Cubs Draft Preview--Eric Arnett

The second in our three-part series on the Cubs draft keeps us in the Hoosier State with Indiana University right-hander Eric Arnett. Once again, I'm handing the reins over to Matt Marsden aka MJMars to handle the coverage. [Edit: I forgot to put in the link to the MLB.com preview on Arnett. Clicking on Arnett's name will now take you there.]

Next week, we'll have a shorter look at five or six possibilities if the Cubs take neither Pollock or Arnett, or if both of them are gone by the time the Cubs pick.

Before the year started, Arnett was not likely to be a name called on the first day of the draft. Now it is a near certainty he goes in the back half of the first round. Arnett is a right-handed pitcher out of Indiana University. He was ranked well behind teammates Josh Phegley (pre-season All-American catcher) and LHP Matt Bashore. But Phegley is not likely to stick at catcher and Bashore has had an up and down 2009 campaign. That, coupled with a great season from Arnett, means Arnett is the best prospect coming out of Indiana and the entire Big Ten. He led the Hoosiers to the Big Ten title and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996.

Standing in at 6’ 5" and 225 lbs. Arnett has an ideal pitchers frame. He is a good athlete and credits IU Basketball coach Tom Crean for his success on the hill this year. Since the basketball team as short players, Arnett was asked to walk on and due to the strenuous workouts in basketball practice, Arnett was in excellent shape for the baseball this spring. Before this season he was throwing the fastball in the high 80’s and never getting above 92. This year, Arnett has been sitting at 92-94 and hitting 96 with on occasion. He is keeping the fastball down in the zone better and doing a good job throwing strikes.

The season statistics for Arnett reflect the improvement in his stuff. Arnett was 12-2 with a 2.50 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 108 innings, while walking 39. Another impressive stat for Arnett this year was the six complete games he threw this season. He averaged eight innings per start this season and projects as a big innings eater in the majors.

Arnett has improved a ton as a pitcher over the past year, but is far from a finished product. Having a plus fastball and slider is great, but he doesn’t really have a changeup. It will not have to be even a league average pitch, but needs to be decent enough so he can mix it in to keep hitters off balance. If Arnett is not able to develop a changeup, he will likely end up being a pen arm down the road. He does a good job throwing strikes, but Arnett needs to work more on his command of the fastball within the strike zone.

Some are concerned about Arnett's lack of a track record before this season. He pitched strictly out of the bullpen his freshman year and spent time in the rotation and the bullpen his sophomore year, with less than great success. In 35 1/3 IP his freshman season, Arnett had a 6.11 ERA and had a 5.45 ERA in 66 IP the following year. Though I understand the concerns, it is important to realize how different of a pitcher Arnett was this year because of the improvement in his stuff. There are also some concerns that head coach, Tracy Smith worked Arnett too hard this year, when he should have been pulled an inning earlier in many starts. The first weekend in May, Arnett threw a complete game, but required 141 pitches to do it. There have been a few other starts like this one, where he probably should have been pulled an inning earlier. This does bother me, but I doubt it should be a long-term concern since Arnett did not have much wear and tear on his body before this season and he held up well the whole season.

Arnett has been connected to the Cubs almost as much as Pollock this spring. So would he be a good pick? Since I am going to be a Hoosier this fall, I am a little biased, but it sure looks like he would be a good pick. If Arnett can develop a league average changeup, he may be able to be a number two starter down the road. He would be a great addition to a Cubs rotation (with the exception of Lilly) that almost never gets past the sixth inning. Baseball America currently has Arnett ranked as the 18th best prospect in this year’s draft, which puts him five spots ahead of Pollock (ranked 23rd). Pollock is more polished, but Arnett probably has the higher upside and already has two plus pitches.

There is a decent chance Arnett is gone by the time the Cubs pick at #31. He has been picked to go as high as #18 to the Marlins, but if he falls a bit, do not be surprised if Wilken ends up taking Arnett over Pollock.

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