Cubs pick RHP Pierce Johnson with 43rd pick; Paul Blackburn with the 56th pick

Cubs pick RHP Pierce Johnson with 43rd pick; Paul Blackburn with the 56th pick
Pierce Johnson

The Cubs did indeed go for a couple of arms in the supplemental round.  One of them, Paul Blackburn, was on my list of potential draftees.

When I was making that list, RHP Pierce Johnson was on the orignal list that I eventually pared down.  The reason I took him off wasn't because of his stuff, which is very good, but because he's been somewhat injury prone.

Johnson is 6'3", 180 lbs. and sits in the 92-93 mph range but can get his fastball into the mid 90s.  He also features a hard curveball, a cutter, and already has a decent change-up.  He also has good command and control. He's a strikeout pitcher who was among the Division 1 leaders a couple of wees ago. If that sounds a bit like he should have been a first rounder, it's because he probably would have been had he not been hurt.  Talent-wise some had him in the first round, but a forearm injury scared some teams off.  He did come back early, but was rusty and didn't impress.  If he's healthy, Johnson is a steal.  Keith Law called him a potential # 2 starter, though he isn't wild about his delivery. If his arm is unable to handle a big load, he can still be a power reliever, but the Cubs obviously took him for his potential as a front end starter.

As for Blackburn, this is what I wrote about him earlier...

Blackburn is a bit more polished than Virant, but he does have some projectablity left.  He stands 6'2", 180 lbs. and is athletic with a clean delivery. Blackburn features a fastball, curveball, and like most young pitchers, is still working on a change.  He throws low 90s now but occasionally hits 94 mph.  It's possible he may add a tick or two to that fastball, but what you're looking at with Blackburn is a good all-around pitcher who has a good feel for pitching and the potential for above average stuff, command, and control.  Might be a bit safer than some of the others, but he does have upside too.  Blackburn feels like a Tim Wilken guy to me.

With the three picks today, we got a sense of the Cubs new drafting philosophy. Both supplemental picks are a bit like Albert Almora in the sense that it's a safe pick  with some upside.  These players have high ceilings but they also have high floors.





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  • John,

    Can either guy, or hopefully both, profile as top of the rotation guys?

  • In reply to supercapo:

    Late edit since I rushed to get this out. Keith Law calls Johnson a potential #2 if healthy. Blackburn could have 3 plus pitches, which would make a nice #3, possibly a #2 as well.

  • I was a little surprised that one of the two was not a little more high upside type like Smoral or Weickel. There's some injury risk with Johnson, but that may just mean he ends up being a bargain.

    Hoping for Wood or Virant at the top of Round 2...

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    Johnson pretty high upside too. Some real good pitching still out there. Cubs should get one more good arm.

  • The guys on didn't seem all that excited about Johnson saying his numbers were poor this year. I was disappointed not get seemingly 'safe' guys in the draft. I would have liked to see them take a chance on a kid with more upside than safer picks with less upside. Just my thoughts.

  • In reply to INSaluki:

    Johnson can touch 96 with a pretty good curve. I don't think he's safe at all. Could be a #2 guy if healthy. If he can't handle workload then you can see him as a reliever.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I admit that I've never followed the draft as closely until this year, but I would hope we'd get better than a possible reliever (or at best #2) and a possible #3 with those draft positions. Just my initial thoughts.

  • In reply to INSaluki:

    I understand, but you don't get #1s this late unless its a raw player where everything clicks. Most scouts think there are two guys who could maybe be #1s in this entire draft: Lucas Giolito and Mark Appel, both both are flawed for various reasons.

    To get a potential #2 at this point in the draft is very good value. The Cubs obviously think he can stay healthy or they wouldn't have made this kind of investment.

  • McDaniel says Johnson is either a closer at worst or a #3 starter type at best. Sounds good to me. Is Blackburn #4 type starter as a ceiling? #3?

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Blackburn seems more like a 3 for me but he's still projectable, so we'll see.

    Johnson has a good arm. Really intrigued if he stays healthy.

  • im happy with the draft johnson looks like he could be very good just had no run suppot in college 2.35era this past year nasty slider upside of a 2 more likely of a 3. blackburn seems to be a good talant possibly a number 2 but more likely mid rotation starter both players are ing baseball america top 45 so good value just got to wait and see what happens with them

  • In reply to dakota cubs fan:

    Thanks for the analysis...I do like the upside and I think it was a pretty good day. I understand his breaking ball is a curve, but it's a hard one so could see some calling it a slider too. Kind of like our own Trey McNutt, in that sense.

