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[The first in a short series of primer posts discussing the upcoming 2012 MLB Draft, which could be huge for the Cubs. The Draft will take place from June 4 to 6, and you can expect plenty of live coverage here at BN.]

Thanks to an ugly 2011 season, the Chicago Cubs will be picking 6th in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft (we call that one of the upsides of awful). The MLB Draft, for a great many reasons, isn’t quite the same affair as the NFL or even NBA Draft. One of those great many reasons is because, generally-speaking, sports fans aren’t as familiar with the players to be taken in the early rounds of the Draft as we are with those in the other two drafts. Part of that is ESPN-style megacoverage, but part of it is a decreased public interest in college baseball, and the fact that half of the draftees are high schoolers whom we couldn’t have watched even if we wanted.

So, with that in mind, and in the knowledge that the Draft is a heck of a lot more interesting if you know a bit about the cast of characters from whom the Cubs will be choosing in that sixth slot, I’d like to offer you a little background on 10 Draft prospects from whom the Cubs might be choosing. BN Minor League Editor Luke Blaize also offers a few thoughts on each player.

In a semi-ranked, but not-necessarily-ranked order:

Byron Buxton, OF – Appling County HS, Baxley, Ga. Height: 6’2″, Weight: 190, DOB: 12/18/1993

Buxton is probably the best prep player in the Draft, an athletic outfielder with huge speed. He’s going to be above average defensively, but his game could still use some polish. That’s true of most 18-year-old players. No one anywhere seems to think Buxton will still be on the board at six, so you can probably let him pass from your mind. Speaking of which …

Luke: Pipe dream. I do not see a scenario in which Buxton is on the board when the Cubs pick.

Mike Zunino, C – University of Florida. Height: 6’1″, Weight: 215, DOB: 03/25/1991

The best catcher in the Draft, one who could be a long-time, above-average catcher in the bigs, Zunino is expected to go very early in the Draft. Indeed, like Buxton, there’s very little chance he’s still on the board at six. He’s got a good bat that could get better, and a good makeup.

Luke: I’m not as high on Zunino’s bat as many others, so I would not take him over one of the top three college pitchers. I don’t think I’d take him over Fried or Almora either. On the other hand, he could move through the system fairly quickly.

Kyle Zimmer, RHP – University of San Francisco. Height: 6’3″, Weight: 210, DOB: 09/13/1991

Zimmer has four pitches that could be average in the big leagues, led by a fastball that touches 97. He’s got K-stuff and control, having struck out 96 (and walked just 15) in 83.1 innings. Although the Cubs’ brass has undoubtedly scouted a number of top players, we’ve heard multiple reports of Jed Hoyer checking out Zimmer in person.

Luke: If he is on the board, I think he’ll be the pick.

Mark Appel, RHP – Stanford University. Height: 6’4″, Weight: 195, DOB: 07/15/1991

Appel’s got a shot to go number one overall, and he’s highly unlikely to still be on the board when the Cubs are picking at number six. A big righty with great stuff (though his strikeouts are a bit down this year (then again, who’s complaining about 108 Ks in 103 innings?)), and a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. If he fills out a bit more, it could go even higher. He uses a good slider and changeup, and controls games well.

Luke: Even if the rumors of Appel going to Houston do not pan out, he won’t fall past Kansas City.

Kevin Gausman, RHP – Louisiana State University. Height: 6’4″, Weight: 185, DOB: 01/26/1991

The last of the three big-time college pitchers at the top of the Draft (or first of the three, depending on your perspective – they’re all good), Gausman is another hard-throwing righty. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, but he sometimes struggles with his command on breaking stuff. Still, in 100.2 innings this year, he’s struck out 118 and walked just 23. For my part, I’d like to see the Cubs get one of the three big college pitchers.

Luke: Like Zimmer, if he is on the board, he should be the pick. Between the two I prefer Zimmer by a hair, but I do not think both of them will fall that far.

