Two weekends into the 2015 college baseball season, the stars of the collegiate realm are already separating themselves from the rest of the pack. Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson is living up to the billing as the projected top pick on June 8th, while Virginia’s Nathan Kirby and Michael Matuella have shown the polished arms that have scouts clamoring. Swanson, Matuella and Brady Aiken will likely be long gone by the time the Cubs’ pick, though the season is still in its infancy. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been difficult to predict thus far, and any guess as to what the brain trust will do next is just that: a guess. It is never too early to explore the options that they may be considering, though. With the ninth pick in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Chicago Cubs select…
The Draft Board Riser: By this point in the Epstein-Hoyer tenure, fans should have figured out the organization’s affinity for shortstops. Shortstops by nature are the most athletic players on the field, and are capable of moving around if the need presents itself. Florida’s Richie Martin has undoubtedly caught the eye of Cubs’ scouts. Two weeks into the college baseball season, Martin has been dynamic. Smooth defense and quick reactions have been a stabilizing force for the Gators’ young infield, and he has displayed the ability to hit in the top third of the lineup against stiff competition. Martin is projected to be a mid-to-late first rounder, but as offense continues to improve with the new ball being used in the college ranks, pitching stock may fall slightly.
The Under Slot Option: Some love for Cincinnati’s Ian Happ seems long overdue. The junior outfielder has been the heart of the Bearcats’ lineup almost since day one. Cincinnati does not play in the toughest conference, so it could be argued that Happ has spent the last several seasons beating up weak competition. The issue there is that Happ flat out destroyed pitchers in the two seasons he spent on the Cape, being named to the All-Star game each season. Happ has the ability to hit from both sides of the plate, though he looks to have a future from the left side. Happ has shown the ability to swipe bases at a high level, and his bat has projectable pop. Kyle Schwarber’s stock in the 2014 Draft sat in the mid-to-late first round range, largely because of uncertainty as to where he fit in defensively. Happ recently transitioned to the outfield, and the verdict is still out on how that experiment will pan out. Happ could be the 2015 version of Schwarber if a team is willing to look past the defensive question marks.
The High Risk, High Reward: As is often the case, the player with arguably the most potential is the one with the lowest floor. 2015 UCLA commit Justin Hooper could end up nearly anywhere in the first few rounds, from the top 3 range to a competitive balance selection. He has the fastball of 2014 Marlins’ selection Tyler Kolek, with the control of the 2014 Diamondbacks’ pick, Touki Touissant. In other words, Hooper’s heater is a blur, but at times he can’t throw a rock into the ocean. At the Perfect Game Showcase at Wrigley this past summer, Hooper’s secondary pitches looked flat and hittable, while his fastball sat between 94-96. Scouts think his fastball can increase in velocity, as he grows into his huge 6’7” frame. His size allows him to throw with a considerable downward plane. If Hooper can improve his breaking stuff, and develop average secondary pitches, his fastball will carry him. The Cubs do not have a farm hand similar to Hooper, though a Nate Eovaldi comparison down the road might not be a stretch.
The Signability Risk: To preface, there is little, if any, talk among scouts that Kolby Allard will not sign with a club in the 2015 Draft. If he decides to attend UCLA, though, where he is currently committed, he has the potential to be the first name off the board following his junior season. His fastball has been clocked at 96, and unlike some of the other high school arms, his breaking pitches look deceptive and polished. Russell was named a 2014 Perfect Game Underclassmen Honorable Mention in 2014, following an Honorable Mention in 2013. If he can be lured away from the Bruins, he would be quite a coupe for the Cubs. The opportunity to play on a deep PAC 12 team with Omaha aspirations, followed by a possible top selection, could force a team in the Cubs’ position to go over slot. He is a much safer bet than any other high school pitcher in the class, it will be interesting to see how much his relatively small size (6’2”, 175 according Perfect Game) will play in going forward.
The Prediction: 2015 is shaping up to be a tremendous year for pitching, with a seemingly endless list of possible future mid-rotation starters. What the class does not have is superstar arms, outside of the top 5 picks. Kirby and Kyle Funkhouser are very safe bets to have long Major League careers, but with so many solid draftable pitchers, taking a risk might be the smarter route. James Kaprielian or Justin Garza carry second or third round price tags and could allow the Cubs to take a risk with the ninth overall pick. With the ninth overall pick, the Cubs take Daz Cameron, or Albert Almora 2.0. Cameron’s ceiling is not clear, but there is little question that he is a five-tool player. He flashed some of everything in his Perfect Game Showing at Wrigley, when he made a spectacular diving catch, had a hard single and a stolen base, and displayed a strong throwing arm. Cameron comes from athletic bloodlines, as his father Mike had a career spanning three decades. The Cubs have shown their love for athleticism, and if past drafts are any indication, they will stick with the methodology that has worked well to this point.