The Tanaka Crush: The Effect on the Cubs Draft

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The Cubs flirtation with Masahiro Tanaka is over for the next four years. The Japanese right handed pitcher signed with the Yankees yesterday ending the crush so many writers and bloggers had on the import. And with that signing, the Cubs hope for an anchor, a top of the rotation pitcher, was crushed as well. The Cubs will no doubt try and sign a free agent pitcher here in the next four weeks to bolster the staff. All eyes are on former Cub Paul Maholm and former Oriole Jason Hammel. Both are 31 years old and I could see management going with a two year deal for either of them, more so for Maholm because a second lefty starter would be advantageous for the rotation. In the end, either pitcher would only be a stop gap until the “waves of pitching” begins to arrive from the minor leagues. For me, the Tanaka crush will have a bigger impact on the 2014 MLB draft.

If the Cubs had signed the Japanese righty, Tanaka, Samardjiza, and Travis Wood would have been the anchors of a staff that also included Edwin Jackson and likely Jake Arrieta for the next two years, or more if Samardjiza inked an extension. Now the Yankee signing pushes back the Cubs plan, in my opinion, two to three years. Pierce Johnson and CJ Edwards and Kyle Hendricks are the star arms of the Cubs minor leagues. Johnson and Edwards will begin the year at AA Tennessee and Hendricks will begin his first full year at AAA Iowa.  All three pitchers will likely arrive over the course of the next 3 years. However, none of the three is what you would call a top of the rotation starter. They all could be 2s, 3s, or 4s.

Had Tanaka signed with the Cubs, Theo and company could have broke with tradition and signed some high school arms at the top of the draft. High school arms take a little longer to develop and they also have a higher risk than college arms, but you could also get a much better long term arm. High School arms in the Cubs system like Trevor Clifton, Paul Blackburn, and Duane Underwood are still 4-5 years away from Wrigley. With Tanaka in the fold, the Cubs would have had time to grow and nurture arms like Tyler Kolek and Michael Kopech. Since Tanaka is now a memory, management could likely shift their eyes to college arms at the top of the draft to help the major league team.

At the Cubs Convention last weekend, Jason MacLeod, the Cubs scouting guru, said that the Cubs had their top 5 players for the draft pretty much picked out. I think Tanaka could change that. For the past 4 months, I thought the Cubs should take either Texas High School Tyler Kolek or North Carolina State Shortstop Trea Turner. Ideally, pitcher Tyler Beede of Vanderbilt, and others, now move in to the discussion. If Beede has a good spring (read as he gains some consistency), he moves up from the 8th to 10th spot in the draft to the 3rd or 4th spot.

MLB.com said this of Beede:

When Beede is at his best, he can display three above-average pitches. His fastball usually operates around 92-94 mph and can clock as high as 97. His sharp curveball and his changeup both arrive in the low 80s, playing off his fastball well.

The biggest question with Beede is whether he’ll be able to harness his quality stuff. His delivery can get out of sync and he has trouble throwing strikes. He can be unhittable (opponents batted just .187 against him in 2013) but also has problems hitting the strike zone (63 walks in 101 innings).

With Carlos Rondon going first to Houston, the Marlins and the White Sox are not solidified in who they could be picking with the second and third picks. With names like Jeff Hoffman, a pitcher from East Carolina, C/OF high schooler Alex Jackson, LSU ace Aaron Nola, and Turner out there, a lot can happen in the next five months.

I think after the first round the Cubs could draft high school arms with Kopech (whom I really like) and maybe even take a risk on Vanderbilt recruit Justus Sheffield. With the plethora of top of the rotation type arms in the first ten picks this year, the Cubs are likely to break their streak of picking position players this summer. The Tanaka decision just makes that more of a need. It is hard to draft for need in the MLB draft as players take a while to develop. But in drafting a college arm, that development time is not as long. I would be surprised if the Cubs did draft a high school arm with the fourth pick, but I would not be surprised if it was Kolek. Ideally, you would like Jeff Hoffman, but I just don’t see him getting past the Marlins or White Sox. If he did, it would be close to winning the lottery.

Hoffman, in most scouting reports, has two plus pitches, a fastball and a curve, and a changeup that needs some work. At 6’4″ and 194, he could fill out some more and gain even more zip on his tailing mid 90s fastball. Here is a video of the lanky righty with a nice fluid motion. It was taken last July in the Cape Cod Summer League.

The third college name who I find more interesting than Beede is Aaron Nola from LSU. The right hander has anchored the LSU staff the past two years and if he has a good spring, like Beede, it could make for a very interesting discussion in the draft room for the Cubs. At the time of the draft, Nola will be close to turning 21 and have three seasons of NCAA play in his back pocket. At 6’1, Nola has  fastball that sits in the low 90s but he has plus command and a power curve that some scouts find devastating. He has been developing a changeup that for now has been rated average to above average. A 3 plus pitch pitcher could be hard to resist at #4 in the draft.

I think the Cubs cannot lose with the fourth pick even with a college arm. The Tanaka deal in hindsight could be a blessing, or so I tell myself, but with another likely 90 loss season on the horizon in 2014, the Cubs could be in this same position for the 2015 draft to select other top of the rotation arms. As things now look, the rebuild should be over by the end of 2015 as names like Baez, Bryant, Soler, Almora, Alcantara, Johnson, and Edwards, and maybe even Hoffman, Beede, or Nola will be wearing the pinstripes in Wrigley.

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