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Cubs Draft Preview--AJ Pollock

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The Major League Baseball 2009 Amateur Draft starts this coming Tuesday. The draft is a crucial part of building a winning ball club, but more than any other sport, it's difficult to project which amateur players are going to be stars. On average, only about half of the first round picks ever get more than a cup of coffee in the major leagues, and even fewer become starters. No player ever taken with the first pick in the draft has ever made the Hall of Fame, although I'm sure Ken Griffey Jr. will change that soon.

This year's draft is especially difficult to predict. After the überprospect, San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the rest of the available amateur talent doesn't stand out a lot from each other. Scouts are saying it is difficult to tell the difference in talent level between the projected second pick in the draft and the guys projected to go in the mid to late first round. The talent level in the projected third round isn't significantly less than the talent level projected to go in the late first. It's wrong to say that this is a weak draft, because there is a lot of talent out there. It's a deep draft with few standouts beyond Strasburg.

As the minor league coordinator here at Bleed Cubbie Blue, it's my job to give you a preview of the draft. The only problem is that between watching the Cubs, my minor league coverage and my family, I really haven't had the chance to get really familiar with the talent available. And of course, this just happens to be one of the toughest drafts ever to predict, and the Cubs don't pick until #31.

So what do you do when you have a tough job and you don't know how you're going to get it done? You get someone else to do it, of course. And we here at BCB are lucky enough to have some smart members. So I'm handing off the previews of the minor league draft to Matt Marsden, who is also known as MJMars around here. He's going to be doing a series of previews of players that we feel the Cubs could take in next week's draft, as well as a draft recap.

One thing that Mark and I agree on is that the Cubs have two players in their sights, and if either one of those players are available at #31, one of them will be the pick. He's going to preview them today and tomorrow.

The first player is Notre Dame outfielder AJ Pollock. The Cubs have a history of picking Notre Dame players, the Cubs could use some more athletic center fielders in the system and Pollock is projected to go somewhere in the late first round. Now he may not last that far (I've also seen two mock drafts listing the Diamondbacks grabbing him at #16) but if he makes it past the Diamondbacks at #16, then he could very well fall to us at #31. If you click on the link above, you can go to the page with another scouting report on Pollock and some video of him hitting.

So I'm just going to shut up for now and let Matt Marsden aka MJMars take it away for here. He'll also be back tomorrow with a report on the other player we think the Cubs are interested in.

The draft is less than a week away (Tuesday, June 9th 5 PM CDT on the MLB Network) and the Cubs first pick at #31 overall. As of now, there appears to be a good chance the Cubs will take Notre Dame center-fielder A.J. Pollock. Both Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus and Jim Callis of Baseball America have pegged the Cubs to take Pollock.

Jim Hendry has shown some affinity for Notre Dame players in the past, drafting RHP Grant Johnson with the teams first pick (2nd round) in the 2004 draft and then taking Jeff Samardzija in the 5th round of the 2006 draft. Aaron Heilman also played ball at Notre Dame and we are all aware Hendry had been after him for some time. Hendry's prior history with ND players, coupled with Scouting Director, Tim Wilken’s typical liking of high contact hitters makes Pollock a very good and likely fit for the Cubs.

Pollock is a right-handed handed hitting, center-fielder. He projects to stay in center in pro ball. Do not expect any gold-gloves from him, but Pollock has the range and arm to be a good defender. Pollock is a very polished hitter and makes a ton of contact. On the season, Pollock has struck out a mere 24 times in 241 at-bats (10% K-rate). On top of that, Pollock is a disciplined hitter, having walked 30 times on the season and has a .443 OBP. He has spent the season as the Irish lead-off hitter and projects as that type of hitter in the bigs. Though he is not a burner, Pollock has decent speed and very good instincts, allowing him to be a legitimate threat on the base paths (21 steals in 25 attempts this year) and allowing him to get good jumps on fly balls in center.

Dominating Big East pitching is nothing new to Pollock this season. His freshman year, Pollock led the Irish with a .372 AVG along with a .464 OBP and .474 SLG. Sophomore year was almost as impressive, with a .352 AVG, .414 OBP, to go along with 28 stolen bases. He only struck out 10 times the entire 2008 season (once every 21 at-bats).

What may be more impressive than Pollock's success against Big East pitching the past three seasons was his performance in the Cape Cod League last summer. The Cape Cod League is a wood bat league and widely considered to be the best summer baseball league in baseball, where some of the top college talents face each other. There were 11 players taken in the first round of the 2008 draft that played in the Cape the summer prior. Pollock was the MVP of the Cape last summer, putting up a .377/.455/.556. Though he was the MVP (Mike Fontenot and Matt Murton former Cape MVP's as well), he was not the top prospect in the Cape (projected 1st rounder’s Grant Green and Dustin Ackley were 1-2 respectively) and Baseball America ranked him number 7.

There have been many questions surrounding Pollock's power potential in the past. Many felt he would not project to hit for enough home runs to justify drafting in the first round. This was certainly a legitimate concern as Pollock only hit 3 home runs and 7 double his freshman season and having just 4 HR's his sophomore year. Putting up a .556 slugging percentage (best mark in the Cape last year) with a wood bat will do a lot to alleviate those concerns. Pollock has built on his success from last summer and hit 10 HR's along with 19 doubles and 5 triples this season, to give him a slugging percentage of .610. Jim Callis of Baseball America recently projected Pollock as a hitter that can hit 30 doubles and 15 home runs a season.

I see a lot of Matt Murton when I think about Pollock. Both were polished right-handed hitting outfielders and both were Cape Cod League MVP's. They are both contact-oriented hitters with advanced approaches at the plate and respectable power. The biggest difference between the two is athleticism. Pollock is definitely the better athlete and because of that and a good arm, will be able to stick in center. Despite mixed results from Murton at the big league level, he has a career OPS of .793 which is close to league average for left-fielders, but a .793 OPS for a center-fielder is well above-average. Pollock should be considered the better prospect given the likelihood he is a center-fielder in the bigs.

Hopefully Pollock will be around at #31 when the Cubs pick. His power has been very impressive this season and Pollock has certainly moved up draft boards this spring. I believe this would be a very fine pick for the Cubs, given his polish, strong approach and athleticism.

This is Josh again. I just want to say something about Mark's Matt Murton comparison. I think Pollock is reminiscent of Murton at the plate, not on the basepaths or in the field. One of the problems with Murton is that he doesn't have the power or the speed that you want out of a starting left fielder, but Murton's defense couldn't play in center. Pollock has both the defense to play center field and the speed to bat leadoff, which makes him potentially a lot more valuable than Murton.