  • What is the signability of these arms?

  • In reply to supercapo:

    Almora and Blackburn both very signable. Johnson a college arm who was injured but got picked in the first round. Can't risk another injury or he'll drop.

  • In reply to John Arguello: crew seemed to think that Blackburn was a solid commit, and they were a bit surprised to see him taken, seeing as the Cubs lose the compensation pick money if they aren't able to sign a guy. That was my take, anyway.

    To me, it would seem that Johnson would be a bit easier to sign, given the injuries...and possibly the Cubs could offer a little less, and use that money to play around with a bit? At any rate, the Cubs would have to have a pretty good idea that those guys could be signed if they lose that money otherwise, or else they wouldn't have been drafted.

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    Hmmm. That wasn't the case with Baseball America, they think he wants to play pro ball. Like you said, I have to think the Cubs have to at least talked to him and got a feel for what he's thinking.

    Johnson seems like an easy sign to me too. They may see if they can get him for under his slot.

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    Hey john, assuming that we get Soler as a FA, and plus the 3 guys we already picked, what does our top 5 prospects look like. Assuming we get a few more good draft prospects how would you rank our farm system.

  • In reply to Larry:

    Do I count Rizzo and Jackson? They probably won't be in the minors long.

    I'd say


    That's a tough question. I think I could mix those up a little and still be okay with it!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think I'd flip Jackson and Soler there...just my $.02.

    I don't think either of the sandwich round guys factor in the Top 10. Cubs still stronger on the player side (Szczur, Lake, Candelario, Vogelbach, Vitters). Maybe only McNutt and Maples on the pitching side.

  • In reply to North Side Irish: I said, you could flip a couple of those guys around and still make a good case.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Thank you for for rating those for me. I have to ask though why do you rank Almora above Jackson and Soler already. Do you think he is going to be that good or am i missing something there.

  • In reply to Larry:

    Almora seems to have smoother mechanics on his swing and better hand eye coordination. Jackson is the better power/speed guy. They should both play good defense, but I'll give Almora the edge as far as arm strength.

    You really could go either way. I think Soler is just the most raw player of the bunch. His upside might put him at 3 or even higher, but I think he's the least likely to reach it.

  • I'm not wild about the Pierce Johnson pick, but let's face it, if he didn't have injury and mechanical issues, there's no way he's still available at 43.

    If the Cubs had settled on taking Almora since early spring, then it means they had plenty of time to scout Johnson and Blackburn. They must be pretty sure that Johnson's injuries can be resolved and that his mechanics aren't problematic. If they're right, we got a ton of value.

    Of course, it's especially hard to be optimistic about a Cubs draft. When I think of supplemental picks by the Cubs, I think of Luke Hagerty, Chadd Blasko, Matt Clanton, all of whom have the same number of Major League victories as my dog. Fortunately, the scouting personnel who picked those fellows are long gone.

  • In reply to Taft:

    I remember that draft. It was highly touted...pretty scary. I think the difference here is that the Cubs got two arms with some polish while all of those guys except for Hagerty (who got hurt) were throwers.

  • It would be nice if cubs picked apple instead of alemora. He can be a future ace and a would of bin the impact arm in the orginization. Also who should the cubs do in the second round keep going for highupside player who are harder to sign or try and save money by reaching for few player wich would allow them to spend more money on the harder players to sign.

  • In reply to Domnk S:

    I get the feeling the Cubs didn't think Appel could be a frontline starter in addition to his demands, which would have cost the Cubs to try and reallocate money from other picks.

  • John,

    Do you think the Cubs go with another arm in the 2nd round or do they find a bat?

  • In reply to supercapo:

    I think they'll go with another arm, although there might be a couple of interesting bats available. The arms to me are still much more interesting. I'll have a preview up tomorrow. I'm also doing a podcast and I'll give you guys the link.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Tanner Rahier is an interesting bat, but I think they will pick a LHP in at least one of the next 2 rnds.

  • In reply to WickitCub:

    Yes, he's the one bat I think they'd consider. I also like the catcher from Texas, Wyatt Mathiesen. Seems like a Cub kind of player.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I wouldnt be surprise if the pick open O'brien from Miami in thr 4th rnd

  • And just to prove how little I know, Kiley McDonald named the Cubs as one of his favorite drafts...

