Edited and updated: 1:00 PM
Kevin and I have talked about this draft on a regular basis and we are both still at sea when it comes to projecting the Cubs pick. Carrie Muskat tweets that the Cubs are down to 4 players.
#Cubs, who have 9th pick overall in June 8 Draft, have narrowed list to 4 guys, McLeod said
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 26, 2015
One thing we know for sure is that the Cubs will go with the best player available. Patrick Mooney wondered if it might be a pitcher, but Epstein was quick to respond that it is about the BPA -- and the way the Cubs rate BPA isn't purely on ceiling, it is based on the player with the highest ceiling who has the best chance to make an impact. In other words, floor plays a big role with the Cubs pick,
“Maybe (the Cubs will take a pitcher),” team president Theo Epstein said. “If he’s the best player with the best combination of upside and certainty. But he has to be the best bet.”
VP of Scouting and Development Jason McLeod said something similar when it comes to taking a pitcher -- and they certainly don't seem inclined to take a player just because he might be able to help this year.
“I don’t think so. If the position player is the right guy, then we’re going to take him. It’s just a different draft because of some of the injuries. I think there are going to be some picks go off the board that maybe we wouldn’t have thought (would) happen. And someone’s going to probably be there that we didn’t think would be there for us. We’ll figure that out in the next two weeks.”
And that is what has made this draft interesting -- the injuries. Brady Aiken and Mike Matuella were expected by some to go 1-2 in the draft. Now it seems both will be hoping to slip into the first round. McLeod did say the Cubs would talk about Aiken, but I am not convinced, simply because he is not the best bet with a reasonably high floor.
"Best bet" usually means college hitter but the best college bat, Alex Bregman, is not going to slip to the Cubs. Neither is Dansby Swanson, a good fielding SS whose bat picked up this season. Ian Happ is a great bat, perhaps the best college bat along with Bregman, but lack of defined position hurts him, but he should at least be available, which makes him more interesting.
That leaves late riser Andrew Benintendi and Mooney adds a new name to the mix: Donnie Dewees of the University of North Florida. Here is what is interesting about Dewees -- according to Keith Law (subscription required), some scouts believe he is the most polished hitter in the draft and that Oakland believes he is a Brett Gardner type. With the Cubs looking for a long term leadoff hitter, Dewees makes some sense. That he hits LH doesn't hurt either. One concern with Dewees is that he missed the 2014 season with a broken wrist but he has come back strong this season.
Benintendi also hits lefty and has more power than Dewees but the hit tool isn't quite as refined and he has only recently burst upon the scene. Those two things make me a little less sure the Cubs will pick Benintendi despite some of the recent buzz.
Ian Happ may have the best pure college bat in the draft and has a high floor, which makes him an obvious candidate for the Cubs. The question is where he plays. I think the Cubs would prefer a guy who can at least possibly play CF but Happ is likely a LFer, where his power is short for the position.
Another polished college bat is SS Kevin Newman of Arizona but he is not a toolsy guy in any other respect. There isn't much power, the defense is good enough to stick at SS, but he is probably not going to be plus there, and he is an average runner. A nice little player, especially for a team lacking middle infielders, but he may not be the best fit for what the Cubs at this point.
High school arms are the very definition of risk, so I'd be surprised if the Cubs took one at #9, so I am going to rule out Mike Nikorak or any other prep pitcher, though we could see Cubs go that route in Round 2 and beyond as they have in the past.
If the Cubs take a pitcher, it will almost certainly be a college arm. Dillon Tate won't be there and it is looking less and less likely that Carson Fullmer, whom the Cubs like, will be their either. He may, in fact, be the top player on the Sox board at #8 barring a player falling to them unexpectedly.
University of Illinois LHP Tyler Jay is a local favorite but two things tell me the Cubs aren't going to pick him: 1) Lack of track record as a starter and 2) McLeod's statement that the Cubs are not looking for guys who might help this year, which Jay might be able to do out of the bullpen.
RHP John Harris of Missouri St. got some late buzz and some think he could go as high as 5 while others think he'll drop out of the top 10. There's a good floor here and some projection left in his lean, 6'4" frame. I don't think there is enough floor here. There is work to do mechanically, the aforementioned projection and uncertainty that it brings, and he hasn't consistently fared well against top competition.
