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2018 MLB draft prep: A look at the 2018 Illini

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And a look at some of the top college options for the Cubs in this year’s draft.

Brady Singer of the Florida Gators at the 2017 College World Series
Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

I was going with this anyway, but Augie Garrido died on Thursday. Garrido coached the Illini for three seasons, winning two Big Ten titles. Garrido was a head coach in college baseball from 1969 until 2016. That would be quite a few lives touched. The icon spent much of his coaching career at Cal State Fullerton and with the Texas Longhorns. With a heaping degree of respect toward Garrido, I look at a surprisingly good Illinois squad.

Pegged toward the back off the Big Ten projections entering the season, Illinois scuffled early, best exemplified by being unable to fly to Texas for their weekend opening series. They settled for playing two in St. Louis instead, and lost three of their first four games.

After reaching the 2015 final 16, the next two seasons were in the range of .500. Illini head coach Dan Hartleb recruits the Chicago suburbs rather heavily, and his squad last season was very young. Since the early struggles, Hartleb’s Illini had won seven of eight, entering a three game set in Carbondale this weekend.

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Looking at college teams and players as draft options is a valid part of what I’m writing on, until the minor league season jumps. The reality is, if a college player is better than his level, he likely should earn a look in pro ball. This justification increases as the opposition quality does.

Unlike basketball and football, the Big Ten isn’t an elite conference. However, college players that outplay the league should still get a professional shot.

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Hartleb’s pitching goes about nine deep, He’s limited his starting pitchers to four so far. His top starter so far has been Quinn Snarskis. Despite being a velocity agnostic, his 11 strikeouts in 20 innings won’t help the junior’s draft status, despite an ERA below 3.

Closer Joey Gerber gets the ball to the plate in the 93-96 range, and looks likely to be drafted in June.

The real feature with the Illini, though, is the offense. Or, the combo of the offense and defense.

The two best Illini aren’t draft-eligible in June. Sophomores Michael Massey (2B) and Ben Troike (SS) take care of the plays they’re supposed to, and a few they had no rights making.

In a recent game, Massey was a step away from three highlights reel plays in a half-inning. The headliner was a behind-the-back flip. The team had only made seven errors through 13 games.

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While they only have three averages over .290, Massey is at .340/.397/.491, Bren Spillane checks in at .367/.429/.735, and Troike reps a .385/.476/.577 slash line. Massey and OF Doran Turchin have won Big Ten Player Of The Week Awards.

Transfer CF Zac Taylor started slowly, but seems to be rounding into shape.

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In years gone by, teams tended to scout for the June draft, and essentially disregard monitoring players for future seasons. As such, teams wouldn’t mind options like Massey and Troike this season. However, with the ability to easily splice 2017 footage with 2018 and 2019 footage, scouting freshman and sophomores are standard practice. Even as they likely won’t be draft-eligible until after their junior season.

Scouts will gravitate to teams that are winning, as winning teams tend to have draft-worthy players.

I doubt the Cubs draft any Illini in 2018, though Turchin and Taylor might make sense if they stay on the board into the third day. Closer Gerber might make sense in Round Six, or so.

However, if the Illini’s success continues, plans can change. I’ve been told “people will drive to Champaign.”

If you want to follow a good college squad from Illinois, the Illini make a reasonable follow.

Spillane crushed three homers as the Illini won the first game this weekend. All were to the opposite field (RF) or CF. After a one-run loss in the middle game, they won the series finale, and have won 10 of 12. Spillane became the third Illini to earn conference Player Of The Week, already. They’re ranked as highly as 24th.

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Pitchers atop the draft board continue to shine. Last week, Casey Mize tossed a no-hitter. This week, Shane McClanahan fired the first six in a combined gem against Army, walking three and fanning 15.

So many of the arms atop the board seem on point that I might have to expand my draft-search list. With the names toward the bottom as good as they are, they seem far safer and close to ready than a “touted” high school player.

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I watched a bit of Tim Cate pitching on Friday on the computer. The game was in Queens, New York. Instead of a big hulking pitcher, he looks more like a Ted Lilly than Jake Arrieta. His key is his breaking ball. Which was on display, but he was very erratic in a cold, windy environment.

The first hitter in the first reached on a two-hopper to third, and would later score on a 19-hopper to RF. A few guys were making solid contact, but some of it was merely bad fortune.

