We'll be doing our draft updates on Sunday nights this year, so look for them then. The Cubs, of course, have the 4th pick in the draft and they're known as a BPA team, meaning they'll select the best player available.
This makes sense on many levels. The first of which is prospect attrition. You only need to go back and see how once top prospects like Corey Patterson, Mark Prior, Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson have faded to realize nobody is a sure thing. Top prospects can get hurt or simply don't take that final step as consistent productive MLB players. There is no such thing as too much depth when it comes to prospects.
It also makes sense when you take the perspective that teams should be building inventory and not trying to put future lineups or rotations together. Prospects are assets that can either play the position at which they are picked, switch positions to fill a hole elsewhere, or get moved for a missing piece if necessary. Maybe you think you absolutely need to pick an arm -- but you can also trade position player depth for pitching. And if you are going to consider that route, it makes sense to take the most talented player available rather than reach for a lesser player to fill a need.
That said, most of the top talent and/or good performances this year are coming from the mound. The Cubs do lack a top of the rotation type and there are at least 4 arms who could fit that description this year.
For the past 2+ seasons, it seems that Carlos Rodon has been a cinch for the top of the draft but one scout I talked to isn't 100% convinced and believes that he could be closer to the 4th best arm in the draft than at the very top. It seems difficult to believe he'd drop to the Cubs as a lefty who is still hitting 94 and possesses a slider which is already a plus-plus pitch.
He's got the big body to be a durable pitcher at the top of a rotation. There's a lot to like here even if he isn't as dominant as some had hoped he'd be. He has been struggling with his command and perhaps becoming a little too dependent on that slider.
In his last outing, Rodon struck out 12 batters in 6.2 IP but he also walked 4 and gave up 2 runs. He's been good this year but as mentioned, maybe not as dominant as expected, going 2-3 with a 2.45 ERA with 11 walk and 42 Ks in 36.2 IP.
Some feel that perhaps Tyler Beede has passed up Rodon as the best pitcher this season. As we expected, he has improved his command this season and has gone 4-1 with a 0.84 ERA. In 32.1 innings he has struck out 40 batters, but perhaps more importantly, has walked just 6.
Beede was recently locked up in an excellent pitcher's matchup with LSU's Aaron Nola, who statistically has been the best player in this draft. Beede went 7.1 IP without giving up an earned run (one unearned), walking just one and striking out 7. Nola matched and perhaps even surpassed that performance with 12Ks and just 2 walks in 6.2 innings. Both pitchers got a no decision.
Nola is 4-0 with a 0.27 ERA this season in 33.2 innings. He has walked just 4 batters and struck out 48. But the question with Nola isn't his skill or even his stuff, which is plenty good enough to be at least a mid-rotation guy. It's more about a low arm angle that scouts believe will make him susceptible to more advanced LH hitters.
Another pitcher on the rise is Florida State's Luke Weaver. Weaver doesn't have the same kind of size or arm strength as Rodon or Beede -- or the next pitcher on this list, Jeff Hoffman, but Weaver can hit the mid 90s. He sits more in low 90s and compliments that with a very good change-up. There's some pitchability there and good athleticism, perhaps projecting as a Tim Hudson type pitcher if he reaches his ceiling.
Jeff Hoffman has struggled more than any pitcher projected to go at the top of the draft this year. He's been tough to hit but he has struggled with his command this year, walking 15 batters in just 3` IP. He has struck out 37. Hoffman, however, has the kind of size and stuff you like at the top of the rotation, so it's hard to imagine him falling too far. And it's not out of the question the Cubs would stop his slide at #4 if he does slide. But as talented as he is, he has raised some questions.
Perhaps the best LHP in the draft is Hartford's Sean Newcomb, who is hitting 96 mph and has yet to give up an earned run (one run overall) in 24.2 innings. Like Hoffman, however, he needs to throw more strikes to ensure going high in the draft. He has walked 12 batters while striking out 31.
The top prep pitcher in the draft is still Tyler Kolek. Already physically mature and a good athlete, I received a report that he hit 102 mph in his last outing. While he doesn't project, he doesn't need to. What he can do, however, is continue to improve his skills, such as the secondary stuff and the command, neither of which are particularly special at this point. Still, you can't teach 102.
It appears that Alex Jackson has emerged as the top bat in the draft. He has the best bat speed in the draft and a plus plus arm that could play at C, 3B, or the OF, though there are some that believe Jackson prefers the OF. He is a good athlete who handle a corner spot and should easily have the power to carry the position offensively. He's experienced for a prep player, having started the showcase circuit as a junior in high school. The Cubs tend to prefer college bats, but if they do go for a high school bat, it'd be a guy like Jackson who has been tracked extensively and has more experience vs. top competition than most people his age.
Jacob Gatewood can match Jackson in terms of power but there his a little bit more risk to his stock. He is a SS now but will play 3B as he fills out. He has tremendous power and the skills to be a good defender. I don't see Gatewood as a Cubs type pick because of the added risk involved, but he could go as high as #3 to the White Sox.
Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State turned some heads early on with his performance to start the year but has since cooled off a bit, hitting
.302/.374/.410 with 3 HR. On the plus side, he has excelled against tougher competition this year, which is something scouts like to see. Worthy of a top 4 pick, though? Probably not, but if he can finish strong and stick at catcher, he will go at least in the top 10.
Trea Turner has struggled with the bat of late, hitting just .231 in 6 conference games and dropping to a .316/.386/.382 line overall this season. He has shown a good approach this year and his usual good defense, but Turner's calling card will be his speed. I have mixed feelings on Turner, I like what he can bring in terms of top of the order skills, but nagging doubts about his hit tool temper my enthusiasm for now.
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