2014 MLB Draft Prep Promotes Two Podcasts

USA TODAY Sports

Draft Prep is longer than usual this week.

As my opening salvo this week, I request you click on iTunes, and download the recent podcasts from Kiley McDaniel. Not only are they very good podcasts, but they play in to what I note later in the article. When someone mentions something that you agree with in large part, sometimes, you start to mimic their language -- if not outright steal it. McDaniel and contributor Frankie Piliere give an overview of the top few rounds of the now topsy-turvy-looking 2014 draft, and discuss a bit about draft strategy. If you're simply reading this article because it's on the site, or because you like my articles, that's cool, also. But missing the two podcasts, if you care about the draft, is depriving you of something you should really hear.

Since last June or July, the assumption has been that Carlos Rodon from North Carolina State would be the first player off the board. This article is, partly, about that no longer being the case. In a larger sense, the article, and strongly recommended (Draft Notes Galore) and (Frankie on Turner, Rodon, Hoffman) podcasts are about why that isn't necessarily the case.

For a long time, I've heard (and endorsed) a number of drafting strategies bandied about. From 'high ceiling' to 'low floor' or 'best player available', even, None of them quite made sense. They were, at heart, good ideas, I guess. However, they missed a key facet of drafting that is very baseball.

To go over them briefly, 'high floor' refers to "If everything goes right, how good could he be." You want to shoot for any player being as good as possible, but that would tend to end a team up with an inordinate number of boom-or-bust types. Nothing wrong with them, however, many of them never escape A-Ball.

The 'high floor' argues that "even if this guy doesn't progress, he'll still be of value." Which, also, helps, I guess. But it ends up with a roster-full of reserve infielder/fourth outfielder types that are DFAs waiting to happen.

Best available is even a cop-out, I think. While it's close to the heart of the matter, there is still far too much vagueness. Do you want guys that are really toolsy who will crash and burn? Or do you prefer grindy players who... you get the picture. The best player would be, most like Mike Trout?

All of these tend to promote the largely mistaken 'crapshoot' angle of things. While it will never be effectively argued that drafting baseball players is a pure science, that some teams (that generally rotate, based on how well they are drafting and developing) have taken better advantage of the draft, through roster productivity and trades, can't be very well denied.

How does one take something that is, at heart, a bit 'bad science' and turn it into good ball players? Before I get there, how's the download coming?

***

If you were to draw up a standard Cubs draft pick under the current regime, how would you characterize them? I'm imagining that 'good teammate' and 'happy to do things to improve their game' would be there. I posit that 'good at the basics' and 'avoids trouble on and off the field' would be there, as well. To try to figure out what the Cubs are looking for, I look back to an early addition in Travis Wood. Though a pitcher, Wood is a good fielder, hits better than a normal pitcher, is a solid athlete, and is generally a battler between the lines.

If the brass sees a guy with those traits who is also a good baseball player, then that would be the type of guy they're after.

Back to the above topic. Being 'nice to kitties' and 'helps ladies across the street' won't get the Cubs past Pittsburgh or St. Louis. What's needed is the ability to crystallize 'what makes a good ballplayer' when comparing two or three similar. Based on my current mindset, and to the surprise of absolutely nobody, it gets a bit meta. But, at least, it has a nice, easy way of summarizing it.

Instead of something vague like "Who is the best ball player?" or "Who has the best ceiling?" which have built in inconsistencies, I'm more likely to attack the question like this.

"Who will the Cubs get the most out of in the next five to eight years?"

But that's what I meant when I asked........

No, it's different.

Imagine for a second the Cubs drafted a kid out of high school last June because they thought he would be a great kid for Bill Buckner to tutor in about 14 months. That would have been a completely wasted pick, as Buckner no longer works with the team.

Whether talking about the Cincinnati Reds, the Detroit Tigers, or the Chicago Cubs, each system has its own set of, I will say, peculiarities. The individuals coaching at the various levels tend to elicit quality from the types of guys they elicit quality from. Derek Johnson is the Cubs minor-league pitching coordinator. He has a type of pitcher in mind he likes to work with. No matter how talented a young hurler is, if he is unlikely to mesh with Johnson, there is no need to waste time drafting him. If a kid isn't going to work as a team mate in the current and future Cubs system, ignore him.

Knowledge of what you really want is what determines, in large, if you will be successful. That that type of thinking is of more interest to me is part of the reason why. (I really don't think there is a a right or wrong here, just a state of preference.) I'd prefer spending a Saturday evening listening to a Kane County Cougars game than listening to the Cubs get shut out that afternoon. (We all wish that June and July would bring discussions of which extra outfielder or relief pitcher would put the Cubs over the top in the playoff hunt. Until that becomes a reality, I can be a petulant, deeply disturbed individual. I can walk away from baseball. Or, I can find an aspect that isn't discussed that routinely in Cubs blogs. It takes all kinds.)

***

What does my hokey truism have to do with this June's draft? Hopefully you now have the podcast downloaded. When you're gardening, out for a walk, at the gym, or whiling away a rain delay, you will learn from McDaniel and Piliere some things about the draft that I'm starting to incorporate more into my thinking. A key though, is, what are the Cubs looking for in who they draft? I will go through the players at the top, and see how they stack up so far. Some ideas are strengthened by the podcasts. Which helped me to think in this fashion.

