Our latest preview on the Cubs MLB Draft comes on the heels of Theo Epstein's recent comments where, despite an obvious need for pitching, he talks about the possibility of drafting a position player.
It's fair to say that the lack of pitching is the biggest question mark when it comes to the Cubs farm system, so the expectation has been that the Cubs will go pitching in the MLB draft.
It's not that there isn't talent i the system, but much of it is at the lower levels where the level of attrition is very high. The Cubs have attacked the problem with volume -- which is a sound stratgy. When it comes to pitching, it's not always a great idea to put all your eggs in a basket or two. The Cubs draft philosophy reflected that in year one, where they stocked up on pitchers starting with their first two supplemental picks, Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn.
The general consensus among draft experts is that RHP Mark Appel is the top talent and that LHP Sean Manaea is quickly closing that gap. Some, like Cubs Den contributor and draft aficianado Kevin Gallo, believe Manaea has already surpassed him. There are also talented college arms like RHP Ryan Stanek, Jonathan Crawford, and Bobby Wahl, each of whom merit top 10 consideration right now.
Given the team's current needs and the dearth of pitching at their upper levels, it would seem likely that the Cubs would select a college arm -- but, in an excellent interview with David Kaplan, Theo Epstein reminded us recently that they'll take the best player available and, as many studies have shown, position players taken at the top of the draft are more likely to have MLB success than college pitchers.
"It'd be nice if there was an obvious, can't-miss college arm who could impact our big-league team in the next couple of years, but if you try to force it, that's how you end up regretting your pick for years to come," Epstein said. "History does show that there is a better probability for impact up high in the draft with position players, but if the right arm is there, we'll take him. You cannot dictate the draft. You have to go through the process and see what's there.
"At the end of the draft, we will have attacked pitching with volume and you can get pitching all over the draft. If you want elite position players, you have to be willing to pop that guy up top."
So will the Cubs go with one of the many talented position players and attack pitching later in the draft? It seems like a distinct possibility. With some help from Kevin (Big League Futures) and also Dan Kirby of Through the Fence Baseball, let's take a look at some of the top position players in the draft.
Clint Frazier, CF, Loganville HS (GA)
The first thing that stands out about Frazier is his explosive bat speed -- the ball absolutely jumps off his bat. It gives him more power than you would expect from a guy who stand 6'0" tall and weighs 190 lbs. Saw him personally hit 2 HRs at Wrigley despite a strong wind blowing in -- no other player hit one out to LF that day. He hit 24 HRs as a high school junior in just 118 ABs. But he's not just a power guy. He runs a 6.42 60 (14 SBs in H.S.), has CF range, and a rocket for a throwing arm. He's also a baseball rat, as you'll see from Dan's interview on TTFB. That should endear him to both fans and the front office.
Austin Meadows, CF, Grayson HS (GA)
Meadows is the better raw athlete with better size and louder tools than Frazier. In that aspect, a loose comparison between Meadows and Frazier might be the two top prep OF'ers, respectively, from last year -- Bryan Buxton and Albert Almora. Whether you prefer Meadows or Frazier will depend in part to your organizational philosophy. He's a 5 tool player with a better chance to stick in CF than Frazier. Despite being larger (6'3", 200 lbs), he's also faster (6.31 60). He possesses a strong arm, great bat speed, and tremendous raw power. He's not as polished a hitter and Kevin believes he has some holes in his swing, particularly up and in, that more advanced pitchers may be able to exploit.
Colin Moran, 3B, North Carolina
Moran just may be the best pure hitter in college (.365 avg. last season), if not the entire draft. He has an advanced approach, hitting to all fields and showing excellent plate discipline. He hasn't shown much power yet (3 HRs) but he's 6'3", 200 lbs so he has the size along with the fluid left-handed swing to hit for power down the road. If there's a question about Moran, it's whether he can stick at 3B. Whether he's a top 5 candidate and the Cubs show interest will depend on their opinion on his defense, which varies from scout to scout. If he has to move to 1B, he'll drop down the draft because off the loss in positional value.
Reese McGuire, C, Kentwood HS (WA)
Dan calls him the best defensive catcher in the draft -- high school or college -- and so adds obvious positional value as a guy who just about every scout believes can stay there long term. The 6'1", 190 lbs is also a good athlete and it aids him with agility in blocking balls in the dirt and his quickness when it comes to his release time on throws to second. At the plate, he shows a smooth stroke from the left side who should develop power in time. He as done well in showcase tournaments including a .462 avg. wit Team USA, showing he can step it up against top competition.
