The Rule 4 Draft, or First-Year Player Draft, is a little under a month away (June 5-7) and has been the case, those three days in June will arguably be the most important days of the year for the Chicago Cubs. The front office will make trades before and after the deadline in order to inject more talent into the system. The draft, however, is viewed by many in the Cubs’ front office as their ‘Super Bowl.’
The Cubs system is viewed as being position-player rich and pitching poor. The top talent in the systems that projects as having impact potential at the Major League level is mostly position players. The Cubs have several pitchers in the organization that can be projected as big league starters (Pierce Johnson, Kyle Hendricks, C.J. Edwards, Rob Zastryzny, Eric Jokisch) while what many feel is the top pitching prospect in the system (C.J. Edwards) might end up as a reliever due to his body-type and questions about durability. There are intriguing arms in the lower levels of the system (Duane Underwood, Paul Blackburn, Jen-Ho Tseng, James Pugliese, Daury Torrez, Dillon Maples) that remain several years away from being big league ready. And not only must the Cubs guide them through the minors in order to continue their development, the front office must hope that each one stays healthy.
The front office has added pitching to the system over the last three drafts. The last year under the previous administration with Tim Wilken calling the shots in the draft started the ball rolling and Jason McLeod and his staff, under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, have picked up where Wilken left off and have not only drafted well, but made solid recommendations to the front office in which players should be targeted from other organizations in trades.
With the lack of projectable, top of the rotation pitchers in the system, many of the experts felt the Cubs would take a pitcher with their first pick in the draft the last two years. Instead, the front office decided OF Albert Almora and 3B Kris Bryant were the best players on the board at the time and selected position players the last two years then used a majority of their picks in rounds 2-15 to add pitching to the organization. And that could end up being the case again this June.
The baseball side of the Cubs’ front office has said time and time again they envy the Cardinals organization and are trying to build the same system for the Cubs. That is kinda of ironic, considering most feel the Cardinals used the Red Sox’s blueprint setup by Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod as the model in which to build what many consider the best organization in the game.
Patrick Mooney recently caught up Theo Epstein and asked him about the upcoming draft. Mooney reiterated the front office’s philosophy, when it comes to the draft, is to take a position player (or a bat) with the first round pick because “bats are the least-risky bets.” The upcoming draft is believed to be very deep in pitching with not as much projectable impact talent on the position player side.
Theo Epstein told Patrick Mooney, “We’re just going to take the best player, regardless of position, the best investment and the best bet on a player’s career. I think there’s tremendous pitching depth in this class. I think it’s more depth that elite, per se. But we should come out with a pretty good pitching haul, we hope, when it’s all said and done.” And according to Mooney’s report, the upcoming draft is “viewed as a thin class for the college position players the Cubs would ideally like to target.” Epstein expanded on his comment about the draft to the Tribune’s Mark Gonzales. Epstein said, “There are always secrets, who you like, who you don’t like. The industry consensus is very rarely one team’s consensus as well. You put up the top names. Ask any given team. Those they like and don’t like but you won’t reveal that. All that matters is who you pick when they’re available.”
According to the report from Comcast SportsNet, “industry sources suggest more than a dozen players are still on their first round radar.” The Cubs have watched LHP Carlos Rodon, RHP Jeff Hoffman before his injury, RHP Tyler Kolek and LHP Brady Aiken. Mooney reported the Cubs are “seriously considering” all four of those pitchers. The Cubs are also thought to be very high on Alex Jackson, the high school catcher and outfielder from Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego.
The Cubs were believed to like RHP Jeff Hoffman, according to the Tribune, Hoffman “intrigued” the Cubs. Hoffman is who Jim Callis believes the Cubs will select with the fourth pick, if he is healthy. Callis thought Hoffman had pushed past Rodon until his arm soreness forced him to miss time. Jonathan Mayo feels if Brady Aiken is still around, the Cubs will select the high school southpaw, also from the San Diego area.
While the slotting might differ from publication to publication and expert to expert, the general consensus is the top 10 players in the upcoming draft are: LHP Brady Aiken, RHP Tyler Kolek, LHP Carlos Rodon, C/OF Alex Jackson, RHP Jeff Hoffman, RHP Tyler Beede, RHP Aaron Nola, SS Nick Gordon, LHP Kyle Freeland and OF Bradley Zimmer.
There are several pitchers among the players that could be selected in the top third of the draft. And there are arms that project as top of the rotation starters at the big league level that could have an impact on an organization for the next decade. Will the Cubs take a pitcher with the fourth pick? Or for the third straight draft, will the Cubs take a chance on the safer investment and select a position player in the first round?
Over the next month, leading up to the draft on June 5, the CCO will provide profiles on the players the Cubs could select with the first round pick, as well as a few players the Cubs could draft in the second round.