It's a bit of an odd draft this year in that we aren't quite sure what to expect with that 4th pick. After poor performances across the board from all the top college arms, there is anything but certainty from where the Cubs stand. As one scout put it to me, expect a lot of wildly inaccurate mock drafts this season.
With that in mind, let's go over what I've been hearing and take a look at how things look as of today...
MLB Draft Prospect Update
The consensus top player for the last 2 1/2 years has been North Carolina State LHP Carlos Rodon and while he's still expected to go near the top of the draft, he's no longer the sure thing everyone thought he was when the season opened.
After another so-so start in which he lasted just 4 2/3 innings and gave up 8 runs -- though none of them were earned due to incredibly sloppy defense, Rodon is at 1-2 with a 2.21 ERA but most importantly, a good but not dominant K to BB ratio of 3 to 1 since starting conference play. It's hard not to imagine him going in the top 3 but it's getting increasingly plausible that he doesn't go #1 overall.
If Rodon doesn't go #1 then the top candidates for that spot are Tyler Kolek and Tyler Beede. Kolek would become the first prep RHP to reach that status since the draft was instituted. Obviously there's a lot of inherent risk with such a selection but Kolek may prove to be worth the gamble considering his physical maturity and once-in-a-generation arm strength.
Tyler Beede, meanwhile, was shelled and like Rodon, he didn't have his defense supporting him. Unlike Rodon, much of the poor outing was Beede's own doing as command issues resurfaced and he walked 5 batters, struck out just 2, and gave up 6 hits in just 2.2 innings. He gave up a whopping 11 runs, though only 5 were earned. Beede was starting to get talk as the #1 overall pick and while one outing isn't going to change everything, it will slow down the momentum. And it's worth noting that Beede didn't go into the draft as sure-fire top 5 pick, so he may be a bit more scrutinized in that respect.
Jeff Hoffman threw more strikes and had a solid outing, allowing 3 runs in 7 innings on just 2 walks -- but he also struck out just 2 batters. What Hoffman has going for him, however, is that he may just have the best college arm in the draft -- Rodon included.
Brady Aiken is now firmly entrenched in that top 5-7 range and is a legitimate option at the Cubs#4 pick. He was always thought of as a polished pitcher with good stuff but this year his velocity has jumped into the mid 90s, giving him rare velocity for a lefty to go with his already advanced skills. Aiken and Kolek may move more quickly than many of the college arms in this draft.
Aaron Nola continues to be the most dominant pitcher in college this season. He pitched 6.2 more scoreless innings striking out 8 -- but he did walk 4 batters. He's 5-0 with an incredible 0.22 ERA this season. Still, there are doubts because of his arm slot and whether it will be effective against more advanced hitters, especially lefties, who should be able to pick him up well -- making some think he could even end up in the bullpen. That risk, along with a ceiling that most would put at #3 -- so the ceiling/floor combo isn't ideal for a top 5 pick, in my opinion.
Luke Weaver, who some consider a sleeper, got rocked for 6 runs on 11 hits in 7 innings. Like Nola, there are questions about Weaver's size and durability but some believe that won't be an issue. But as long as those questions exist, he's going to have little margin for error this season, so this outing can't help. Weaver is 4-2 with a 3.13 wth 9 walk and 34 Ks in 37.1 innings.
Another sleeper, Erick Fedde, is having a very good year at 4-1 and a 1.88 ERA. His peripherals are also very good with 13 walks and 47 Ks in 43 innings.
Aaron Fitt of Baseball America was talking up Brandon Finnegan, who has a mid 90s fastball but is undersized at 5'11. I asked Fitt if his size would be a factor and Fitt felt that he makes up for it with good strength and has thus far shown he can carry velocity deep into games. Finnegan is having the best season this side of Aaron Nola, going 4-2 with a 1.44 ERA and an incredible 65/9 K to BB ratio over 43.2 innings. Fitt believes Finnegan is worth a top 10 pick and has a better chance to be durable than either Nola or Weaver.
I wrote my own observations about Finnegan back on July 17th,
The stadium gun was off on Monday night but it was easy to see Finnegan was throwing heat, blowing his fastball past hitters and recording two strikeouts in his one inning of work. Kevin Gallo tells me he topped out at 96 mph. I mention Finnegan because he's just 5'11", 185 lbs and generates much of that velocity with tremendous arm speed. Obviously there's not a lot of downward plane here and you wonder if his size will relegate him to the bullpen, though I'm told he can sustain that velocity late in games and he has a hard slider and a solid change-up to go with the fastball -- so he does have the necessary tools/skills to stick as a starter. Either way, he's an interesting prospect whether he sticks as a starter or becomes a Billy Wagner type closer.
As for the hitters, Trea Turner is a long shot for the top 5 as he has hit just .212 with 11 Ks in 36 PAs over 8 conference games and is hitting .301 overall.
If a hitter is going to crack the top 5, it's going to be a high school bat. Alex Jackson is having a big year and Jacob Gatewood may offer the best combination of power and position value (should be a solid 3B if he can't stick at SS). Nick Gordon is a top of the order hitter with great defensive skills, but like Turner, there are questions about the bat. I've talked to scouts who like Braxton Davidson's hit tool a lot, but as a corner OF'er/1B type, there is a big burden on that bat. He needs to hit and hit for power to have any value long term and that may be too big a risk at the top of the draft.
Should the Cubs employ the Astros strategy of 2012?
