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2019 MLB Draft Prep: Asserting the premise

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And some further thoughts about draft possibilities.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Once in awhile, it’s nice to go back to the basics. With the Draft, the basics are often, “What sorts of players are the Cubs looking for?” “Well, duh. Ones that are good at baseball.” That shouldn’t be argued, because the “ability to play” is always a large part of the selection process. Sometimes, another writer’s full-length piece restates the premise rather well.

Recently I ran into a sensational article that interviewed Cubs scout Alex Lontayo. I’d preface the article, but you ought to read it as is. After reading the article, you get to a degree why the Cubs assessment of talent is mildly different from that of other teams’ lists. You also get a read on why their drafts don’t necessarily align with the Top 250 lists. The Cubs are looking for a different fit than other teams.

Similarly, as a Cubs assessor, I’m looking for different things than if I were monitoring a team that prioritized “tools”. The ability to exhibit baseball skills is important, without a question. however, by listening to audio streams, I’m more likely to hear an announcer who is very familiar with the player; not just his game. Perhaps in many systems, the “pure swing plane” might be what’s being sought. With the Cubs, the other stuff matters, as well.

Is this guy who sounds like a beast on the field more, or less, likely to visit the Pediatric Oncology Center? Is this guy the last one out of the weight room? And, as has been in the news a bit recently, is he a really good dude? Are there red flags? Announcers haven’t begun their panoramic mosaics of players yet. Those are a bit of what I crave. So far, opposition announcers have been the best tell of talent. If “not this guy again” is the comment, he’s useful.

As June approaches, I have seven right fielders, six middle infielders, and eight starting pitchers to assess. On the field, and off. As best as possible. If I need to decide between UNLV’s Bryson Stott and Vanderbilt’s JJ Bleday on draft day, I need to be able to have a reason for splitting the difference. I’m not there yet. In the later rounds, I’m seeking guys that would be good players, as well as good people to have in the pipeline.

***

The games I picked to listen to last Thursday were sensational. Northern Illinois (I wanted to listen to them win a game this season) won a game against Middle Tennessee State 3-2 in ten innings. As that ended, I flipped over to hear Bradley close out a 5-3 win in extras. I followed that with Oakland (from Michigan) storming back from a deep deficit to tie Morehead State, who won a 13-12 final. From a scouting perspective, Kam Misner (Missouri) keeps representing, despite his teams pitching coughing up a 3-0 lead against Northeastern. Arkansas avoided the same fate as lefty closer Matt Cronin fanned the four hitters he faced. Cronin makes sense in rounds four to six, if you like lefty relievers.

Friday was a day for the pitchers, largely. Southern Miss and Mississippi State played a 1-0 game that required 10 innings to complete. Which hints that both starting pitchers (Walker Powell and Ethan Small) are worthy of a draft look. Southern Miss won on the road in a pairing of two very potential Field of 64 teams. Friday gave plenty of other really good pitching performances, many from somewhat unexpected authors. Those are names for scouts to get out to assess soon.

After sweeping through their first weekend, the Illini trailed 6-3 heading to the road ninth at Florida Atlantic Friday night. A walk and a hit-by-pitch brought the tying run to the plate in catcher Jeff Korte, who had homered earlier. Illini Baseball on Twitter has a “catcher/dugout view of this, but I chose this because of the first baseman’s “reaction.”

Korte probably gets drafted based off of Friday night. It takes one team to buy into a player enough to make a very minor financial investment in him, because that’s the environment for Draft opportunities. Two homers with scouts watching can do that.

Illinois tacked on another run in the ninth, and moved to 4-0 with a 7-6 victory. By winning the next two games, they jumped to 6-0 and are now ranked. The Illini likely have six or seven draft-valid players. Because college teams that win tend to have future professionals on their roster.

Tennessee installed new turf this off-season to help them be able to “play more” in inclement weather. While Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, East Tennessee State, Middle Tennessee State, and Memphis all had games washed out because of weather on Friday, the Volunteers were able to play through, beating Indiana 5-1. The Vols are a surprising 7-0. Apparently, being able to play when the weather is drizzling helps a set of players get better. Their top two arms are very draft-legitimate, in Garrett Stallings and Zach Linginfelter. “Getting the game in” means the starting pitcher gets in his innings. That helps his draft stock, as well as his post-draft development.

Weather coast-to-coast all weekend tended to making finding a college game more of a chore than it should be. Within the next week, I expect to have a few mocks or re-shuffles in the June Draft universe. Alek Manoah from West Virginia figures to be climbing on a few of the lists. Seth Johnson from Campbell looks to be the odd “midweek ace”, as the team figures the rest of the squad is good enough to win the conference. Mid-90’s can pitch midweek against ACC opposition.

The depth in the college game is real. The upside is that the Cubs should be able to add an easy twelve quality developable pieces in the June draft. The downside is, so will other teams. Locating and prioritizing college and high school options will be very important as long as front offices prefer cost-controlled quality to veteran free agents. As much as people buck the premise of getting quality depth in the draft, it remains for all 30 teams.