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2015 MLB Draft Prep Gets Offensive

Some thoughts on hitters who might be available and worth selecting when the Cubs' turn comes up in the first round.

Ian Happ, from the University of Cincinnati, hangs out with the cows on the Crafts Farm in Harwich Port before heading to a Cape Cod League game
Ian Happ, from the University of Cincinnati, hangs out with the cows on the Crafts Farm in Harwich Port before heading to a Cape Cod League game
Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

I'm getting more set in my ways regarding wanting the Cubs to select a hitter in the first round in June. When something is working well, there isn't necessarily a compelling reason to change it. The Cubs have gone with a hitter first, and pitching after, in the last three drafts. For now, I'm buying the premise. This week's Draft Prep looks mainly at hitters.

Before getting to the offense, though, I'll make a slight nod to the quality available pitchers. Virginia lefty Nathan Kirby is retaining his status near the top of the draft, as are Louisville's Kyle Funkhouser, and 2014 top pick Brady Aiken. A few prep arms are near the top of many of the mock drafts. Dansby Swanson figures to go early on the perception he might stick at shortstop. Prep shortstop Brendan Rodgers and center fielder Daz Cameron, among others, are positioning in the area as well.

Even if I wasn't buying the Cubs picking a hitter first, which I am completely bullish on, this article is chiefly about collegiate hitters. To do so, I move into the future a bit. As well as Kris Bryant as adjusted to pro ball, it will still take him about 21 months to reach the majors. Kyle Schwarber will probably take longer. Whoever the Cubs select in June will probably remain "in the pipeline" until at least June 2017. The team likely will have no rush on him at all. If, mind you, he hasn't been traded in the meantime.

The goal, then, is to get the player who will likely be the best option on-or-after July 2017. That is well into the future. While hunching the line-up then is easy, the roster is fairly certain to settle some between now and then. Getting the guy most likely to be a good player for the next six years should be the goal this June. What position or positions will be wanted most then is guesswork. Especially if "pitcher" is being discounted.

The call-up would likely be a short-term fill-in, until the other player returns from injury. The Iowa-Chicago shuttle would then be in play for a few months or years. After all, not all new-to-the-league hitters are expected to start right away. (And still, some think the Cubs got entirely lucky'with Bryant. If it were luck, they draft Jonathan Gray from Oklahoma. Except, he's a pitcher.)

Earlier this week, I got around to what qualifies as homework. I asked a Cubs-centric question on a Perfect Game draft Q&A. For those that don't want to scroll the arrow down a few questions, I asked which bat goes at nine if Theo Epstein stays true to form. Patrick Ebert responded with three names.

Ian Happ (no relation to Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ) is an outfielder for the Cincinnati Bearcats. He's dabbled in the infield in college, and might get another chance as a pro. He is in right field in college now, but probably would move somewhere else as a pro. His defense, like former Cubs farmhand Josh Harrison (also from Cincinnati), might be a work in progress through the minor leagues.

With Happ, it would be about the bat. He's a switch-hitter, and has top-of-the-order speed, though maybe more as a second-slot hitter. He's patient at the plate, and limits his strikeouts. He has solid tools across the board, though none are chart-wrecking. His hitting, though is his strength. If Happ has the side-stuff going, he would make sense in June, especially if he comes at a discount. That would allow later efforts toward a prep arm or two.

D.J. Stewart is a pure left fielder from Florida State. He shows up nowhere on any mock drafts, as few teams are interested in grabbing a poor-man's Jason Giambi (less power, better defense) in the first round with the more exciting players on the board. Stewart looks to ooze a Theo Epstein type of player.

Some of his strikeouts seem to come early when the first two hitters are retired in the first. Facing an exaggerated shift, he can seem mildly frustrated trying to decide if he should try to coax a two-out first frame walk, bunt for a single, or squeeze the ball into a spot in the right field area where the defense has placed five fielders. When runners are on base, he has less offensive qualms.

Again, with Stewart, it will boil down to internal desire, off-field stuff, and what the brass think of his bat. I'm on an island considering him at nine. He fits the Cubs primary interests from a game-time standpoint. If he has the Kyle Schwarber chip on his shoulder, the Kris Bryant professionalism, and is willing to take an under-slot deal, he makes sense at nine.

Alex Bregman from LSU is the best defender of the three. More of a singles and doubles guy than a slugger, he draws scouting respect for his defense and his offense. If the Cubs were drafting with the current method four years ago with this class, Bregman makes sense. I get the impression he might be a Gordon Beckham on defense, but the question is the bat.

Bregman might be able to stick at short. If he's a quality defensive middle infielder, and might be able to represent as a number two or number six hitter, that makes sense for many teams. Perhaps, less so for the Cubs. Conversely, two-way players are helpful in any system, and one of these early picks will get traded 12 to 13 months later. He has started hitting very well recently for the Tigers.

In summary, I'd have no trouble with any of these three getting selected early in June by the Cubs. None should be whiffs, and much of a scouting board isn't displayed on a stats sheet. All have big league-upside, and whichever one interviews well, and is willing to sign 'enough' below slotted value would be better than a pitcher awaiting Tommy John surgery. Sooner or later.

Kendall Rogers' Ten Thoughts from Friday is now an automatic addition. By automatic, I add it to the Draft Prep, then read it.  One thing he didn't note was the tough-luck start for potential top selection Dillon Tate. He was just under 100 pitches through eight, leading 2-1 for UC-Santa Barbara against Wichita State. Tate had fanned six and walked none, surrendering but four hits and one run. A pair of relievers walked one and gave up three hits while recording an out in the 3-2 loss.

I caught some of Kyle Funkhouser's start for Louisville against Boston College. He gave up some runs while I was watching but was far better than most of the competition. Quite a bit there to work with for the team that drafts him early.

Tyler Jay helped Illinois to a 3-1 week. If you live in the Champaign-Urbana area, he might be worth a look from a "I saw him before he was..." perspective.

Before I cut out, it seems the college ranks are awash in good senior players. That seems a good article for soon. Perhaps, even one giving respect to pitchers. Before they get hurt.