A much too early look at the 2015 MLB Draft

As we’ve mentioned, this season doesn’t have the same vibe as the last two.  We weren’t all necessarily rooting for the Cubs to lose, but fewer were disappointed when they lost.  We all knew that in the end, the Cubs would be rewarded with a draft pick.

They’ll still likely get a top 10 pick, probably in the 7 to 9 range when all is said and done, though it’s not impossible they drop out of the top 10 altogether.  Barring a collapse, they will have the lowest pick since this front office took over.  In some sense, that is some “bad news” for a rebuilding team, but certainly not  as bad as it would have been the past two years when the the Cubs picked 2nd and 4th respectively.  That is true for a number of reasons, some of which we have talked about already.

Another reason I am not so torn about picking a few spots lower is that I just can’t get overly excited about the players at the top of this draft.  This is the type of draft that can really test your scouting chops — a draft where you may be able to get a better player at 8 than you will at 5.

At this point, you can’t rank players in any specific order so I won’t do that.  It’s done in tiers.  Those tiers are organized from low priority follows to must follows and everything in between.  It’s very fluid at this stage.  Players can move up or down from one tier to another.  It could end up being that players in that “must follow” tier may have peaked too early, as we saw with Ryne Stanek a couple of years back or, to a lesser extent, Trea Turner last season.  Some players can add strength, make a mechanical adjustment, or simply adopt a better approach and move up.  Two years ago, few thought Jonathan Gray was going to be a top 3 pick before the season started.

Those of us who went to the UA game expected to get wowed by some of those “must follows” — Daz Cameron, Brendan Rodgers, and Justin Hooper.  And while you can’t judge by one game, I’m not sure I like the top of this draft as much as the past few.  Don’t get me wrong. I think Cameron, Rodgers, and Hooper are very talented players, but I am just saying none of those players is a sure fire top pick.  Nobody is a slam dunk #1 candidate the way Mark Appel, Carlos Rodon, or Gerrit Cole were in previous seasons.

Here is how I would divide top rated players vs. interesting players I would follow

Top Tier (must follows):

  • Daz Cameron, OF, HS:  Athletic with potential for 5 tools — the most uncertain of the tools is the hit tool, which makes him a bit of a risk high in the draft.  Great bat speed, speed, and the ability to play CF give him as high a ceiling as there is for the 2015 draft.
  • Brendan Rodgers, SS, HS:  Another 5 tool type talent but they aren’t as loud as Cameron’s, but he is a smooth athletic guy who can be above average across the board.  Has the skills to stay at SS, which makes that profile play up a lot.   Should be a top 5 pick.
  • Justin Hooper, LHP, HS: The pitcher I was most excited to see was Justin Hooper, but I had immediate concerns about his funky delivery.  He’s athletic but it is difficult to repeat.  He also has a low arm slot and seems to put some strain on his arm.  Of course, we could describe Chris Sale that way, but pitchers like Sale are the exception, not the rule.  He will be monitored closely and it’s entirely possible that this year won’t be enough.  Teams may want to see him continue to prove himself in college.
  • Alex Bregman, SS, LSU: Arguably the best college hitter.  Considering his position (though I think he may end up at 2B), this seems like a perfect Cubs pick.  I think the Astros will see how successful the Cubs have been and take him with one of their top 5 picks.
  • Mike Matuella, RHP, Duke: Not the polished pitcher you normally expect his high in the draft but a mid 90s fastball, a big 12 to 6 curve, a mid 80s slider, and a developing change give him top of the rotation potential, even if it is at more of a risk than previously top rated college arms.
  • Nathan Kirby, LHP, Virginia:  Good size at 6’3″, 185 lbs with some room to grow.  Kirby has a low 90s fastball, a very good curve, and advanced command.  Can dominate when he has his plus command.  Good all-around pitcher who should go early.

Not top 10 picks at this point but players that I would follow closely in no particular order:

