Who Might the Cubs Be Targeting at #9?

“You’ve heard us talk about [the draft] being our Super Bowl. It’s the one day of the year we can choose the players who come in and hopefully impact the organization. We’ve never been a team that drafts on the need of the Major League team. We’ll pick the best player for the organization, not the needs of the Major League club.” – Cubs Executive VP/Director of Scouting Jason McLeod

Trying to decipher what the Cubs, or any organization for that matter, plan on doing in next week’s MLB Draft is a useless task. This will be the fourth draft for Epstein and McLeod, which to date has only produced one major league player – Kris Bryant.

Who might Jason McLeod be thinking at #9?

However, the duo rebuilt a farm system from a pile of rubble into the top system in the majors through the draft, international signings, and trades. It has not always been perfect (2012, 2013, 2014), but the Cubs are beginning to produce stars.

Of the Cubs’ top 30 prospect list, Epstein and McLeod drafted 17, previous GM Jim Hendry selected 3 (Jokisch, Vogelbach, and Lockhart), 5 were acquired in trades by Theo Epstein (McKinney, Caratini, Villanueva, Edwards, and Black), and 3 were international free agents Theo signed (Torres, Jimenez, and Tseng), with 2 IFAs coming via Hendry (Candelario and Daury Torrez).

This year’s draft is another chance to get a load of talent. The Cubs select ninth behind the White Sox and then don’t have a second pick until 47, which is after two compensation rounds. No one has a clue who the Cubs might pick at #9, but the team says they have four names that they are confident will be there. I have some idea who they might get, but with the volatility of players rising, falling, rising, and falling again, it’s a little bit psychotic trying to pinpoint who the Cubs might take.

Even Theo said it best:

“It’s not as clear-cut at the top of the Draft this year. Some of the higher-profile talents got injured, and it’s just one of those Draft classes that’s a little bit all over the place, which makes it more difficult, but also creates opportunity.“ 

Once I started thinking about who those four names were, my head hurt. But here’s who I came up with nonetheless (in no specific order):

  1. Tyler Jay – P – University of Illinois
  2. Jon Harris – P – Missouri State University
  3. Carson Fullmer – P – Vanderbilt University
  4. Garrett Whitley – OF – Niskayuna HS, New York

I am surprised the Cubs might be looking at three college pitchers and 1 high school kid, but here’s why I think these are the four:

  1. High floors. Every single one of the pitchers has great talent now.
  2. Flexibility. Two of the three pitchers are or have been shut down closers on their team.
  3. Potential. None of these pitchers has reached their potential yet.
  4. USA Baseball. The pitchers all come from great programs or have played USA Baseball. That gives them a little extra experience.
  5. Athletic ability. I think Whitley is the best prep athlete, hands down. As a hitter, his power is slowly maturing. As a fielder, he likely could play all three outfield spots.

If I had to rank the four, I’d go Jay, Harris, Whitley, and then Fullmer. To me, Jay is still a work in progress — as they all are — but the potential is much higher than the floor. With Jay you have a left-handed pitcher who already has two plus-plus pitches. Take a look for yourself at his nasty breaking stuff:

Harris comes from a quality program in Missouri State and is long way from his ceiling. He works in the low 90’s most of the game, sometimes flashing to 95. He has a solid 12-6 curveball and a change. He’s strong, works quickly, and sometimes has control problems when his right shoulder stays open (3.2 walks per game). Overall, scouts like that he also misses bats to the tune of more than 10 strikeouts per game.

For Fullmer, his stuff is not going to get much better – although it is pretty good now. His career at Vanderbilt, first as a closer and now as a starter the last two years, has been outstanding. At 5-11, he is undersized for a starter and there is some concern over whether he can stick there. To be honest, after starting all of 2014 at Vanderbilt and pitching for USA Baseball in 2014, those concerns should be lifted. However, when you watch him pitch, he is extremely high effort and reminds me of a right-handed Billy Wagner.

Whitley is all of 18 and a great athlete. Baseball America said this of the young outfielder:

“With wide shoulders and powerful hands, Whitley is now able to impact the ball with authority, and he’s beginning to tap into the natural power in his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame.”

The Longshot

The one player I read more and more about that interests me for an under-slot first round pick is Jacob Nix. It would be a huge shock, but the Cubs could sign him to a nice deal where they could use the money they save on Nix to use later in the draft and still have a potential top-of-the-rotation of starter.

Nix can pop the mitt big time. And physically, he continues to get bigger and stronger at 6-4, 205 pounds. He is much more advanced than last year. After a year at IMG Academy, Nix now has a more accurate curveball, a cleaner changeup, and bumped his fastball to the mid to upper 90’s (95-97). Nix will likely not be there in the second round if the Cubs don’t take him in the first. Baseball America has him ranked at 37 and MLB.com has him at 39.

I also ran across this tweet from Isiah Gilliam on Tuesday:

The Cubs drafted Gilliam last year in the 23rd round but he chose to go to Chipola Junior College. Some goodwill was built up from that and even though the Cubs can’t officially sign him until they draft him again, it is clear to me that Isiah was going to Chicago for a workout. I expect them to draft him in either the third or fourth round on Tuesday.

I cannot wait for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday!

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