15): 186G, .273 (186-for-681), 92R, 186H, 28DBL, 3TRPL, 9HR, 55RBI, 50/62SB
Matt Szczur's story could have been written very differently. A two-sport star at Villanova, football was actually his first sport, while baseball was more of a hobby. He had the chance to play both football and baseball professionally and ultimately, chose the latter. A decision that would lead him to a World Series Championship with the Chicago Cubs.
Szczur shone brightly throughout his football career, playing in all 11 games as a true freshman and was named to the CAA Football All-Conference second team as a sophomore. In 2009, his junior year, Szczur was credited with leading the Wildcats on a historic run to a national championship. Along the way, he earned the team's MVP award, was a consensus first team All-American and was voted by the league's head coaches as both the Offensive Player of the Year and the Special Teams Player of the Year.
But what about baseball? Szczur was forced to redshirt his freshman year with a football-related injury, but came back even better as a sophomore. In 2008, he led Villanova in six offensive categories including batting average (.346) and on-base percentage (.438). He continued to excel on the diamond and in his junior year, hit .443. He was the first Villanova player in 13 years to bat over .400 in a season. The Cubs took note.
On June 9, 2010, the Chicago Cubs selected the New Jersey native in the fifth round of the amateur draft. Szczur agreed to a contract that allowed him to play baseball professionally in the summer, while remaining eligible to play his final football season at Villanova.
Throughout the summer of 2010, Szczur suited up for the Cubs' Rookie, Short-Season and Single-A affiliates and hit a combined .347 with 10 doubles and 10 RBI. He returned to Villanova in the fall and though he missed part of the football season due to injury, he helped the Wildcats advance to the quarterfinals.
In January, Szczur had a decision to make. With the NFL combine looming, he had two viable paths as a professional athlete - baseball or football. In a press conference on the 20th, Szczur announced his commitment to the Cubs and to baseball.
Szczur progressed through the Cubs' system quickly and landed with Iowa to begin the 2014 season. In his first Triple-A campaign, Szczur hit .261 (108-for-414) through 116 games and earned a call-up to Chicago on Aug. 17. He suited up for 33 games in his first big league stint, hitting .226 (14-for-62) with two home runs and five RBI.
Szczur opened the 2015 season with Chicago, but was optioned to Iowa on April 19. He stayed on the shuttle throughout the season, visiting Chicago six more times and ultimately hitting .222 (16-for-72) through 47 games. With Iowa, the outfielder hit .292 (78-for-267) with eight homers and 31 RBI in 70 games.
The 2016 season was Szczur's first full season in the major leagues. Though he rarely scratched the starting lineup, Szczur made himself valuable in other ways. He wielded a reliable bat off the bench all season and though he didn't appear on any post-season rosters, contributed in October. Szczur is credited with breaking Anthony Rizzo's slump with the lending of his bat in the NLCS and did the same for Addison Russell as he offered his underwear to the shortstop.
Szczur remains under club control through 2017 and is eligible for arbitration beginning in 2019. His speed and great defense at all three outfield spots make him a great fit on Joe Maddon's lineup card.