Tim Grieve can feel his busy season approaching. While Michigan is covered in snow, it’s nearing baseball season in Texas. And as a Tigers crosschecker, Grieve has college and high school prospects to begin tracking again.
Still, as he enjoyed one of his last remaining free weekends, Grieve took some time from his Sunday afternoon to watch one of his former Draft picks take the field.
“I do my best to watch Patrick when he's on,” Grieve said.
And as Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs back from an early deficit to a win over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship, sending the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl in a half-century, Grieve was reminded again of the arm he used to watch overpower hitters from the mound at Whitehouse High School.
“I'd be lying to you if I said, ‘Hey, I thought he was going to be this good,’” Grieve said Monday. “That being said, he showed you the things you see from him today: the creativity, the athleticism, the confidence, the charisma.”
Long before Mahomes became an NFL star -- even before he became a college star at Texas Tech -- he was the Tigers’ 37th-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. But he wasn’t the one that got away. He was the one that was already gone, a three-sport athlete who was clearly in love with the gridiron, despite being the son of former Major League reliever Pat Mahomes. As the Draft approached, the younger Mahomes let scouts know that he planned to play college football, which is why he fell that far in the first place.
But as the 2014 Draft neared its end, the Tigers called his name. The Draft lasts 40 rounds, and by the final five, most teams have worked through their lists. Sometimes, teams will draft sons or nephews of coaches or scouts, or younger brothers of players. Sometimes, teams will draft high schoolers who are determined to go to college, figuring they can at least introduce themselves to a player in case they cross paths later. Alex Faedo, for instance, was the Tigers’ 40th-round pick the same year they drafted Mahomes; Faedo went to Florida and became Detroit’s top pick three years later.
Mahomes fell in that category. He was already on campus at Texas Tech when Grieve called to let him know he’d been drafted.
“You knew what it was,” Grieve said. “This was a kid who wanted to play football. The Draft pick at the time was more [about], ‘You deserve this.’
“Let's be that team that starts laying the foundation so if he goes to Texas Tech and football doesn't work, or if he decides he likes baseball, you've already started the relationship.”
Mahomes was that good, ranked among the top three-dozen prospects that year in a state that boasts some of the best every year. He threw a no-hitter with 16 strikeouts as a senior and nearly hit for the cycle the same day. He was also an all-East Texas player in basketball.
Had he turned to baseball, Grieve believed he had the arm to throw in the mid-90s. But beyond the tools that radar guns and stopwatches can measure, he had the personality.
“He was the best player on the field or on the court in three different sports,” Grieve said. “It wasn't like you were just talking about one sport, one position. I'm pretty sure he would've been good at whatever he wanted to do. And you see the smile.
“Scouting isn't easy. So you see a kid and you start seeing the tools come together. But it's so easy to watch a kid play and you see he's having fun, and above and beyond the ability. He's got the stuff that tells you he's going to be good. … He might have ended up being a center fielder and hitting third in your lineup. I'm not even sure pitching was the best thing he did.”
Grieve has scouted several multi-sport stars over more than 20 years in scouting. He saw the late Cedric Benson excel in Midland before becoming a running back at Texas and the fourth pick in the NFL Draft. He saw a young catcher with some potential named Matthew Stafford work with future Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. He saw Carl Crawford earn a football scholarship from Nebraska, a basketball scholarship from UCLA and a second-round pick from the Tampa Bay Rays. Regrettably, he has seen fewer in recent years as kids have started to specialize in one sport sooner.
Mahomes might be the best one Grieve saw, though. And as he became a star on fall Saturdays in the Big 12 Conference, Grieve followed from afar. Whoever drafted Mahomes in the NFL, Grieve believed, would be getting as good of a person as a player.
“I think he knew what he was doing,” Grieve said.