2014 MLB Draft Prep Begs An Ace

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Since the top few picks in this year's draft figure to be pitchers, can the Cubs secure an ace?

To get devotees of the 20/80 scale to have a drawn-out quarrel, have them define what an "ace" is. To some, it will be a pitcher with two 70s (or better) with another 60. Don't forget the "good make-up" clause. Or some will say it involves the best 10 pitchers around. Or 15. Or whatever works. However incomprehensibly subtle the differences, many are convinced their definition is the best. I don't have a clear-cut, easily-defined definition for ace. But the Cubs could really use one.

One of the reasons "Ace" is so tough to define is that it is usually a lagging indicator. For example, I will use the definition of "the top 20 starters in baseball". To have a date to decide, I will use July 4th of a year. In 1984, then, Rick Sutcliffe would not have been an ace in 1984, necessarily. But, he likely would have been the next year, when he wasn't nearly as effective. A lagging indicator.

Using that definition, how much carry-over is there from one year to the next? 12 of 20? 10 of 20? Max Scherzer is in, since he was good last year. Some will bounce in and out. Tim Lincecum was. Then he wasn't. Does that mean he was an ace, or is there a different term for "ace for only a few years?"

If a pitcher represents a true ace, he would likely come off the board right away. Unless the scouts miss Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw. If a true ace is around now, how long would he last? Of course, it depends on if he is a college or prep selection. Fewer data points exist in judging preps, so they are riskier. That, and they have too many innings until the majors for some. Considering the time rift vortex created when the Cubs scuffled through a season where they netted the second pick, I can't imagine the fan-based cataclysm if they have the worst record.

This draft is looking more and more like there is no certain 1.1 ace to be had. If there were one, he'd go to the Astros or the Marlins. The Cubs have the fourth selection, with a solid chance at a prep like Tyler Kolek or Brady Aiken. Will either be an ace? Would it matter which system they go to?

***

This is looking like a scout's draft. Without a prohibitive top pick from the offensive side, and questions about all the arms, it will help determine which systems have their collective acts together. If you draft the right guy but misuse him, you will pay a price. If you "see something that isn't there," you get the same result. The teams that win this draft will be the ones that do their homework the best.

And, to an extent, get lucky regarding injuries.

Carlos Rodon and Jeff Hoffman did well. Tyler Beede was wild again. If a team drafts Beede or Rodon thinking they can fix their flaws, and they do, the team will be praised for seeing through whatever their college problems were. Or, if a team invests heavily in them, and they fall flat, they will be scorned. Probably justified.

As for the second round picks and beyond, I have a decision to make. I can research and run off a list of 15 names or so, stealing/borrowing other people's ideas. Or, I can trust that the Cubs snoops and suits will do a decent job. As I haven't seen any early round whiffs since before Jim Hendry's last draft, I'm good with the direction of the selection process.

The Cubs' pick will be an upstanding citizen. As it's playing out, he will probably be a pitcher. And he might be a high school kid who might reach Kane County by next spring. (In which case, I wouldn't object to a one-day, one-inning stint in Boise just to get a taste of pressure.) And, if it is a high school pitcher, he may, one day, be an ace. If only for a year. Depending on the definition.

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