With as many as 5 options at the top of the draft (Rodon, Kolek, Beede, Aiken, Hoffman), could this year be one in which a team employs the Astros draft strategy of 2012 (or the Royals last year)? There is some talk that could happen again as every player entails some amount of risk. There is no Mark Appel or Kris Bryant as far as players with a very high floor to go with a high ceiling, so perhaps a team may invest less on that top pick in order to spread the risk around to 2 or 3 players rather than putting all their eggs in one basket.
The Cubs have always been a BPA team but there are some whispers among some teams that they may loosen up a bit on what was once a no-questions-asked strategy at the top of the draft. The new CBA has made it more difficult for team to stock up on need later because top players aren't slipping into that supplemental 1st or early 2nd round as has been the case in the past. That's not to say that a team will reach for a need early in the draft, but perhaps they may be more willing to sacrifice a little if it's close.
With all that being said, could the Cubs be one of the teams that spread that risk by saving a bit of bonus money at the top and then going for a player that might slip due to injury or inconsistent performance? An example of a player who may slip is Derek Fisher, a Virginia outfielder who may be the best pure college bat in the draft. Fisher broke his hammate bone (sound familiar?) and may slip from what was once expected to be a top 10-15 pick.
My guess is that it will be difficult for the Cubs to do this with the 4th pick and that we may just see the Astros employ their strategy of 2 years ago. They are in a position to negotiate with about 4-6 players and get the best deal possible while the Cubs won't have that same luxury. They may be able to play a couple of players off of each other, but similar to last year when it was between Kris Bryant and Jonathan Gray, the player they don't pick isn't expected to fall more than another pick or so, so the leverage just isn't the same as it would be with the Astros, Marlins -- or even the White Sox -- especially when you consider the Cubs have even less bonus money to play with than they did last year.
My guess is that at least one of the top 3 teams will opt to spread their bonus money around this draft and perhaps that can ultimately benefit the Cubs by causing a player they like to fall into their laps.
Dan Kirby from TTFB looks at some more 2nd round arms
For more updates on the MLB Draft you can check out his site and follow Dan on Twitter at @DanMKirby.
Foster Griffin, LHP, The First Academy (FL)
Long and lean at 6’-5” and 210 pounds, the southpaw has been touching 94 mph with his fastball lately and is starting to get first round attention. He also has athletic bloodlines as his dad, Fred Griffin, is a pro golfer and instructor. Griffin is a kid who has steadily gotten better each year, and while there may not be a whole lot of projection left, his current stuff, mixed with his size and repeatable delivery, make him a desirable arm. His change-up flashes plus and his curveball sits mid-70s with hard bite. On the season, he has 38 K/7 BB over 20.2 innings, allowing 12 hits. Committed to Ole Miss.
Michael Kopech, RHP, Mount Pleasant HS (TX)
Kopech recently hit 98 mph on the radar gun, which is obviously going to open a lot of eyes. The 6’-4”, 190 pound right-hander is a very good athlete with a lot of projection left. He cleaned up his mechanics in the off-season and the results speak for themselves. He also shows a plus slider with hard bite that looked dynamite at the 2013 Under Armour All American Game at Wrigley last summer. He drew a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd as he worked a quick inning, popping the mitt with his fastball. He is a kid who is rising fast so he may not be around at this pick come June, but if he is, he fits the mold as to what the FO looks for in prep arms. On the season, he has 43 K/5 BB over 22 innings, allowing just eight hits. Committed to Arizona.
For additional reports on both Griffin and Kopesch, you can also check out my scouting notes from the Under Armour Game last August.
Jacob Nix, RHP, Los Alamitos HS (CA)
Big and physical at 6’-4” and 200 pounds, Nix has a fast arm, clean mechanics and an easy delivery -- great signs for future projection. He has been sitting 92-95 mph with his fastball this season and there is still room for more in the tank. He adds a curveball that shows plus potential and his mid-80s change-up is coming along. An alumni of Team USA Baseball, he has a good feel for pitching, a power arm and upside -- all things the Cubs FO looks for. Committed to UCLA.
Jack Flaherty, RHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)
One of the better, if not best, two-way players available in the draft, Flaherty is starting to get more attention for his potential on the mound. He has been touching 93 mph with the fastball and has added velocity to a potential plus slider, giving him two very good offerings. The change-up, like most prep arms, is still developing. At 6’-4” and 200 pounds, he is a gifted athlete who was timed at a ridiculous 6.37 in the 60. He also has tremendous raw power and is a deft defender at shortstop. His canon arm would obviously play well at third, along with the power. He is a high-character kid who has played on the highest stages and for one of the premiere programs in the country. In his season debut, he struck out 12 to no walks over six innings. In his most recent start, he struck out 12 over five innings and also hit a three-run bomb. Committed to North Carolina.
Joseph Gatto, RHP, St. Augustine Prep (NJ)
The theme with this list is big, power arms with projection left. Gatto definitely fits that mold as The 6’-5”, 210-pound right-hander turned heads by gaining nearly 10 mph on his fastball over the last year and now can sling it 95 mph with explosive, late life. He showed great command of his secondary stuff at the Perfect Game Nationals, and he still has a ton of projection due to his size and arm action. Scouts reportedly were raving about his efficiency and feel for his stuff. He hit 93 mph at the PG Classic. Committed to North Carolina.
Filed under: 2014 MLB Draft