The 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (as it is officially known) starts on Monday evening and you can follow it live on the MLB Network or online at mlb.com. And of course, you’ll be able to follow it here on Bleed Cubbie Blue as we will have an open thread and news about all the Cubs picks. If the Cubs make a big trade to move up in the draft, you’ll find out about it first here. They won’t, because you can’t trade draft picks like you can in the NFL and NBA. But if they could, we’d cover it.
Last season’s draft was a little anticlimactic for Cubs fans as the team did not have a first- or second-round pick, having forfeited both to sign Jason Heyward and John Lackey. The World Series made up for that lack of excitement. This season should be more exciting as the Cubs have two picks in the first round. But as you might have guessed, winning the World Series means you pick at the tail end of the round. The Cubs have their regular pick at 27 and then they have an extra pick at 30 for losing Dexter Fowler.
So who are the Cubs going to pick? Frankly, I’ve got no clue. Back when the Cubs were picking in the top five or ten, I could get a very good sense of who the Cubs were looking at. The last time the Cubs had a first-round pick in 2015, they were very strongly linked to Ian Happ. Kyle Schwarber was a little bit of a surprise, but there had been rumblings in his direction. We knew the Cubs were going to take Kris Bryant or Jon Gray in 2013, depending on what the Astros decided to do.
At 27 and 30, however, much of it is guesswork. So here’s a list of players who have been linked to the Cubs in various online reports. Maybe the Cubs will take one or even two of these young men. Or maybe they won’t. I don’t know and I think if the Cubs were being honest, they’d admit that they haven’t decided who they are going to pick either.
Picking this late, there aren’t any unblemished faces here. No one the Cubs take will be without some warts. The trick is to figure out which warts matter and which don’t.
Nick Allen. SS. Francis Parker HS (CA)
Allen is someone I’ve seen linked to the Cubs in several different forums and the front office has reportedly been seen at his games. The San Diego native is a terrific defensive shortstop who is being described as a true five-tool player, although his power is more in batting practice than in games at this point. His baseball skills and intelligence leap off the charts. I’ve seen him described as a top-ten prospect on that alone.
So why would Allen be available for the Cubs at 27? One reason: He’s 5’8”. Actually, that may not be true. He’s listed at 5’8”. Most reports say he’s actually shorter than that. A lot of teams are reluctant to risk a first-round pick on a high school kid who may just get out-muscled as a professional. But I can’t help but think that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer see a bit of Dustin Pedroia in him, although Pedroia isn’t quite that short.
Allen may not be around by the time the Cubs get to pick because it only takes one team to look past his height. (No pun intended) But he’ll certainly be in the mix if he’s still on the board when the Cubs pick roll around. He’s been listed as going to the Cubs in several mock drafts.
Daulton Varsho. C. Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Varsho is a new name I’ve heard the Cubs connected to. He’s a third-team Baseball America All-American and a left-handed hitting catcher with a lot of pop in his bat. There are some questions about his ability to hit for average in the pros because he strikes out a fair amount, but that didn’t stop him from hitting .362 with a .490 OBP for the Panthers this season. He’s also got above-average speed, and not just “above-average for a catcher” speed.
Defensively, he’s considered to be very good except that he’s got a below-average arm. That has some people thinking he could move to left field, except that he is pretty good at blocking the plate, fielding his position and handling a pitching staff, at least as much as any catcher in college baseball actually “handles” a pitching staff. College coaches call the pitches from the dugout.
Varsho had been expected to go in the third or fourth round of the draft, but he’s a guy with a lot of “helium” under him at the moment as he’s been climbing up draft boards. If the Cubs like him, they may not want to risk that he’ll still be around when they pick in the second round.
For those of you asking, yes. Daulton Varsho is the son of former Cubs outfielder Gary Varsho. He was also named after Gary Varsho’s teammate on the Phillies, Darren Daulton. Baseball America has Varsho going to the Cubs in a recent mock draft.
Luis Gonzalez. OF. New Mexico.
First off, this is not the son of the former Diamondbacks (and Cubs) outfielder, although Jacob Gonzalez is and he’s expected to go somewhere in the third or fourth round.
This Gonzalez was a two-way player for the Lobos, although scouts are pretty unanimous that his professional future is as a hitter. Gonzalez is not a big power guy, even in the thin air of Albuquerque. He’s should hit a lot of doubles as a professional, however. What he is, however, is an left-handed on-base machine and we know the Cubs front office loves that. This season, he walked 58 times and only struck out 32 times. Combined with his .361 batting average, that gave him a .500 OBP. His speed is at least above-average, so he could be an ideal leadoff hitter.
