Less than seven hours from the beginning of this year’s MLB Draft, baseball insiders appear to be no closer to projecting who the Chicago Cubs will select with their first-round pick than they were several weeks ago – a sign of just how complicated things could be for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer this evening.
After adding impact position player prospects in the past several drafts, the Cubs would ideally target an arm with the fourth overall pick tonight, but most mock drafts have them missing out on the three major pitching prospects in this year’s draft class – Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon and Tyler Kolek.
Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America project the trio of pitchers to go 1-2-3 to the Houston Astros, Miami Marlins and Chicago White Sox, respectively, leaving the Cubs’ front office duo to ponder which direction to go with the subsequent pick. Many, including John Manuel of Baseball America, believe the team will go with a position player as a cost-saving measure, allowing greater financial flexibility with later picks.
"The Cubs want Aiken or Rodon to fall to them, and in a different draft system, they could make it happen with a giant bonus promise. In this system, they might be reduced to seeing who’ll take a cost-saving bonus at No. 4 that would allow them to pay above-slot bonuses later to high-ceiling high school pitchers such as Jack Flaherty, Michael Kopech or Joey Gatto."
As noted by Manuel, adding an arm like Aiken or Rodon would be the ideal situation for the Cubs’ front office. That being said, Rodon, a Cuban-American who was born in Miami, is said to be a favorite of ownership, who can see the one-two duo of Jose Fernandez and Rodon filling the seats for years to come. This is in spit of most talent evaluators favoring other players on the board, including catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson.
Aiken seems to be a lock for the top overall pick. Last year with the first overall pick, Jeff Luhnow and the Astros took hard-throwing right-hander Mark Appel. As has been the case with the team’s first picks the past two years (both of which were the first pick of the draft), Luhnow’s team is playing things close to the vest, according to Baseball Prospectus’ draft team.
"This year marks the third in a row that the Astros have held the no. 1 overall pick, and while their target groups have been known each of the last two years, no one knew for sure who they were taking until the actual call was made at the podium. The same is true this year, as while Brady Aiken seems to be the obvious choice, we won’t know for sure until his name is actually called."
The White Sox and Kolek have long-been rumored to be connected with one another, and not much seems to have changed of late. The big-framed high school pitcher would also be a target of the Cubs if he fell to the fourth pick, but most drafts, including that belonging to CBS Sports, has Kolek going in the top three picks, along with Aiken and Rodon.
"The flame-throwing Kolek, who also has very good secondary pitches, winding up here is seen as one of the rare near-locks of the first round. He’s a big kid (6-foot-5, 245) but he’s gotten himself into better shape and is said to have a nice feel for his pitches. The Cubs sure would love to grab one of the top three pitchers next, but their South Side rival is unlikely to give them that chance."
When it comes down to the Cubs’ pick, a position player seems likely. CBS Sports has Chicago taking Kyle Schwarber, a catcher/outfielder from Indiana University. However, should he be taken, his position could change to a corner infield or outfield slot. According to an MLB.com Draft video preview, Schwarber has above-average power, but less-than-savory defensive skills behind the dish, which could prompt a position change after draft day.
Baseball Prospectus has the Cubs selecting shortstop Nick Gordon, a high school shortstop out of Florida. Widely considered to be the best middle infield prospect in the draft, Gordon drew praise from Matt Garrioch of minorleagueball.com, who offered this take on the young infielder.
"Gordon has the bat of a middle infielder. He doesn’t have big power but that’s not his game. He strikes the ball with quick wrists. He has a whippy bat that will allow him to accumulate extra base hits by launching balls gap to gap. He should hit a lot of triples with his speed and be an exciting player at the plate. He has a high leg kick but for the most part he has a quiet load and swing."
BP says that the Cubs have been focusing a lot on Gordon of late, which could mean they’re fairly certain that the trio of arms will fall in the first three picks, as is widely expected.
Baseball America has the Cubs selecting Michael Conforto, who, according to Chris Crawford of MLB Draft Insider, profiles very well at the plate and not-so-well in the field or on the base paths, which could be a concern for Epstein and Hoyer moving forward.
"There’s no doubting Conforto’s offensive ability, with above-average power from the left side and a solid approach at the plate, but a severe lack of defensive value hurts his value considerably."
When it comes down to it, I, personally, would love to see one of the top arms fall to the Cubs with the fourth overall pick. That being said, I think it’s highly unlikely that it happens, and in the end, I think the team will end up drafting Gordon with that first-round selection.
Signing Gordon would only increase the logjam the organization has in the infield, with the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Starlin Castro, Arismendy Alcantara and Christian Villanueva as potential big league infielders. However, with such depth, the team could look to include some of this talent in deals to acquire big league pitching as the team begins to move out of its rebuilding mode in the next few years.
Even with the logjam in mind, Gordon is, in my opinion, the best pick available should the first three picks sort themselves out as expected. If the Cubs don’t take Gordon, look for them to add someone like Jackson, who is projected, by many, to go either fourth or fifth in the first round.