Cubs Draft Preview: The Hitters

Billy Williams represented the Cubs at the 2010 draft. Ferguson Jenkins will be in New Jersey for the Cubs at this year's draft. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Time once again for the Major League Rule 4 Draft, also known as the annual amateur draft. The draft will start with the first round on Monday, June 4, starting at 6 pm Central Time. The first round will be televised on the MLB Network, starting with a preview show an hour before the draft.

If you don't have the MLB Network, the program will be simulcast on MLB.com, so anyone can watch it there. Additionally, rounds 2 through 40 will be broadcast on MLB.com on Tuesday and Wednesday, starting at 11 am Central.

Here on Bleed Cubbie Blue, we have a preview of the choice the Cubs have with the sixth pick in the draft. Today, we're going to look at the hitters the Cubs might select with their first choice of the Theo Epstein era. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the pitchers. In writing up these previews, I've consulted with Tim Huwe, also known as timh815, who has done a series of top-rate fan posts on the draft. If you want to get into more depth on the draft, I suggest you check out his fan posts. He's also going to be around on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to answer your questions in the Open Draft Threads that we're going to have, which will work the same way as a Game Thread does. I'll be around too, pitching in with whatever help I can be.

This year's draft lacks any of the blockbuster prospects of past drafts, and there are about seven players who could all go to Houston with the first pick, including all three of the amateur prospects I've listed here. This is both good and bad for the Cubs. On the good side, it means whomever the Cubs choose at #6 has a pretty good chance of being as good a player as whom the Astros get with the first pick. It's bad because that means there just isn't as much sure-fire talent in this draft as in previous ones. Last season's draft had a lot more talent at the top of the draft than this year's does.

This year's draft is also different because there are new rules that create a bonus pool for each team. No team can exceed that bonus pool without incurring severe penalties, including the loss of future draft picks. The details were discussed here last winter when the current CBA was approved, but the bottom line for this coming week is that "signability," or the willingness of a player to agree to the amount allotted for his draft pick, becomes crucial. Because if a player refuses to sign for the money the team is offering, then the team loses that money from their "bonus pool." You can't use the money saved by not signing one player to sign a different one. If a first-round pick refuses to sign, it could end up blowing up your whole draft.

After the jump, a look at the hitters the Cubs might be looking at drafting with their first pick on Monday. I'll take a look at the pitchers tomorrow.

Albert Almora. OF. Bats: Right Throws: Right. 6'2", 180. Mater Academy (FL)

Why might the Cubs take him? Almora is a toolsy center-fielder with above-average range, good speed and above-average power. He has a quick stroke through the zone with excellent hand-eye coordination that could translate into being a .300 hitter in the majors. He hit over .600 this past high school season in the tough Miami area.

For a high school player, he's incredibly polished and mature. He's played for Team USA since he was 14 on the various youth teams, so he has a lot of international experience against the top youth players in the world. Only A.J. Hinch has played for Team USA as much as Almora has. While all high school players are risky, Almora is a better bet to succeed than any other high school player in this draft.

On top of all that, Almora is a makeup monster, praised for his dedication, maturity and leadership skills. In short, this is the type of guy you want in the locker room with your other prospects.

What's the downside? Other than his hand-eye coordination, you'll notice I didn't use the word "excellent" in that description. He's a true five-tool player, but he isn't likely to hit 40 home runs or steal 40 bases. He's still awfully thin and could fill out as he gets older. While that might add to his power, it's going to cost him speed and defense. Most scouts think he can stick in center and that he has a good arm for center field. But if he has to move to a corner, his arm would play better in left than right field.

There's always a concern with someone as polished as Almora that he's topped out his potential, but I don't think that's much of an issue here. He's still an 18 and a half year-old skinny high school kid. He is a little older than other high school players, however.

He's also a Scott Boras client, but that has never deterred the Cubs in the past.

In a perfect world he becomes? Carlos Beltran without the switch-hitting.

