We are about two weeks away from baseball’s June amateur draft. Are you excited? I’m excited.
After basically sleeping through the first day of the draft last year, and then being amazed at the Cubs’ relentless commitment to taking college pitchers on the second day, I’m very much looking forward to the Cubs drafting twice on Day 1.
Day 1, this year, is a Monday (not a fan of that part). June 12 to be exact, and the Cubs will pick 27th and 30th.
So who will the Cubs take? Well, as has been the case pretty much every year the Cubs have drafted in the first round under Epstein/Hoyer, pretty much everyone will expect the Cubs to focus on pitchers with those two picks, and then will simultaneously be unsurprised when they to with college bats, as they have every year in the first round since the Albert Almora Jr. pick in 2012.
I do not necessarily expect that this time around, though.
I suspect one of the first two picks will be the best pitching prospect on the board, and probably a college pitcher at that, but I don’t think the Cubs are going to bank both of their first round picks on the biggest gamble in player development. Pitchers are much more risky to develop than hitters, and that risk should be a factor on draft day. The Cubs are going to have a tough time restocking their farm system as the years go by, and unless a second pitcher who is just too good to pass up is right there, I don’t think they’ll miss the chance to grab a much safer prospect – a bat – with one of those picks.
But I do think they’ll be willing to gamble on players who slide due to injury or other factors.
A lot can change in the final weeks before the draft, and it’s virtually impossible to accurately project which players will still be on the board by picks 27 and 30, but there are a couple of players I am already starting to eye fairly closely.
A couple months ago I was watching Jake Burger, a well rounded hitting third baseman for Missouri State, but now I don’t think he’ll be there when the Cubs pick. Keston Hiura, who is probably a better hitter with more power, might be. The catch with Hiura is that he has an elbow injury that is keeping him off the field (he’s a DH only for UC Irvine) and may need surgery, and there are some questions about where he will play. Otherwise, think above average hitter with above average power and plenty of plate discipline. You know, the kind of hitter the Cubs absolutely love to draft in the first round. If I could take my pick of players who might realistically be on the board when the Cubs pick, Hiura might be my guy.
If the Cubs decide to take a high school player in the first round (for the first time since Almora), then keep your eye on Nick Allen. He plays in Southern California and shows average to plus tools across the board, but he is only 5’8″. Guys that small aren’t often drafted in the first round, but if the Cubs are confident he can hit for enough power be viable, he could be a pretty good pick up.
Back to the college ranks, Evan White also seems to fit the Cubs’ profile. White is a pretty good hitter for Kentucky, and is an exceptional defender. He plays first base because he is just so good there, but as a pro could probably move to the outfield … and maybe anywhere in the outfield. A move to center would help, because so far he hasn’t shown the kind of power we’d like to see from a college first baseman. Still, a good hitter with very good defense can be a valuable professional, and power is the last tool to develop.
As for potential pitchers, start looking over the tall college starters. Oregon’s David Peterson fits the bill. He is a 6’6″ lefty with a good fastball, promising breaking stuff, and already shows pretty good control. Then again, as one of the better lefties on the board, he may not even be available when the Cubs pick.
Missouri right hander Tanner Houck, 6’5, also features a good fastball, promising secondary pitches, and pretty good control. He also is a risk to be gone before the Cubs make their picks. I like the fastball (though I should note that I’m not great at evaluating pitching, particularly via internet video), and I suspect Houck could have a nice career at the back end of a bullpen based largely on that fastball should his secondary pitches not develop. Of the pitchers with a shot of being there, right now I’m leaning Houck.
But South Carolina’s Clark Schmidt has me intrigued. He required elbow surgery in April, but prior to that he was showing some of the best stuff of any college pitcher in the draft. The Cubs would probably want to study the medicals pretty carefully, but if that side of things checked out, they could be getting a guy who really belongs in the top ten. Schmidt has three pitches that grade as high as plus and pretty good command, but he is going to fall because isn’t a very big guy and because of the elbow. Some teams will be afraid of his durability as a result of those factors, but if he recovers smoothly he could move fast as a reliever should he be forced to the bullpen.
And, again, all of this probably changes a dozen more times before draft day arrives. There will be so much movement above the Cubs that the sort of draft they might be able to have will not really come into focus until we’re twenty picks or so into the draft.
If you want to look over prospects for yourself, though, I’d suggest heading over to Baseball America or MLB Pipeline and looking for hitters who grade out as at least 60 in Hit and 55 or higher in Run or Power. On the pitching side, look for at least one pitch that grades 60 or multiple that grade 55 or higher, and command/control in the 50s or better.
Two weeks from now, we’ll see what happens.