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2018 MLB Draft Prep: A look at the 98th pick

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The Cubs have five picks among the first 98 in this year’s draft.

Jack Morris was the 98th pick in the 1976 draft. He’s going into the Hall of Fame this summer
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

As I tend to follow the college game more than many, and without too many overriding biases, names that pop up on draft mocks and depth charts resonate with me more than some. The league draft depth chart goes 100 deep as I begin this article. This is a look at some of the available talent in that range, and why I bother.

Kyle Bradish is a 6-4 RHP from New Mexico State. A fast ball/curve/slider guy, he’d be a useful option at 98. (Jack Morris from Brigham Young is the best historic 98. Joe Kelly and Edwin Diaz have been useful recently.) Starter or leverage relievers both make sense in that range, and he could be either.

Colton Eastman is a three-pitch RHP from Cal State Fullerton that the Cubs might be willing to trade up for, if that was permitted. His change is his best pitch.

As for bats on the board, Alex McKenna is a hit/run outfielder from Cal Poly, and Grant Witherspoon is a balanced center fielder from Tulane. However, by the time 98 rolls around, other options will likely be in play. Types that just missed, for one reason or another.

One of the people I follow on Twitter was promoting a left-handed pitcher from Virginia named Daniel Lynch. He’s 6-4 and 195 pounds, and has given up about a hit per inning. From the outside, you might want more flash than that. However, his trajectory is about what makes sense for a pick so near 100.

At 6-4 and 195, he could add about 10-20 more pounds of muscle as a professional. A repertoire lefty, he already gets good hitters out with more than one pitch. Walks don’t appear a problem. I pound the drum for bats as much as anyone, but Lynch at 98 would seem about ideal if the principle names are gone, especially with low-90s velocity already.

DJ Artis is a lead-off man/center fielder type from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. His at-bats have a bit of corkscrew from a 5-9 frame. For those that want “more base stealing” through the pipeline, Artis makes quite a bit of sense. I’ve seen him track balls and throw from center a few times. He seems competent if not sensational. With the muted expectations a fan should have from a late-third round selection, Artis seems a reasonable gamble.

Another player I’ve half-stumbled into is Richie Palacios. A second baseman from Towson University (Towson, Maryland), he has some pedigree, with relatives having played in college and pro ball. He has some pop and speed, and should be a decent-enough second base or center field option through the minors. Makeup, or the ability to be a good teammate, isn’t a question with Palacios, so much as a starting point.

Do you want power? Bren Spillane figures to come off the board somewhere around the 98 spot. I have no awareness how he would do at an outfield position, but he’s been rather athletic at first. He could certainly be tried in left in the Midwest League. His power should play, at least at the lower levels.

Josh Stowers is a heart-of-the-order guy for Loiusville with an OPS of 1.004. A native of suburban Westchester, he played his high school ball at Mount Carmel and has been in center field recently for Louisville. On Wednesday, he launched one “over the Bull” in Durham Bulls Athletic Park that went 362 feet officially.

Putting together a preference list at 98 may make drafting seem like the crapshoot that many people like to phrase it as. However, that overlooks two rather major points. An overriding factor in both is that a team wants to bring in “as many” “valid possibilities” as possible. Like with some words or names, “as many” and “valid possibilities” get any equally strong level of stress.

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When I watch a game, plenty of players don’t impress me very much. Perhaps they hustle. Perhaps they’re great teammates. Perhaps they have velocity on their side, or field a few positions well. However, despite having played three or four years of college ball, they have a few major flaws that call into question whether they’ll ever reach full-season ball.

If a pitcher has only two pitches, and can’t get either over consistently, pass. If the average constantly hovers around the .230 mark or below, no thank you. If he swings out of his shoes at pitches out of the zone, I’m not really very interested.

Drafting is about prioritizing. If a player is under consideration at 98, he should be worthy of consideration there. He should be “better than” the guys that should be under consideration in Round Six, because teams want as many valid possibilities as possible.

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To consider the draft a crapshoot, you disrespect the importance of scouting. The Cubs have a bevy of scouts watching players anywhere baseball is being played. Regarding the June draft, area scouts and cross-checkers are assessing the aspects of players’ games, both on and off the diamond.

