The Anti Cubs Draft Pick

Maybe we've been going about this the wrong way.  In all of our draft previews, we've been following the Cubs patterns of years past -- taking players with proven track records, a preference toward college bats, an inclination toward high floors, and in general, players with very little mystery about them.

This is a draft with plenty of risk.  It seemed like it was going to be an arm-heavy draft but pitchers have either gotten hurt or under-performed.  The top-rated pitchers as the draft stands today are guys we didn't think would be rated this highly -- guys like Dillon Tate, Tyler Jay, Carson Fullmer, James Kapriellian, and Jon Harris.  The first three had been relievers (and Jay still is) and some think Fullmer ends up there again (I am one of them), and others think Tate will as well.  As for Kapriellian and Harris, they represent the closest thing there is to prototypical pitching prospects as far as the eye test goes -- pitcher's body, good size, athletic, perhaps even some projectability left, complete repertoires, and 2015 success.  Yet sometimes you get the feeling that they are only rated this highly because of injuries.  They have the feel of top 20 type picks masquerading as top 10 picks.  They are the safe picks because they have been healthy but the upside seems a bit limited.  In contrast, Walker Buehler has everything you want in a pitcher -- except for size.  And given the Cubs have seen two talented, but undersized pitching prospects move to the bullpen this year, we wouldn't blame them if that dissuaded them just a little.

We've already discussed the college bat problem.  SS Alex Bregman is expected to go top 5 and no later than 7th.  The fast rising Andrew Benintendi is expected to go top 7 as well.  Now there's talk either one could go as high as #2 to the Astros.

Ian Happ may be the best hitter of all of them, but he is a man without a position.  He may already be a left-fielder and it would be unusual for the Cubs to go for a player who has essentially nowhere to go defensively.  They usually prefer middle of the field players (Almora, Schwarber) or at least a player whose 2nd option is a corner outfield spot (Bryant).  And even in the case with Bryant, he was head and shoulders above other hitters in the draft and the same is true, to an extent, for Schwarber.

There is a cluster of high school OF bats that may or may not be available, starting with Daz Cameron but also including Garrett Whitley and Trenton Clark.

As we mentioned before, none are perfect picks.  Cameron may be the most well-rounded with the best track record, but he also has the best chance of being gone by the time the Cubs pick.  The only thing that can push him down are his reported high bonus demands because his agent is you-know-who -- and that in itself presents a whole other kind of risk.  Trenton Clark has the track record when it comes to hitting but may also wind up in LF.  And if a team in the top 8 does think he can play CF, then he may not make it anyway. Whitley is the speediest and toolsiest of the trio but also has the least certain hit tool and overall track record.

The Cubs have engaged in a lot of smoke and mirrors.  They have tied themselves to a lot of players and seemingly have almost gone out of their way to be visible in one of the cloudiest drafts in recent memory.

So the question is why?

If they are going to follow the same patterns of old, why the need for all this subterfuge?

Maybe it's all a red herring.  Maybe the Cubs are setting everyone up.  We've heard inklings through our own channels that they may be a little sneaky this year.  While they have everyone scrambling about which of the 10 or so publicized players they are going to pick, maybe they know exactly who they want. And maybe this time it's a guy who doesn't fit the pattern.

With a fully-stocked system and an uncertain draft, maybe it's time to roll the dice on a Brady Aiken.   He is the anti-Cubs pick in the sense that he may just be the greatest unknown of the top names in the draft.   Not only is Aiken injured, but the rumors have been that there is an underlying issue that makes it even riskier.  It is why the Astros decided to back off their original offer, reducing it to a still very strong $5M.  So whatever it was they saw, they were at least still willing to invest that much money.  Aiken will get much less at the 9th slot.

The particulars with Aiken's medicals have been kept well-hidden, with his camp providing limited access as to which teams -- and even which members (GM level or higher) of each team can request them.

Maybe, just maybe, the Cubs know something that everyone else doesn't...

The Cubs have built up a great relationship with Aiken and his camp.  There is little doubt they are one of the teams who have been granted access to full medicals.  If the Cubs saw something they liked there -- or at least feel that the narrative about his underlying condition has been way overblown, then would it be a stretch to gamble on the consensus top pitcher in last year's draft, not to mention the player that was #1 on their 2014 board -- the only one reportedly higher than eventual pick Kyle Schwarber?

While there is undoubtedly an element of mystery, the Cubs perhaps know Aiken better than any other player in this draft in terms of what kind of person he is on and off the field.  They know his talent as well or better than anyone else's.  If they are able to clear the one question -- the medical question --  to the point where they feel reasonably confident in his long term health as compared to any other pitcher, then why wouldn't take him?  Every other piece fits in terms of the kind of player they want in this organization.

The Cubs have said the right things about stating some interest in Aiken, but they have downplayed the possibility at the same time.  This is a team that is usually pretty straightforward with their intentions, but if they were, in fact, using some sleight of hand and if they do have some information that none of us -- not even big media -- has, then maybe that is exactly the point.  If Aiken is going this far out of his way to avoid a narrative with the media and the Cubs were intent on picking him, then playing their part in diverting media attention would seem to mesh nicely with the Aiken camp's secretive approach.

Everyone knows the kind of player the Cubs like to pick by now, but with the draft situation so unclear as a whole,  maybe this is the year of the anti-pick.


Filed under: 2015 MLB Draft

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