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MLB Draft Update, 5 prep arms to watch for the 2nd round, and could Cubs employ Astros 2012 draft strategy?

MLB Draft Update, 5 prep arms to watch for the 2nd round, and could Cubs employ Astros 2012 draft strategy?
Michael Kopesch

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

A couple days back, Dan Kirby of Through the Fence Baseball gave us a few college arms to keep an eye on.  Today it's part 2 and we'll look at 5 high school 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

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  • fb_avatar

    Before the season started I absolutely hated the idea of drafting a high school player in the first round, but now it might be my preference. Kolek and Aiken both have the tools to be #1's. Yea they might take longer than Beede or Hoffman to reach the majors but I think the risk is worth it. I also am starting to like Alex Jackson more and more as the season goes on. It's amazing how much my mind has changed in these past few weeks.

  • In reply to gas34:

    Agreed -- and I really don't think they'll take much longer to be honest with you.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, would rank Kolek in the same category as previous Texas fireballers like Nolan Ryan, Kerry Wood or Burnett, the RH from the Dodgers?

  • the Nola situation just keeps reminding me of an NFL comp, scouts and naysayers sound like the Raiders FO for years who would draft a guy because he had a great verticle or ran a good 40 and then find out the guy had no football skills, meanwhile the Patriots could care less on the measurables and just quietly draft football players that produce on the field. Pretty sure there are LH Hitters and darn good ones in the SEC , but for some reason they just aren't hitting Nola . Seems like a lot of SOs per 9 for a guy they keep saying is a 3 .

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Bryan Craven:

    The very best lefties in the SEC will get drafted. The very best of them will make the majors some time in the next 5 years.

    I'm also impressed by Nola, but it isn't fair to say that since he can get SEC lefties out he can also get major league lefties out. Two very different animals. (Chris Rusin had 10.4 K/9 his senior year at Kentucky.)

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    He's a #3 if it goes well. Some scouts I know think he's a reliever. Someone compared him to Mike Leake, which I think is pretty fair. There's value in that, but not at the #4 pick. You need a better ceiling and less risk even if it means you end up with a lesser player. Got to go big or go home at the top of the draft.

  • fb_avatar

    I'm really torn on this draft. The guy I've kind of settled on as the best bet in the draft, Kolek, appears to have no shot at all of making it to #4. That leaves a bunch of guys with question marks. Hoffman and Jackson are (currently) my favorite of the lot but this one is a real shot in the dark.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I still think the Cubs end up with either Hoffman or Beede.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I still like Beede, too, but my assumption is that Rodon, Kolek, and Beede are off the board when the Cubs pick.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Mike,

    I hope you are right because my personal choice is Brady Aiken. Hoffman and Beede really scare me. Hoffman did great on the Cape but his 2013 season stats were not very good. Beede has had a long history of command issues. They both have great arms but so does Edwin Jackson. Aiken has always been praised for his feel for pitching and he is lefty. Now he is throwing mid 90's. I think Kolek goes one and Aiken second. These five 2nd round guys are why I was so unhappy with the Zastryzny pick last year. I love high school pitchers with size and velocity. I feel we can now develop pitchers in our system. Lets draft raw talent and develop it.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Gladiator:

    100% agree with you on that especially with Beede and Hoffman. That's why I'm starting to put Alex Jackson ahead of them on my personal preference big board.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I, like you, have had my mind set on Kolek. You just can't find many guys that throw that hard. I hope you are wrong and he falls into the Cubs lap at #4!

  • The other day Rick Hahn was being interviewed during the White Sox game, and he insinuated the Sox are considering following the Astros drafting below slot to have more money to use in later rounds.

  • In reply to Saluki:

    You also have to take into account Miami. They are a true wildcard. When someone tells Loria the 2nd pick will cost him 6 million, he'll spit out his coffee. They could also go cheap. It's possible we could get the 2nd or 3rd best prospect.

  • In reply to Saluki:

    That doesn't surprise me. They could be in a position to do that when you consider Rodon/Kolek clear 1-2 and then it gets a ilttle foggy after that between the next 3-5 guys. Might work out well for them that way.

  • fb_avatar

    It seems like there are four potentially outstanding arms in Rodon/Kolek/Beede/Hoffman.

    It's very possible the best player available will be a pitcher. And as stated- With 1 cost-conscience team picking before us, we may stumble into one of the top 3. I'm not worried. A ton of time left in a seemingly deep draft.

    I know it will sort itself out, but the circumstances are stranger than usual.

  • In reply to Eric Foster:

    I agree. I'm not all that worried either. You could do a lot worse than one of those guys at #4, they're all potential top of the rotation guys (and possibly Aiken as well)

  • fb_avatar

    Sorry, bur this just made me laugh:

    Scott Boras tells ESPN.com it wasn't Scherzer who rejected the extension offer, but the Tigers. "Max Scherzer made a substantial long-term contract extension offer to the Detroit Tigers that would have placed him among the highest-paid pitchers in baseball, and the offer was rejected by Detroit,'' Boras said.

    I'm totally shocked, dumbfounded, that Scott Boras made an offer to a team that would have made his client one of the highest paid (fill in the blank) in baseball, and the team said, uh, thanks scott, we'll take that under advisement. Reminds me of Johnny Carson's one-liner when one of his guests would announce, "I've signed a contract with MGM,"
    - "Yes, but have they signed?" ba-doom!

  • In reply to SKMD:

    LOL!

  • Lets hope Boras does not represent anybody the Cubs are
    interested in. If he has any of the top 3 picks it might help the Cubs

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    If I'm not mistaken, weren't Almora and Bryant both advised by Boras when they got drafted? I don't think Boras is as much of a deterrent - at least to this FO - as it's made out to be in the media. Granted, both Almora and Bryant waited until very close to the deadline to sign and ended up missing some at-bats they might have gotten had they signed right away, but they did sign eventually. Boras is a non-issue as far as this draft is concerned.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Cubs won't shy away from a Boras client. They've already taken on the last two years in the first round.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Bore Us does rerpresent Bryant.

