Reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes will visit Detroit for the first time on Sunday as the leader of the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs.
But there’s an alternate universe where Mahomes instead spent the week finishing up his first season as a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Tigers scout Tim Grieve tried to make it happen.
The Tigers drafted Mahomes in the 37th round of the 2014 draft, the same class that yielded outfielder Derek Hill, pitcher Spencer Turnbull and catcher Grayson Greiner in the first three rounds.
Mahomes was a high school baseball star in Whitehouse, Texas, and the son of former major-league pitcher Pat Mahomes, but had made it clear to MLB teams that he was planning to play football at Texas Tech. He also pitched in Lubbock a little, but didn’t retire any of the three batters he faced before calling it a career.
It appears he made the right choice.
We talked to Grieve about scouting Mahomes as a Texas high schooler, and got insight about another former prep player-turned-NFL quarterback who will oppose Mahomes on Sunday.
Grieve started as an area scout with the Tigers in 1999, covering Texas during Mahomes’ career. He’s now a Midwest cross-checker for the Tigers.
The interview has been condensed for length.
► Question: What do you remember about Mahomes as a prospect?
► Grieve: The thing that stood out about Pat the most, first and foremost, you knew going in that he was a football player. That was his passion. You were kind of hoping against hope a little bit that you could talk this kid into playing baseball. You watch him play football, that’s kind of the way he played baseball. It was a little rough around the edges, but he was an unbelievable athlete. He didn’t do a lot of the summer stuff, a lot of the select stuff, so he maybe wasn’t the polished baseball player that some of these other kids were. But he was a superior athlete.
He was probably one of the best high school basketball players in the state. We drafted him as a pitcher, but you probably could’ve made a decent argument that this kid was just as good as a position player.
I only saw him pitch, but I’m pretty sure he played center field for his team, he hit in the middle of the order, he swung a wood bat when the other kids were hitting with aluminum bats.
It was just an athlete that you could dream on. He was a football guy, but he showed you the arm strength, the athleticism. He could hit, he had strength. Just a really interesting kid. But it was going to take some time because of the lack of polish. But you could really, really dream on him being really good someday.
► Question: Do you remember what his pitching repertoire was?
► Grieve: I could only speak to what I saw, but he was a kid that was going to pitch in that 89-92 (mph) range. I’m sure there were days where he threw harder than that, I think I saw him touching 93, touching 94. He would shape a breaking ball, he showed you that he had it. It was a little hit and miss, but every third or fourth one, you said, ‘OK, that’s going to be plenty good enough.’ He had a change-up that he really didn’t use a whole lot. It wasn’t one of the bigger classification high schools, so his fastball, curveball and throwing high school-ish decent strikes was plenty good enough to beat the typical team he was going to play against.
The typical game when you went and saw him play, he was so much better than everyone else that he was going to win. He was always the best player on the field.
► Question: Did you have hopes he might change his mind and join the Tigers?
► Grieve: We knew having spoken with Patrick prior to the draft and even the fall and summer leading up, you knew football was going to be really tough to compete with. I can’t say, if somebody had drafted him in the first round and offered him $5 million, maybe that would’ve been different, that I’m not sure of.
So it was more, later in the draft, we were at a point now where we know we’re probably not going to be signing these kids we’re taking. It came about that, one, he was a great kid. When you met him and talked to him, he was an easy kid to root for, you liked this kid. So it was, ‘Hey, you know what, at this stage of the draft, maybe he goes to Texas Tech and football doesn’t work out.’ Or maybe he goes there, continues to play some baseball and finds that maybe he’s better at baseball.
The draft at this point was more, let’s continue this relationship. Let’s be the team that, if he decides he wants to play baseball, we got the inside track on this because we started this relationship with this kid, a little bit of goodwill. It was a long shot, but it’s something that at that point in the draft, why not? Who else are we going to take that offers us this opportunity to maybe get a good player someday? Let’s start that ball rolling, let’s build that relationship and hey, let’s see where it goes.
► Question: Did you call him to notify him of the pick?
► Grieve: Yes, I absolutely was. He was actually already at that point on campus in Lubbock. I didn’t know that at the time, but when I called him and talked to him, I said, ‘Hey look, this is just us rewarding you for an unbelievable high school career. I don’t have the money to pay you what you might’ve been looking for, but you earned this and I just want to congratulate you on getting drafted.’
He was very thankful and honest and said, ‘Hey, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to play football.’ But he thanked me for it. I remember hanging up and thinking, that’s a kid I’m going to root for. A very down-to-earth, humble, good kid.
► Question: You also scouted Clayton Kershaw for Highland Park High School in Texas, did you ever see Matthew Stafford play baseball? It’s not well publicized, but they were friends growing up.
► Grieve: You know what, I did. Briefly his sophomore year. He didn’t play his senior year, he was focused on strictly football. I’m pretty sure he probably would’ve been a pretty good baseball player.
He’s what you would’ve thought. A physical kid, he had some power, he could throw, he looked really good in his uniform, had athletic actions and you thought: That’s a kid I’m going to come back and see someday. Then you realized, this kid is a football player, he’s going to go to Georgia and play football.
That was a really good high school team. But I think he would’ve been a good college and professional baseball player if that’s what he wanted to do.
He looked the part.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.