Carlos Correa, SS – Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R. Height: 6’4″, Weight: 190, DOB: 09/22/1994

An above-average defensive shortstop who could actually stick at shortstop long-term, Correa is a very attractive top 10 pick. Add to that his above-average bat, and big power, and he’s suddenly a virtual lock in the top 10. If the Cubs can’t get one of the big three college pitchers, many folks believe that Correa will be their pick. Heck, he might be the pick no matter who else slips.

Luke: Young, athletic shortstops who can both hit and stick at the position are always nice to have, but I don’t think the Cubs should take him over one of the college arms. I don’t think Correa will still be on the board when the Cubs pick anyway. He could still be the key to the Draft, though. The Cubs’ best chance of landing Appel, Gausman or Zimmer would be if Correa is taken by third overall by Seattle. If Seattle drafts someone else, I think those top three pitchers will be off the board when the Cubs pick.

Albert Almora, OF – Mater Academy, Hialeah Gardens, Fla. Height: 6’2″, Weight: 180, DOB: 04/06/1994

Almora, who just turned 18, is a toolsy outfielder who is above average in every respect. He’s an excellent defensive center fielder with a big arm, and he is developing power. He’s also said to be a “good makeup” guy, who plays hard with a great attitude.

Luke: Interesting player. Not only does he have a chance to be a plus defensive center fielder with plenty of power, I think he could move up the system more quickly than most high school players. If the top three college arms are off the board, Almora would be a good choice.

Michael Wacha, RHP – Texas A&M University. Height: 6’6″, Weight: 195, DOB: 07/01/1991

Wacha is the “other” college pitcher who could go in the top 10, but virtually every ranking service places him behind the big three. He’s a hard-throwing, strike-throwing, fastball-reliant guy, whose fastball typically sits in the 93/94 mph range.

Luke: If Wacha would sign for a figure far enough under slot that the Cubs could chase an higher impact guy who slid into the suplimental rounds, I’d take Wacha. Otherwise, there will definitely be someone on the board I like better.

Lucas Giolito, RHP – Harvard-Westlake HS, Studio City, Calif. Height: 6’6″, Weight: 230, DOB: 07/14/1994

Once thought to be a candidate for the first overall pick in the Draft – which would have made him the first high school righty to be taken at the top of the Draft – Giolito’s stock has fallen thanks to a UCL sprain (the UCL is the ligament that is replaced in Tommy John surgery). He’s resting the arm now, and, if he shows folks he’s healthy before the Draft, he could still go plenty high. But there’s obviously a lot of risk, which makes the tall, powerful righty tough to project. Highest upside? Highest risk? Sounds about right for Giolito. But if you take him down at six, how much is he going to want to sign? He had $7 million in his future just a few months ago, would he now settle for $3 million? Or less if you grab him later in the Draft?

Luke: Tempting. Very, very tempting. He might be the best pitcher in the Draft. If the medical reports are clean and the Cubs know he will sign for a figure near slot, I would be on board with drafting him. Otherwise, if he falls out of the first round (which is possible due to medical and signability issues), I’d use a supplemental pick on him. (Brett: I’d only consider using a supplemental pick on him if I knew the first rounder was going to sign for under slot. Giolito ain’t comin’ cheap no matter where he’s drafted, so the Cubs would have to free up some cash elsewhere if they wanted to sign Giolito after drafting him later than the first round.)

Max Fried, LHP – Harvard-Westlake HS, Studio City, Calif. Height: 6’4″, Weight: 170, DOB: 01/18/1994

A teammate of Giolito’s, Fried is considered by many to be the best left-handed pitcher in the entire Draft. Fried is a tall, lanky kid who doesn’t throw especially hard (he usually sits in the low 90s), but he’s got an excellent curveball and natural sink on his fastball. The Cubs are going to take the best player available, whomever they deem that to be, but if they were drafting based on need, you could understand why they might consider taking a polished, high upside, lefty starter.

