The story behind the Cubs drafting 49ers quarterback Kaepernick

The story behind the Cubs drafting 49ers quarterback Kaepernick
December 12, 2012, 10:39 pm
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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.