Pipeline Perspectives: Gordon fits for Cubs at No. 4
Chicago would be wise to consider high school shortstop in First-Year Player Draft
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is, as I've written countless times on this site, a volatile event. Trying to predict who's going to go where and when is really a fool's errand. And yes, I'm aware that makes me the fool.
The top of this year's Draft, though, seemed to be taking shape. Perhaps the order of the top four picks wasn't known just yet, but the identity of the four amateurs likely to go in those spots was becoming clearer by the day. Four arms were poised to pitch their way to the top four selections: Left-hander Brady Aiken and right-hander Tyler Kolek from the high school ranks; North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon and East Carolina righty Jeff Hoffman out of college.
Maybe we should've known something would disrupt that certainty. Sure enough, Hoffman goes down with an injury and it turns out he needs Tommy John surgery. Now the fab four are down to the thrilling three.
This, of course, begs the question: Who should be the No. 4 pick in the Draft? Far be it for me or Jim Callis to shy away from such a query, so here we are with this week's edition of Pipeline Perspectives.
Even though this Draft is pitching-heavy, the best choices at No. 4 are both position players. Both currently play up-the-middle positions in high school.
Jim has gone with a worthy choice in Alex Jackson, the SoCal high schooler considered by many to be the best bat in the country. He is, after all, currently ranked No. 4 on our Draft Top 100 Prospects list. And yes, the Cubs, owners of that selection, have taken who they thought was the best bat on the board in each of the last two Drafts (Kris Bryant and Albert Almora).
But here's the thing. As much as Jackson has an exciting future offensively ahead of him, the question about where he'll play defensively is a big one. Talk of him not staying behind the plate has as much to do with getting his bat up the ladder as it does his receiving shortcomings, but you better be sure the bat is that special if you're going to pull the trigger this early in the Draft.
For me, I'd rather take the guy I feel certain will stay at a premium spot defensively. And that's Nick Gordon, now No. 6 on the Top 100. Sure, you could go the "safe" route with LSU ace Aaron Nola, but if I'm given this pick, I think I'd rather go with the higher upside.
Gordon, of course, is the brother of Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon and the son of longtime big league hurler Tom "Flash" Gordon. Before the season began, the Florida prep star was a certain first-rounder, but he wasn't mentioned in such rarified air. Gordon was No. 12 in our Draft Top 50 back in the fall, with a chance to crack the top 10 picks come June 5.
The defensive ability was never in question. It's a common situation every year to see players who man shortstop as amateurs but aren't expected to stay there long-term as professionals. Gordon, without a doubt, will play shortstop at the highest level. He has the arm (he throws in the 90s from the mound), the hands and the range to be an outstanding defender at short.
What's made Gordon jump up Draft boards well up into the Top 10, where he can even be considered as a good choice at No. 4, is what he's been able to show with the bat. He's had a decent approach and shown an ability to make consistent contact, but there had been a lingering concern about his strength, or lack thereof. Some feared that Gordon was another version of his brother, who had difficulty establishing himself as a big league regular and needed to move over to second base rather than stay on the left side of the diamond. Dee's inability to add strength certainly hasn't helped.
The younger Gordon, however, has done that this spring. Some good weight gain has led to louder offensive outputs. While he still has a slight build, Nick is bigger than Dee and he looks like he could continue to add some strength without it hampering his speed or range. That will allow him to be a more dangerous hitter and stand up to the test of a 162-game season in the future.
Those improvements make Gordon much more than the glove-first punch hitter some thought he might be. Now he's looking more like a prospect who can be a top-flight all-around shortstop. And how many of those do you see?
Yes, the Cubs are flush with talent on the left side of the infield. But by the time Gordon would be ready to hit Wrigley, Javier Baez will likely have changed positions and Starlin Castro will be nearing the end of his long contract, if he's still with the organization. It could be perfect timing for the youngest Gordon, and it would be a very wise choice by the Cubs this coming June.