The story behind the Cubs drafting 49ers quarterback Kaepernick


The story behind the Cubs drafting 49ers quarterback Kaepernick

If this late-season fade continues, Bears fans might remember Colin Kaepernicks star turn on Monday Night Football as a tipping point toward major changes at Halas Hall.

But in an alternate universe, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback actually could have been a piece of the puzzle at Clark and Addison.

Tim Wilken watched parts of that 32-7 beatdown at Candlestick Park. (To be honest, hes more of a Green Bay Packers fan.) He may not have been totally tuned in on Nov. 19, but those text messages would keep popping up on his phone: Theres your boy!

Thats an exaggeration, because the scouting director only had a fuzzy vision of what Kaepernick might become when the Cubs picked him in the 43rd round of the 2009 draft. National crosschecker Sam Hughes whose buddies in Reno helped tip him off about the University of Nevada quarterback has gotten similar reactions.

Ive been getting hit up by the Bay Area writers, Hughes said. Theyre all like disappointed that Ive actually never seen him throw a baseball.

Standing in the main lobby of Nashvilles Opryland Hotel last week, Hughes smiled and laughed at the kind of stories told during the winter meetings.

There were reports that Kaepernick had an easy delivery and threw 92 mph at Pitman High School in Turlock, Calif., which is about two hours inland from San Francisco. He was listed at 6-foot-6, 180 pounds on MLB.coms draft database, while the NFLs website now has him at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Whatever the frame, the Cubs saw upside as a potential pitcher, not a franchise quarterback.

When we went to our NFL sources, they thought he was just going to be a CFL guy, so I said: Hey, lets take a run at (him), Wilken recalled. Our football guys said that he had a sling in his arm action and they didnt think that was going to work in the NFL. They thought his release was long. This was like three different organizations telling us this.

They thought he was going to be more of a CFL guy because he wasnt really big then, either. Hes still really thin and they were a little bit worried. You know, they ran that pistol offense at Reno. Even as well as he played the next two years, we thought: Hey, maybe we got a shot here.

As a special assistant to team president Theo Epstein, Wilkens portfolio has now broadened beyond just amateur scouting. But Wilken made his bones with the Toronto Blue Jays, helping sign future Cy Young Award winners Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter out of high school.

The Cubs were prepared to offer Kaepernick in the range of 30,000 to 50,000 to come to their Mesa complex for a few weeks, throw some bullpens and play in the Arizona rookie league.

Hughes made the recruiting pitch, speaking with Kaepernick and his father several times. Hughes had played quarterback at Louisiana Tech University and even bounced around the Arena League.

This is in his bloodlines: His father is Gary, the former special assistant to Jim Hendry, a legendary scout who once signed a Stanford University quarterback named John Elway for the New York Yankees.

But Kaepernick took his leadership responsibilities seriously and felt like he couldnt ditch his teammates. He wanted to work out with his wide receivers. He was in the middle of a college career in which hed account for 140-plus touchdowns, throwing for more than 10,000 yards and running for more than 4,000 yards.

I was still trying to be pretty persuasive, Hughes recalled. Im like: You got a chance to make some money. This could be a pretty good summer job for you. Save your coaches a scholarship. He never even wanted to get into the money.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, the old Bears quarterback, rewarded that confidence and put his faith in Kaepernick, making him the 36th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft and sticking with him even after Alex Smith passed concussion tests and was cleared to play.

Nothing personal, no hard feelings: Hughes still stays in contact with Kaepernick, shooting him a random text message here and there, and the 49ers quarterback responds right away.

What bothered and confused Hughes was the perception that Kaepernick could not be a true leader because hes covered in tattoos. A backward-thinking Sporting News column set off that firestorm.

Thats just judging a book by its cover, Hughes said. Why dont you get to know the guy? You talk to him for two minutes and you realize hes a solid dude from a solid family.

The Cubs got to know Kaepernick and maybe it wasnt such a reach in that draft. They took Trey McNutt the pitcher the Boston Red Sox would want in the Epstein compensation negotiations in the 32nd round. They grabbed Nick Struck the organizations minor league pitcher of the year last season in the 39th round.

The No. 1,310 pick in that draft is now heading into a Sunday night showdown against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. In a business where so many players fail, and the price of pitching keeps soaring, you have to take these chances, even if the kid develops into the quarterback for a Super Bowl contender.

Cubs' David Ross has DH dilemma: Not getting to pull Jon Lester off on-deck circle

Cubs' David Ross has DH dilemma: Not getting to pull Jon Lester off on-deck circle

David Ross faces an extremely unique set of circumstances in his rookie season managing. Not only is he guiding the Cubs through a season amid the COVID-19 crisis, but he's doing so with several new rule changes in Major League Baseball.

One such change is the National League adding a designated hitter for 2020 to reduce the strain on pitchers in a shortened season. Ross told reporters on Tuesday he's glad the DH is coming to the NL, although there is one thing he'll miss about pitchers hitting on a full-time basis this year. 

"I told Jonny [Lester], I said, the only drawback to the DH for me is I didn't get to pull him off the on-deck circle and tell him he was done for the day," Ross said in Tuesday's Zoom session. "He told me, 'What're you talking about? I'm one of your top five hitters off the bench.'" 

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Lester started his career 0-for-66 at the plate before getting his first hit in 2015. He's improved since then and has a decent swing, hitting a home run in each of the past three seasons. His 50 wRC+ last season ranked fifth in MLB among pitchers with at least 40 plate appearances. 

Lester won't be in the batting order each outing this year, but perhaps Ross will need his prowess off the bench at some point.


Cubs' David Ross responds to veteran umpire Joe West's comments about COVID-19

Cubs' David Ross responds to veteran umpire Joe West's comments about COVID-19

Cubs manager David Ross responded on Tuesday to comments made by umpire Joe West downplaying the severity of COVID-19.

In an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, West — considered high-risk for contracting the virus at age 67 — said “I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus. I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

“The one thing I've learned in this role that I have now and talking to guys — everybody's got different views on things in life,” Ross said. “There's a lot going on and some people, they take things more serious than others — it's no different than other topics in life.”

Over 130,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, according to The New York Times. Nearly 3 million people have been infected, and the country has seen recent case spikes in states home to Major League Baseball, including Florida, Texas, Arizona and Georgia.

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MLB has instituted numerous health and safety protocols this season, such as testing players and staff every other day, no spitting and social distancing from opponents before and after games. But teams have already experienced delays in getting their testing results, the type of “hiccup,” as Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said, that cannot happen for the league’s plan to work.

MORE: Kris Bryant chimes in on testing concerns: 'We've got a big hill to climb'

The Cubs pushed back Tuesday's workouts because of a delay in getting their results from Sunday's tests. West's comments suggest that those involved in this season do not come from the same line of thinking.

"It's natural and when you're in this environment, you know that everybody is in a different boat mentally and so you try to set standards and follow the guidelines we’re given to make sure everybody is in check and doing the right thing," Ross said. "These are medical experts that are a lot smarter than I am that have set these things in place, and so we try to listen to those and keep it as safe as we possibly can."

West told Rosenthal he has no plans to opt out of this season and is going to be careful. Ross expressed confidence the veteran umpire will follow safety protocols this season.

"His internal thoughts are what they are," Ross said. "Those don't concern me as much as just the fact that he comes to work and is a professional and does his job to the ability that he can and under the guidelines that we’re gonna be provided."

West is second on the all-time list of most games umpired.