It has arrived! The Super Bowl of the MLB calendar!
Oh, well, I guess that’s the World Series. But you get the idea: the MLB Draft is a big, big deal. It is the life blood of any organization that hopes to sustain success beyond a single rebuild, and that’s precisely where the Chicago Cubs will find themselves over the next five to ten years. Nail nights like tonight, and the good times can roll. Blow it? Well, “sustained success” becomes little more than a dirty bumper sticker.
The Draft begins tonight at 6pm CT, with the first two rounds, including compensatory and competitive balance picks. In all, 75 picks will go tonight, and the Cubs have three of them! They’ll select twice in the first round (27th and 30th overall) and then again in the second round (67th).
You can watch this early portion of the draft, with a pre-draft show, on MLB Network, or streamed on MLB.com. We’ll update this post for the Cubs’ picks with instant info/analysis, as well as any salient rumors that might pop up in the interim.
Away we go …
Pick Number 27: Brendon Little, a lefty out of the State College of Florida (junior college). Little was a former top prospect in high school who battled control problems after going to UNC, which pushed him toward junior college (which allowed him to be draft eligible more quickly than if he’d gone to a traditional college). He dominated this year, and was generally thought to be a back-of-the-first-round type pick.
“Little pitched very well in the Cape Cod League this summer and has continued to show premium velocity in junior college this spring. He was touching 97 mph in fall ball and has kept that up during the regular season in Florida. He complements it with a true 12-to-6 power curve which flashes plus on occasion, and he’ll also show some feel for his changeup, though it’s behind the other two pitches. While he has a very quick and clean arm delivery, his command comes and goes and his fastball can be flat at times, though that hasn’t kept him from missing a ton of bats this spring. The lack of track record, as well as the inconsistency with his delivery and command, might concern some, with scouts wondering if he’s a starter or a reliever long term.”
You won’t find a guy without some risk at this point in the first round, but you’ve gotta like upper-90s upside from the left side.
“Little has taken impressive strides with his control with the workload he’s gotten in junior college. He’s been consistently around the strike zone, even if lacking pinpoint command. He has a tendency to finish upright and isn’t always able to time his delivery. As a result, Little’s strikethrowing can come and go and he’ll sometimes struggle to get on top of his curveball. Still, Little’s fastball reaches 96 and rests comfortably at 90-93 with above-average life. His curveball shows tight top-to-bottom break in the upper 70s and could be a true plus pitch if he’s able to continue improving his consistency. The lefty receives positive reviews for his work ethic and desire to improve.”
Pick Number 30: Alex Lange, a righty out of LSU. Another college pitcher for the Cubs! How about that? Lange was a stud as a freshman at LSU, and although he took a step back as a sophomore, he’s been excellent again this season for an LSU team that’s headed to the College World Series.
“Lange should follow Kevin Gausman and Aaron Nola as LSU pitchers selected in the first round during this decade. Lange has two plus pitches in a fastball that usually ranged from 92-96 mph and a power curveball that stood out as the best on the U.S. college national team last summer. He has a strong build and repeatedly has demonstrated the ability to maintain his stuff into the later innings. Lange is showing better feel for his changeup after emphasizing the development of the pitch during his time with Team USA. Lange sometimes gets himself in trouble by overthrowing and not staying online to the plate. Both of those bad habits cost him control, which along with some effort in his delivery has some scouts wondering if he might wind up as a reliever in the long run. Lange’s track record as a successful starter means he’ll get every opportunity to make it as a mid-rotation option.”
Much more coming on the Cubs’ two first round picks soon. In general, I am a fan of the Cubs going with pitching, given where they were drafting this time around, coupled with the fact that they had two first rounders to spread the risk a bit. They have a rising IFA class loaded with talented position players, so finally grabbing some top tier pitching talent sounds about right.
UPDATE: From the Cubs’ release on the two first round picks:
“We were looking for impact with our first two selections, and not force the issue with the need for pitching. The way the names were falling on the board, we were excited to have our two guys still there,” said Jason McLeod, Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development.
“Brendon Little is a physical left-handed pitcher who we feel is just tapping into his potential now, with a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and what we believe to be one of the best curveballs in the Draft,” McLeod added. “Alex Lange is a proven winner in the best conference in college baseball. He’s taken the ball every Friday night for a top caliber team and he is one of the best competitors in the country.”
Little, 20, averaged 14.03 strikeouts per 9.0 innings in his sophomore season, striking out 133 in 85.1 innings while walking just 33 batters. He went 5-3 in 15 starts with a 2.53 ERA (24 ER/85.1 IP) and surrendered just 67 hits.
The six-foot, two-inch 215-pound Little had seven 10-strikeout games in 15 outings, including 15 strikeouts and no walks, March 29 vs. South Florida State College. That outing began a three-start stretch in which he struck out 35 and walked just two in 20.0 innings from March 29-April 10. He later struck out 13 and walked none, April 21 against Polk State College.
Little is a graduate of Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pa., and was the second-best junior college player available in this draft according to Baseball America.
Lange, 21, is in his junior season at Louisiana State University, pitching to a 2.92 ERA (36 ER/111.0 IP) in 17 starts for the Tigers, who have advanced to the College World Series for the second time in his three seasons. The right-handed pitcher has gone 9-5 with four complete games this season, leading the Southeastern Conference with 134 strikeouts. He started Game One of LSU’s Super Regional vs. Mississippi State this past weekend, striking out 10 batters while allowing three runs in 7.2 innings in the Tigers’ 4-3 victory.
A native of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Lange has gone 29-9 with a 2.88 ERA (108 ER/337.0 IP) in 51-career starts over three seasons at LSU. He ranks second in program history with 390 strikeouts, just 19 shy of the program record. He has earned numerous awards and recognitions in his three years with the Tigers, including the 2015 National Freshman Pitcher of the Year (Collegiate Baseball), 2016 First-Team All-American and 2017 Second-Team All-American.
Lange graduated from Lee’s Summit West High School where he was named the 2014 Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year and a Perfect Game All-American.
Pick Number 67: Cory Abbott, a righty out of Loyola Marymount. That’s right, another college pitcher for the Cubs! With two positional prospects to whom the Cubs had been connected (Nick Allen and Daulton Varsho) still on the board, it was a mild surprise to see them go with another pitcher, but clearly the Cubs had Abbott high on their board. (Varsho, by the way, went with the very next pick.)
First-team All-American Cory Abbott wraps up the 2nd round; had a monster season, improved a lot, especially the slider #MLBDraft
— John Manuel (@johnmanuelba) June 13, 2017
“Learning a new pitch and adding some velocity can go a long way to boost a pitcher’s stock as a Draft prospect. Abbott, Loyola Marymount’s Saturday starter, did both of those things and many teams, especially those who like statistical metrics and college performers, took notice. The biggest improvement has come via Abbott’s new breaking ball, a slider that can be an above-average offering for him. Couple that with a fastball that he now throws in the 90-93 mph range, up a few ticks from the past, and Abbott has been dominant as a junior, missing more bats and giving up fewer hits …. The West Coast Conference might not be the nation’s toughest, but any time a pitcher gives up just two earned runs in 67 innings of conference play, it’s noteworthy.”
Abbott was ranked in the 150 to 200 range at both MLB.com and BA, so he was not expected to go quite this early. Again, clearly the Cubs are fans. It’s worth wondering, too, if they might be able to get him to sign for a bit under slot, which could be deployed elsewhere in the draft.