I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the Cubs draft options in terms of risk and ceiling. It's no great insight for me to say that ideally you want to minimize the risk while maximizing the potential reward. We all know this.
The problem is that there is no Mark Appel or Kris Bryant in this draft that offers that sort of balance. Even the top of the draft contains some risk, but the real bad news for the Cubs is that it drops off after the top 3 picks. There is still high ceiling talent available, but the amount of risk increases at pick 4 assuming the top 3 are gone by the time the Cubs pick.
The fun -- and scary -- part of all this is there are more options for the Cubs than we have seen since the 2014 draft. We go over 15 names in depth and add 5 more big names who just don't fit at this point in the process.
Lower Risk/High Ceiling
These are the consensus BPAs in the draft and it would take one of the top 3 teams having a divergent opinion and/or good reason to avoid a player (i.e financial/signability/injury concerns) for one of them to drop to the Cubs.
LHP Brady Aiken, H.S. (CA)
The ceiling: A spike in his velocity this year (as high as 96-97), plus-plus curve, change, command, and a feel for pitching has some comparing him to Clayton Kershaw. He is certainly a potential ace.
The risk: Those sudden spikes before the draft don't always hold (see Jon Garland, Rob Zastryny) but even if it doesn't, Aiken is polished enough to be a top 3 starter in the mold of Tom Glavine.
LHP Carlos Rodon, N.C. State
The ceiling: Rodon has an 80 grade slider that would already be among the best in baseball, couple that with a mid 90s fastball and you have yourself a #1 starter.
The risk: More than you would think for a pitcher with his track record. Rodon had seen his velocity dip into the 90-91 range earlier in the year and there are concerns about a heavy workload. There is the command that has just been sub par and some fear it may never be better than average --which would make him more of a mid-rotation type. One scout isn't in love with his mechanics but feels he is strong enough to overcome them. Lastly, he is being represented by Scott Boras, so a team has to be prepared to go slot or even above, especially if he isn't picked first or second.
RHP Tyler Kolek, H.S. (TX)
The ceiling: You cannot teach this kind of arm strength. Kolek has sat mid 90s and hit as high as 102 according to some reports. He has shown a feel for pitching and has flashed a plus slider at times. His control has been surprisingly good. He's yet another potential top of the rotation arm.
The risk: The secondaries are behind the top two pitchers on this list and while he hasn't walked many hitters, questions remain about his long term command. There are some mechanical flaws but like Rodon, Kolek is a big strong kid who should overcome them. Still, if you combine those less than perfect mechanics with the fact that he has thrown so hard so early in his life, there should be at least some concern he may pay for it down the road. Nobody knows this better than Kerry Wood and it's no coincidence the Cubs have sent out one former Texas flamethrower to see the current one.
Moderate Risk/High Ceiling
These players are expected to be available to the Cubs at #4 though it is possible one of them could sneak into the top 3. All of these players have high ceilings but carry a bit more risk for various reasons.
C. 3B, OF Alex Jackson, H.S. (CA)
The ceiling: Jackson has the best bat speed in the draft and the tools to hit for both average and power. He has great arm strength and plenty of experience versus top flight high school competition. If a team feels he can stick at catcher (he has shown outstanding pop times), then he's a top 5 pick, maybe even top 3.
The risk: He has some minor flaws in his swing but his bat speed tends to hide those pretty well. The bigger concern is where he will play as a pro. If he does not catch (the catch part of the "catch and throw" is the big question here), then 3B becomes an option -- and after that it's a corner OF position where the burden on his bat increases significantly. He still has enough bat to have all-star potential even as a corner outfielder.
SS Nick Gordon, H.S. (FL)
The ceiling: Gordon is an outstanding athlete with the bloodlines, makeup, and work ethic to translate that to baseball skills at the highest level. It has already manifested itself on defense where one scout described him to me as having good range with slick hands. He also has a cannon arm that has reached as high as the mid 90s off the mound. A true SS with Gold Glove ability is a huge asset in it of itself. He has shown great improvement with the bat this summer and has shown good bat speed with extra base pop. He's not a small SS at 6'2", so there is power potential there. His ceiling is as an above average player offensively (50-55 grades for hitting and power).