    Kiley McDaniel ‏@kileymcd
    Since everyone is asking I'll take CHC, HOU & SD as my favorite drafts. I've seen all but one of their draft picks because I'm awesome.

  • I have a question but its not about the draft but about cubs current prospects.
    How is it going for Jeimer Candelario in extended spring training because he really seems like he can be a good player in the majors. Hes only 18 years old, he would be in this draft class and where would he be projected.
    While my second questions about Lake. Wouldnt it be better that they try and move him out of short stop and keep him in 3rd where he played a couple of games or outfield. I think it would help him improve on d if he just stuck at one position as he outgrows ss.

  • In reply to Domnk S:

    Jeimer is doing very well in extended spring training, especially since he's facing older competition. The usual track says he should go the Arizona Rookie League but I wouldn't be shocked if he wound up a level higher in Boise.

    I think Candelario would be more like a 2nd round pick because he lacks athleticism and a true position. His bat is first round quality, however.

    I agree on Lake but I also think they want to develop him at SS for as long as possible. Even if he doesn't start, it gives him value that he can fill in at SS from time to time.

  • Pleased with the draft so far, but I am really hoping the acumen of the new FO shows itself later in the draft. I know that we will not be able to judge the overall success of this draft for a few years, but a good payoff today and tomorrow will help build the farm depth we need and want.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Totally agree Norway, while we can't judge a draft in earnest fora few years, there are almost instant benefits if a few picks do well right off the bat. Even if these guys impress in their first couple of years, it becomes an asset. And if the Cubs get a few good prospects here, it raises the overall value - and perception - of the organization.

  • I think most people , including the "experts", like this draft so far. They look like typical Epstein picks, guys with high ceilings, but are polished .

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    That's what I like so far. Great upside, but more polished baseball skills than the guys we've gotten in the past.

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    There are still a lot of interesting names left on the board from BA's Top 100 list. Mitch Brown, Walker Buehler, Hunter Virant and Alex Wood are a few of them.

    Brown, whose father is a professional power-lifter, doesn't have a lot of projection left in that 18 year old body, at 6-2/210/RH, and he has issues with his mechanics. Namely, he throws across his body. He throws a upper 80's to low 90's fastball, a cutter, slider and a change-up. He is committed to play for San Diego St.

    Buehler is just the opposite of Brown. He has a lot of projection left. He stands at 6-2/160/RH, and he is only 17 years old. So he may not be done growing. On a good day, his fastball has been clocked between 90 and 94, but he has mostly been between 86-91. He throws a curveball that averages around 80, and he sinking changeup that also comes in around 80. His delivery is smooth and clean, and scouts call him polished. He carries a 4.3/5.0 GPA, and he is committed to play for Vanderbilt.

    Hunter Virant is an interesting 18 year old lefty who is committed to UCLA. At 6-3/170, he still has a lot of projection. His delivery is said to be smooth, and his actions indicate he is very athletic. However, there is a wide range of opinion on him amongst scouts. Some see Cliff Lee. Others see Brad Radke. Scouts who like him note he pitches on a downward angle, and he locates effectively to both sides of the plate. He worked upper 80's most of this season, but he got stronger as the year went on. He was consistently low 90's the last couple of weeks of the season. Scouts also like his advanced change-up, and they say that his delivery helps to hide it. He throws a power slider and a loopy curve, both of which need a lot of work. Most think he would benefit from three years at UCLA, and finally, he is considered to be a hard sign.

    Georgia's Alex Wood has a unique delivery, and he has already has TJ-surgery. When he lands on his right leg, he actually hops backwards. Still, LHSP's that consistently throw hard and dominate the hitter friendly SEC are rare. That low to mid 90's fastball that he seems to locate just about anywhere he likes is no joke, and it makes his plus changeup look that much better. However, his slider is a work in progress to say the least. There are some scouts who think his delivery could be tweaked by professional coaching without him losing much, if any, off his fastball, and it would probably help his slider.

    Arkansas' Nolan Sanburn is another guy to watch for. He's also another guy who generates a lot of controversy. He consistently hits mid to upper 90's, and his curve, slider, cutter and change-up are said to have potential, but he didn't start for the pitching deep Razorbacks. He stands in at 6-1/200. So there also isn't a lot of projection there. Many scouts project him as a reliever, but e was recruited as an outfielder and then converted to the mound. So he only has 62 innings on that arm over three years, and there are others who would like to see what he would be like if he were stretched out.

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