The Cubs made their pick this evening, and they stuck with the plan and took outfielder Albert Almora from Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens, FL, with the number six pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft. Then with their two compensation picks, they went with pitching, as they hinted they would. They took a pair of right-handers: Pierce Johnson from Missouri State and Paul Blackburn from Heritage High School in Brentwood, CA.
Above is a YouTube video of Almora in action at the plate. It's a good video to get an idea of his swing, but the video of Albert Almora that everyone is talking about was on the MLB Network's Draft Preview Show. MLB.com won't let you embed video, so I put the other one up. But be sure to watch it at the link provided above or as a part of the fanshot that has already been posted. It will give you an idea of Almora's character and dedication. You'll also realize he has the chance to be a special talent on the ball field. Fair warning: your eyes may not be dry by the time you're done watching.
So go watch the video if you haven't done so already. I'll meet you after the jump.
There have been rumors the past week that the Cubs were focused like a laser-beam on Almora and would only take someone else if Almora was already off the board. Cubs Senior Vice-President Jason MacLeod said that Almora was the top player on the Cubs board and while teams always say that, in this case it appears to have been true. The Cubs were presented with a dilemma when Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, considered by some to be the top player in the draft, was still on the board when the Cubs turn came. But Appel didn't appear to be much of a temptation, as the Cubs took Almora and did not look back. Appel eventually fell to Pittsburgh at #8, and he does not appear to be happy about this development.
The Cubs were not alone in their assessment that Almora was the top talent in the draft. Kiley McDaniel of ESPN.com was clear in his belief that if he ran the Astros, he'd make Almora the first pick in the draft. There were rumors that the Astros were considering him before settling on Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa.
Let me clear up a few misconceptions about Almora. First, when some fans hear that Almora is "toolsy," they think that's code for someone who is athletic but has no idea how to play the game. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there was not a high school player in the draft with more experience and more polish than Almora. He's played on Team USA six times. He's been to the showcase events. He is very good at this game.
The other misconception is that when you call him "dedicated" and that he has great "makeup," that he's some sort of David Eckstein-like grinder without a lot of athletic talent but who manages to make plays despite himself. If you've watched the video, you can see that Almora is a good-sized, athletic young man. He has all the tools necessary to be a star in this league.
Now as I said in my preview, Almora's tools don't rate excellent. He doesn't get any 70s or 80s on the scouting scale, although the hit tool might be close to a 70. He's not likely to hit 40 home runs or steal 40 bases, but he might be a 20/20 guy who hits .290. He may not win a gold glove in center field, but he could be just a tick below that.
Does this mean that Almora is a can't-miss prospect? Hardly. He's a good bet, but there is always risk, especially with a high school player. He could get injured. He might not be able to hit a major league slider. You never know. But I do know that if Almora doesn't become an impact player in the majors, it won't be from lack of trying. As you can tell from the MLB video, this is a special kid. He's a natural leader and is the type of guy you want in your clubhouse.
Turning to the pitcher, Missouri State's Pierce Johnson is a 6'3", 180, right-hander that has the stuff to be a number three starter in the majors. He combines a 92-93 mph fastball with a power curve around 80 mph and a hard changeup. He's even got a 86-87 mph cutter that has a lot of promise. He was heading for a mid-first round selection when he had a forearm strain that caused him to miss part of the year. He did come back fine by the end of the season and is considered healthy and ready to go as of now. But this wasn't the first time he's missed time with a forearm strain, and some scouts think that his delivery is just asking for an injury. If he can stay healthy, he could be a steal at #43. But if there were no questions about his health, he would have been long gone by the time the Cubs picked.
The second pitcher, taken with the #56 pick is Paul Blackburn, a 6'2", 180, right-hander with a smooth and advanced delivery for a high school kid. He can throw 90-92 mph now and many scouts believe he could add two to three mph to his fastball as he matures. He has great poise and feel for pitching for someone so young. Blackburn's curveball is also pretty advanced for a high school and while his changeup is raw, it does show promise, giving him potentially three pitches.
Blackburn is considered a "tough sign" because he was thought to have a pretty strong commitment to Arizona State. But tonight he got on Twitter and said that he was "Happy to be part of the Cubs family" and chatting with Shawon Dunston Jr. about how he was looking forward to being his teammate. In a story in the San Jose Mercury-News, he sounded like he wanted to sign. So maybe the Cubs know something everyone else doesn't. Or maybe he's just saying all the right things in case the Cubs give him enough money to forgo college. We'll just have to wait and see.
Remember, the fun continues this morning at 11 am with round 2.