  • fb_avatar

    Hammel is pitching Kyle Hendricks into 2014 plans.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It's Spring Training...he's working on things like pitching from the stretch and holding runners on. Now he's helping the team work on their relay throws. I'm sure it's all intentional.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    I don't worry too much with guys ilke Hammel who rely on their two seamers in the spring. Remember Feldman has a pretty horrible spring too.

  • I still think the Cubs end up with a college pitcher, but it could be interesting if they are choosing between the 4th best pitcher on their board or the top hitter in Jackson.

  • As a side note - Lake and Valbuena just hit back to back HR's off of the A's in ST.

    That's like Valbuena's 5th of the Spring,..... nice.

  • fb_avatar

    If Cabrera can pitch like that out of the pen the Cubs might have something. Great sliders.

  • With Olt's evident defensive rust at 3B and Valbuena's hot bat, maybe it's Olt who starts the year at AAA...

  • didnt realize a few years ago as a rookie Coughlan with Miami hit
    .320 with .390 obp in 500 AB and 9 HR. does anyone know was he a CF'er?

  • So the Lake and Val show was pretty good today!

  • fb_avatar

    Things like this is what get you so excited about Lake. Of course he K's too much can't really draw walks. His defense while improving can be iffy. But man when he is on it's hard not to geek out.

  • Lake does not want to go to Iowa...

    And now that i am writing this, Valby shows he wants a spot in the line-up, not just the bench

  • In reply to Csanad:

    lake never was going to iowa

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to bleachercreature:

    I think that it was never in stone that ANYONE was not/ is not going to Iowa. Ask Blake Parker if you doubt that.

  • lake is rather hot !!! and so is valbuena

  • Lake apparently read my comments on him yesterday and wanted to teach me a lesson. 3 HRs today.

  • its a fireworks show! LOL

  • Lake, Valbuena, and Olt, Oh my.

  • John: Last week I threw out the Aiken/Fried comp; what is your take on Tyler Kolek vs. Jonathan Gray? Similar size, power pitchers, with TOR potential-despite the age difference does Kolek project in the same league with Gray?

  • If Valbuena makes himself unbenchable, it is likely Olt is not the one who gets benched (or sent to AAA).

    Do you play Valbuena and Barney? Or Olt and Barney? Or Olt and Vabuena?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Richard Beckman:

    Olt and Valbuena would be my choice. Valbuena isn't that bad defensively and provides more offense than Barney.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    Take a look at his entire body of work, vs this one spring training game and you'll see how ridiculous "Valbuena & unbenchable" are in the same sentence.

    i'm glad he's doing well. His spot on the 25 man roster was never in question. He will get significant playing time, but he is what he is... a nice utility/bench player. Never unbenchable.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Yeah, I know. I'm just saying....if Valbuena is going to hit, the choice is not Valbuena or Olt.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    Olt and Valbuenna. Even if Val hits like last year at least he reaches base at a respectable clip. Whats most disturbing about BarneyRubble is not only the low BA and OBP, but he also hits in tons of DPs.

  • Valbuena is a good utility player. Why not let him be that?

  • I would send barney & scoscia to texas in exchange for very little. With Barney in the lineup who bats leadoff?

  • I guess maybe Kalish could bat leadoff.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Agree...We need patience & speed at the top of the order.

    Against RH Pitchers:

    Kalish (LF)
    Valbuena (2B)
    Rizzo (1B)
    Olt (3B)
    Schierholtz (RF)
    Castro (SS)
    Lake (CF)
    Castillo ©
    Pitcher
    ===========

  • fb_avatar

    Granted, I know nothing about scouting. But in the above photo, it looks like Kopesch is loading for the pitch with the elbow above shoulder level. Would that make him more of a injury risk?

  • What if they trade the 4th pick, Barney, Vitters, to the Tigers?

  • In reply to LRCCubsFan:

    Cubs don't have any tradable draft picks. Only competitive balance picks can be traded.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to LRCCubsFan:

    As Jim says, you can't trade traditional draft picks. In addition, one of those two goofs you named is completely worthless, the other carries almost no value.

  • fb_avatar

    Personally, I really hope we do not use the Astros '12 strategy.

    Part of the reason they went that way is that there were very legitimate questions about Buxton's level of competition. Hindsight being 20-20 that nay look silly, but the guy they took is a top 10 prospect anyway, so clearly they didn't feel there was that much risk.

    Plus, they were playing with the #1 pick. Once players start coming off the board, the gamble is raised considerably.

    This is such a weird draft. As much as we need pitching, Theo & Co have proven that college bats tend to be the safest bets. But this years college bats leave a LOT to be desired.
    I keep going back and forth on Treat Turner and back to bring cold on him. Aside from him, Zimmer the Younger is about all there is and I'm not too huge on him either unless he puts up some really ridiculous BA/OBP numbers this year.

    IMO, best case scenario is Houston or Miami takes Jackson and the White Sox takes Great Turner.
    If first three picks are pitchers, I'll be very disappointed.
    We shall see. Fingers crossed!

  • fb_avatar

    Alex Jackson or Trea Turner remain amongst the top position players in the draft. If Jackson would stay at C he would be my pick,although I've been reading he wants to play in the OF. Turner would play as a SS in the "bigs" and with his speed would make a great top of the order hitter,not saying the Cubs would not take a pitcher however.

  • Just wondering is there a chance that Touki Toussaint makes a case this year for a top 5 pick or no?

  • In reply to kingpro98:

    Not from what I've read.

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