Cate lasted five, surrendering eight runs with six earned against a solid St. John’s offense. How much permanent reputational damage should one bad start have on a player? Especially on a day where the scouts in attendance were in mufflers, hoods, mittens, and scarves.

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The Top College Options:

Brady Singer, RHP Florida. Singer was touched for a run by South Carolina in the first on Friday, but that was about it over six frames. Two hits and two walks, and drew the win in a 7-3 match-up.

Shane McClanahan, LHP South Florida. Six innings of a combined no-hitter, as noted above.

Casey Mize, RHP Auburn. 7⅓ IP. One run, against a good Texas A&M team.

Nick Madrigal, IF Oregon State. Madrigal is still returning from a wrist injury. He’ll be fine, and off the board rather early.

Jackson Kowar, RHP Florida. Tagged with his first loss of the season on Saturday at South Carolina, Kowar hit a buzzsaw in the sixth inning. SEC schools tend to be good at baseball.

Ryan Rollison, LHP Ole Miss. A pitching duel into the seventh turned into a bullpen nightmare. Rollison pitched into the seventh, and the Rebels lost 8-6. Rollison fanned 11 walking three against Tennessee.

Travis Swaggerty, CF South Alabama. 0-5 with a strikeout on Friday night.

Jeremy Eierman, IF Missouri State. On Friday night, Eierman homered in the first on his way to a monster day. I’m not sure he can play SS in the upper levels of pro ball, but third would seem a very valid option.

Logan Gilbert, RHP Stetson. 7⅓ on Friday. Two hits. Two walks. 11 strikeouts. Twitter says 89-93 with a 74-77 curve.

Joey Bart, C Georgia Tech. Homered and walked three times on Friday night. Remains useful defensively.

Alec Bohm, 3B Wichita State. Two singles in four tries during the series opener.

Konnor Pilkington, LHP Mississippi State. Six-inning outing against Vanderbilt on Friday night, allowing two earned runs. His offense didn’t help him, at all. Nor did his defense.

Tim Cate, LHP Connecticut. As noted, was pounded.

Steele Walker OF, Oklahoma. A single, two walks, and a strikeout on Friday against Kennesaw State.

Griffin Conine, OF Duke. 1-2 on Friday with a HBP and a walk.

Sean Hjelle, RHP Kentucky. Arkansas jumped all over Hjelle, who allowed four runs over 3.1. Arkansas jumps quite a few teams.

Travis Larnach, OF Oregon State. 1-3 with two walks on Friday night.

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Historically speaking, if the Cubs (at 1.24) get “a useful MLB player,” they’re ahead of the game. Rich Dauer, Terry Mulholland, and Rondell White are among the historical 1.24s.

Not only is that the most likely spot for the Cubs to make gains, the first round is the most likely spot for division rivals to “catch up”. As such, instead of pleading for “an ace”, or whatever, becoming familiar with names likely to be available seems a far more useful venture. And making a case for an individual player you think will be available, and make sense.

Recently, the Dodgers drafted Walker Buehler on perceived weakness at 1.24. (The Cubs had drafted Ian Happ.) The Cubs might end up taking one of the above names on perceived weakness. Or a prep. Or someone with helium, who is rising the board, late.

My opinion remains what it’s always been. Grab a player that should succeed as a MLB player. And, if you want to complain, you have about five minutes to, or save it.

For instance, my Twitter feed has all sorts of different attitudes on the Jose Quintana trade. Some people hated it with the heat of 1,000 suns. Others liked it from the start. My immediate take was that I think Eloy Jimenez is a better American League type of player, and Dylan Cease had been a bit injury prone.

As such, the Cubs took something “more certain” over two pieces that were “more uncertain.” I was good with it. However, quite a few smart people really opposed it.

As long as they make their voices heard immediately, I respect the opinion.

The opinion tha annoys me is “the hedge.” “I’ll wait until I find out the result eight years later, then point out the obvious.”

With trades and the draft, information made public after the move is announced should be of little value to whether the action made sense or not. Draft prep in advance makes for nice discussions on draft night.

Disregarding the entire process entirely until the pitcher’s elbow snaps, then getting “historically revisionist” is inappropriate.

Know the names. Ask questions before. Have opinions, and reasons for them. On draft night, or when the trade happens.

And, when you’re wrong, learn for the next time.

RIP, Augie.