  • I really liked a few things about high school lefty Juan Hillman: his clean, athletic delivery, the command of both his FB and curve, his feel for pitching.  But he is rather slightly built and throws in the high 80s.  But we’ll have to see him put on some weight, get stronger, and perhaps adopt a more aggressive mentality.  If he does, he could shoot up the draft as well.
  • Skye Bolt, OF, North Carolina: Skye Bolt was a freshman sensation much like Trea Turner had been the year before.  Like Turner he hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations created by that great start to his career.  But he is switch-hitting, sweet swinging college bat with a good approach and good bat speed.  He also adds athleticism, solid tools across the board and off the charts makeup.  He’s not a burner but he has above average speed and the instincts to stick in CF.  If that doesn’t sound like a Cubs player, I don’t know what does.  The problem is he followed up his .321/.418/.491 freshman season with a rather pedestrian .257/.373/.353 sophomore campaign.  If he can bounce back, he could climb up into the Cub range.
    Grayson Long, RHP, Texas A&M could have been drafted early as a prep pitcher but a strong commitment dropped him to the flyer rounds. He is a 6’6″ pitcher who was athletic enough to be recruited as a basketball player.  He has since put on 20-25 to his thin frame and still has some projection.  Could be a mid-rotation type who can throw in the low to mid 90s with plane, good curve, and the athleticism to develop good command.
  • I thought Mike Nikorak was raw but interesting.  He has a lean, athletic build that is still very projectable.  He had an easier, low effort delivery with plane and good, quick arm action.  The ball seemed to explode out of his hand, making it difficult for hitters to pick him up.  He got some pretty weak swings up there.  He’s from a cold weather state so his arm is still fresh, but it also means he doesn’t have as much experience.  I don’t think he’ll get into the top, but maybe the 2nd round or overslot later — but like we said earlier, it’s early and a lot of things can change.  Nikorak is a tremendous athlete with upside so if he shows a better probability of reaching it, he could make some noise.
  • Riley Ferrell, RHP, TCU:  A solid bodied kid at 6’1, 200 lbs with big fastball that has been clocked as high as the 95-98 mph would normally put him on the must watch list, but he has pitched out of the pen so far, so his secondaries lag behind.  If he is inserted into the rotation, as many expect, than he becomes a very intriguing prospect who could go as high as the top 10 if he has success in that role.
  • Chris Betts is a prep catcher with a big body and a big bat.  He’s exceptionally strong and makes loud, hard contact.  The question with him is whether he can stick at catcher long term.  He has some good receiving skills, as he has been coached and has worked on that his whole life but does need to work on his pop times to second base.  If he can, his LH bat at a premium position will move him up quickly.
  • I didn’t see the best from prep RHP Ashe Russell who struggled to get a feel for his breaking ball.  I think he may have been a little pumped for scouts and was overthrowing a bit.  I understand, however, that he has hit the mid 90s, throws a nasty slider — which I only caught a glimpse of that day, and can already flash an occasionally solid change, a pitch he will go to more if he struggles with the breaking ball.  He’s a late riser and if he can polish up some of those rough edges, he could move quickly as well.

These are just a few guys and I left a lot of obvious names out, but I just wanted to give a feel for the kind of players that might be available for the Cubs at where they will likely pick and some others who may project to move up in the draft.  Not all will make it into the top 10, of course, but some may move up into a situation where they could make interesting upside picks the way Carson Sands, Justin Steele, and Dylan Cease were last season.

Filed under: 2015 MLB Draft

Comments

Leave a comment
  • fb_avatar

    Could 2015 be the year that we take a guy based on need instead of best player available? Or do we continue to stock up on position players because it got us this far?

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Best player available in first round. Always.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I'm not sure the Cubs even have a "need" as such anymore. This season's draft brought us a bunch of pitching prospects and we know we have hitters up and down the system. That's not to say that if a projected ace was there they wouldn't jump on him, but he won't be available at their position in the draft anyway.

  • Daz Cameron, Is he related to former big leaguer Mike Cameron?

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Yep. He is his son.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to mutant beast:

    Just his son... great family huh?

  • I always like drafting best available, regardless of position. Get as many strong assets as possible. But this could be the draft they grab an arm. Betts, Matuella, and Nikorak seem intriguing for me.

  • Wouldn't Brady Aiken be considered the clear, cut #1 pick?

  • In reply to travelguy:

    If he's healthy, yes.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    even with the short UCL? Or are the Astros the only team scared off from that?

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    The Astros had other motivations to back off (and it backfired) but I'm sure there will be some concern. But if he completes another season with no issues, then i think a lot of teams will not worry as much about it. If he pitches well, maintains velo, and stays healthy, I don't see any reason why he won't go very early.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I know they had other motivations, but I kept hearing about how dumb Aiken was because now that other teams know about his UCL, he'll never get drafted as high or get offered as much money as he did--even with the Astros last-second final offer. That's the only reason I asked.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to travelguy:

    Little known draft rule: A team cannot take the same player 2 years in a row, without that players permission. I'm sure Aiken will not be granting that, so Astros at #2 and #5 or wherever they end up cannot take him. File that away for mock drafts, if he stays healthy.....

  • fb_avatar

    Yea it's his son

  • That's Mike's son

  • I'm happy the Cubs are winning more games,
    but at what cost

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    What cost? Maybe a taste of winning a few big games will carry over into the 2015 season which should be the start of the Cubs dynasty.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    RE: "but at what cost?"