He can probably stick in center field defensively, but he’s not currently great out there. There is some hope that he’ll improve once he drops pitching and concentrates on being an outfielder.
There are always some questions about how much you can trust hitters from high-altitude New Mexico. So Gonzalez is not a player without some risk.
ESPN’s Keith Law had the Cubs picking Gonzalez in his mock draft earlier this week.
Tanner Houck. RHP. Missouri.
MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis is generally the best in the business at predicting the first round and his Friday mock draft had the Cubs taking the tall right-hander from Missouri, along with Allen as the 30th pick. (Although even Callis would admit that predicting the second-half of the first round is not something he or anyone else does well.)
Houck was one of the best pitchers in the best conference for college baseball for three seasons now. He strikes out more than a batter an inning and he has good control. Houck has an outstanding fastball in the 90-94 range with good movement. He’s pretty much death on right-handed hitters.
There are a couple of problems with Houck, however. First off, his slider is just OK and he barely has a third pitch. On top of that, he has an odd, cross-body delivery from a low arm angle that is very deceptive, which is good, but also has some scouts thinking he’s an injury waiting to happen. Because of all of this, many think Houck is destined to be a reliever, despite the size (6’5”) and stamina to start.
M.J. Melendez. C. Westminster Christian HS (FL)
Melendez is the top high school catching prospect in this year’s draft, although it should be noted that the track record of drafting high school catchers is not a good one. But Melendez is considered to have outstanding catching tools with a strong arm and excellent movement behind the plate to block pitches or field dribblers. He’s also considered a high-character kid and we know that the Cubs current front office places a lot of weight on that.
He’s also has terrific baseball intelligence. Melendez has gotten a chance to call pitches on the showcase circuit and has impressed scouts with his ability to handle a game. He’s also bilingual, which is a nice bonus for a catcher these days.
Melendez is also a left-handed hitter that has shown some terrific bat speed that scouts think will translate into good power. He’s likely to be more of a hitter for power than average, however.
Beyond the poor track record of high school catchers, the other downside of Melendez is that he’s committed to play college ball at Florida International, where his dad is the head coach. (That’s where much of his baseball intelligence comes from.) That might make him a tough sign. But if he were dead-set on playing for his dad, he would have told teams that and he hasn’t. He wants to play pro baseball, but he’s got a better backup plan than most high school kids.
Michael Mercado. RHP. Westview HS (CA)
Another San Diego product, Mercado is another guy with a lot of helium heading into the draft. What scouts love about Mercado is how projectable he is. He’s 6’5”, but only 165 pounds and he already throws 90-93 mph. Teams feel if they can clean up his delivery and put some more weight on him, he can add even more velocity.
But Mercado is more than just his fastball. He has four pitches that he can throw for strikes, which is terrifically unusual for a high school kid. His curve has the potential to be as good as his fastball one day. There is some ace ceiling here.
The reason why Mercado might fall to the Cubs (beyond him just being an unfinished but projectable product) is that he has a strong commitment to Stanford. He won’t sign for the $2.3 million bonus slot money that the Cubs have with the 27th pick. But were the Cubs to take an under-slot player at number 30 and get that bonus up closer to $3.5 million, he might change his mind. But the Cubs would have to come to an agreement with Mercado before the draft (illegal, but happens all the time) before they picked him. I’ve seen several sources report that the Cubs have at least sounded Mercado out.
Sam Carlson. RHP Burnsville HS (MN)
No one has ever taken a Minnesota high school pitcher in the first round of the draft, but Carlson could easily be the first. The 6’4” righthander took a leap forward in velocity this year, sitting 91-95 mph and even hitting 97 mph in a showcase game last fall. Scouts also like his deceptive but clean three-quarters delivery.
Carlson also has a slider in the upper-70s mph range that he has become much more consistent with this year. He doesn’t throw his changeup much in games because he doesn’t need to, but scouts who have seen it in bullpen sessions think it is quite advanced for a high school kid and could end up being a plus pitch in the majors. Three pitches along with good size and stamina could add up to at least a mid-rotation starter ceiling.
Both the Sporting News and CBS Sports have mock drafts where the Cubs take Carlson.