Get Ready For The Draft


We are just over one week away from baseball’s amateur draft. Unlike the NFL or NBA drafts, in which it is pretty easy to keep track of the top players and where they are likely to land, the MLB draft is almost too big and too complex to be easily projected. Every team has their own separate philosophies on drafting hitting vs pitching, power vs average, high school vs college, raw tools vs polished skills, general athletes vs guys with clear positions, and so on through dozens of different metrics. There is almost never a consensus on who the best player is, no matter how obvious is appears. Last year Pittsburgh stated they would have passed on Bryce Harper had they held the number one pick,and were not at all disappointed to be drafting second, and that’s just one example.

Fortunately, we don’t need to try to figure out how each individual team is likely to set up their draft day strategies. We are mainly interested in what the Cubs are likely to do, but even that can get tricky. As in every draft since 2006, the Cubs have Tim Wilken running their scouting operations, and he is considered to be one of the best player evaluators in all baseball. He is also one of the most unpredictable drafters around. Even so, I think we can look back on the drafts he managed for the Cubs to get a pretty good idea what to expect in 2011.

1. The Cubs Will Favor College Over High School In the Early Rounds
In general, the Cubs under Wilken draft college players in the early rounds, but there have been a few exceptions. Josh Vitters in 2007 was drafted out of high school in the first round, as was Reggie Golden in the 2010 second round. In the 2009 3rd round, the Cubs took left handed pitcher Austin Kirk. That is by far the highest they have taken a high school pitcher. The next highest high school pitcher drafted was Ben Wells, in the 2010 7th round. Early on, then, and especially in the first round, keep an eye on the college players.

2. Hitting, Pitching, It’s All Good
With the caveat that the Cubs almost never draft high school pitching early, they draft a pretty even mix of hitters and pitchers up and down the draft depending on what is available. This year’s draft is thought to be very strong on college pitching, so I think we can expect a few early picks in that category. But there are some good high school bats too, and a few high picks on high school hitters certainly are not impossible.

3. Watch the Middle Rounds
In the 2010 draft, the Cubs walked away with Hayden Simpson in the first round, stunning just about everyone. What has been somewhat overlooked is that after the start of the 7th round that year, the Cubs picked up pitchers Ben Wells, Cameron Greathouse, Aaron Kurcz and Eric Jokisch. Looking at the success those guys are having so far, you have to wonder how the Cubs got that many good college pitching prospects after the seventh round. The real stunner came in 2009 when the Cubs somehow scooped up Trey McNutt in the 32nd round. Several of the Wilken’s drafted major league players came in the middle rounds as well. James Russell was taken in the 14th, Casey Coleman in the 15th, and Tony Campana in the 13th. Particularly in a draft as deep as this one, expect that the Cubs will pull together a very nice pile of talent in the middle rounds. That is one of the things Wilken does best.

4. Expect Anything.
Tyler Colvin in 2006 was considered a reach for the Cubs. Turns out that he’s a little better than anyone else thought, and still projects as a 25+ home run guy in the majors. In 2010 Hayden Simpson came off the board in the first round, and everyone was surprised. Now he’s recognized as a potential front of the rotation starter and has other teams wonder how they missed him.

5. Look To The Past
In the case of both Marquez Smith and Andrew Cashner, the Cubs drafted them out of high school and failed to sign them before later drafting and signing them much higher as college players. Looking at the 2011 draft, one name than stands out in the department is RHP Sonny Gray out of Vanderbilt. The Cubs selected him in the 27th round of the 2008 draft, but he opted for college. There is a chance he’ll be on the board when the Cubs pick this season, and don’t be surprised if he is the choice when they do.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at some of the names that are considered possible picks for the Cubs in the first round. If you are interested in looking back on the Cubs drafts under Wilken, here are the links. 2006. 2007. 2008. 2009. 2010.