It won’t be long now. With the high school season in full swing and the college season closing in on tournament time, you would think draft boards would be getting clearer. In fact, the opposite is true. If truth be told, this could be the wackiest draft of all time. Picks projected in the twenties could end up in the top ten and vice versa. And a pick slotted in the twenties might last until the fifties. There is almost no differentiation in talent beyond the top 8.
To most observers, scouts, and reporters, Brendan Rogers, a high school shortstop, is the clear cut number one on most boards. Dillon Tate, who began the year in the 30s, had a great year shooting up to 2 and 1 on some boards after converting from a reliever to a starter. There are four prospects who shift in order – Kyle Funkhouser of Louisville, newly injured Nathan Kirby of Virginia, and Walker Buehler and Dansby Swanson of Vanderbilt with teammate Carson Fulmer closing in. LSU’s Alex Bregman has also been slotted in most top ten lists. After that, all bets are off.
It is a deep draft in that there is a lot of talent but not a lot of elite talent. When Brady Aiken had his Tommy John Surgery, he went from a top 3 pick down into the 20s on most lists. He will likely continue to fall as there is some concern about his long term health. Some players, like Virginia’s Joe McCarthy, are just starting this season after being injured. High school pitcher Kolby Allard will be out for at least another month as he slides, and then likely will rise when healthy. And just this week, Nathan Kirby went out with a lat condition.
Draft strategy will be an important aspect of the draft as teams overpay and underpay picks to get the players they want. In the first round, a team could underpay a player in order to over pay a prospect to sign them instead of that player going to college.
For the Cubs, there are a lot of options to look at for the draft. In fact, the Cubs could use many strategies simultaneously. There are a few traits the Cubs tend to look at:
- Athletic Players
- Command of the strike zone
- Fresh Arms
- USA Baseball experience
- Cape Cod League experience
- International College Experience
- Injured Players who have fallen
- Versatile Players who play more than one position
The Cubs will likely use the following draft strategies as they have in the past:
- Take the best player available regardless of position after the first round
- Load up on pitching
- Take risks on players already going to college
- Get a bat in the first round
- Left handed and switch hitters have more value
Who is the likely first round pick for the Cubs?
Over the past six months, several prospects have been examined on this blog. To me, there are four bats I see the Cubs examining closely in the next month.
Ian Happ – the switch hitting outfielder may project better as a second baseman as a pro. The move to outfield was not a surprise. Happ, to me, is the best pro bat in the draft. While DJ Stewart has a lot for power, Stewart’s lack of athleticism in the field is his detriment. Happ does not have that problem. In fact, Happ’s versatility in the field and at the plate makes him more valuable.
Kyle Tucker – the long, lanky 6’4” Tucker has a lot growing to do. Already, the outfielder has a smooth swing that includes a hit tool very few hit high school hitters have. MLB Pipeline said:
Tucker has one of the purest swings and best bats in the 2015 high school crop. He makes consistent hard contact and, once he fills out his lanky frame, he could be a plus hitter in both average and power.
He’s a more well-rounded player than his older brother and should have average-or-better tools across the board. He’ll likely move from center field to a corner spot in pro ball and has the arm strength needed to play right. A very strong spring moved him behind fellow Floridian Brendan Rodgers as the second best high school bat in the class.
Think an athletic but tall Paul O’Neill.
Skye Bolt – I profiled him a month ago and I think he has crept into the top 20. His versatility to play all three OF positions and hit from the left side makes him an attractive prospect. It would not shock me to see the Cubs sign him to underslot deal, especially if he is the highest on their board when it comes time to pick.
Luken Baker – Part time pitcher/part time hitter – he has versatility in spades. The shame of picking him is, one half of him is going to be wasted. He has power at the plate and hits 93-95 regularly on the mound while he has little projection left physically. He is slotted in the late 20s, but someone might gamble on the versatility of his profile at number nine. MLB.com said:
Extremely physical at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, Baker generates well above-average right-handed power with strength and bat speed. More than just a grip-it-and-rip-it slugger, he has some feel for hitting too. He has the arm strength for right field but his well below-average speed makes him best suited for first base.
For all his power, the Texas Christian recruit may be more talented on the mound. His size and strength also translate into 90-95 mph fastballs on a downhill plane. His low-80s slider is a solid second pitch, and he also shows some aptitude for throwing a changeup and filling the strike zone.
The name I see/hear most so far at number nine for the Cubs is Trenton Clark. I don’t see that as a viable option. There is little projection left physically. While he is left-handed, and has some pop, it is not enough to warrant a top nine pick. I could see him going into the 20s, but there are players with much higher ceilings than Clark’s. And I think that is one main attributes in how you have to approach the pick. For me, there is nothing that stands out about Clark. Sure, he is a nice player with a nice hit tool, but that is all.
As the draft goes on, I think Isiah Gilliam comes back again as a draft pick as early as the second round. Last year he was the Cubs’ 23rd round pick. That selection may have brought the Cubs some goodwill with the switch hitting 18 year old. To me, he might be the “must get” of the draft for the Cubs as Gilliam is just now beginning to tap into his power potential.
A name creeping up in draft is Josh Staumont of Azusa Pacific. He comes with mid to upper 90s heat and the potential for a plus curve. Problem is his command is shoddy, but that can be improved. Add in Josh Lambert, Cole Sands, Mac Marshall, Jacob Nix, or Joe McCarthy and the Cubs could have a good first couple of days and they may overspend a little. Day three will see the Cubs selecting a lot of college seniors who have little negotiating leverage.
In analyzing the draft, you have to look at it as a whole. There is no Schwarber, Bryant, or Baez talent with a ton of potential. However, you can still get a lot of players who will be good pros in the first five rounds. Some may grow and develop or surprise like last year’s Chesny Young and Zach Hedges who I did not foresee breaking out. Combined with the International Signing Period beginning July 2, it should be a fun four weeks of acquiring talent.