A lot of us, including yours truly, would like to see the Cubs draft a top flight arm with the 4th pick in the upcoming June draft. It makes sense. That is where the strength of the draft lies and it just so happens to be the greatest weakness in what is a very strong farm system overall. After all, the Cubs have plenty of hitters, right?
The Cubs have already shown they aren't afraid to take a hitter when they feel that is the best player available. The new FO has done it both years now. They selected Albert Almora over the best available LHP prospect, Max Fried, in 2012 and last year they took Kris Bryant over the fireballing Jonathan Gray. Both pitchers were high on the Cubs list, but the Cubs ultimately went with the hitter.
We have also seen the extreme risk involved when it comes to investing a lot in pitchers -- even young ones, over the past few weeks. Cubs fans will remember what happened to their own promising young staff in 2003, particularly in the case of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, two pitchers who were taken among the top 4 picks. The Cubs once again have a chance to grab an impact starter at #4, but if he is less likely to stay healthy and/or effective, is it worth the gamble?
In the brief history of this front office with the Cubs, the teams has instead attacked the area with depth. We'll have a couple of pieces that exemplify that this strategy this week. Later today or early tomorrow, we'll have our next installment in the Cubs prospect countdown and it will be pitcher heavy, which helps illustrate that very strategy. By the end of the week, we'll do a piece on some arms that may be available in the 2nd round of this year's draft, which could see the Cubs follow the same plan of drafting pitching volume after the first round.
The question I'm asking right now, though, is this:
Are you sure you want the Cubs to select a pitcher with their first pick?
Let's take a look at recent history. I decided to go back and take a look at all the pitchers taken before the 10th pick over a 5 year period -- from 2006-2010, which gives us enough time to evaluate how much the pitchers have progressed since the draft. We'll also compare it to the best hitters available at that point in the draft.
Considered a pitching heavy draft, Kershaw, the 7th pick overall in this draft is by far the best player on this entire list. Top pick Luke Hochevar was one recent casualty to injury but never really lived up to expectations anyway. 2nd overall pick Greg Reynolds is heading off to Japan at age 28 after . Brad Lincoln immediately encountered injury problems, including Tommy John surgery in 2007. He's 9-11 with a 4.66 ERA lifetime over 4 seasons. Brandon Morrow has all kinds of talent but has yet to pitch 180 innings. His most healthy year was in 2011 when he pitched 179.1 innings and went 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA. His career ERA is 4.22. Some considered Miller as the most talented pitcher in this draft and a potential #1 pick but he slid because of signability issues. Injuries and ineffectiveness made him a bust in his first years but he has found a new lease on life as reliever with the Red Sox, being worth about a combined win over the last 2 seasons.
- Top college hitter available: Evan Longoria
- Top high school hitters available: Billy Rowell, Travis Snider
Jarrod Parker had a strong season in 2012 and followed up with a solid one in 2013, though the FIP was a less impressive 4.41 that season. Parker, who was reportedly the Cubs favorite after Josh Vitters that year, is the latest to go down with an elbow injury and and potential TJ surgery. Price was a no-brainer here and he's proven to be worth the pick while Detwiler has turned out to be a talented but merely serviceable back of the rotation starter since 2009. 4th pick Daniel Moskos got 24.1 innings as a reliever in 2011 in which he posted a respectable 2.96 ERA despite striking out just 4 batters per 9 IP while walking 3.3/9 IP. Cubs fans know all about Casey Weathers who became the throw-in in the Ian Stewart deal, which tells you about all you need to know.
- Top college hitter available: Matt Wieters
- Top high school hitters available: Mike Moustakas, Josh VItters
Matusz was considered a polished and talented pitcher and was nabbed 4th overall by the Baltimore Orioles out of the University of San Diego. Matusz had an encouraging 10-12, 4.30 ERA in his first full season but has since struggled to find consistency. He has a career 5.13 ERA and is now relegated to the bullpen. Aaron Crow slipped to 9th in the draft and wound up not signing with the Nationals. He re-entered the next year and was drafted 12th overall by the Royals. He has found his niche in the bullpen and had his best season in 2012 before falling off to a replacement level reliever last year. The Royals unsuccessfully looked for a team to take Crow off their hands this past offseason.