Luke: I probably wouldn’t take Fried over one of the three college pitchers, but I would happily take him if those guys are gone. Given the way the Draft appears to be shaping up, I think the Cubs will likely be picking either Fried or Almora.

  • Cub Style

    Ever since Appel threw those 145 pitches, I’ve been a little wary. That definitely bumped Zimmer to my tops in regard to pitchers, but I’m still a Zunino guy.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I think Appel is going to Houston first over all.  Rumors are consistent that the first two picks (Appel and Buxton) are pretty much nailed down.  Seattle at No. 3 is where things start to get interesting.

    • djriz

      Has Zimmer’s velocity come back? I heard he dipped into the low 90′s. I’m just worried aout about huge gains in velocity in one year, then dropping back down.

  • Derrick

    Without to many arms in the system with much high end upside Im thinking you have to take an arm here at 6. We have toolsy outfielders already in the system but very short on pitching. I think our first few picks we should take the best arms available.

  • Marco

    I’m in agreement with Luke. Nothing is a sure thing in drafts, but college pitchers are the closest.

    My draft board: Buxton, Zimmer, Gausmann, Fried, Appel, Correa, Zunino, Almora

    • fivetoolmike

      Google TINSTAAPP.

  • art

    good report, i like it.

  • Ron

    They are all born in the 90′s…

    • EvenBetterNewsV2.0

      Getting old…

  • Edwin

    Those all seem like good, rational choices for the Cubs.

    I think they’ll choose Tim Flight out of Southern New Hampshire.

  • willis

    Good stuff guys, thank you for putting this together. I’m on board with others that pitching is the obvious need and a college pitcher could scoot through the system a little quicker and be an impact sooner than later. I’d love one of the college arms to fall to 6.

  • Don

    Great post Brett! I love reading about the future. I’d say the Cubs should take one of the college power arms if available.

  • JulioZuleta

    Yeah, seeing those 1994s made me feel really old.

    • Cubbie Blues

      No kidding I graduated in ’95.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        Whipper snapper!

    • http://www.justinjabs.com/blog/ justinjabs

      Same here and I’m only 20…

      • Cub Style

        Last year was my draft class. Someone tell Theo I’m an undrafted free agent!

  • Cedlandrum

    very nicely done. I wish there were a guy that projected as a corner outfielder or 3rd baseman. But love the arms in this draft. Hope we take a pitcher as I am not sure that we should draft a SS or a catcher with the first pick. I guess if I had to I would lean towards catcher.

    I guess with the SS, if he is a legit 6’4 then you could look at him being a 3rd baseman or LF even if he could stick at SS.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Almora looks to have enough power to play either corner in the outfield.  Defensively he can stay in center, but his bat should be fine anywhere.  Some seem to think Zuninio could be moved into the outfield as well should his team be reluctant to put a potentially premium bat behind the plate.

      Cubs have quite a bit of depth at third base in the farm system right now (Vitters, Lake, Darvill, Baez, Cerda, Candelario, etc.).  I don’t think they need to worry about that position just yet.

    • FromFenwayPahk

      “”I guess with the SS…you could look at him being a 3rd baseman or LF”

      Exactly. Theo has said that he values young shortstops more than other position players because they tend to be the best athletes on the field, and therefore can move to other positions if they can’t stick at short. He tends to load up on these.

    • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

      I think Correa’s going to end up at 3B…6’4″ already and is one of the youngest in the draft…boy’s going to be big.

  • morgan

    im praying that one of the 3 college pitchers fall

  • jim

    Earl cunningham is my pick!

  • cubsin

    My draft board is Buxton, Zimmer, Gausmann, Appel, Correa, Almora, except I’d gamble and take Giolito if he’s available, looks healthy in his pre-draft workout and is willing to sign for slot plus 5%. Zunino has fallen out because he hasn’t hit well against SEC pitching.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Right now, were I the Cubs, my list would look like this:

      Appel, Zimmer, Gausmann, Buxton, Fried, Almora, Correa, Zunino with Giolito as a wild card (not yet ranked).

