I've been putting together a mental series of a few related topics that seem draft related. As no specific order properly organizes them, I'll start with why I usually ignore high schoolers in draft prep. It's the cool-person thing to do to have a few preps to tout when running a series such as this. As time goes on, I get less interested in doing so. I feel entirely justified in disregarding preps, and I'll probably continue to. With very few exceptions, preps are terrible first round picks.
Karsten Whitson was a highly interesting high-school arm a few years ago. In 2009, the Padres selected him with the ninth overall pick in the draft. He didn't come to terms with them, and took his impressive resume to college. As a freshman with the Florida Gators, he did rather well, showing promise for the future. As a sophomore, his numbers retreated, as he gave up more hits than innings. He missed his junior year with injuries. As a red-shirt junior, his hits dipped below his innings, but he walked 23 hitters in less than 40 innings. The Red Sox drafted him in the 11th round last June, and his WHIP in the New York-Penn League was over 1.8. That league equates to the Northwest League. It's too soon to say he's done, but the likelihood of him living to his "in the day" potential is rather remote.
Whitson isn't the first prep arm to fizzle against better competition. What happens is far too many scouts see a 95 mile per hour fastball, and dream away. The truth is, pitching is a craft. While it is true that velocity helps, basing a pitcher's future career value when a prep based entirely off of velocity is about as foolish as basing it on height or a vision test. Things like velocity help, but what's between the ears is important, as is future health.
With the prep hitters, it's not much better. If I tell you a prep knocked a homer, walked, fanned, and singled in a run, that tells you just about nothing. The strong possibility is that he may have put that up against a high school arm that won't pitch in college, much less get drafted. Numbers, without perspective, are just numbers. Good prep hitter, in line to get selected early, ought to crush 76 mile per hour fast balls. If he does, that means he might be good in batting practice, but little else.
I have three perfectly valid reasons to get less starry-eyed about preps than most. That their stats are virtually meaningless is but one of them. A pitcher that throws a 93 mile per hour heater had better have something else going on to deserve early consideration, and those things rarely get reported. A hitter might have great contact skills as a prep, but that doesn't necessarily translate.
Secondly is the time factor. I'm not specifically impatient, but Albert Almora has done very well through the system. He hasn't mastered Double-A pitching yet. Almora was Theo Epstein's first selection. College options have zoomed by him, This isn't a knock on Almora. It's an admission that high school choices have faaaaaaaaar more opportunities for things to go south.
The third reason I largely ignore preps is that they rarely come at any sort of early discount. Sometimes, they come at a premium. The MLBPA won't have a news release calling for a refund of the signing bonus if they end up over-hyped. Quality can be found early in preps. However, I'm content to let lottery ticket seeking GMs draft preps. Leave the players that have shown with their track records in school that they get the basics for the Cubs.
Then, if the money appears right, get one a bit later. Throwing $3 million at a high school kid who hasn't ever faced a Friday night starter seems a bit needlessly reckless. That said, if the front office believes in an 18-year-old more than a college letter-winner, have at it. I have very little confidence in the consequence, though.
Duke's Michael Matuella is having Tommy John surgery. Brady Aiken already has. For now, shortstop Brendan Rodgers (FL), Virginia lefty Nathan Kirby, and Santa Barbara righthander Dillon Tate look like the cream of the class. This is as blunt of a look at the first round as I've seen. He likes Ian Happ at nine. I wouldn't object, but prefer D.J. Stewart, who the link's author sends to St. Louis.
Looking at the ninth pick as anything certain and with heavy top-side is looking rather unrealistic. The Cubs can get a decent player, or they can take a big gamble. Taking a gamble increases the likelihood of repeating the frustration of prior failed picks. In the final analysis, the "he could have been (whatever)" will be of no value. What will matter is what he becomes.
Guessing the upside of a previously injured pitcher only ends up a positive if he remains healthy, figures out his secondary pitches, and commands the zone. Drafting the best available hitter, be it Happ, Stewart, Alex Bregman (from LSU), or someone else will pay dividends if he is able to hit. Which he has already shown the ability to do against quality college pitchers already. Prep hitters are equally questionable. They can hit 75 mile per hour fastballs, but haven't hit good college arms yet.
I listened to the Northwestern series in Champaign over the weekend. It was scheduled to be in Evanston, but the field was under construction. Illinois was hosting, but they batted first all three games. The opener was a pitcher's duel, with the game going 1-1 into extra innings. Northwestern went with their main reliever, Jake Stolley, and he did well through three innings. He was touched for a homer in the 13th, and an insurance run to boot. That was enough for Tyler Jay to put it away.
Wildcats center fielder Kyle Ruchim is their best player, and I wouldn't mind him in the Cubs system. He was routinely hitting doubles, is hitting well over .300, is quick enough to represent in center, and made a nice play to prevent an extra base hit. The first game was the only close one, as the Illini got deep into Northwestern's pen the latter two games, winning the finale 17-2.
This draft, as with many, won't have many "sure things." Many of those won't be so sure. There will be plenty of later rounders that end up as better players than many of those that draw hefty bonuses. As usual, pitchers will often be a better place to grab quality after the first round. And, of course, bonus money will be limited due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Draft hitters early, mmmmkay?