The Chicago Cubs hold the sixth-overall pick in the 2012 amateur baseball draft, which will be held June 4-6. With the organization in full remodel under new GM/president of operations, Theo Epstein, the team has some major holes to fill, especially pitching, where the lack of starting pitching in the farm system is indicative of the team’s struggles over the years. Just take a look at teams like the Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco Giants. Those teams have stockpiled young pitching through the draft and have reaped the benefits of long-term success at the major league level. The Cubs can go several different routes with their first pick, and I have broken it down into three categories.
I would also like to point out that I am assuming Mark Appel, Mike Zunino, Byron Buxton and Kevin Gausman will be off the board by the time they draft. If anyone of those guys are still on the board, however, the team should jump all over any of them. Click here for a scouting report on those players.
High school position player
Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe HS (LA) — Why would the team select a shortstop when they have Starlin Castro cemented at the position already? Well, in baseball, unlike the NBA and NFL drafts, you take the best player available. A kid like Cecchini is still at least three years away from playing at the major league level and anything can happen in that span. Plus, he has the ability to make a move to second base with ease, although his defense could very well make Castro make the move to second base once he arrives.
The 6’-2”, 185-pound right-hander is one of the top high school players in the draft, and his ceiling on both sides of the field is off the charts. A gifted all-around athlete, he has been timed at 6.6 in the 60 yard dash and he used that speed to swipe 32 bases last year for Barbe, a perennial powerhouse that has been nationally ranked every year for the past 18 years. He also hit .548 with 12 doubles, 10 home runs and 41 RBI over 42 games, displaying his power potential, as well. Through 22 games this season, he is hitting .378 with two home runs, 15 RBI and is 15-for-15 in stolen base attempts.
On the field, his speed, footwork, range, strong arm and instincts all make him one of the best defensive shortstops in the draft. He has yet to commit an error this season.
He lead the 2011 U18 Team USA in hitting, going 25-for-50 (.500) over 14 games, helping lead the team to the gold medal in the Pan Am Championships. He scored 18 runs, with five doubles, one home run, 17 RBI, 10 stolen bases and had a slash line of .561/.660/1.221 while playing a flawless second base. Theo is also very familiar with Gavin, as he drafted his brother, Garin Cecchini, in the fourth round of the 2010 draft while with the Red Sox. Garin is already rated as a top-10 prospect in the organization.
David Dahl, OF, Oak Mountain HS (AL) — Dahl has drawn comparisons to the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Red Sox’ Jacoby Ellsbury for his all-around talents and the way he approaches the game all-out. The 6’-2”, 185-pound left-hander has elite speed, having been clocked at 6.5/60. Like Cecchini, he has an advanced feel for the game and makes everything look easy. Hit .449 with 18 doubles, three triples and two home runs while driving in 29 runs as a junior last season, striking out just 10 times over 118 at-bats. He also posted a .493 OBP, .703 SLG and hit .488 with runners in scoring position. Through 20 games this year, he is hitting .386 with a .533 OBP, 11 doubles, two triples, a home run, nine RBI and is a perfect 15-for-15 in stolen base attempts.
A teammate of Cecchini on U18 Team USA, he hit .364 with 11 runs, nine RBI and seven stolen bases over 15 games, mostly batting from the leadoff spot. A line-drive hitter with extremely quick wrists, more power should come as he matures.
Albert Almora, OF, Mater HS (FL) — Almora reminds me of Derek Jeter in that his intangibles and instincts for the game are unparalleled at the high school level. A six-time member of Team USA (a record), Almora is a true leader and plays the game like a 10-year major league veteran. He was named the MVP of the Pan Am games as Team USA went 9-0 and beat Team Canada 12-2 for the gold medal. He hit .421 (16-for-38) with a team-leading 11 runs, five doubles, 11 RBI and nine stolen bases for the tournament.
His speed, range and glove will keep him at center field at the major league level. Like Jeter, he doesn’t excel at any one area, but should be a high-average hitter with 20 HR/20 SB potential. At 6’-2” and 185 pounds, the right-hander would bring instant leadership skills and a high character to any organization he joins. His cousin, Manny Machado, was the third-overall pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 2010, and is considered one of the top prospects in the game.
High school pitcher
Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia HS (FL) — High school pitchers are risky but Weickel looks like one of the safest bets around. At 6’-6” and 210 pounds, the right-hander has the frame to be a future workhorse and staff ace. Yet another member of the 2011 U18 Team USA, he went 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA and 12 K/2 BB over 13.1 innings. His fastball hits 94 mph and should generate more velocity as he matures. With both his low-70s curveball and low-80s change-up projecting as plus pitches, he is one of the top arms in the draft. He pitches from over the top and has a deceptive, downhill plane to his pitches. Always looks very calm on the mound, showing a poise and mound presence beyond his years. He could join Dillon Maples, a 2011 draft pick by the Cubs, to give the team a lethal 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in a few years.
