Cubs' Szczur developing in Arizona Fall League
Former two-sport star at Villanova honing his talents with Mesa Solar Sox
His last name is spelled Szczur. He told me his background is Polish, and his name is pronounced like "Caesar."
Szczur told me only one stranger he has ever met pronounced his name correctly. He said it happened at an airport counter.
It won't be long until fans become familiar with Matt Szczur and know how to pronounce his name. He is an outstanding athlete.
Szczur is 6-foot-1, and a very solidly built 195 pounds. He has broad shoulders that make him look like a football player. Well, actually, he once was a football player -- a very good one at that.
A right-handed hitter, Szczur has predominantly played center field in his career.
As a member of the Chicago Cubs organization, Szczur is playing for the Mesa Solar Sox in this year's Arizona Fall League. His hustle, his strong upper body and his overall strength have made me pay attention. And oh, by the way, he can hit.
Szczur is hitting .264 in 53 at-bats in the Fall League. His 14 hits have included a double and a triple. He has no home runs as of yet. Szczur has walked eight times and stolen six bases, while being caught stealing twice. Solid, but not spectacular.
Of significance is the fact that he is hitting .385 against left-handed pitching in 13 at-bats. Against right-handers, Szczur is hitting only .225.
The entire approach to Szczur's game is energetic. He has shown the type of fire and commitment that can generate runs as a top-of-the-order type hitter.
Szczur starred as a multi-sport athlete at Lower Cape May Regional High School in New Jersey. He played football and baseball and ran track. He was proficient enough in baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers to select him in the 38th round of the 2007 Draft.
Instead of signing with the Dodgers following high school, Szczur chose to attend Villanova University, where he played both baseball and football.
At Villanova, Szczur played primarily wide receiver. However, he also spent time as a running back, quarterback and kick returner. Szczur was instrumental in the football team winning the 2009 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) title. In fact, he was named the title game's Most Valuable Player.
Szczur was good enough to consider a professional career in either football or baseball. He chose baseball and was drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round in 2010.
Coincidentally, Chicago Cubs organizational teammate Jeff Samardzija, a football star at Notre Dame, also excelled at wide receiver in college and chose to pursue his future as a baseball player.
On the path to that professional future, Szczur showed the type of personal character and stature that defines his persona.
Villanova football coach Andy Talley has long been organizing players and teams to volunteer with the National Marrow Donor Program. Szczur volunteered to be a donor.
In 2010, Szczur was identified as being a "match" donor for a little girl in need. Szczur underwent the procedure that would bring hope to someone he didn't even know.
That is the type of unselfish character I see from Szczur on the baseball field.
His best tool is speed. If he hits a slow infield grounder, he has a chance to beat the throw to first. His speed is useful as well in the outfield, where he can close quickly on fly balls.
His other most prominent tool is his ability to center the ball with a short, measured swing that results in a high batting average.
In his first year of professional baseball, Szczur played at three classifications and hit a combined .347 over 116 plate appearances. Most of the year was spent at Low-A Boise, where he hit a robust .397.
Szczur continued to hit well in his second professional year. At age 21, playing for Class A Peoria and High-A Daytona, he hit a combined .293 in 480 plate appearances. Szczur was establishing credentials as a solid hitter.
This past season, Szczur once again played at High-A Daytona and then at Double-A Tennessee. The pitching began to get tougher. While he hit very well at Daytona (.295 in 182 plate-appearances) he scuffled for the first time in his career, following a promotion to the higher classification.
At Tennessee, Szczur hit only .210 in 158 trips to the plate in 35 games. The sample isn't huge, but it marks the only offensive outlier in his career to date.
It would not surprise if Szczur developed some true home run power as a third above-average tool. His upper body strength and well-tuned body are indicators of enough pure power to drive the ball. Using strong hands, wrists and forearms, Szczur could be a double-digit home run hitter in center field.
I have seen the raw power in batting practice.
For now, I think Szczur is working hard to make solid contact and get on base. A change in his swing to generate longer distance or additional loft might disrupt his natural mechanics. He has a "slashing" type approach to hitting that results in balls being hit hard and finding holes.
Defensively, Szczur has the ability to play an average quality center field. He is still learning all the nuances of taking the best and quickest routes to balls. His arm strength and accuracy are average. If he does fall a tick short in overall outfield range, his speed is the great equalizer.
Both Szczur and the Chicago Cubs will require patience as he continues to concentrate solely on moving his baseball career along the development path.
It may not be too long. Fans in Chicago will be watching the energy and passion with which Szczur plays baseball.
And baseball fans everywhere will know that Matt Szczur is actually Matt Caesar.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.