    A couple hundred thousand in signing money at the most....but if you compare that to he money they could potentially save if a top free agent were to come the Cubs without them having to outbid everyone else by millions of dollars, then it's not really much of a cost at all.

    If the objective is to acquire better/more talent, then you must weigh what affect winning has on the Cubs ability to acquire that talent utilizing all the avenues available to MLB teams, not just the draft. It's that ability which the Front Office has excelled in by using all the means at their disposal the last couple of years, i.e. the draft (Almora, Bryant, Schwarber, etc), trade (Hendricks, Russell, McKinney, Ramirez, Arietta, Grimm, etc), the Rule 5 (Rondon), and Free Agency (Hammel, Feldman, Maholm)....the latter category being a big driver in their trade acquisitions.

  • Skye Bolt. We have to draft him just for the name.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Pura Vida:

    Get him and see if we can coach up someone named Max Power as a late round pick

  • In reply to Paul Wiberg:

    Put Rock Shoulders in that lineup and suddenly you have the best named line-up in history.

  • fb_avatar

    His dad only... not a bad heritage

  • In retrospect, it seems like Theo @ Co did draft for need. I guess it's a matter of perception. Do you need Kris Bryant more than a pitcher? I answer yes! They've been filling the minors with great talent in the draft and whatever way they could. I like the idea of signing a TOR pitcher as a FA. Nothing in guaranteed, but at least you buy a proven commodity.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Jayhawk81:

    Kris Bryant came at a time when the Cubs needed just about everything because the system was still in acquire talent where ever we could. And we can see the probability that position player tend to have higher impact than a pitcher drafted that high on a percentage basis.

    But now that the system is stocked with position players I can see taking a chance one year on a projected TOR type of pitcher being drafted.

    Not to be devil's advocate......... but.......... wasn't Josh Vitters considered by many in the industry to be the best player available at the time he was drafted? Hindsight is 20/20 I guess....

  • In reply to Jayhawk81:

    If you view the Cubs biggest need as impact talent, then I definitely agree that is what they have gone for since they've been here.

  • John, are you surprised that our brain trust hasn't traded for any Competitive Balance picks up to this point?

    With our depth, I wouldn't mind adding a couple more picks in '15.

  • I am surprised, though I think they have at least tried.

  • I wonder if they would trade someone like Villanueva for a CB pick. He is suddenly behind Bryant, Olt, and possibly Castro/Russell. It would be hard to imagine him cracking the big league lineup, but he does have some value to a team without depth at 3B.

  • Anyone worried about picking in the 8-13 range vs top 5, just look where Baez & Addison Russell were selected. Dozens of other examples too... Good scouting trumps all else. This FO has proven to be very capable in that regards and executing a draft strategy to maximize their talent haul; ala last year....

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Good point. Mike Trout was taken at 25. I think this is where scouting comes in to play. I'm extremely happy with how this FO spent as much as was needed on the scouting a development guys we have. Remember how puzzled folks looked when Schwaber was taken this year? LOL

  • I'm thinking Bickford should be near the top as well from what I've read. Based on range that the Cubs will be picking in I still love DJ Stewart for the pick. Plus Makeup - Check, arguably the top college bat - check, LH hitter - check. As I said yesterday, I think he makes a ton of sense for the Cubs. Another player I really like is prep player Kyle Tucker, also a LH outfielder, but with a ton of projection, good speed, good arm, good power, and also plus makeup per reports. I think this draft is working out perfectly for the Cubs, while their might not be a clear cut order at the top of the draft, from what I have read and seen, this draft has better talent deeper into the 1st round in my opinion.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    He's a tough one to figure out. I get mixed reviews on Bickford, some like him a lot -- as top 5-10 or better. Some think he should be picked much lower (but still first round), as there is a good chance he's a reliever.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That's interesting, I didn't know that their were still so many questions on Bickford. Quick questions, have you ever seen Tucker in person?...and if so, what's your take on him? Finally, what have you heard on Aiken, will he be in the 2015 draft? Thanks as always.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Yes, I have seen Tucker and I actually thought about including him on this list. He's long and lean. Nice swing, good bat to ball skills with power potential when he fills out. Good athlete too and he can play CF now, but I imagine if he fills out and develops power, he may get too big to stay there. Good feel for the game. I like him.

