The Major League Baseball draft is rapidly approaching (it begins on June 8). It’s always seemed strange to me that, unlike other sports, the MLB draft takes place during the season. I know it coincides with the end of the high school and college seasons, but it just seems to me like it would make more sense to figure out a way to have the draft in the offseason. The NBA and (especially) the NFL have done a great job of using the draft to keep their sports in the spotlight, even in the offseason. Oh well, that’s a discussion for another post.
Let’s get to looking at who the Cubs might select with their first-round pick. They’re picking a little bit lower in the draft than in years past, but they still have the opportunity to get a high-impact player with the number 9 overall pick. We all hope that the Cubs won’t be picking this early for a long, long time, so this could be the last “high-stakes” draft of Theo’s tenure.
Let’s look at some predictions for that #9 pick from mock drafts:
John Manuel from Baseball America: Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt
Jonathan Mayo from MLB.com: Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt
Ryan Fagan from The Sporting News: Tyler Jay, LHP, Illinios (Go Illini!)
Kiley McDaniel from Fangraphs: Trenton Clark, OF, Richland HS (TX)
As you can see, the prognosticators are all over the place. It’s always hard to predict the MLB draft, especially as far down as the #9 pick (there isn’t even much of a consensus this year regarding the #1 pick)…and it’s especially difficult to predict what this front office will do. Did anyone predict that they would select Kyle Schwarber last year? Everyone has had them picking a starting pitcher in the first round for several years in a row, but they’ve always gone for the big bat (and hey, how does that Kris Bryant over Jonathan Gray pick look now?). Of course, picking a little lower in the round, having a system completely stacked with offensive talent (remember, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Schwarber, Dan Vogelbach, Albert Almora, Junior Lake, Billy McKinney, Gleyber Torres, and Eloy Jimenez are all still in the minors), and having a team starting to compete at the major league level may all add up to the Cubs selecting a pitcher this year. Here’s the thing: the Cubs see players as assets, so I think they will simply take the best player on the board regardless of position–that’s why it’s so hard to predict what they will do, since we don’t know how they have all these players ranked on their board.
So, what do I want to see the Cubs do? If he’s available (and there is disagreement as to whether he will be), I don’t see how you could pass on Brady Aiken. In case you don’t remember, Aiken was the #1 overall pick of the Astros last year, but they didn’t sign him because of concerns over his elbow. As it turns out, Aiken had elbow surgery and is on the mend. Yes, you would be taking a gamble choosing him, but ALL draft picks are gambles. If someone with ace potential slides to #9, I think you have to pull the trigger–especially since he’s the type of player that could be contributing to the rotation as soon as next season if his rehab goes as planned. Hey, we’ve seen guys win Cy Youngs post-Tommy John surgery. There’s no reason to think he can’t heal and be as effective as he was before. Heck, maybe he got his surgery out of the way early, and he’ll be fine from now on…but, at #9, I’d take 2-4 years of a frontline starter and be happy with it. Imagine a near-future rotation of Lester, Arrieta, free-agent (someone like Jordan Zimmerman), Aiken, and Hammel…add that to a blossoming offensive juggernaut, and you have a perennial playoff contender.
So, who would you like to see the Cubs select in the first round? Do we keep piling up position-player assets, or is this the year to go for the almost-ready-to-contribute starting pitcher?