I’ll use Stowers as an example. A Chicago kid, he plays center field, moves well, and has pop. In which round should he be prioritized? Is he a third-round guy? Perhaps a fifth-round guy. It’s a bit like choosing produce from the grocery. You want the one that you prefer.

If “it’s a crapshoot” plays, the Cubs don’t need to evaluate. Just have a list of the top 800 names from one of the paid publications, and roll from there. Locate a non-biased source, and guess. Third baseman from that Conference USA school. Hard Eight. Catcher from the Pac-12.

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The other reason “crapshoot isn’t applicable? The other reason talent assessment is rather important? History isn’t a fluke.

While this doesn’t necessarily apply to you, quite a few Cubs fans have become spoiled by the last few years of success. Many have jumped from “the draft never provides much value” to “anyone can properly select talent.” Both views are rather simplistic and greatly exaggerated.

The Cubs have gotten quite good at selecting talent in the draft, and reasonably good at running it partway up the flagpole. By the time the 98th pick comes up, the Cubs figure to have 30-50 reasonably similar players to select from each round. By getting one of the best at each selection spot, they have a valid shot at having 25-30 valid players making the system better for the next six years.

While you’re likely more committed to the game going on television come Tuesday, and that’s fine, the players being announced on these three days are going to be low-cost additions, hopefully making the organization better. If the Cubs locate and develop enough talent in June, the affiliates will have low-cost talent bubbling up for the next few years. Which provides MLB talent as needed.

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When I note players, like those above, that appear to be third-round talent, I’m not claiming to be a talent scout. What I am doing is noting that watching good college teams will open your eyes to good baseball talent. I’ve convinced a few of you to monitor college squads more carefully the last few years. The response has largely been very positive, though you don’t see the Twitter responses.

A person can still be a fan of the Chicago Cubs, while paying rather close attention to a college squad. Even if they aren’t a Field of 64 type of squad. Why is this? How can this be?

Baseball is a sensational game. Teams across the country have a wealth of talent. Pitchers in high school are throwing 92-plus far more than in years gone by. College pitchers can get three pitches over for strikes. Stowers wasn’t the only player to hit a ball “over the bull” in the ACC Tournament.

Competent scouts have hundreds of players to prioritize. Many of the players the Cubs will draft next week will be “worthy follows” in the future, should you go that way, whether they qualify for an MLB pension, or not. Such to the extent the Cubs choose the proper players, and maximize their production, the Cubs will be well-off for years to come.

If the Cubs “get theirs” in early June, the future looks bright. Or, using the crapshoot method, the 1999 Draft could be revisited.

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While no specific player the Cubs select from the third round on will be “likely” to reach the big leagues, getting 25 or so players signed that all have between eight and thirty percent chances of breaking through, someone will likely exceed the value of their signing bonus by a hefty amount. As a person who buys the premise of “quality in bulk,” I’ll patiently wait to see which ones play out.

As this goes to press, the list has been bumped to 200. Getting the preferences right are still very important, regardless if the names are remotely familiar or not. I’m happy that I’ll soon have new names to follow, a Eugene season starting soon, and four more box scores to track nightly, as well. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Having more games to follow beats the frustration from the parent club losing a close game. I don’t have a direct impact on any of the games, but seeing the broader spectrum gives me a better view of the future. Spreading the news of the quality talent “peeking through the dirt of the pipeline garden” is among my outlets for pleasure. As the Cubs scouts are rather good at bringing in talent worth following, the three days in June are among the more hopeful of any of the days on the calendar. For me, hope and knowledge are better than frustration.

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Which guys in the range of pick 98 make the most sense to you? The draft should be a learning experience every year. The better players will be drafted by someone, and run through their pipelines. To the delight of astute fans coast to coast.

The Cubs won’t “hit” on all their selections. Injuries, slumps, and players not developing as hoped are the necessary weeds in the garden. However, in a few years, when the players selected in June are debuting in MLB, show them the respect you want others to show for Cubs players doing the same. What sent them to another city wasn’t necessarily a talent gap, as a priority difference.

I think the baseball community would be more enjoyable if players received respect for pushing through to the top level. For those that disagree due to uniform designs, I’m an alien in your world. Baseball respect should be gained through effort and success from the starting point, not which team is paying the freight.