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2019 MLB Draft Prep: Prioritizing this year’s class

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What types of players should the Cubs look to draft in June?

Matt Wallner, who could be a Cubs target in this year’s draft
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The MLB Draft is in early June. Along with the international J-2 (for July 2, when new international players become available) cycle, those are the most cost-effective ways of adding low-cost talent long-term. The disturbing trend (It’s disturbing for many people, at least) of players signing away free agency seasons for safe long-term contracts makes both cycles more important. That doesn’t make the selection process easy or guaranteed. A team is best-served being “top half” than “bottom half” in both processes. Do the current seasons (MLB and MiLB) play a part in preferences?

As a baseball fan, you don’t have to like that owners have some of their best talent in a bit of a stranglehold to realize what’s happening. Part of why it’s happening may be the (orchestrated?) spiking of interest in recent high-end free agents. If you realize what’s happening, you can hope that your team can add a few more reasonably cost-friendly additions to the long-term talent stable. You don’t have to feel good about it. You could also hope for “more realistic deals” or “free agency compensation” for top-shelf talent. Whichever way, adding quality talent in June or July is the best way to position a team for long-term beneficial talent at low costs.

I’ve never been invited to a baseball team’s “war room,” but I’d imagine a draft preference list is a rather evolving beast. The guy who looks like an obvious choice in February might have injury concerns in March, or a cold stretch in April or May. The team wants to add high-quality people, but they want them to play well, also. Tie in individual needs, and 200-plus teams being scouted, and a team’s preference list looks a bit like an elaborate spiderweb or tapestry. The information that matters most is the information leading to draft day. What happens after (likely) couldn’t have been accounted for, anyway.

Since getting one player essentially rules out getting any of a dozen other similarly valued talents, desire still matters. As much as “best player available” is desired, ties and virtual ties have to be broken. To that extent, knowledge of what is already available is a reasonably important consideration. In 2016 and 2017, the system-wide pitching was a major concern. Last June’s selections were more balanced.

Occasionally, prospect types are pushed a bit into people saying “call him up” regarding players doing well, but clearly not yet MLB-ready. A bit similarly, I run into the occasional “draft an ACE,” which falls a bit into the same bin. Ron Guidry was one of the fascinating pitchers in the late 1970s into the mid 1980s. He was a third-round choice. Do you know why nobody selected that “ace” early? Because nobody could have known he was going to be an ace from his pitching at Louisiana/Lafayette. He was respected, though, or he wouldn’t have gone so early.

You might want a starting pitcher in the first round. Perhaps a thumping outfielder is more your speed. Maybe you prefer “middle infielder.” Scouts have hunches on how well players will do, but players that slip to the 27th spot in the first round will often have questions, on or off field. Based on what you know of the Cubs system, what draft trends are you most interested in seeing in 2019? More hitters than pitchers in the first six picks? How would you even assess what should be desired?

Players chosen and signed are put into the development pipeline. Your preference for what the Cubs prioritize might sway a bit with how the pipeline is developing so far this season. The Triple-A Iowa Cubs and the Double-A Tennessee Smokies are pitching particularly well this season. That doesn’t rule out taking a particularly intriguing pitcher, but it limits the need to overload on that aspect of player development.

The first six rounds probably provide the best chance for a breakout talent. The way the draft works, the next two most likely players to have top-side payout are choices in the 11th and 12th rounds. As often as not, rounds seven through ten are about saving money for other selections. Assessing the top of a draft can as likely be argued as “the top four,” “the top six,” or the aforementioned eight choices. Since the Cubs have the fifth-smallest draft bonus pool, don’t expect many prep selections to sign.

South Bend (Low-A) is hitting for average, but not power. (South Bend is currently second of 16 Midwest League teams in batting average, 12th in on-base percentage, and bottom quarter in slugging and OPS.) Myrtle Beach (Advanced-A) is hardly hitting at all. (They have a .518 OPS as a team as of Sunday morning.) Whether top-four, six, or eight, I’m still interested in a mild preference of bats over arms in June. Inside the arms discussion, I’d be totally keen with adding a top reliever from the college ranks between the fourth and sixth rounds.

Tom Hatch and Keegan Thompson were both recent third-round choices by the Cubs in June. Both have exceeded expectations in Tennessee, where pitchers can tend to come unglued. Disregarding any aspect of assets in a draft tends to lead to vacancies. I’m impressed with the depth of the draft on both sides of the ball this cycle. Fangraphs puts the Cubs 27th spot atop a run of preps. I doubt the Cubs would go that direction. If their board is accurate through 26 (it won’t be), my lean would be for Seth Johnson, Matt Wallner, or Tommy Henry.

Johnson is very new to pitching. A shortstop last season at Louisburg College, he transferred to Campbell University. For those of you who are pitching mechanics-minded, here is video that is way better than I’m used to from college films.

Matt Wallner is a right-fielder who also pitches in the mid-90’s. The bat is the buy here, but the arm indicates “can play right field”. Earlier in the season, Wallner and JJ Bleday (Vanderbilt) were closely ranked. Bleday has done better, as have Kameron Misner (Missouri) and Hunter Bishop (Arizona State). Here’s some recent video of Wallner.

Henry is a crafty lefty from Michigan who is surging up draft boards. If you’re a velocity agnostic, Henry is just about ideal. He finds ways to induce meaningless contact, Fangraphs uses the term “TrackMan friendly” with Henry.

Regardless of perceived weaknesses in any pipeline, the top pick ought to be “the best player available”. If the board gets to the Cubs with those three players on the board, and none of the talent above on the Fangraphs list, who do you want? Which pitcher of the two looks more ace-like (in four years)? What other questions do you have about the pending draft?

Poll

If the following three players are among the best college draft options at 1.27, who would you prefer?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Seth Johnson
    (8 votes)
  • 45%
    Matt Wallner
    (21 votes)
  • 32%
    Tommy Henry
    (15 votes)
  • 4%
    Other specific need (please note below)
    (2 votes)
46 votes total Vote Now