The Annual Baseball Amateur Draft (what MLB terms the "First-Year Player Draft") starts this Monday, and you can catch it on the MLB Network at 6 p.m. CDT. The Cubs have the ninth pick in the first round.
There has clearly been an increasing interest in the minor leagues over the past few years, and all of that starts with the draft. The draft this year has been described as a strong one, although rather heavy on pitching and a little light on hitters. That's not to say there won't be some good hitters available to the Cubs with the ninth pick.
I can't pretend to be an expert on the amateur game. There are several posters on this board who know more about these players than I do. If you've been following the fanposts of timh815, you've probably already been able to pick their brains. This is my attempt to do a preview of the possible choices for the Cubs. I hope that the regular posters from those diaries will join the discussion here and expand on or correct what I've written. I also hope that those of you who aren't familiar with these players will join the discussion too and ask questions and give your input. I'm not an expert, so don't worry if you're not either.
I've narrowed it down to ten players who I believe the Cubs could take with their first round choice, the ninth overall pick in the draft. There are five hitters and five pitchers. Today I'll look at the hitters and on Monday morning we'll look at the pitchers. This list does not include five players who I think have very little chance of still being available when the Cubs chose: Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, UCLA right-handed pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, Virginia left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen and Oklahoma high school pitcher Dylan Bundy. The Cubs would likely jump on any of those five should they happen to fall.
After the jump, I'll look at the position players.
Javier Baez. SS Arlington County HS (FL) 6'1" 205. Born: 12/01/92
Who: The Puerto Rican-born Baez is a high school shortstop who will probably play third base professionally.
Pros: Baez has some crazy bat speed through the hitting zone, and the ball flies off his bat when he connects. He has plus power and could also be an above-average hitter for average as well. While he's likely to be too big and slow to stay at shortstop, he's got the arm and hands to be a solid defensive third baseman.
Cons: Other than not being able to stick at shortstop, the biggest knock on Baez is his makeup. He's prone to emotional outbursts and "hot-dogging" on the field. Off the field, he's been called aloof. This could be a problem if he won't listen to instruction. He also has a "swing first, ask questions later" attitude. He will have to develop more plate discipline to survive in the majors. His foot speed is just average, although he is an intelligent base runner.
Outlook: If Baez can get his emotions under control, he could end up being another Aramis Ramirez. He will likely need several years in the minors to reach that potential, however. He will probably be on the board when the Cubs pick.
Francisco Lindor SS Monteverde Academy (FL) 5'11" 175 Born: 11/14/93
Who: Other than both being born in Puerto Rico and being high school shortstops in Florida, Lindor and Baez could not be more different.
Pros: Lindor is unquestionably the top glove in the draft. Scouts are drooling over his range and skills at short. His arm is good. He's a switch hitter with a line-drive stroke that's a plus. He has good plate discipline and will draw a walk. His speed is above-average. His dedication, demeanor and baseball intelligence give him a plus makeup.
Cons: Scouts are bitterly divided on his ability to hit for power. Some thing he could develop into a 10-15 home run a year guy with a lot of doubles. Others think he'll never hit for power.
Outlook: If you think Lindor will hit for power, he's potentially an all-star. If you don't, then he's a glove-first average-hitting shortstop. Lindor could go as high as #2 to Seattle, but there is still a good chance he'll be on the board when the Cubs pick. I don't think the Cubs are interested in him, but you never know.
Mikie Mahtook OF Louisiana State 6'1" 200 Born: 11/30/89
Who: It wouldn't be a draft if the Cubs weren't looking at someone from Louisiana State. Mahtook is an athletic right-handed center fielder who has shown good power this season.
Pros: When the NCAA switched to new bats this season to better mimic the wood bats the pros use, offense was down all over. Mahtook, on the other hand, got better. He has good bat speed through the zone and can hit the ball to all fields with authority. He's got sure hands in the outfield and he covers a lot of ground. His speed is above-average. He'd move through the system quickly.
Cons: Mahtook is a pretty finished product at this point without a great deal of upside. His power is only average for an outfielder. Some scouts fear that when he gets older and puts on weight, he'll have to move to left field. His arm is only average.
Outlook: There would be a lot of screaming around here if the Cubs took Mahtook, but I don't think it would be warranted. No, he's not an exciting choice, but he should be a solid major leaguer and quickly. In many ways, he's a lot like Brett Jackson was coming out of college, only without so many strikeouts. He's not my first choice and I don't think he's the Cubs first choice, but he could end up in Chicago if everyone else is gone by the time they pick. He'll almost certainly be on the board at #9.
George Springer OF Connecticut 6'3" 200. Born: 9/19/89
Who: Springer is right-handed outfielder who is a tremendous athlete with all five tools.
Pros: Springer has as much upside as any position in the draft other than Bubba Starling. He's has potential plus power. His speed is above-average, making him a potential 30-30 player in the majors. His defense in center field is good for now and his arm is good.
Cons: For someone who went to college for three years, Springer is still really raw. He has a big hole in his swing and has been eaten alive by fastballs inside this season. After a terrible start to the season, he's been hitting better lately, but some scouts say that's simply because he's facing inferior competition in the Big East. Some scouts think he's going to outgrow center field.
Outlook: Word came out this past week that the Cubs sent an army to check out Springer and that they came away unimpressed. If that report is accurate, he's probably out of the mix for the Cubs at #9. However, it is clear that they've had some interest and perhaps the reports are wrong (or intentionally misleading).
Bubba Starling OF Gardner Edgerton HS (KS) 6'4" 180. Born: 08/03/92
Who: The three-sport star from Kansas is the top athlete in the draft. Most think he has the highest ceiling of any player in the draft.
Pros: Potentially, Starling can do it all. He's got excellent speed and very good power from the right side. His arm is so good that he'd be a likely first round pick as a pitcher, and he has pitched some in high school. His defense in center should be good enough to be an asset. He's been compared to Drew Stubbs and Josh Hamilton. In another year, he'd likely be the first pick in the draft and it's not out of the question that he goes #1 to Pittsburgh, although that seems unlikely at this point.
Cons: Starling is a high school kid with high expectations, but he hasn't exactly faced the toughest competition in Kansas. There are still some holes in his swing that he'll have to work out before he reaches the majors. He's not a sure thing and scouts haven't seen as much of him as they have other players because of his commitment to other sports. He's also got a football scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska, and he claims he's serious about it. It will take a ton of money to get him to skip college. He probably will need several years in the minors.
Outlook: From all accounts, Starling will be the Cubs choice if he's on the board at #9. Unfortunately, that is looking less and less likely by the day. Whereas a few weeks ago his salary demands were scaring teams off, the falling stock of other players has made him more attractive. If he gets past Washington at #6 we might have a chance, but Starling is likely to be gone by the time the Cubs choose.