Chances the Cubs take him? The Cubs have been connected with Almora for a long time and will take him. That is, unless there's someone else they like better still on the board at #6, such as the next guy on this list. I don't think Almora is their first choice, but the Cubs would not be unhappy at all if they ended up with him. He probably will be on the board when they pick, although the Orioles or Royals could nab him.

* * *

Carlos Correa. SS. Bats: Right. Throws: Right. 6'4", 190. Puerto Rican Baseball Academy

Why might the Cubs take him? Correa is a fluid defensive shortstop with ridiculous bat speed and a natural loft that could translate into very good power numbers. His hand-eye coordination is excellent.

Correa has above-average speed and a quickness that gives him an above-average range at shortstop. Combine that with soft hands and a strong arm, and most scouts think he can stay at short, despite his size.

The ball just explodes off of Correa's bat. He has the potential to be a 30-40 home run guy in the majors as he matures. Correa is also only 17, which give him even more upside.

What's the downside? There's never been a player from Puerto Rico taken as high in the draft as Correa is going to go, so there is some question about how he would fare against better competition, although he's been outstanding in the few showcase events he's played in. But Correa is certainly rawer than someone like Almora. He's got a ton of upside, but he's not a sure bet.

He's awfully big for a shortstop. There is always the risk that he'll outgrow the position, but he should have enough of a bat and arm to play third base if that happens.

In a perfect world he becomes? Troy Tulowitzki.

Chances the Cubs take him? If he's still on the board at #6, the chances are excellent. The Cubs had Correa up at Wrigley Field this past week for a workout, and they've been connected to Correa for a long time. Three weeks ago he looked like the pick, but he's been climbing draft boards and now there is a very good chance he won't be around when the Cubs pick. There's even a rumor the Astros are considering him for the first pick in the draft. But if he's there, the Cubs will likely pounce.

Both Almora and Correa are committed to attending the University of Miami this fall. Neither will ever be Hurricanes. Such is the life of a college baseball coach.

* * *

Mike Zunino. C. Bats: Right. Throws: Right. 6'1", 215. Florida

Why the Cubs might take him? It's a weak year for college hitters, but Zunino is considered the best of the bunch. Zunino has quick wrists that he uses to drive the ball to all fields, and should be able to hit for a solid average. He can elevate the ball as well and should have at least average power in the majors.

The best asset of Zunino is his ability to handle a pitching staff. He's even been allowed to call his own game, which is rare at the collegiate level. His overall defensive skills are good. His arm strength is considered slightly below average, but scouts think that can be improved with better mechanics.

Zunino is the son of a scout for the Reds, and has been around the game all his life. His baseball intelligence is off-the-charts and his work ethic and leadership skills are exemplary.

He's about as safe a pick as there is in the draft. He's almost sure to be a major leaguer.

What's the downside? It's not so much downside as a lack of upside. Zunino is not the next Matt Wieters or Buster Posey. He's a solid, every day catcher who can help your pitching staff tremendously. He should hit for average and a bit of power, but he's not going to put up monster offensive numbers. He might be a #5 hitter, but he's not going to hit third or fourth.

While scouts praise his bat skills, his production dropped quite a bit when Florida got out of non-conference play and had to compete in the tough SEC. With Zunino, I am reminded of the line from Moneyball : "If he's such a good hitter, why doesn't he hit better?"

In a perfect world he becomes? Jason Varitek.

Chances the Cubs take him? I haven't heard Zunino connected to the Cubs much or at all, as most drafts have him going earlier to either Seattle or Kansas City. Even Minnesota has been connected to him. I know most fans wouldn't be excited by him, but he's a major league starting catcher, and there aren't 20 of those in all of baseball. And if you had a 60% chance of getting Jason Varitek, you might seriously consider that over a 20% of getting Carlos Beltran, for example. The Cubs could certainly use a catcher, as well.

This draft has been very chaotic as the top seven keep getting jumbled up, seemingly every day. It's possible that by the time the Cubs pick, Zunino will be the best player available.

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