The smoke usually starts to clear by this point and we have a pretty good idea of who is going where. But that isn't quite the case this year. As one scout told me, a lot of the mock drafts this year are going to be wildly inaccurate, particularly as it gets beyond the top 5-10 picks.
Even those top 5-10 picks are anything but certain and if you check out those mock drafts, the Cubs pick seems to change from week to week. That said, we have a pretty good idea of who will be there and what the Cubs are looking at, so we're going to sum it up here as best we can...
The Top MLB Draft Prospects
Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State
Rodon has rebounded from his "slow" start and is pitching like the Rodon that everybody thought would be a foregone conclusion as the top pick in the draft. He's back up into the 97 mph range and he's once again spinning off top of the scouting scale sliders. It seems like a long, long time ago that Keith Law was saying Rodon could slip all the way down to the Cubs at #4. That seems highly unlikely right now. The biggest concern with Rodon is that he's thrown a lot of pitches (over 130 in his last two starts) as North Carolina State makes it's late season push toward the playoffs. The only other thing that can stop Rodon from going #1 overall is if the Houston Astros decide to once again save a little money for later in the draft. Rodon isn't going to come cheap -- nor should he. But even if he somehow slips past the Astros, he's now a long shot to get to the Cubs, though Chris Crawford of ESPN thinks the possibility still exists (insider only)
Tyler Kolek, RHP, H.S. (Texas)
No pitcher or player at any level has been better from start to finish than Tyler Kolek. He's physically mature with a lightning bolt for a right arm, consistently sitting in the mid 90s with some reports having had him reach as high as 102. But he's not just a thrower -- Kolek shows a surprising feel when it comes to pitching and has pitched with outstanding control, walking just 5 batters all year vs. 102 Ks. What Kolek lacks now are plus secondaries -- his slider is average and he's only thrown a handful of changeups all season. But the arm strength is there as well as some knowledge of the art of pitching. He's most likely going in the top 2 and out of the Cubs reach, but the Cubs have been scouting him closely -- so you have to believe they believe there is at least a chance that he could fall to them. It's a reflection of the uncertainty that exists in the 2014 draft.
Brady Aiken, LHP, H.S. (California)
The common perception is that the Cubs won't take a high school pitcher but sources tell me that they strongly considered taking another California prep LHP in Max Fried if Albert Almora had been picked. As it were, the Padres, who have a similar drafting philosophy to the Cubs for obvious reasons, took Fried with the very next pick. Aiken is a better prospect than Fried, in fact, some put him in that elite category. Keith Law thinks he's best overall prospect in the draft. Like Kolek, the Cubs are still watching him closely so he remains a legitimate option for them.
Aiken went into the season known as a guy with good, but not great stuff, but also a polished pitcher who had an advanced feel. This year has seen a jump in his velocity with some reports as high as 97 mph. All agree he has sat consistently in the 92-94 range, generating that with a fluid, athletic delivery. His secondaries are already considered above average and with time he could have 3 plus pitches. There is a lot to like here and although the Cubs front office prefers college players, Aiken is as advanced as any of the top college arms. I think of him as something like the pitcher version of Albert Almora.
Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt
After a blistering start that had some whispering that he had a chance to go #1 overall, Beede has faded in his last few starts. Beede is a mature kid with a fastball that sits 92-94 but can reach 96 mph. The main question with him has been command. When he pitches it with it, as he did early in the year, he looks like an ace. When he doesn't have it, he looks more like a mid rotation guy at best.
The Cubs are known to like Beede although we don't know for certain if he's their preferred pick at this spot. It may well depend on what happens with the three names above him on this list. Beede is another top of the rotation type pitcher with the athleticism, makeup, and background to continue to make adjustments and improve his command. He may not have the best combination of stuff and command right now, but a good coaching staff has an excellent chance to help him develop and reach his ceiling as a front line guy.
Jeff Hoffman, RHP, East Carolina
Hoffman has arguably the best stuff of any college arm in this draft but command questions, consistency, and a slow start had him slipping out of what was once a lock for the 2nd overall pick behind Rodon. A couple of recent dominant outings have put him back in serious top 5 consideration with an excellent chance to once again go in the top 3.
What I've heard from scouts is that there is not a whole lot of concern about his recent arm soreness and the fact that he'll miss two starts. I have a hard time dismissing it so easily, especially since I know of one scout who isn't exactly in love with is delivery. But opinions do differ there and the stuff and recent dominance are hard to ignore. Hoffman is a potential ace in an era when acquiring one from outside the draft is becoming increasingly difficult. I expect Hoffman to go very high, possibly as high as the #3 overall pick.
Alex Jackson, OF, H.S. (California)
Jackson has had a very good year with the bat and some like him for the Cubs pick. Jason McLeod himself has said he's a big fan of Jackson -- but here's the thing: I don't see the Cubs taking him with the 4th pick for a number of reasons. While you really don't pick for need, the Cubs are loaded with RH hitters and unlike Kris Bryant last year, Jackson isn't a high floor player who is head and shoulders above the rest of the hitters in this class. I don't see enough separation there, but some teams might. He has the best bat speed in the class and he has a lot of added experience against top flight competition as a veteran of the showcase circuit, which he has participated in since he was a junior in high school. From a physical standpoint, the question with Jackson is where he's going to play. He has a bit of a thick build (which is probably why so many scouts wanted to see him try catcher) and while he's athletic with a very strong arm, it's difficult to see him being able to retain enough speed to play CF. He's a corner OF'er, which puts a lot of burden on his bat, particularly the power tool. I think he's a good fit for an AL team that focuses on offense and can find a place for him on defense.