The risk: The same scout described a hitch in his swing and told me that whoever takes him will have to be patient with the bat. He's a little slender in his frame so although he has the athleticism to play anywhere, his bat is somewhat limited and plays best somewhere in the middle of the field. In the worst case scenario, Gordon had drawn early round attention earlier in the process as a pitcher because of his good pitcher's frame, arm strength and the athleticism to repeat his delivery. His dad Tom, a former Cub, taught him how to throw that knee-buckling curve as well.
RHP Tyler Beede, Vanderbilt
The ceiling: Beede has the makings of a top of the rotation pitcher with a 92-96 mph fastball that has good late movement. He's also shown another potential out pitch with his curve and a change which gives him a 3rd potential plus pitch. His size, athleticism, and makeup is ideal for a starting pitcher.
The risk: Command is the big issue and I've heard conflicting opinions about his mechanics, though one veteran scout I trust expressed no serious concerns. A bigger fear may be that Beede regressed as the season went on and that is something no talent evaluator likes to see. Whatever happens in terms of results is one thing, but you want to see at least some progress cleaning up weaknesses, but that has not been the case with Beede this summer.
LHP Sean Newcomb, Hartford
The ceiling: As one scout put it to me, "What does Carlos Rodon have that Newcomb doesn't from a physical standpoint?" He has great size, has hit 96 mph, he has the makings of a plus slider (though not on Rodon's level) and a change-up that projects to give him a 3rd solid offering. He also has an athletic, repeatable delivery so there is potential to improve in that area.
The risk: Like Rodon, he struggles with command and it has been below average all year. He is also a bit of an unknown in that he pitches at Hartford and hasn't faced top competition, so it's hard to get a feel with how his stuff will play against better hitters, especially in light of his below average command.
RHP Grant Holmes, H.S. (SC)
The ceiling: Holmes hit 96 this year and has a superb curveball, giving him two legit out pitches right off the bat. The change-up is also developing nicely. He also has a better feel, better secondaries, and better command at this stage than Kolek does. He is an excellent athlete and even competed in the HR derby at the UA game I attended last summer. He's a potential top of the rotation guy in terms of stuff, even if it may be a tick below the elite arms in this draft.
The risk: Holmes body has little projection at 6'2", 200 lbs so that may limit his upside in some eyes, but the body also offers the potential for the workload demanded from a top of the rotation pitcher. The front office has said it would take an elite talent for them to take a prep pitcher this high and Holmes may be a notch below that. Somebody will be happy with this pick.
Lower risk, Moderate upside
These players are wildcards for the Cubs because they have a high enough floor to ensure that the Cubs will get some value here. In the likely event that there is an absence of a sure thing at #4, there is also the possibility of the Cubs signing one of these two players to a below slot deal to gamble on some higher ceiling talent later in the draft. An example to illustrate what I mean, fast-riser and 1st round talent Jake Bukauskus has given strong indication that he intends to honor his college commitment to Virginia. If the Cubs can save a little money at pick #4, they could diversify their risk by getting 2 first round talents.
OF Bradley Zimmer, U. of San Francisco
The ceiling: Zimmer is a good athlete with the potential to stick in CF despite his 6'5" frame. His bat will play well at that position. He has very good bat speed and the size to hit for plus power, though it has yet to manifest itself in games consistently. Like his brother Kyle, he has a strong arm that will play well in any OF position. His approach is good but he will strikeout a bit. For the Cubs, it is a plus that he hits left-handed.
The risk: You can probably get a feel for it by reading between the lines above. The downside is that he doesn't develop in game power and has to move to a corner as he fills out, but even in the worst scenario he probably hits enough to be a league average corner OF'er, especially given that his speed, athleticism, and arm strength will make him a plus defender. Not much downside and we know this front office prefers college bats -- and he's the best all-around college position player in this draft.
