With so much uncertainty surrounding the draft this year, we thought it would be a good idea to see how CPW writers viewed the Chicago Cubs situation. I think the results might surprise some, not because the picks are outlandish, but because they're all realistic. So without further adieu, here are the picks.
Drafting 4th, I'll assume that the three teams picking ahead of the Cubs, the Astros, Marlins, and White Sox, choose the top three pitchers, and arguably the three top players in this year's draft. As of now, it's looking like the first three players taken will be Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon, and Tyler Kolek. If one of these pitchers drop, expect the Cubs to scoop him up.
Pitching is obviously the priority in this year's draft due to the relative lack of pitching as opposed to hitting in the minors, but the front office has stressed that they are going to take the best player available. Presuming that the Cubs don't go for an under slot deal (some names thrown around have been outfielder Michael Conforto of Oregon State and catcher Max Pentecost of Kennesaw State) to free up money for later rounds, I expect the pick to come down to two players. The first is pitcher Aaron Nola of LSU. Currently, Nola projects to have a ceiling of a middle of the rotation type pitcher, which also comes with a much higher floor than most draftees. He absolutely dominated this year, pitching in the difficult SEC conference with ease. Nola already has plus control on his fastball to go along with average secondary pitchers. His bread and butter though is his excellent command. This year he posted a 10.37 K/9 to go along with a 2.09 BB/9 and a 1.47 ERA. The other positive with Nola is that he should be a fast climber in the minors, and his expected debut would fit right in the time frame of when the Cubs hope to compete.
The other more plausible option I see is the Cubs drafting prep shortstop Nick Gordon. Gordon is expected to stay at shortstop due to his long range and strong arm, and projects as a plus fielder. He has an improving hit tool, but one of his main knocks is his lack of power. He's still just 18 years old, so the power has the potential to grow with time. He also has a very strong baseball background and bloodline, as his father was former Cubs pitcher Tom Gordon and his older brother, Dee Gordon, currently plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gordon also has great athleticism, a trait the Cubs have been drafting more of recently. Though I would be pleased with both, I think the Cubs choose Nick Gordon, who has the potential to develop into a first-divsion type shortstop with gold glove defense.
Pick: Nick Gordon
Pitching. Pitching is what the Cubs need depth at and I think that they will draft Aaron Nola, a RHP from Louisiana State. It’s highly unlikely that Brady Aiken or Carlos Rodon will drop to the fourth slot in the first round and Nola is a more than likely option for the Cubs to bolster that pitching depth in the system. It may be drafting Nola above his projected draft slot, but if the Cubs really want pitching, overdrafting a guy who with a higher signability prediction may be their best way to go about it to guarantee their efforts toward their goals.
Pick: Aaron Nola
The recent struggles of the Chicago Cubs have brought little excitement to the franchise, but for the last few summers hope has appeared in the form of top draft picks. The futility of the major league team has allowed the team to draft headliners such as Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez.
Entering the 2014 MLB Draft, the Cubs hold the fourth overall pick thanks to their 66-96 record in 2013 and are again poised to land a high profile prospect with plenty of upside. While there are no guarantees with prospects, stockpiling them and developing them have been two focal points of the Epstein-Hoyer regime.
Over the last several years, top pitching talent has been noticeably absent from the Cubs draft returns. CJ Edwards and Pierce Johnson are the only pitchers who are also consensus top-ten prospects within the Cubs’ system. Because of this, it seems likely that the Cubs will address their pitching needs in this draft.
Three names that stood out in my research on the Cubs pick were Carlos Rodon, Tyler Kolek and Brady Aiken. Of these three, there is a decent chance that at least one will still be on the board when the Cubs pick. All three are potential top overall picks, and based on the various mock drafts floating around, Aiken appears to be the most likely to come off the board first.
There is always risk in drafting a pitcher, especially with the recent spike in Tommy John surgeries being performed, most notably on young power arms. This is the reason I am slightly wary of Tyler Kolek. The 18 year old from Texas throws flat out gas, occasionally touching 100 miles per hour. This results in a lot of stress on a young arm, which can lead to problems down the road. Of course, you can’t draft a player assuming they are going to get hurt, and if Kolek checks out as completely healthy he is a very appealing selection with mountains of potential.
Carlos Rodon, to me, is the most appealing pitcher that could be on the board for the Cubs. Coming from the college ranks (North Carolina State), Rodon is a left-hander with a high-90’s fastball and a good slider to complement it. His “stuff” alone is reason enough to like him, but his left-handedness adds another element. Most of the Cubs top pitching prospects are right-handed, and in today’s MLB a left-hander has immense value as a starter or late inning reliever. Rodon would fill a need in the Cubs system and, given his age, could be near the big leagues by the time the team is on the brink of competitiveness. I also have a general preference to college players, just because they enter the system already more polished and this is another plus regarding Rodon in my eyes.