      Fried and Almora are virtually tied in my book.  Either one would be a great addition to the system, both project as league Top 100 prospects in the next rankings, and both have a good chance to move through the system more quickly than most high school players.  Hitters tend to be somewhat safer picks than pitchers, but good young lefties don’t grow on trees.  I flip flop between those two almost daily.

  • Henry

    I’m big on Zunino. I live in the Gainesville area and have seen quite a bit of him over the last couple years. He has had some struggles but still looks like he has plenty of upside.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I’ve seen some reports on Zunino that describe his swing as slightly long.  Combine that with some of his struggles this season, and I get a little cautious.  He would not be my first choice or my favorite choice, but he wouldn’t be a bad choice.

      • Cub Style

        It would do him some good to shorten his load, ala Anthony Rizzo. Sometimes his hips open up, once again, like Rizzo.

  • EvenBetterNews2.1

    I say let’s get Fried.

  • Adam

    Appel, Guasman and Wacha

  • Stephen

    I gotta say I want Zimmer. Im tired of “toolsy” guys from Florida.

  • Jeremy

    Personally, I think the pick ends up being Almora or Zunino. Both would provide great value at 6.

    Zunino has the ceiling of McCann/Weiters, that is he probably won’t hit for a high BA but should provide power and above average defense. Not to mention he has the highest floor of any player in the draft. The key to getting Zunino in my opinion is the Mariners. If they decide to go with Correa or Giolito which there have been whispers of, he could easily slide to the Cubs.

    Almora seems to be the leading candidate based on what I have been reading. This FO has a good record with prep bats and Almora is about as polished as they come. His swing is beautiful. He could also be a quick riser as well.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      Speaking of Almora’s swing, Baseball America has video.

      http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/draft/category/video/

      • Cubbie Blues

        Does that swing remind anyone else of Castro?

      • Jeremy

        Yeah that’s the one I saw the other day. It’s a beautiful swing. I’m really high on Almora. I see his ceiling being Carlos Beltran like with less power which is a damn good player. I love Zunino though as well.

    • djriz

      Wait a minute, I thought Vitters has the prettiest swing ever!

  • Kyle

    Not hugely interested in Correa or Almora. The organization is all full up on toolsy guys who can stick because of their position on the defensive spectrum.

    We need two things: Big bats and big arms. I don’t see any of the former in this draft, especially not at No. 6. Zunino just seems so ordinary. No. 6 overall is a chance to shoot for an impact player.

    No interest in Giolito. A high school pitcher who already has elbow problems (and make no mistake, a sprain is a tear. Just a lesser degree)? Pass pass pass. Let someone else take that gamble.

    That pretty much leaves the college pitchers by default.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      So let’s say the first five picks look like this: Appel, Buxton, Zunino, Gausman, Zimmer.

      Do you take the high school lefty in Fried, or do you go for Wacha or Stroman?

      • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

        I think those ARE the first 5 picks, and the Cubs take Almora or Correa….leaning Almora (I’d take Correa)

      • Nathan

        If I had to pick from those three I would go with Wacha. I am not too high on Fried and Wacha is a very safe pick

  • emrac

    I would be fine with almora as our pick but if by some crazy chance one of those top 3 college arms are available we grab him right away

  • Cubs Dude

    I don’t want to be the guy that says draft for need. BUT don’t the Cubs need impact arms like crazy? I really hope they land one of the stud pitchers..

  • Stephen

    I say we go CRAZY and pick someone that’s not in anyones top 100, maybe a division 2 guy that would typically go in the 6th-8th round….you know, just for laughs.

    • Richard Nose

      I pooped out a Hayden Simpson this morning. Rough night.

  • Dumpgobbler

    Its been thought that the cubs are very high on Almora. I’d expect him to be the pick unless one of the college arms falls, whihc probably wont happen. I’d mock the first 6 like this:

    1. Appel
    2. Buxton
    3. Zunino
    4. Zimmer
    5. Gausman
    6. Almora

  • LaHair4MVP

    Kyle Zimmer for the win!