Nick Gordon, SS, H.S. (Florida)
Gordon is one of the fastest risers in the draft and we know how much the Cubs love athletic, middle of the field players. He replaces Trea Turner as the top player of that ilk in this draft, but the fact that he's a high school player with a questionable hit tool gives pause. Gordon, however, has hit extremely well this season, batting over .500 vs. a high level of high school competition, so for many, those concerns have abated somewhat. The tools are there for him to be a solid hitter as well, so he could end up being one of the better players in the draft. Nobody really questions his defensive abilities or his athleticism and there are no concerns about his approach or feel for the game as the son of a former big league ballplayer. Gordon is an all-around talent and if you believe in his bat, then he may well be the first position player taken in this draft. I haven't heard the Cubs connected to him, but that doesn't mean they aren't. They can be pretty sly when they want to be.
Others to watch: Grant Holmes, RHP, H.S. (South Carolina); Bradley Zimmer, OF, U. of San Francisco; Trea Turner, SS, North Carolina State; Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
I don't think any of these players are under serious consideration. There are some who really like Grant Holmes but it's hard to justify picking picking him over the top 5 arms in this draft. You'd have to be the team that saw something special in him that makes you believe he can be better than one or more of the top 5 pitching prospects -- there are those kinds of teams out there, but I don't know if the Cubs are one of them. Zimmer has cooled off and was a long shot at #5 to begin with. Turner opened the season as a legit top 5 candidate but a poor season with the bat makes his floor lower than the Cubs feel comfortable with at that spot. Nola is a productive college pitcher who projects more as a #4 type at the MLB level. He has a high floor, but not enough ceiling to justify a pick in the top 5 -- though I could see him going early to a team looking to get a sure thing and save money for later in the draft. Personally, if I were going to go with an undersized SP prospect, I'd go with Florida State RHP Luke Weaver.
What I believe the top 5 teams in the draft are thinking...
- Houston Astros: Carlos Rodon seems like the slam dunk pick as the guy with the best combination of ceiling and floor in this draft but pitch counts and draft strategy make this far less than a 100% certainty. If the Astros do not take Rodon, then it becomes a choice between home state fireballer Tyler Kolek and the fast rising Brady Aiken. I don't think any other player is in play here.
- Miami Marlins: I hear them most connected with Tyler Kolek and after success with their last hard throwing right-handed prep schooler -- Jose Fernandez -- as well as the last time they went with a Texas flamethrower (Josh Beckett) it's hard to argue with them. I think if the Astros take Rodon, this pick is a lock for Kolek. If the Astros take Aiken, then the Marlins will have a choice between Rodon, who holds additional appeal because of his Hispanic background, and Kolek.
- Chicago White Sox: The White Sox are hard to figure out, but we can put a few pieces together. They're more inclined to take athletic prep players so you can't rule out Alex Jackson or even Nick Gordon, though the Sox did take an athletic SS in the last draft in Tim Anderson, so I'd lean Jackson between the two. If they go pitching, the word I hear is that they want someone who can contribute sooner rather than later because they're not inclined to go through a longer term rebuilding process (not KW's style) -- and because of that they're leaning college arm if they opt for pitching. Early reports had them connected to Jeff Hoffman, but it's uncertain how much the arm soreness has affected their decision. If he's healthy, I think he's a good bet. If not, then they could go with Tyler Beede.
- Chicago Cubs: I think the Cubs are leaning college pitcher here but as mentioned, they're still scouting the high school arms. The front office has said they'd take a prep pitcher if he is a once in a decade talent and you could make the argument that both Tyler Kolek and Brady Aiken could fit that description. They've long been fans of Tyler Beede and there is the connection with minor league pitching coordinator Derek Johnson, but I don't think that comes into play here. The Cubs are going to take the pitcher they believe has the best chance at succeeding and I get the feeling they prefer Beede over Hoffman, though that is purely my speculation -- no inside source there. If the Cubs surprise and go for a position player, I don't expect it to be Alex Jackson. I think Gordon is a better fit because of their preference for athletic, middle of the field players (and it doesn't hurt that he hits LH), but I think questions on his hit tool make his floor a little lower than they're comfortable with in this spot.
- Minnesota Twins: The Twins get one of the last premium picks in the draft because they'll still get their choice of at least 3 very good players. The Twins likely prefer a college pitcher in this spot and I believe they'll take Jeff Hoffman or Tyler Beede if one is still available. If they are not, then they may end up with a shot at their choice between Nick Gordon and Alex Jackson, which isn't a bad consolation prize.
One way I can see this going is that if the Astros take Rodon, then the Marlins will go Kolek. The White Sox then will choose between the two remaining college arms (Beede, Hoffman) or prep OF'er Alex Jackson. That leaves the Cubs with their choice of Aiken and one or both of the college arms.
If the Astros go Kolek, then the Marlins have to take Rodon and we're back at the same scenario as above.
If the Astros go Aiken, it'll be interesting to see what happens at #2. Marlins love Kolek but do they pass on Rodon? And I certainly don't think Rodon gets by the White Sox if Marlins stick with Kolek. That would once again leave Hoffman or Beede for the Cubs -- and there's a chance Kolek may even drop to the Cubs if the Astros take Rodoon -- that would be interesting to say the least.
With every player having at least some questions and the gap between the top 6-7 players being smaller than most drafts, it's not the worst year to have that 4th pick. One thing is certain, the Cubs are sure to get a very good player with the 4th pick -- and this draft has a bit more drama at the top then the last couple under Epstein and Hoyer.
Filed under: 2014 MLB Draft