The Cubs have also been seen scouting UCLA RHP James Kaprielian, presumably as an underslot since there isn't a lot of upside. I think of this as more due diligence than smoke because there really is no threat of anyone picking him in the top 8 anyway, so the Cubs could safely show their hand here. He has the same kind of size as Harris but not as projectable -- but there is a higher floor, a better track record, and the possibility he signs underslot.
That leaves Walker Buehler packs a lot of ability into a small package and were it not for his size, might be considered the most well-rounded arm in this year's draft. Durability questions will follow him until he proves it at the MLB level, much as they have with Carl Edwards. But like Edwards, he has a nice, clean athletic delivery and he doesn't require max effort to generate mid 90s velocity. At worst, he is a reliever, but given the athleticism, arm speed, polish, and command, I think he has a better shot to stick as a starter than most pitchers his size. There is also the proven track record against top-flight competition.
If the Cubs go the high school route, it will be for a hitter and there are a few with established track records. Garrett Whitley fits the profile of a potential CF'er with an advanced approach at the plate, but the hit tool isn't as pure as some of the others we will talk about here. The track record isn't quite as long either.
One player with a long track record is Daz Cameron. He is a potential all-star in CF and is very different at the plate as his father, who had a long swing, struck out a lot and hit for some power. Cameron is more of a short-stroke, contact guy, with good level plane to his swing. He should hit for average and perhaps some power, but probably not a 20 HR type. I don't think Cameron makes it to the Cubs, but it wouldn't surprise me if he was on their list as a "just in case things fall the right way" guy.
Kyle Tucker is well established and has one of the sweetest LH strokes in the draft. He is almost certainly going to play in a corner, though RF is in play because of his strong arm. He is more of a line drive hitter with a patient approach, ala Billy McKinney, then he is a power guy at this point.
Trenton Clark can hit. He has pretty much done that his whole life and I like the potential to hit for some power because his swing path involves some loft. Some believe he can stick in CF despite slightly above average speed and if so, he will go top 10 somewhere, maybe even top 5. There is also the question if his unorthodox grip but the long track record of hitting -- including against top competition -- allays much of that concern. He also has the grind it out approach the Cubs prefer. He has a good instinct for hitting but he also has the bat speed to turn around good velo -- which, if you have followed me over the years, you know that is the first thing I look for.
That is my long list...but what about the short-list? I am not sure I can narrow it down to 4 like the Cubs have. I obviously don't have anywhere near the same information. But here is my short list of players that I believe have a good chance to be available.
- Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt
- Trenton Clark, CF, HS (TX)
- Donnie Dewees, CF, U of North Florida*
- Andrew Benintendi, CF, Arkansas
Wildcards for each category...
- HS Hitter: Daz Cameron, who could certainly fit that Cubs BPA definition quite nicely. He may slide because of bonus demands and I think the Cubs might just kick the tires and get a feel for his signability if he does.
- College Hitter: Ian Happ's floor makes him a potential surprise pick. His ability to switch-hit appeals as well. The problem is a log jam of LFers where Billy McKinney, Kyle Schwarber, and others have a shot to land. And depth at a corner spot for a guy with no power may not have enough value if the Cubs decide to stick a veteran or one of their other prospects there ahead of him. If I thought he had any chance to play in the middle of the field, I'd put him in the top 4, but that lack of defensive certainty lowers his floor just enough for me.
- College Pitcher: James Kaprielian. I think the Cubs can get a mid-rotation pitcher with a better floor than Harris plus more money to spend elsewhere. I don't think they'd take him over Buehler if they went pitcher.
- High School Pitcher: Mike Nikorak, though I am pretty much writing off he HS arm possibility in general for the first round.
*Dewees is a great underslot candidate as is Benintendi, so the Cubs could play those two off of each other and take the best deal with Dewees more likely to agree. Benintendi is a draft eligible sophomore, so he has leverage -- and he projects to go higher than Dewees overall.
I also want to note that "chance to play CF" is greater at Wrigley than it might be for other parks, which could factor in the decision to choose hit tool over pure CF skills. None of these players are as sure a bet to stick in CF as Whitley or Cameron, but at Wrigley they may play just fine.
Filed under: 2015 MLB Draft