- Top college hitters available: Pedro Alvarez, Buster Posey
- Top high school hitter available: Eric Hosmer
Top pick Stephen Strasburg was another no-brainer at the top of the draft and has generally been dominant when healthy. Last year he put up a career high 183.1 innings, though it wasn't a great season by his own lofty standards/expectations. Matt Hobgood pitched just 36.2 innings between 2011 and then missing the entire 2012 season after rotator-cuff surgery. Zack Wheeler became one of the top pitching prospects in baseball before inexplicably being dealt for 2 months of Carlos Beltran. Wheeler is expected to be a big part of the Mets rotation as early as this year but was shut down late last year and has struggled with an oblique injury this spring. Mike Minor had a breakout season with the Braves last season (13-9, 3.21 ERA, 3.4 WAR) but he has struggled with his own nagging injuries. He's experienced some shoulder soreness and won't be ready to start the season. The team says he is progressing nicely. Mike Leake was a polished pitcher coming out of the draft and has been a solid 4th starter type for the Reds. He put up career numbers last year at 14-7 and a 3.37 ERA, but there was quite a bit of luck involved there and his peripherals were pretty much in line with the rest of his career. Jacob Turner was considered by some to be the second best pitcher in this draft after Strasburg but he's had some shoulder issues of his own and has lost a little velocity and mostly sits in the low 90s now. After looking like a certain top of the rotation starter, most see him now as more of a back of the rotation type, as his 4.71 xFIP, 0.3 WAR season would attest. It's that kind of risk that makes it understandable now why the Cubs wanted Nick Castellanos in addition to Turner when the Tigers inquired about Matt Garza a couple years back.
- Top college hitter available: Dustin Ackley
- Top high school hitter available: Donovan Tate
Matt Harvey had TJ surgery in October and is just now beginning to throw back to back days and will likely miss the entire 2014 season, but if he's healthy, he can be an absolute beast. Taillon is one of the better pitching prospects in the minors but as of yet unproven at the MLB level. Drew Pomeranz was once a top prospect with the Indians and Rockies and is now trying to win the 5th starter spot with the A's -- a rotation spot opened up, ironically, after the A's learned that they will lose Jarrod Parker. Karsten Whitson was a former pick of Cubs current VP of Scouting Jason McLeod with the Padres, but did not sign. He has since had trouble staying healthy and has seen his velo drop in college. He's a flyer type prospect at this point. Cubs fans should also be familiar with Barrett Loux, who was acquired for catcher Geovanny Soto and pitched at AAA Iowa last year. Loux was actually selected the previous year but had his original contract voided because of concerns found in his physical. He projects as a middle reliever at best these days.
- Top college hitter available: Bryce Harper
- Top high school pitcher available: Manny Machado
So, of the 24 pitchers listed in this sample, we can say that 2 of them are relatively healthy, top of the rotation starters (Kershaw and Price), a few more have top of the rotation stuff if they can get and stay healthy (Harvey, Wheeler, Strasburg, and Tallieson) and a couple more look like they can be solid 2-3 starters if they can stay avoid the injury bug from this point forward (Minor, Parker).
Even the talent rich 2011 draft already has some question marks. Dylan Bundy has had TJ surgery, Trevor Bauer has struggled with consistency, and Danny Hultzen has had shoulder surgery.
Even in a strong draft, it's obviously no sure thing that the guy you'll pick at the top of the draft will stand the test of time when it comes to the stuff and workload that is required of an ace. Still, it's a chance you have to take sometimes to get that one pitcher who can truly make a difference at the top of your rotation. One thing seems certain, if the Cubs do pick an arm at the top of the draft, we'll be holding our breath until he shows he can be consistently healthy and effective -- so no matter what the Cubs do with that first pick, the Cubs should probably continue to attack the draft with volume when it comes to pitching.
It seems you can never be sure and you can never have enough.
Filed under: 2014 MLB Draft