The choice of Hayden Simpson in the first round by the Cubs has also been ripped because Simpson wracked up his against inferior competition, playing in Division II ball. But when evaluating pitchers, there is something we have to remember that changes the way we consider pitching performances regardless of level. The infield diamond doesn’t change size or shape from high school to college, even Division II, to the minors, to the majors. The strike zone is defined exactly the same way, depending on the umpire. A strike in high school is a strike in Yankee Stadium. And a dead straight fastball will be murdered by hitters at every level, starting with little league.
I bring up the fastball because there were some who claimed, in conjunction with the inferior competition argument, that Simpson’s fastball was too slow and too flat, lacking in movement, and this would doom him as a pitching prospect. Division II uses aluminum bats. Simpson faced 364 batters last season and gave up 2 home runs, and a total of 11 extra base hits. He may not have Kerry Wood’s movement, but 11 total extra base hits off of aluminum bats in 364 at bats does not suggest a lack of movement. His lack of walks portrays a similar command of the strike zone. And with the ability to throw four pitches for strikes, he has the arsenal to get hitters out. His command won’t disappear against better hitters. The tools are there for Simpson to succeed, and that’s all you can ask for in a high draft pick.
As for the ‘taken too high’ complaint, here I can find some sympathy. If the Cubs really did believe that Hayden would be on the board in the second or third round, or later, they should have passed on him and taken someone else with the first round pick regardless of whether or not he was the highest rated player on their boards. But, if he was the highest rated player on their board and if they believed that someone else would take him before the Cubs picked next, then he was absolutely drafted in the right spot. Any further comments here would get into revisionist history. I trust Tim Wilken’s abilities as a talent evaluator. I don’t know what intelligence the Cubs had on other teams draft boards, but I don’t think Wilken would throw away a pick. His history certainly doesn’t suggest that.
Hayden Simpson was a solid choice for the Cubs first round pick. He was overlooked because he pitcher at Division II where few scouts went. Few experts took his success seriously because of his size and his competition, but for a starting pitcher neither of those criticisms hold water.
So where does he go? I hope he starts in Peoria so I can see this guy pitch in person. I think it is likely that is where he starts next season, but I would not be surprised to see him finish the season in AA Tennessee. We need to see him pitch more innings in a season before I’ll start talking major league debut, but if he continues to avoid the walks and the long balls, I think 2012 isn’t unlikely. Right now, I see Simpson as a potential number three starter, but I will likely revise that once he gets a dozen or two minor league starts behind him. Fans near minor league cities in the Cubs system should definitely keep an eye out for news of Hayden Simpson coming to your town. His progression through the minors should be one of the biggest stories we follow over the next few years.