  • Kevin

    Good stuff guys! Thanks for the detailed analysis. This draft will be Theo & Jed’s real first test.

  • Nathan

    This is just my opinion, I am really big on Kevin Gausman and if he is available I would go with him over Zimmer, Almora, or Correa. Out of the guys I think have the best chance of being available Almora would be my choice as I think he would fit very nicely in the Cubs system and move through the minors fairly quickly for a high school kid. If Zimmer and Almora are both available though, it becomes a tough decision because the Cubs need arms desperately and I also believe since Zimmer is coming out of College he could move up fairly quickly. Whoever they go with, I believe I will be happy with the choice.

  • gutshot5820

    It’s going to be interesting with Lucas Giolito. If he starts falling due to contract demands, how far will he go? Does he know what he is getting into? No team is going to risk losing their slot money because of him and the the only way to sign him is if you are planning to draft all underslots in order to free money to sign him.

    • nkniacc

      I think Toronto is where hed fall in that case.

      Id like the Cubs to take Zimmer, Fried or Giolito. Be interesting to see who is willing to sign for slot. Id like the Cubs to take a high celing arm if avaliable and if they take Zunino, Correa or Almora then I really want the 2 sandwich picks to be pitchers. Alex Wood out of Georgia is intriguing to me as a sandwich pick

  • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

    Baseball America is reporting that the Mariners are going to take Zunino.  According to current thinking, that means Baltimore will be taking Gausman or Zimmer and KC will take the other one.  Right now, it looks like all three of the top college pitchers will be off the board before the Cubs pick.

  • http://bleachernation.com DL HUYCK

    Id take Correa or Zunnio. Impact bats at key positions are very hard to find. Plus looks like we will be very left handed at the major league level very soon. RH bats will be needed.

  • When the Music’s Over

    Don’t the Cubs already have a number of Correa’s in the system in Castro, Lake, Baez, etc?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      The Cubs do have a lot of high ceiling middle infield prospects.  And that’s a good thing.  If they can add a few more of those guys, it would probably be a good move.

      I’d still pass on Correa in favor of Almora or Fried, but I wouldn’t be unhappy if he were the pick.

      • When the Music’s Over

        How many high upside IF prospects can one team have, and if they are so valuable, why doesn’t every team go the route of stacking lots of them (not being facetious or being a smart ass)? It’s just unfortunate this draft is shaking out this way because it appears the Cubs seem to have a mismatch in player availability and system need.

        Also, if you were completely ignoring team needs, and went with the best player at every pick, where are the biggest gaps between talent in the top ten? For example, is there a big talent drop off with Correa and/or Almora vs. the top 5?

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

          It’s a fair question regarding teams stocking up infield prospects and how many is too many.  So let’s go look (I’m not sure how this is going to turn out myself).  Below are the top farm systems according BA’s 2012 Prospect Handbook, and the number of their Top 30 prospects who play SS, 2B, or 3B (I feel like I should include CF in this, but I’ll pass on that for now).  I am not going to figure out any players who may have been dealt or acquired since this book was published, so some of the figures may be slightly off.

          1 – Washington – 8 at SS, 3B or 2B

          2 – Texas – 7

          3 – Kansas City – 7

          4 – Arizona – 3 (this system is serious need of non-pitching talent)

          5 – Toronto – 5

          6 – NY Yankees – 6

          7 – Cincinnati – 11

          8 – San Diego – 6

          9 – Seattle – 7

          10 – Boston – 9

          11 – Tampa – 8

          12 – St. Louis – 4

          13 – Pittsburgh – 3

          14 – Cubs – 7

          The Cubs are consistent with the bulk of the better systems.  They do have a few more promising young guys stashed in the DSL that could be on this list in a year or two, but I don’t think that should stop them from taking a guy like Correa if they feel he is the best player on the board.

          I’m guessing at least one of their picks in the first five rounds will be an infielder of some variety.

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