Lance McCullers, RHP, Jesuit HS (FL) — The son of seven-year major league pitcher Lance McCullers, the younger is one of the top prep pitchers in the draft, and has been on scouts radars since hitting 96 mph as a sophomore. His fastball has been clocked at 100 mph this season, and he also adds a knee-buckling curveball, as well as an above-average slider. He had a 1.71 ERA with 70 strikeouts over 45 innings as a junior, but scouts were concerned about his command at times. He has erased those doubts this season as he has gone 6-0, with 57 strikeouts to just eight walks allowed over 30.1 innings. He has also yet to allow a run on the season. He has already tossed two no-hitters, and over his last two starts, has allowed one hit over 11 innings, striking out 25 to just three walks.
With his wide arsenal of pitches, the velocity he generates from his 6’-2”, 200-pound frame, his mature mound presence and bloodlines, he has one of the highest ceilings in the draft. A commitment to Miami (FL) wouldn’t be a sign-ability issue if he is selected with the sixth pick.
Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA) — Fried is considered the best left-hander among high school pitchers, and you could argue he is the best overall, including college. At 6-4” and 180 pounds, scouts love his frame as he should be able to add weight, as well as velocity, as he matures. Already owning one of the best curveballs in the draft, one he started honing at age 12 after watching Sandy Koufax pitch, he also can get his fastball up to 94 mph with late movement. Throw in a change-up that is projected as a plus pitch, and Fried has all the makings of a future ace at the major league level. He went 7-3, with a 1.31 ERA and 100 strikeouts over 69.1 innings as a junior last season.
He transferred to Harvard-Westlake for his senior season and joined fellow top prospect, Lucas Giolito, to form arguably the best 1-2 punch in the nation. Giolito suffered a season-ending elbow injury, although the injury doesn’t seem to be too serious, and Fried was left as the main man for the Wolverines. He hasn’t disappointed as he has struck out 24 batters over his last 12 innings, including 14 over five innings against Lancaster HS.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco — Zimmer, a 6’-4”, 220-pound right-hander, has been recently mentioned as the possible first-overall pick in the draft due to his impressive start this season, and his 99 mph fastball. The converted infielder is still relatively new to pitching, but his upside is ridiculous. He has a four-pitch arsenal, with his fastball being the best and routinely sitting in the 93-93 mph range. Both his curveball and slider rate as above average, and his change-up is straight and deceptive, complimenting his fastball at 85 mph.
After posting a 3.73 ERA over 94 innings as a junior, he has been simply dominating this year for the Dons. Through six starts, he is 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 45 K/6 BB over 39 innings. Over his last two starts, he has thrown two complete games shutouts, allowing just eight hits, with 20 strikeouts and five walks over 18 innings. He is a control pitcher with extreme power behind his pitches, something every team will covet when the draft comes around. His size also makes him a hot commodity, as it should allow for him to be a workhorse at the next level. Even with his lack of experience on the mound, he could be a quick riser to the majors with the right development.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Oklahoma State — Heaney fits the mold of the crafty lefty, but he also has deceptive power behind his pitches. His fastball can hit 93 mph, but it has late movement. He also adds a sharp curveball, a change-up and cutter to keep hitters guessing and uncomfortable at the plate. He is a superb command pitcher, and because of his ability to keep hitters off base, can go deep into games without much effort. He ranks among the leaders in the nation averaging eight innings per start on the season.
After posting a 3.18 ERA with 57 strikeouts over 57 innings at the Cape Cod last season, he has been one of the best pitchers in the country this year. Through six starts, he is 5-1 with a 1.13 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 65 K/8 BB over 48 innings. He leads the nation in strikeouts, and his 8.1 K/BB and 12.2 K/9 ratios rank among the top. The 6’-2”, 185-pound junior has thrown three consecutive complete games for the Cowboys, two of them shutouts. Over those 27 innings, he has allowed two runs, 13 hits and 34 strikeouts to zero walks.
Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M — Wacha, a 6’-6”, 200-pound right-hander would give the Cubs one of the most polished pitchers in the draft and a player who could rise through the system fast. His fastball touches 95 mph, and his change-up is a true potential plus offering. His curveball has come a long way, and he has superb control of all three pitches. Has the size and frame to be a workhorse at the next level as a frontline starter.
Had a sensational freshman year for the Aggies, going 9-2, with a 2.90 ERA and 97 K/22 BB over 105.2 innings. Went 9-4 as a sophomore, with a 2.29 ERA and 123 strikeouts over 129.2 innings. This season, he is 4-0, with a 2.25 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 47 K/8 BB over 40 innings. That includes a start where he gave up eight runs over 5.1 innings with 11 hits allowed. Take out that start and he has an 0.52 ERA, 0.58 WHIP with 42 K/5 BB over 34.2 innings in his five other starts.