Trea Turner, shortstop, NC State. The question coming in is, will he hit? So far, he doesn't hit well enough to justify the fourth pick in the draft. He'll be a good pro, but I don't see the current crop of coaches the Cubs have turning him into a top-of-the-order hitter. I just don't He should be a really good shortstop, but might be Darwin Barney with a bit more power and more walks. That would be a decent player, and depending on the bat, maybe an occasional All-Star. But I don't see our system training his bat to get to a middle or top of the order line-up spot. He figures to be available at 1.4.

Tyler Beede, pitcher, Vanderbilt. Much has been made of the relationship between the Cubs' Johnson and Beede. The Cubs know the kid very well, through him, and like his background, supposedly. His question is control//command, which seemed good early. However, once he started facing better hitters, he started walking people. He started slow on Friday against Tennessee, with a three run first. He responded by going eight, and giving up four runs in his longest career outing. Beede figures to be a good pitcher, but if he can't find the zone against SEC hitters, he figures to have trouble with walks at any level Double-A or above. Nice kid. Good pitcher. Middle-of-the-rotation potential. Likely not worth the fourth pick. Despite the knowledge the team has of him.

Cartos Rodon, pitcher, NC State. Everyone loved this guy last year. He has a put-away slider, and that can't be argued. Two concerns with Rodon, though. One could be fixed. One can't. Most top-end pitchers in the majors can 'spot' their fastball where they want it. This command allows them to get out in front early in counts, or force early contact on pitcher's pitches. Rodon doesn't have that. Yet. He doesn't have bad walk numbers, but when you watch a true craftsman on the mound, that first pitch will likely be nowhere near the heart of the plate. But it will often be a strike. Rodon has failed to represent so far. Will the Cubs be able to teach that? Would Rodon respond? If you think so, why do you think so?

While that can be fixed, another part of his game likely won't be. Ever. By anyone. Rodon isn't a good athlete. He's a lefty pitcher with good velocity and a healthy slider. However, if you're looking at past data points, the Cubs like athletes. Albert Almora and Kris Bryant are athletes. Wood is an athlete. For all the arguments on extensions, Jeff Samardzija is a proven athlete. The Cubs like drafting athletes. Athletes that are good at fielding their position. Running the bases (Wood and Samardzija are pinch runner candidates in extra innings). Rodon isn't an athlete. He's a pitcher. If Rodon slips to 1.4, the Cubs might take him anyway. However, if under truth serum, I think the brass might want him taken in the first three picks.

Now that I've blown up the draft for you -- do you have the podcasts loaded yet?

Jeff Hoffman, pitcher, East Carolina. Hoffman's team has had two problems. Keeping catchers healthy, and making routine plays. What that means is, well-placed pitches get hit to where a defender ought to be. But he isn't there. Or he can't make the play. And the inning extends. Or Hoffman makes a swing and miss curve ball. And his back-up catcher misses the ball in the dirt. And the runner on first moves to second.

One of the reasons Hoffman was 'ignored' early on is, well, scouts for pro teams don't spend much time scouting next year's draft. Or chronicling a freshman pitcher's vitals. Should they? Maybe. But it isn't protocol. Regardless how good or mediocre Jeff Hoffman was as a freshman or sophomore, would a team dredge a scout out to a game that is featuring a guy they won't be able to draft for over a year? Maybe, but not as often as I might think.

Hoffman has had some struggles this season. Upon listening to the podcasts noted, Hoffman (himself) decided to up his velocity this weekend. Mid-90s to 97. He has some mechanical issues to iron out. Mechanical issues can be fixed more easily than a non-athlete being turned into an athlete. Did I mention? Hoffman can dunk. And he follows Tyler Beede on Twitter. I think the Cubs would prefer Rodon to go before Hoffman. Hoffman seems to 'fit the type' better.

Tyler Kolek, pitcher, HS (Texas). I don't know a thing about Kolek's personality. As a prep, he has some secondary pitches that provide potential, but no guarantee. He is routinely hitting 100 MPH this spring in Texas. Kolek will go in the top five if he is healthy. The Cubs are sending almost any scout they can to see Kolek. If that one scout sees that one thing that makes him an obvious avoid, or an obvious pick, he might well be the guy. If available.

If you're counting, my preference here is Hoffman, Kolek, Rodon.

That's three. Who's the fourth?

Brady Aiken, pitcher, HS (California). Aiken throws in the low-to-mid-90s now from the left side. Scouting directors are staring to gush over him. As with the other guys at the top, all the scouts are watching him. Looking for flaws, and deciding what their specific coaches could get out of him. What did he do this week?

He pitched a no-hitter, and I have pictures.

Looks like a nice delivery. When the hitter rudely hit the ball against him, he seemed to get off the mound well. His school is a pitching factory, so he knows the basics.

My rankings, for now for 1.4 are as follows. Aiken/Hoffman/Kolek/Rodon/Beede. Though the podcast has a few names right behind Beede if needed.

Bullet-style, a few more.

* Virginia's Nathan Kirby fanned 18 in a Friday night no-hitter. I'm guessing a Cubs scout was there.

* Ole Miss wins a game when an IBB turns to a walk-off HR.

* A prep junior fanned 21 in a no-hitter over the weekend.

More next week. Actually, probably less next week.

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