  • I'm somewhat surprised that the Cubs haven't traded any of their IFA slots yet. The last report I saw was that the Cubs have signed four or five players in the $250,000 to $100,000 range, so they should have several slots available. Surely the Yankees and every other over-their-limit teams could use those one of those slots to reduce their tax penalty, and there should be other teams who could use one to stay under their cap.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    RE: "Surely the Yankees and every other over-their-limit teams could use those one of those slots to reduce their tax"

    Teams can only acquire slots to reduce their penalty before they go over...once they have it's too late, so they can't reduce their penalty after the fact. Also based on the trades (and lack of) that ave been made for slots the last 2 years, they are worth very little to MLB teams. IFA's are already very cheap compared to other avenues of talent acquisition, i.e. the amateur draft & free agency, while at the same time, the penalties aren't severe enough to deter teams from blowing past them, so the slots just aren't worth very much. Eve if a team happened to be close enough to their slot allowance that acquiring a slot from another team becomes worth it to avoid penalties, their are still quite a few teams that have extra slots they haven't used so it's still a buyers market.

  • fb_avatar

    Good article but if you want to know about the Cubs draft I'm pretty sure all you have to do is ask Kevin Gallo.

  • In reply to Nathan King:

    I do talk to Kevin Gallo and others all the time. I also know a few things myself.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Was trying to make a joke, my bad! I think you're awesome!

  • In reply to Nathan King:

    Probably came off worse than I meant, not feeling well today. I do talk to Kevin and others all the time, which makes writing these articles much easier. It incorporates much of what we talk about, so there is definitely some of Kevin's thoughts on here. I know he likes Betts, Bolt, and Russell a lot, for example.

  • fb_avatar

    I think we might fall out of the top 10. We're only a 1 1/2 games "ahead" of the Reds, who are at #10, and they are not playing good ball right now. We're 1/2 game "ahead" of the Phillies, who are...the Phillies.

    For what it's worth, I don't think we're a bottom 10 team when it's all said and done

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Agreed. The only thing that might slow them down are the injuries to Rizzo and Castro.

  • My personal top players that I sthink will be there are. Ashe Russell, Mike Nikorak, Chris Betts, and Skye Bolt. I really like Kyle Dean but think he will go in the top 20 not top 10.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    If you were calling the Cubs' draft pick this early, who would you say? Who's our Bryant/Schwarber?

  • Thanks John for the information. I had heard of some of these guys but not too many. This is the best place to get educated on prospects. Am already looking forward to the next draft.

  • Don't think drafting lower matters too much to Epstoyer. They picked Bryant a pick or so higher than the pundits suggested, and Swarbs a dozen or so slots ahead. Best college hitter in the draft? that's my bet.

  • In reply to Gunga:

    I'm high on Ashe Russell too seems he has a real bulldog type tough mentality. Not to mention he has some nasty stuff

  • Let's say our drafting position doesn't move and we pick 9th. If Aiken is still available, do we take him?

  • In reply to John57:

    Based on how much the Cubs liked him, even to the point of McLeod naming Aiken specifically as their top rated player on their board this year, I would say that the likelihood is very high that they would select him if available....however, I don't think he lasts that long unless he falls apart this year, his velocity drops off, or he has arm trouble or injury.

    I think it's important to note that although the "short UCL" thing was brought up by the Astros, Aiken hasn't had any arm troubles thus far at all, and was touching 97 MPH at the time the Astros examined him. I'm also not sure their is actually any medical evidence that all things being equal, a pitcher with a "short UCL" is more likely to have elbow troubles or TJ down the road. His dad also managed his use from the very beginning so that his arm wouldn't be overused at an early age, which according to Dr. Andrews is the main cause of TJ down the road. As a result, Aiken has been on pitch and innings counts since he first started pitching.

    As far as the "lost" year...Aiken was one of the youngest players in this years draft, a full 8 months younger than Tyler Kolek (the other big name prep pitcher from this year) and only 4 months older than Justin Hooper, the big prep pitcher from this years draft class....so the extra year shouldn't have much affect on his draft status or projection.

    The kid is still a workout warrior, has exceptional makeup, very good size and build, very good athleticism, has the potential for three plus pitches (also working on a cutter), good control and command, and a smooth, clean, but deceptive, left-handed delivery

    I could easily see him still getting drafted top 5 or even top 3 again, so if he falls to the Cubs at 7-9 I'm pretty sure the Cubs would be all over

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Thanks, that is what I was thinking too but not many are talking about Aiken. It would be sweet if all the other teams go "best college bat" based on Theo's success and leave us the best pitcher. Could be next year's inefficiency.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    "I could easily see him still getting drafted top 5 or even top 3 again"
    At least we know that if he doesn't get drafted #1 overall again, he won't be getting drafted until at least #4.

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    Good point.

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    Why couldn't he get drafted with the 3rd overall pick? The Astros currently have the 2nd & 4th picks overall. Am I missing something?

Leave a comment