The MLB draft is only a three weeks away and we're all wondering who the Cubs are going to take with the fourth pick in the draft. Because we're impatient little squirts who don't want to wait until June 6, we rely on those people who study this stuff full-time to tell us who the Cubs will select.
The first (realistic) mock drafts have come out in the past few days, and there are some wide differences in who they think the Cubs will take. There really isn't any difference of opinion on the Cubs position, instead, the issue is who the three teams picking ahead of them will take. The Cubs were badly hurt by East Carolina right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman needing elbow surgery. Hoffman was the overwhelming favorite to be the choice of the Cubs if he wasn't taken by one of the three teams with earlier picks. (And for those asking, Hoffman is almost certain to be gone by the time the Cubs make their second selection, even after Tommy John surgery.)
Even though it's not a good idea to draft for need in the first few rounds, it is acceptable to take into account the current state of the Cubs system before choosing between two roughly equal prospects. As most of you know, the Cubs have one of the strongest minor league systems in the game right now, one that pretty much everyone agrees belongs among the top five systems. That doesn't mean there aren't strengths and weaknesses. We'll be talking about this more as we get closer to the draft, but the Cubs system is strong on hitters at pretty much every position except catcher, which is a notable weakness in the system. The pitching situation is a little shakier. The Cubs seem to have gotten a steal in the Matt Garza trade with C.J. Edwards, but he's pretty much the only pitcher in the system who profiles out to be a #1 or #2 starter right now. Even with Edwards, there are real questions about his durability and that he's currently on the DL doesn't help. As far as relievers go, there are two strong candidates to be major league closers in Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero, as well as probably half a dozen other guys who could end up as closers but are more likely to be set-up men.
So starting pitching and catching are a real concern for the system.
Turning to the mock drafts, I'm going to just list the first four picks because that's all most of you are interested in. If you're interested in the rest of the first round, just click on the links and go read the articles themselves. I'm also ignoring any mock draft published before Hoffman's injury.
I'm starting with MLB Pipeline because Jim Callis works there and when Callis was with Baseball America, he had an eerily good record at predicting the first round. I can't find what year it was, but I think one year he correctly predicted the first 17 picks. One caveat: His most accurate mocks are the ones he publishes the morning of the draft. This far out, he's not so accurate.
MLB Pipeline has two mocks, one by Callis and one by Jonathan Mayo
Callis' picks (on the video) are:
1. Astros: LHP Carlos Rodon, North Carolina State
2. Marlins: LHP Brady Aiken, Central Cathedral HS (CA)
3. White Sox: LHP Tyler Kolek, Shepard HS (TX)
4. Cubs: Alex Jackson C/OF Rancho Bernardo HS (CA)
Mayo's choices (in the article) simply flip Kolek and Aiken with the Cubs still taking Jackson.
Jackson is the consensus best hitter in the draft and would fit a need . . . if anyone thought he could remain behind the plate. Most everyone thinks he'll move to RF, perhaps as soon he signs. But of course, we aren't supposed to draft for need in baseball.
Turning to SB Nation's Minor League Ball, Matt Garrioch has the first four picks as:
1. Astros: Rodon
2. Marlins: Kolek
3. White Sox: Aiken
4. Cubs: Jackson.
So exactly the same as Jonathan Mayo.
Does anyone think the Cubs aren't taking Jackson? John Manuel at Baseball America doesn't.
1. Astros: Rodon
2. Marlins: Jackson
3. White Sox: Aiken
4. Cubs: LHP Kyle Freeland, Evansville.
In this scenario, Jackson is gone to the Marlins before the Cubs get a chance to pick, yet they still pass on Kolek. Manuel thinks Kolek is dropping on boards because of how hard he throws (over 100 mph) and his size (he's taller and heavier than CC Sabathia was when drafted). This sounds good, but adds up to a recipe for arm injuries for the people Manuel is talking too.
Freeland is someone with a lot of "helium," meaning he's shooting up draft boards. Freeland's fastball is pretty average at 90-91 mph, but he's got a cutter and a changeup that are potentially devastating major league pitches. But obviously without the velocity, the upside isn't as great there.
Finally, we have Keith Law over at ESPN.com, which is naturally an Insider Only article. (Although I do have to say, if you're into this kind of stuff, an ESPN Insider subscription is totally worth it. You also get the Magazine, which only slightly devalues the quality of the product.)
1. Astros: Aiken
2. Marlins: Jackson
3. White Sox: Kolek
4. Cubs: Rodon
Law admits this is pretty much the dream scenario for the Cubs. He sees the Astros taking Aiken and signing him to an underslot deal like they did with Carlos Correa two years ago. He also hears that the Marlins are concentrating on taking a bat, and Jackson is the best of the bunch. He feels the White Sox will be scared off by Rodon's price tag and Scott Boras, leaving him to the Cubs. He says if all three big pitchers are off the board by the time the Cubs pick, the Cubs could go in a lot of different directions including Jackson, OF Michael Conforto, RHP Aaron Nola and C Max Pentecost.
So there you have it. You won't even have to turn in on June 6 anymore. But we'll keep you updated if any of this information changes.