Pittsburgh — The Pittsburgh Pirates could lose their best prospect today, and West Virginia University could gain a quarterback.
J.R. House, considered a certain major leaguer and the best player in the Pirates' farm system, might announce he is leaving Double-A Altoona to play college football.
West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez wants his quarterbacks on campus by this weekend to begin working out for the coming season and House has suggested to Pirates officials that today could be his last game this season.
Family members have said they expect House to be on the field Sept. 1, when West Virginia opens against Boston College.
House hasn't played football since 1998, when he threw a national record 10 touchdown passes in Nitro High School's victory in the West Virginia Triple-A championship game. He still owns the national scholastic record of 14,457 yards passing in his career and several other national records.
House gave up his football career after the Pirates drafted him in the fifth round of the June 1999 draft and paid him a $266,000 signing bonus. He hit .348 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs last season at Class-A Hickory and recently had a team record five consecutive extra-base hits for Altoona.
On Monday, the same day he was picked to play in the All-Star Futures Game on July 8 in Seattle, House met Monday with his agent, Dan Lozano, Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy, interim general manager Roy Smith and manager Lloyd McClendon to discuss his baseball future. Although the Pirates didn't promise him a late-season call-up this season or a starting job next season, they emphasized they consider House a top prospect.
The Pirates' decision to start playing three-time All-Star catcher Jason Kendall several times a week in the outfield is believed to be partly driven by their belief House could be their starting catcher in the near future.
But, just when he seemed close to becoming a big leaguer, House's interest in football apparently was rekindled when Rodriguez replaced Don Nehlen as West Virginia's coach and installed a spread passing offense that favors a strong thrower like House.
House worked out for Rodriguez on June 12 in Morgantown and has been invited to join West Virginia's team as a walkon.
However, there are no assurances House will start in the near future at West Virginia.