Jonathan Denney, C Yukon HS (OK)
A fast riser, Denney has surpassed fellow high school catcher Reese McGuire in the eyes of some, including the staff at Baseball America, who rank him as the 7th best draft prospect overall, though our guy Kevin still gives the edge to McGuire because of his advanced defensive skills. While McGuire might be the best defensive catcher, Denney has the best offensive potential. He has good size (6'2, 205 lbs) and already shows plus power and a clean stroke from both sides of the plate. The icing on the cake is that he has the defensive skills to be a solid catcher, which would give his offensive production tremendous value.
Kris Bryant, 3B/OF/1B, U. of San Diego
The 6'5" Bryant is intriguing because of his light tower power and his disciplined approach at the plate, walking 39 times in 57 games last season. I've heard some scouts say, though, that he may be a little too passive at times. Overall, Bryant hit .366/.483/671 with 14 home runs. As with Moran, a big question is whether he can stick at 3B. Kevin felt his footwork was a bit sloppy there. If he has to move, he has the arm strength to play RF but his speed, which is fringe average, may not play as well there. His size would be an asset at 1B. He's a top 5 candidate if he can stay at 3B or possibly RF. Wherever he ends up defensively, he won't drop too far in the first round since is bat alone will provide his team with good value.
Austin Wilson, OF, Stanford
Wilson came to Stanford with great fanfare. Back then, many felt he could be the potential #1 overall pick, but Wilson has yet to live up to those lofty expectations. Today, there's a wide range of opinion on Wilson. Those who like him like is athleticism, all around tools/skills and feel he'll develop power that is more befitting for a player with a 6'5", 245 lbs. frame. His numbers at Stanford -- .285 with 10 HRs -- were disappointing, but the hitting ability and raw power are there, which may come once he is no longer shackled by the Stanford hitting philosophy. Some, such as Keith Law, feel he's a potential top 5 pick wile others, like Dan, feel he could drop out of the top 10 and as low as 15-20 right now. He needs to break out this season to have a chance at being one of the top picks in the draft.
Dominic Smith, 1B-OF, Serra HS (CA)
While Colin Moran is the best college hitter in the draft, that high school distinction goes to Smith, who drew raves from both Kevin and Dan. I also got a chance to see Smith at the UA game and he didn't disappoint, beating out Frazier (albeit with some help from that LF wind) at the HR derby. He also showed an excellent stroke, contact skills, and approach at the plate. Smith is able to make consistent hard contact to all fields, hitting .551 with 9 HRs -- yet struck out just twice in 25 games. The 6'1", 200 lbs Smith is not as great an athlete as Meadows or Frazier and there is some question about his ultimate defensive position. His best chance to go early is to show he can play the OF, where his plus arm is his biggest asset.
J.P. Crawford, SS, Lakewood HS (CA)
Crawford is the top H.S. SS in the draft and we know how Theo likes is up the middle players. At 6'2", 175 lbs, he's lanky but has an athletic, highly projectable frame that may someday translate to plus power. With an assist from his good instincts, all his other tools should play as above average across the board. Although he's not as slick in the field as fellow HS shortstop prospect Orlando Mercado, Crawford has a good chance to stick at SS and the better all-around game.
Phillip Ervin, OF, Samford University
Coming from a smaller school with a less than ideal 5'10", 200 lbs. build, Ervin has gotten lost in the shuffle a bit but he opened some eyes at the Cape Cod League this offseason, where he lead the circuit witht 11 HRs. He also showed some speed, stealing 10 bases. He's a "quick-twitch" athlete who shows a solid approach at the plate. He's not a likely candidate to go #2 right now, but he's a fast riser now that scouts have gotten a better look.
Other players mentioned: Ryan Boldt, OF; Orlando Mercado, SS; Andy McGuire, 1B-OF
The feeling here is that the Cubs have interest in a pitcher or two at the top right now -- perhaps a college arm like Sean Manaea, but won't hesitate to go with a position player such as Frazier if he's not available or if they aren't sold that any of the college pitchers are worthy of a top 2 pick. It's a long season and you can bet they will look closely at many of these hitters and while Frazier and Meadows are the consensus top position players, there are plenty of intriguing bats who could make a move upward as the draft approaches.
Filed under: MLB Draft