Tonight is the first of two Draft nights. The players selected tonight and developed over the next few years may have a huge impact on all 30 teams for the next decade. Sadly, the 'foreplay' of college games have disappeared since mid-March, and assessing amateur baseball is more inexact than it usually is. The Cubs draft 16th overall tonight and will have four more choices tomorrow. There will be no draft pick trades leading up to tonight's proceedings.
The proceedings begin around 6 p.m. CT, with MLB Network coverage starting at 4 p.m. CT. ESPN will also carry the draft live beginning at 6 p.m. CT There will be an open thread posted here at 5 p.m. CT. A few other outlets figure to have virtual coverage of their own. I'll be on Twitter most of the night, popping on to BCB as results warrant.
I have a wish list of three names. Other players are likely better than my three names, but these three are the ones I've decided on. Should the Cubs go a different way, I'll probably be fine, but you can only try so many small spoons of ice cream before the attendant expects a purchase. I doubt the Cubs take one of my three preferences, but as the day of the selection continues, I'll go through why these players specifically are on my list.
Garrett Mitchell, center field, UCLA
How many times in your time as a Cubs fan have you, or someone else, complained about the team's historic morass in center field? When they've had a quality center fielder, they've been good. Kenny Lofton. Dexter Fowler. Jerome Walton was a Rookie of the Year winner, then pancaked afterward. When they've had a merely adequate or worse center fielder, they've often struggled.
Mitchell has the speed to cover center, enough arm to play right, has speed to steal 30 bases per season, and ought to get on base. His in-game power (his home games in college were at a very pitcher-friendly venue) hasn't arrived yet, and he has Type 1 Diabetes. You offer the Cubs a chance at those options at 16, and they should seriously consider Mitchell, who will likely be undrafted at 11. It all depends on who wants what, but Mitchell is my first choice. He could be a lead-off hitter for a rather long time.
Austin Hendrick, right field, HS (PA)
Before the Cubs can be considered an upper-crust team again, their pipeline needs to begin to churn again. Regularly. Reliance on a string of veterans, even popular ones, isn't how baseball works in the current free agency age. As long as Jason Heyward is the team's best right fielder, some teams will have a hefty edge on the Cubs on that alone, whether over a full schedule or in a short season.
Getting a cost-controlled right fielder who plays well for near the league minimum might as well be a team mandate. Hendrick might be that guy, or a better defensive Earl Cunningham. If you wait until most of the questions are answered, the cost of acquisition becomes too high.
Hendrick has question marks, as he hasn't effectively hit top-level pitching yet, and is mildly old for being a high school senior. The power plays though. If he develops, he answers quite a few questions. If he doesn't, it's easy enough to see why the hope was present.
Ed Howard, shortstop, Mt. Carmel HS (IL)
Strength up the middle is something Theo Epstein preaches. As rarely as he drafts corner guys, he practices what he preaches. In March mock drafts, Howard was a trendy pick for the White Sox, who now seem more interested in the more proven college names. Howard, who I saw mentioned as a very reasonable candidate to be a 20/20 player in the future, has slipped some the last two-plus months.
The Cubs have done better with early bats than early arms, and Howard seems a viable gamble if the other two names are gone. His defense should be good enough to stay at short, and the bat has upside, as well.
Whoever the Cubs select at 16 figures to be a valid choice, whether I've hinted at it or not. Quality teams are constantly about having internal options for replacing players, for one reason or another. While free agency still figures to exist once baseball returns, it figures to best serve teams on an as absolutely necessary basis. Internally developed talent is a better long-term fix, in general.
The Cubs have plenty of holes to fill to get on the same level as the teams who are upper-crust now, or will be in a few years. Getting valid production from three of the five selections with a least one being a long-term starter would go a long way toward another mini-run by the team. Player development has been important for much of the last century of baseball, and getting the right entry-level players is a good step in that direction. After the players get signed, the next step is getting them properly developed, and I miss greatly the minor-league games that do that.
Between the Cubs five selections, they can spend up to $6,721,600 in bonuses. Unlike past years, the first installment will be a downpayment to last until the owners have more walking-around money. My heart bleeds.
Be respectful of the players the Cubs choose. Not only might it be the first introduction for the player's family into Cubs fans, but many wanted Jon Gray over that hitter in 2013. Sometimes, we get it right. Other times, less so.