Were this a blog about the NFL or the NBA, you would have been reading about the draft for weeks, if not months. But because of the unique setup of the MLB draft (during the season, college and high school baseball not hugely popular, players generally don’t make the bigs, and if they do, they’re unlikely to make an impact for several years), you’re not getting a nod until now – the first day of the draft.
Today is the first round of the first-year player draft (otherwise known as the Rule 4 Draft), and the Chicago Cubs pick 16th. They don’t pick again until the second round at pick 65 (without any sandwich compensation picks this year, it’s a long layoff between picks 1 and 2).
This year’s class is roundly considered weak, but with one of the best scouting directors in hand – Tim Wilken – the Cubs figure to pick up some diamonds in the rough, as well as guys later in the draft who’ve slid due to over-slot contract demands. Here’s a small snippet from the Cubs.com Cubs draft preview:
In about 50 words
Two of Wilken’s past four first-round picks are on the big league 25-man roster in Tyler Colvin (2006) and Andrew Cashner (2008). Wilken, who took over the Cubs’ scouting director job in December 2005, looks for the best athlete and doesn’t favor college over high school, or left-handers over right-handers.
The Cubs have developed more depth in the Minor League system since Wilken took over. “He’s looking for balance as far as lefty-righty pitchers — it’s not targeted on one,” Fleita said. “He’s targeted on trying to get the best position player every round. It’s worked — we have a couple catchers, infielders, outfielders. It’s hard to go into a Draft and say, ‘We’re going to focus on power, we’re going to focus on speed.’ He’s got a great gift, I think, to have a great balance on everything — pitchers, all position players, and a variety.” The balance has helped the Cubs move some players quicker through the organization, such as Cashner and Jay Jackson (ninth round, 2008), who is now at Triple-A Iowa.
MLB.com’s Mayo predicts the Cubs will take right-handed pitcher Asher Wojciechowski from The Citadel. His fastball has been clocked at 94 mph and he seems a better fit as a reliever than starter. Baseball America says the Cubs will tab 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson out of Chipley High School in Florida. His fastball has been clocked at 91-96 mph, and he has a nasty slider and solid changeup to go with it. Whitson performed well at the Florida High School All-Star Game in front of several Major League scouts and is easily a first-round pick.
Wilken picks the best athlete available each round, but after the first two days are completed, he, Fleita and some of the other members of the Cubs’ player development staff will go over the selections and try to fill in the gaps on the Draft’s final day. Wilken also likes to pick what he calls “late bloomers,” which would be players who might be converted to another position.
In 2008, seven of the Cubs’ first 10 picks were pitchers. In 2009, only four were. What Wilken has done is provided depth in the Draft. The perfect example is Casey Coleman, a 15th-round pick in 2008 who was the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in ’09. Trey McNutt was a 32nd-round pick in 2009. He’s 4-0 with a 1.70 ERA at Class A Peoria. “[Wilken] seems like a guy who’s focused, obviously, like everybody in the country, on who the first pick is,” Fleita said. “But as soon as that pick is gone, his mind is motoring and he’s looking at who are they going to get in the 18th, 20th [rounds]. The Draft is not over until the 50th pick for Tim Wilken. I think that’s been a great dynamic and great strength that he’s given his staff.”
The draft starts this evening at 5 p.m. CT with the first round, aired live on the MLB Network. Rounds 2-30 are on Tuesday, and rounds 31-50 are on Wednesday.