Pick: Carlos Rodon
After Jeff Hoffman went down the question on everybody’s mind was: Who goes No. 4? Who knows. Honestly, the Cubs find themselves in a tough position, where it seems as though they won’t be able to acquire Rodon or Aiken, but could grab Kolek, although it doesn’t seem like they have much interest in him, especially because he’s not a college pitcher. Aaron Nola, the RHP out of Louisiana State, also seems like an option, although he doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as Jackson, Rodon, Aiken, or Kolek. Between Nick Gordon and Alex Jackson I’m picking Jackson. Not only because Jackson COULD (not will or should, but could) stick as a catcher, but also because has been praised as the best bat in the draft. Comparisons have come up about him being the next Wil Myers or even Bryce Harper (unlikely though). Aside from mere guesses, we do know that he is the best hitter in the draft and would be a huge piece to the Cubs rebuilding puzzle. Him falling to the Cubs wouldn’t be too surprising, seeing as he is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, therefore making him a tough sign automatically. It comes down to whether the Cubs want to go under slot with this pick or go for it all with a guy like Jackson.
Pick: Alex Jackson
The Cubs would like to use this pick to bolster up their pitching prospects, but those pitchers might not even make it to the Cubs. Although they could look for other targets that are projected to go a tad lower. Alex Jackson is 6’2, 210 lbs and currently mans the catcher position. However, he might not stay there long term, and that's fine because his bat would still be very valuable in the outfield. His bat speed is best in draft class, which cannot be ignored by any team, especially by our run deprived Cubbies.
Pick: Alex Jackson
Other than Brady Aiken going 1.1 to the Astros (maybe), little is known about who will go where. There are three big arms this year, in a perfect scenario the Cubs would land one. If 17 year-old Brady Aiken, hard throwing lefty Carlos Rodon, or 6’5” Tyler Kolek fall to the Cubs at 1.4, I’d have to believe the Cubs would snatch them up, but there it is entirely possible that all three are taken by the time the Cubs are on the clock, so what then? Well that leaves us with a few realistic options either: they take the best talent available or they pick under slot to save some money for later in the draft.
If the three big arms aforementioned are gone when the Cubs pick some of the best players available would be RHP Aaron Nola, SS Nick Gordon, and C/OF Alex Jackson. My personal favorite is Nick Gordon. The new regime likes middle fielders (C, SS, and CF; Ex: see Javier Baez (stuck with him) and Albert Almora). Nick Gordon has great fielding ability to both sides, and has a quick, fluid swing. He also has blazing speed and has been known to hit 94 on the radar gun, if ever needed. I would love to see the Cubs stock up players like Gordon. Alex Jackson is very interesting. The ability to play catcher is intriguing, but many scouts doubt his ability to stick there. Jackson’s future position is most likely in RF. His bat will carry over to any position he plays. Lastly is Aaron Nola, who throws with an interesting arm slot at ¾ and sometimes even side arm. His stuff is great, but the weird arm angle, his lean build, and “fast twitch actions” scare me somewhat that his arm is fragile.
If all three arms are gone the other option is they might look to draft under slot to save some money. They have a couple options. First is OF Michael Conforto from Oregon State. His power left-handed bat is something the Cubs need in their system. Although his defense in the OF is a bit messy at times, he is projected to be average in one of the corner spots. Also, the Cubs could go with 1B/LF Kyle Schwarber. His batting line is impressive at .358/.464/.659, but his fielding is far from. If he hopes to stick at 1B he is going to have to keep his batting stat line up to account for his lack of fielding talent.
Consensus: I think there is about a 50/50 shot one of the three big arms fall to the Cubs at 4, if they don’t all hell could break loose and the Cubs’ pick might not even be anyone I mentioned. But realistically if it’s not a big name pitcher at 4, it’s more than likely going to be Gordon or Jackson. Both of their bats are too good to pass up.
Pick: Nick Gordon or Alex Jackson
I don't think I've ever struggled to pick a player so much. Part of me loves Aiken and Rodon, but the other part knows that Aiken probably won't fall. I think Rodon has a slim chance though. However, I am going to assume that neither do. Next on the list would be Tyler Kolek, but I've never been a huge fan of his, so I am going to pass on him. Word has it that he could potentially fall in the draft anyways. Next up are guys like Alex Jackson and Nick Gordon. I loved J.P. Crawford in last years draft, and I see a lot of him in Nick Gordon. Fortunately, I got to see Alex Jackson and Nick Gordon play at the 2013 Under Armour Game, and both looked good. Jackson looked like he could stick behind the plate, and seemed athletic enough to hand another position if need be. His bat was lightning quick, however, that didn't save him from Michael Kopech's slider. With Gordon, I also saw a player that will stick at his position and play it at a very high level. Gordon's bat had surprising pop. Despite being Dee Gordon's brother, he does not possess the same type of speed, but he is still quick out there and he can use it well. His bat is also much better than Dee's. So ignore any comps because they're completely different players.
I like Aaron Nola, Tyler Beede, Max Pentecost, but I'm going to have to go with my gut here and that is, Nick Gordon.
Pick: Nick Gordon
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