Cubs keeping an eye on athletes, arms with top picks
Wood, Lilly to lend expertise to Hoyer, Epstein in upcoming First-Year Player Draft
CHICAGO -- The Cubs added some expertise to their scouting staff for this year's First-Year Player Draft.
Former Major League pitchers Kerry Wood and Ted Lilly took a look at some of the top picks for the upcoming Draft, and they will be in the Cubs' war room when the team makes its selections. Wood, who was the Cubs' fourth pick overall in the 1995 Draft out of Grand Prairie (Texas) High School, must have had flashbacks watching Texas prep right-handed pitcher Tyler Kolek.
"Kerry went down and saw Kolek, who is the big high school right-hander in Texas, so I think it was probably like watching himself in the mirror," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said.
Wood, 36, joins Lilly, 38, as special assistants to Hoyer and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
Their experience could be key. MLB.com projects pitchers will be the focus in this year's Draft. Besides Kolek, the top arms include lefty Brady Aiken of Cathedral Catholic High School in California and left-hander Carlos Rodon of North Carolina State. Right-hander Jeff Hoffman of East Carolina also was on the list, but he recently underwent Tommy John surgery.
"One of the things that's a challenge in the Draft is that it's sort of a moment in time," Hoyer said. "How a guy is throwing the last four weeks of his junior season could have a big impact on where he goes in the Draft. You want to see him doing well but you want to try to take his college career and whole body of work into account.
"If you had a Major League Draft and only focused on a guy's last four starts, you could make some pretty big mistakes," Hoyer said. "It's important to show health but also to show what a guy has done his whole career."
The 2014 Draft will take place from Thursday through Saturday, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
In about 50 words
The Cubs, who have the fourth pick overall, need more pitching depth in the organization, but don't be surprised if they take a position player in the first round, and then shift to pitchers. After chosing third baseman Kris Bryant second overall last year, the Cubs selected 11 pitchers in the next 14 rounds.
There is quality pitching available in this year's Draft, but MLB.com's experts project the Cubs will select another position player with the top pick.
Among those being considered are Rancho Bernardo High (San Diego) catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson, considered the top position player available this year. Another option would be shortstop Nick Gordon of Olympia High (Orlando, Fla.). Jackson projects as a middle-of-the-order hitter, and whoever selects the right-handed hitter will have to decide whether to develop him as a catcher or put him on a faster track and play outfield.
Or the Cubs could hope that Louisiana State right-hander Aaron Nola is available. Epstein was part of a Cubs contingent that watched catcher Max Pentecost of Kennesaw State at the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament. Keep that name in mind.
Besides Wood and Lilly, Epstein and Hoyer have been scouting the top players along with player development director Jason McLeod. The Cubs have focused on athletes (Bryant, Albert Almora), and will likely do the same. Said Epstein: "We're just going to take the best player, regardless of position -- the best investment, the best bet on that player's career. I think there's tremendous pitching depth in this class. I think there's more depth than elite, per se, but we should come out with a pretty good pitching haul, we hope, when it's all said and done."
Cubs bonus pool
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an alloted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to five percent over its alloted pool will be taxed at a 75 percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75 percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100 percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100 percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
The Cubs have been assigned a pool of $8,352,200, which ranks sixth in the Majors. The value assigned to the Cubs' first-round pick is $4,621,200.
With talent such as Bryant, Almora, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Jorge Soler on the rise -- all position players -- the Cubs have done whatever they can to add pitching. In trades over the last two seasons, they've acquired pitchers C.J. Edwards, Corey Black, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta.
The Cubs have tabbed who they feel is the best athlete available in the first round in Epstein's first two Drafts, then shifted to pitching. In 2012, nine of the first 12 picks were pitchers. Expect that trend to continue with a cautionary note. Said Hoyer: "One of the biggest challenges with pitching is you think a guy won't be there in the second round but all of a sudden he has an arm injury or his velocity dips, and we might well be looking at him and we have to make an educated decision."
* RECENT DRAFT HISTORY *
Bryant is leading the Southern League in home runs and challenging for the Triple Crown while playing third for Double-A Tennessee. Last year, Baez hit 37 homers and drove in 111 runs at Class A Daytona and Tennessee combined, and got off to a slow start at Triple-A Iowa this year. He's started to warm up, and was named Pacific Coast League Player of the Week May 19-25 after batting .400 in that stretch. Chris Rusin, a fourth-round pick in 2009, threw a no-hitter for Iowa in May.
It's an unfair stereotype, but it just seems that every Canadian kid plays hockey. Not Wes Darvill, 22, who was the Cubs' fifth-round pick in 2009. He played soccer, basketball, football and, obviously, baseball. Said Darvill: "I'm a rare breed who didn't play hockey growing up." Last fall, he played in the Arizona Fall League, and this season, he's at Double-A Tennessee. Darvill can play anywhere, which also is rare in baseball.
In The Show
The Cubs do have rookies Mike Olt, Ramirez, Grimm and Brian Schlitter on the current roster, but none of those were Cubs' picks. Olt and Ramirez were acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal, and Schlitter was included in the deal for Scott Eyre with the Phillies. The goal under Epstein is to have an emphasis on homegrown players. Cubs Draft picks on the current roster include Jeff Samardzija (fifth round, 2006), James Russell (14th round, '07) and Darwin Barney (fourth round, '07).
The Cubs' recent top picks
2013: Kris Bryant, 3B, Double-A Tennessee
2012: Albert Almora, OF, Class A Daytona
2011: Javier Baez, SS, Triple-A Iowa
2010: Hayden Simpson, RHP, out of baseball
2009: Brett Jackson, OF, Triple-A Iowa
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.