RHP Aaron Nola, LSU
The ceiling: Nola is a good bet to be a major league starter because of his plus command and feel for pitching. His stuff isn't elite but it is plenty good enough. He features a low 90s fastball that can touch the mid 90s with good movement, and a plus curveball which should be his best offering long term. For such a polished pitcher, his change-up is surprisingly not at the same level and need some work at the pro level, but if it becomes a solid 3rd offering than the rest of his skills make him a #3 starter, though one scout I know thinks the command will play up the good stuff enough to make him a #2.
The risk: Nola has a low arm slot that is unusual for a starting pitcher. If you combine that with a smaller build (6'1, 180) there is some chance he ends up in the bullpen to limit his exposure to LH hitters, who should get a decent look because of his arm slot.
LHP Kyle Freeland, Evansville
The ceiling: Fast riser who has dominated lesser competition. 90-94 mph fastball, plus slider, and potential for a solid change or better. There is some projectability left in his 6'4", 195 lbs frame.
The risk: I have heard about as wide an opinion on him as anyone in the draft, so I really had no idea where to put him (I originally had him in the "Others" category at the bottom of the page). There are concerns about consistency with command and an approach that may not work at pro level as a starter. Some see a little Chris Sale in him because of his build and his plus slider, while others feel he doesn't have a TOR profile. He may even end up in the bullpen. Freeland may go anywhere from the top 10 to the late first round, but #4 seems highly unlikely at this point.
High Risk, High Ceiling
These are the long shots and, frankly, I'd be shocked if the Cubs went in this direction with a front office that tends to be more conservative with their first pick. It's very possible one of these players ends up being among the best players in this draft class when all is said and done, but the risk may be too great at #4.
3B-OF Jacob Gatewood, H.S. (CA)
The ceiling: Big time raw power and good defense at 3B.
The risk: He's not an instinctive hitter and it downplays his physical skills. Some serious bust potential.
RHP Touki Touissant, H.S. (FL)
The ceiling: Great athleticism and arm strength, a FB that can hit the high 90s with some movement, a curve which will draw oohs and ahhs from the crowd.
The risk: Change-up is very raw even for a high schooler and he has very little command. Top of the rotation talent, but too much of a project for the 4th pick.
RHP Jeff Hoffman, East Carolina
The ceiling: Quite possibly the best raw stuff in the draft when healthy with a fastball that hits 98 and a curve that, along with Kolek's fastball, is the next best pitch in this draft after Rodon's slider. Good feel, solid to plus change, and great athleticism. A potential ace.
The risk: Other than the obvious fact he is having TJ surgery, Hoffman's command was always a question and it can lag behind raw stuff when a pitcher returns from TJ surgery. It may never be better than average and that would knock his ceiling down. Some like his delivery but one scout I know predicted his arm troubles so, depending on your view, he may still need to tweak his delivery when he returns, adding more to the risk. Good late first round pick but too many questions (now) at #4.
LHP Brandon Finnegan, TCU
The ceiling: Tremendous arm strength with a FB that hits the upper 90s, solid secondaries, and good pitchability. Had an excellent year at TCU.
The risk: You don't see a lot of long term MLB starters at 5'11 so that stacks the odds against him. The velo comes at a price as he is something of a max effort guy and that may have led to some of his shoulder soreness this year. I saw him pitch as a member of the Collegiate National Team and was wowed with the velo, but ultimately I wrote down that I saw him more as a reliever than a starter.
- SS Trea Turner, NC State: Great athleticism at premium position but too many questions about the bat and he's been passed by Gordon.
- OF Michael Conforto, Oregon State: May have best pure college bat in draft but lack of speed/athleticism relegates him to LF and may not have power you like there.
- RHP Erick Fedde, Nevada: Top 10 stuff and some projection, but injury eliminates him from any consideration.
- OF Michael Gettys, H.S. (GA): Exciting player. Some will tell you he has the best raw tools of any position player in this class but his hit tool is much to raw to invest a premium pick.
- C Max Pentecost, Kennesaw State: The best catcher in the draft and catcher is the biggest position player weakness in the Cubs system. Should stick at catcher, but bat doesn't warrant a top 10 pick -- much less a top 5.
Filed under: 2014 MLB Draft