Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft begins Monday and the Cubs have the ninth pick in the first round. Pre-draft meetings began last week and continue through the weekend as the Cubs set up their board.
Jason McLeod spent a little time Saturday morning on Inside the Clubhouse (670 The Score) and talked to Bruce Levine and Jordan Bernfield before Saturday’s meetings got underway about the draft, Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay and how Javier Baez has looked at third base four days into him moving to the hot corner.
On which players the Cubs might take in the draft
“Certainly wish you could put about 15 names on the board total and those would comprise your first 10 round picks or so. It’s always interesting. You spend the spring scouting and you do a lot of analysis and evaluation and certainly there are players that you really hope to be able to be in position to draft. At the same time there are 29 other teams that are doing the same thing. This year in particular, more than any other I can remember, especially in the top part of the draft, there has just been a lot of volatility with some of the injuries and just the talent pool that is out there this year. We’ve been in the room grinding away all week. We are about to get started up here again in about 10 minutes. We’ve got three more days to sift through the players and we’ll just sit and wait on Monday night and see what happens in front of us. The guy that we take, we will certainly have done all of the work and preparation to make sure that we make the selection that is right for the Cubs.”
On if the Cubs will continue to take the best player available in the first round or will the Cubs draft a pitcher because the system is thin in the pitching department
“It’s the best player available for us. You trust in your process that you put in place. You trust in your people and the scouts and the analysis and all of the information that we bring in. You trust in that. You go out and you scout the talent pool for that year and we get in here and line it up and we have a lot of discussion about what is best for our organization long term. How those conversations shake out, how the evaluations shake out, that is who is going to be at the top of our board. When we get to that pick, we are going to take the best player we feel provides the best fit for us as an organization long term. It doesn’t matter if it is a pitcher or a hitter. It just so happens that our last three drafts here it has been a position player at the top.”
On if the Cubs will stay away from drafting a player that plays a certain position because there is a lot of depth in the organization at a particular position, such as shortstop
“I don’t want to say it’s as easy as saying it doesn’t matter, but at the same time you can’t scout in a vacuum and say, ‘Well we have a young shortstop here. We’ve got Addison Russell and Javy [Javier] Baez and Gleyber Torres doing very well at South Bend, so let’s not take a shortstop up high.’ I think you can really limit yourself if you try to look at things that way. So we simply try to take the best talented player that we can and the most talent. Like we had said last year, especially after we made the trade with Addison Russell coming over, it’s such a great problem to have, especially if you have middle of the field players that could go to other positions. I don’t think any organization would ever say, ‘Well, we just simply have too much talent at one position when they are good players. We are just going to go in with that mindset and if it happens to be a shortstop, then it’s a shortstop. Certainly we are very aware that, especially at the upper levels, that we would like to get some impact starting pitching. We’ve tried to hit it with the volume approach over the last couple of years. So that has been more of a strategy once we’ve taken a few position players up high, let’s take some pitching. Yes, we have tried that but like I said we are going to go in with the mindset of get the most talented player that fits our philosophy and what we are looking to do as an organization and we will roll with that.”
On Illinois’ Tyler Jay, that many have projected will be taken at the top of the draft but likely will not be on the board when it’s the Cubs turn to pick, what is the upside of the lefty?
“When you go in to watch him pitch, you just notice right away the athleticism and the competitiveness. I think anybody that goes and certainly scouts, loves left handed pitching first and foremost and then when you’ve got a guy that can run it into the low-90s and has the breaking ball that he has, the competitor that he is, it is someone that is really fun to watch and he’s had a phenomenal year for a team that’s just had an incredible run this year. It’s fun to watch that entire team play. The way that they’ve utilized him as a weapon to come out of the pen. He can pitch multiple innings. He can pitch multiple days over a weekend. I think for some of us you go in and try to sit on a college closer it can be frustrating because we are limited with our days that we have to scout throughout the spring. You can make a trip in to sit on Tyler Jay and not get him for two nights and then you’re saying to yourself, ‘Wow. I should have been here seeing this guy or this guy.’ But that just comes with the territory of trying to scout a college reliever. But he’s been very good. He’s certainly has put himself in a position to get taken very high in the draft this year. I think all of us that have had an opportunity to see him are going to be rooting for him.”
On if part of the allure with Tyler Jay is that he could be in the big leagues quickly because he is a reliever
“I can’t speak for all of the clubs. Certainly I think that Tyler is someone that, depending on the team and depending on their needs, certainly could be in the Major Leagues pretty soon helping a club, yeah.”
On the characteristics he looks at to find pitchers with the best chance to avoid injuries
“That’s a great question. We have a lot of check points. When you take pitching and understanding the volatility of it and every time a guy gets on the mound he is one pitch away from a Tommy John or a rotator cuff, taking those things into account you have to look at the physicality of the player. You have to look at his athleticism, the delivery, how much effort he has in his delivery. When you are looking at drafting a high school pitcher their development track is so much longer that we tend to scrutinize them that much more. Saying, ‘Okay, if this guy has to pitch 500-600 innings prior to him probably sniffing the Major Leagues, then these are all of the checks that we would like to see.’ Like he has to meet these criteria. A great case in point actually, today, in our Major League game today, Joe Ross, who is starting for the Nationals making his Major League debut, we drafted him in San Diego in the first round in 2011. He’s like the perfect case of a high school pitcher that if we were going to select him in the first round, which we did, he had to meet so much criteria for us to consider him. That’s the stuff, the strikes, the body, the athleticism, the person, the character and it’s been a perfect development path for him. It is four years after his draft year. So we are really excited to watch him today make his debut against us. I hope he pitches well and of course I hope we win late in the game. So with a high school kid, the criteria is a little more intense and with the college guys that you hope can be there a little earlier, you can maybe loosen the reins up somewhat. But you are still looking at health, stuff, strikes, can he be a starting pitcher that logs you 180 to 200-plus innings a year.”
On how Javier Baez is playing at third base with Iowa
“Really good, really good early. We were actually watching the game in the draft room here the other night and he made some really good plays at third base down there. Almost looks like he’s been playing there his whole career. This is someone who we tried it with him in the fall league a couple of years ago. He wasn’t comfortable, didn’t look comfortable over there. But I think it’s really helped him moving over to second base. He’s such a good baseball player. I think in his mind he’s finally accepting ‘Hey I can move all over the place and be pretty good and it doesn’t mean that I can’t play short any more’ because he’s obviously still a very good shortstop. Early reports on him have been very good so we are really encouraged by it.”