College baseball starts in mid-February. Scouts aplenty will soon be off watching games, etching notes, faxing in reports, and pulling information from game video. Getting the projections accurate will be key for the scouts, their employers, their fans, and their own future. What defensive positions should Cubs scouts pay closest attention to this year?
I'm a bit love-hate with the term "Best Player Available" when it comes to drafting. It's rather easy to toss off as a bit of an "I know better than you, you fool" comment. That said, deviating too far from BPA is generally unwise. Teams have needs, often. To avoid need tends to exacerbate system-wide problems.
On the other hand, financial constraints exist. If you grab BPA in each of the top four rounds, you might ruin your draft. You'll probably be able to sign the top two, but only if you take senior signs (College seniors have few options but to sign a pro contract for what's offered. They can't return to college, and miss a year of pro ball if they don't sign) the rest of the first ten rounds. While you want to get the best possible batch of players, it's rather hard to justify selecting players early who you won't be able to sign. Especially if you lose bonus cap room, as per the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.
After a few rounds, best available is often by-the-boards. A wise team usually has a few basic ideas where they might go in the first round. One option would probably be a best-available option. Depending on where the selection is, one or two might be mild-to-moderate discount options. As the time between selections seems extremely long to us on Draft Day (June 8. Mark your calendars, and put in for vacation as applicable), 15 minutes isn't much time to negotiate a full contract on the clock.
With the Cubs selecting ninth in 2015, the draft work needs to be well underway already. Two of the top college arms are Duke University's Michael Matuella and Louisville's Kyle Funkhouser. Top scouts will be at their early season starts, but some heed will also be paid to Vanderbilt's Walker Buehler and Virginia's Nathan Kirby. It would be tempting to have key scouts at all of their games. However, research won't be limited to game action. Research will be equally important on what sort of individuals they are. A red flag on anything too serious could lead to re-juggling the scouting rotations.
Prep arms and high school bats are also aplenty in the possible top-half of Round 1 this June. Those options will be a bit harder to ascertain solid information. Nobody's quite sure who the 'good bat' will be this time around. (Scouts were so much more confident with aluminum bats. They weren't necessarily more right. Just more confident.) I'll stick with my premise on who the Cubs should draft first; the guy remaining on the board with the greatest likelihood at 15 WAR for his career. This would discount pitchers some, and preps quite a bit. This week isn't about the first round, however. It's about later rounds.
Recently, the Cubs have had two main problems in the pipeline, and both of them are in the battery. The Cubs have gone a bit catching-heavy in drafts recently, and very pitching-heavy. Adding Miguel Montero and Kyle Schwarber in the last eight months has limited the perilous concern over catching. Some uncertainty still exists, but a few possible options were added between Schwarber and Montero in Mark Zagunis and Victor Caratini.
Neither Zagunis nor Caratini are certain MLB players, and Zagunis may be a better outfielder than catcher. Nonetheless, catcher is no longer a screaming obvious need.
Pitching will still be a staple, as it always should be, in the upcoming draft. A right-handed college starter than can throw three pitches for strikes is mildly intriguing, even if he rarely tops 92 on the radar gun.Whereas, a hitter needs to have a few things going to justify an early selection. Zagunis was considered versatile, a good base runner, and willing to work the count. That gets you selected in the third round. Many hitters have more fatal flaws, and drop because of it.
Before we get too specific on names, where do you want the Cubs to focus attention? College bats tend to lack pop these days. Even left-field-only types with power tend to go early. The Cubs have shied away from those types recently. Would you be up for a slugging left fielder this time around?
One of the reasons I appreciate the new-found balance in the pipeline is that some unexpected positions can creep to the top of the board. While the need for middle-infielders shouldn't be questioned, first base is a decent place to get some lagging talent, on occasion.
"But, the Cubs have Anthony Rizzo..."
The draft should rarely be about talent at the major-league level alone. Almost anyone drafted will need two or three years (at least) to be MLB-ready. By then, nobody knows what the situation will be in Chicago or elsewhere. In college, first basemen are often among the team's best hitters. If other teams are avoiding first-base-only-options on strength in their systems (which may be a fallacy anyway), and a really good option springs in the third or fourth round, there would be more foolish ways to go.
The Cubs scouts have a list of attributes they look for in players, be they college or prep, hitters or pitchers. They should command the strike zone, and be competitors on the field, and gentlemen off of it. Violations on any of those may be tough to overcome. As the draft gets into the second and third days, projection becomes very important. While the ability might be very apparent in the first couple rounds, the player's strengths beyond that may be keyed more on coaching he might receive in the future.
Which positions would you like to see the Cubs select after the first few rounds? Obviously, talent remaining on the board, the potential draftees' human attributes, and financial restrictions will come heavily into play. However, there will be a couple dozen rather good college players left heading into Round 3. Probably, most positions will be available and under consideration. Unless the Cubs under-slot their top two picks again, preps may be almost non-options then.
Considering that middle-infielder types with offensive pop will likely be gone, which position do you want selected in the third round in June?