Duce Robinson plans on playing professional baseball and college football at the same time

May 11, 2023

It takes a special kind of talent to have the capacity to handle the rigors of professional baseball and college football simultaneously. That is precisely the route outfielder Duce Robinson plans on going.

Indeed, the product of Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, Arizona will attempt to play both sports simultaneously, an option that has just recently become a possibility under new eligibility rules from the NCAA. While college athletes are unable to sign a professional contract in their specific sport, they are able to play a different sport professionally while maintaining their amateur status in their collegiate sport. There are some intricacies being worked out on the legal end of things, but it’s all engines go.

The entire situation is complicated, but given the opportunity, Robinson will be in the outfield for a professional baseball organization from February through July, transitioning to the gridiron from August through January.

Robinson, the No. 1 overall tight end prospect in the country is committed to play football at Southern California. At 6-foot-6, 225-pounds, he is a physical specimen with athletic tools that few, if any, his size can match. Given his speed and explosiveness, Robinson is more than capable of splitting out and playing wide receiver. He’s an offensive force who began receiving Jimmy Graham comparisons as a sophomore in high school. Still just a teenager, scouts on the football side have already tabbed Robinson a potential first round pick in 2026.

On the baseball field, Robinson has hardly seen the action most of his peers have. Engrossed in football, he’s really only had the opportunity to play in front of scouts at a few select events. He has not played any high school baseball for Pinnacle High School.

Robinson put on a show against some premium arms at Area Code Games in San Diego in August of 2022. Robinson went 3 for 5 on the week with a triple and a double. He drew four walks and struck out just once. He quite literally buzzed over to a couple of the days of the event following a football practice the same morning. He’d follow that performance up with a standout showing at the Baseball Factory All-America Game.

Robinson is a solid average runner with a forward lean and tighter strides. More succinctly put, he runs the bases like he runs routes for his quarterbacks. Robinson has been clocked 4.32-seconds home-to-first by scouts that have seen him live. It’s possible he could up those run times if he ever gives up football and dedicates himself to straight-line baseball training. As one might imagine, the bat speed and raw power here is quite impressive. Scouts haven’t seen enough of Robinson against upper-tier pitching to make any sort of determination on how strong the approach is at the plate, but in smaller samples he’s kept swings inside the zone and been a selective hitter. Because he was consumed with football for most of the spring, Robinson is just now getting on the diamond for the late spring/summer season. He’ll have a short window playing for the BPA travel ball program to prove to scouts he’s worth the investment.

There have been plenty of guys who played college football and then went on to play professional baseball. But guys to play both at the same time? Let alone one as a professional and one as an amateur? Well, that list is awfully short. Names like Deion Jackson and Bo Jackson come to mind as guys who were able to juggle both at the same time, but it’s a small list, and they were pros in both sports when they accomplished such a feat.

The financials are what will make this case study fascinating. Playing football at Southern California, and with his pedigree, Robinson will be in line to receive the benefits of plenty of NIL opportunities. Couple that with a potential 4-year, 8-figure contract in the NFL in 2026 and he’s got financial leverage on the gridiron. But from a baseball perspective, let’s say things really click and he’s on the doorstep of Double-A to begin the 2026 campaign. At that point, could his organization buy him away from the NFL?

In 2018, the Philadelphia Phillies signed second baseman Scott Kingery to a 6-year deal worth $24 million. He’d yet to play a full season at Triple-A. In the winter of 2019, the Seattle Mariners signed first base prospect Evan White to a similar deal before seeing Triple-A at all. Also in 2019, the Chicago White Sox signed outfielder Eloy Jimenez to a lucrative six-year deal worth $43 million while in Triple-A before making it to the majors. There’s precedent here.

In Robinson’s case, it might also require that sort of investment prior to a big league debut. After all, why walk away from an NFL contract worth tens of millions of dollars at the mere possibility of a big league contract? Even at the most aggressive pace, Robinson certainly won’t see Major League Baseball until 2026 at the earliest. After going through the arbitration process, the soonest he’d see a long-term deal, unless he signs an extension prior to hitting free agency, would likely be 2034.

So what does that sort of financial commitment look like in the MLB Draft? There’s no doubting the physical tools. If he were to dedicate to his craft, is he one of the Top 3o prospects available in this class? He won’t be giving up football any time soon.

So what is one’s appetite for risk? And how likely is he to bail on football and continue playing professional baseball if the NFL comes calling in 2026? What if his football career fizzles out and his prospect status on the diamond outshines what scouts think of him as a wide receiver? And maybe most importantly, does your organization have the development plan in place to maximize what Robinson is capable of right out of the gate? Is that worth a third round pick? A fourth round pick? Fifth? Will a team sacrifice $750,000 of its bonus pool to give it a shot? How about $600,000 of their bonus pool? Maybe $450,000? Would Robinson even entertain playing professional baseball for $450,000? According to sources close to the situation, he’s made it clear to scouts and decision makers at the top he’s determined to play professional baseball.

These are the questions scouting directors and general managers are grappling with. There’s no questioning the upside. But come 2027, will you have paid draft dollars for a guy catching passes rather than fly balls?

Joe Doyle
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