The Chicago Cubs continued their trend of drafting power when they chose Indiana University catcher Kyle Schwarber in the first round of the MLB First-Year Draft.
Schwarber is considered to have a special left-handed bat. This past season at Indiana, Schwarber hit .358 with 14 home runs and a .659 slugging percentage. He walked more times than he struck out (44 to 30) which gave him a .464 OBP. The year before, he hit 18 home runs which was a school record and good enough for third in the NCAA (that would be 13 behind Kris Bryant though).
Baseball America called Schwarber "a smart hitter who studies pitchers and has tremendous strength to punish pitches to all fields." ESPN wrote that he "may have the most raw power of any prospect in the class, showing plus-plus power to right field thanks to tremendous lower body strength and strong wrists." MLB.com wrote that he "offers lots of strength and bat speed from the left side of the plate, and he's not a one-dimensional hitter either. Schwarber controls the strike zone well and repeatedly barrels balls, so he should hit for a high average as well" John Sickels wrote "the bat is not doubted, with left-side thunder and a good, solid, mature approach to hitting."
Sounds good, right? Well, as Cubs fans, you know that there is a "but" coming. Schwarber was not expected to go in the first five picks or even the top ten (although at least one rumor had him going to the Rockies at number eight) because few observers think he can remain behind the plate. He's a big guy at 6'0'', 240 pounds, although he's surprisingly athletic for someone that size. He stole ten bases this season for the Hoosiers in thirteen attempts. He wants to remain behind the plate, but while his skills there have improved, they can still be charitably called "below average." Many scouts think he's destined for first base, although Cubs scouting head Jason MacLeod said the Cubs think he can play a corner outfield position if he can't stay behind the plate. Clearly he would be more valuable to the Cubs as a catcher or corner outfielder than at first base.
Schwarber is expected to sign quickly and for under the recommended slot value, which would allow the Cubs to spend more on "tough signs" that have fallen to the later rounds today.
In the second round, the Cubs went back to the (any day now) Big 10 and took right-handed pitcher Jake Stinnett of Maryland. Stinnett is a college senior who was taken in the 29th round by Pittsburgh last season, but chose to return to school rather than sign. It turned out to be a wise decision, as Stinnett had a big senior season, going 7-6 with a 2.65 ERA. In 112 innings, he struck out 130 and walked only 27. He made a huge impression on March 21 when he and the Maryland Terrapins crushed Carlos Rodon (the third pick in the draft to the White Sox) and North Carolina State, 10-0. According to his head coach, "All those guys [scouts] sitting behind home plate with the radar guns were still sitting there in the eighth inning [after Rodon left in the 5th]. That's a tribute to Jake." I can guarantee the Cubs were one of the teams there to scout Rodon and ended up watching Stinnett. (Hat tip to Bradsbeard for the link.)
One thing that has intrigued teams about Stinnett is that he has both room for growth and not a lot of miles on his arm. Stinnett came to Maryland as a third baseman and didn't become a full-time pitcher until his junior season. Baseball America says that his fastball sits 92-95 mph and can reach 97, with a good slider and a changeup that he's still learning. He's a little thin at 6'4", 205 pounds, but most scouts think he can remain a starter.
Stinnett was projected to go somewhere in the late second or third round, but as a college senior he has little leverage and should sign quickly and for under slot. (Although for no doubt a lot more money than the Pirates offered him last season.) Again, the Cubs should have a lot of money in their bonus pool to make riskier picks today.
Again, we would all like to welcome Kyle Schwarber and Jake Stinnett to the Cubs. May we see you at Wrigley Field one day in the near future.