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While Cubs fans root for their second favorite teams during this postseason, the only thing baseball fans in Chicago have for excitement in baseball, aside from the manager search, is the 2014 MLB draft when the Cubs will be selecting fourth-overall. While the draft is still nine months away, we have a good idea of who the top players are already in an absolutely deep and loaded class. Here are a handful of guys whom Cubs fans should pay a lot of attention to in the coming year:
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Jeff Hoffman, RHP, East Carolina
Carlos Rodon is left off the 2014 MLB draft list because the only way he falls out of the top three is if he has an injury or decides to give up the sport altogether — neither of which I hope happens. Jeff Hoffman, a 6’-4” right-hander, impressed some scouts so much in the Cape Cod League that some have put him in the discussion for 1-1 with Rodon. Over 24.1 innings, he had 33 K/5 BB and showed off his great stuff, headlined by a mid-90s fastball and the makings of a plus curveball that sits in the 80-84 mph range. Hoffman also adds an above-average change-up and solid slider, giving him a quality four-pitch mix. His command still needs to be a little more consistent but he shows a smooth, effortless delivery so the mechanics are there. At 185 pounds, there is still projection left and he could actually gain more velocity as he fills out. It is no secret that the Cubs organization lacks starting pitching depth and, if Hoffman is still on the board for the 2014 MLB draft, he could be a huge addition to one of the best farm systems in baseball.
Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt
Here’s what you need to know about the 6’-4” right-hander from Vanderbilt: He has two plus pitches in a mid-90s fastball and knee-buckling curveball, and hitters can rarely touch him. He allowed just 64 hits more than 101 innings as a sophomore for a .187 BAA. He also added 103 strikeouts and a 2.32 ERA. He did allow 63 walks, however, and his control is the only knock on him. With three quality pitches in his arsenal, along with the size and make up of a future ace, his upside is special. Another reason to love this pick for the 2014 MLB draft is that former Vanderbilt pitching coach, Derek Johnson, is the current minor league pitching coordinator for the Cubs.
Tyler Kolek, RHP, Sheppard HS (TX)
High school arms are the riskiest of all 2014 MLB draft picks as they are usually far from a finished product and injuries are always a concern. Their bodies aren’t physically mature yet and there is a lot of projection involved when it comes to pitching. At 6’-6”, 245 pounds and the ability to hit triple digits on the radar gun, projection isn’t a concern with Kolek — he already is a man. Aside from his plus heater, he also has shown the makings of a plus slider but still needs to develop his offspeed stuff. He also runs a 4.8/40, showing great athleticism for his size. The Cubs are trying to build a sustainable farm system to be perennial contenders down the line. Kolek would be a kid who they could take their time developing and the finished product could be silly.
Trea Turner, SS, North Carolina State
If the speedy right-hander is still available when the Cubs are on the clock, you could be reading about their future shortstop and leadoff man. At 6’-”1 and 170 pounds, Turner is the best base-stealer in the 2014 MLB draft and is also one of the best hitters. More than 56 games as a sophomore, he hit .368/.455/.553 with 30 stolen bases and drew 38 walks to just 30 strikeouts. He also hit seven home runs, showing developing power. As a freshman, he led the nation in stolen bases with 57 and was only thrown out four times. His unreal range, strong arm and instincts will allow him to remain at shortstop and, even though Javier Baez looks like he should remain at shortstop, you can never have enough shortstop prospects in your system. Plus, I think Turner would be able to handle centerfield or second base if needed. The Cubs have plenty of power hitters in their system. What they lack is leadoff-type guys who can get on, steal bases and set the table for the thumpers. Turner is that guy and a future lineup with Baez, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Turner make me giggle.
Michael Gettys, OF, Gainesville HS (GA)
Theo Epstein and Co. have always made it clear that they will take the best available player in the 2014 MLB draft over need. Gettys, a 6’-2”, 200 pound right-hander, may be the best available player when the Cubs are on the clock. A plus runner with a plus arm, he has been timed at 6.43 in the 60 and his arm has been clocked at 100 mph from the outfield. I got a chance to see him at Wrigley for the Under Armour All American Game and, after seeing him deposit a home run to dead center field, the power is real, too. With excellent bat speed, he should be a high-average hitter, giving him all five tools. He has a strong, linebacker-type build — similar to that of Mike Trout — and has added 50 pounds to his frame over the last two years without losing any of his explosiveness. I had the opportunity to interview Gettys and you can read it here.
Jacob Gatewood, SS, Clovis HS (CA)
If the Cubs decide to take the player who oozes potential but is still raw in some areas in the 2014 MLB draft, Gatewood could be the guy. At 6’-5”, he most likely will outgrow shortstop but his strong arm and athleticism could be a good fit for third base where his power potential would justify the hot corner. Another kid I got to see at Wrigley, he put on a show, winning the home run derby as he launched several bombs out of the park with ease. He also won the first annual high school home run derby at Citi Field during the All-Star break, hitting 14 home runs, several into the third deck. He isn’t a speed guy as he has been timed at 7.11 in the 60, but his combination of size and power separate him from others in his class.
Braxton Davidson, OF, TC Roberson HS (NC)
For all of the power the Cubs have in their system, none of them are left-handed. Davidson is a 6’-3”, 215 pound left-hander with excellent bat speed, an advanced approach at the plate and some serious raw power. He shows good pitch recognition and his strong wrists allow him to wait on any pitch. With 31 games as a junior, he hit .403 with seven doubles, eight home runs, and drew 30 walks for a .600 OBP/.831 SLG. Like Gatewood, he isn’t a speed guy but his strong arm (92 mph) should play well in a corner outfield spot but he could also end up at first base where the power potential would play well when he makes it out of the 2014 MLB draft. Even with his size, there is still a lot of projection left as his frame suggest he could add more weight as he matures.
Alex Jackson, C, Rancho Bernardo HS (CA)
Another position in which the Cubs lack depth is catcher. Jackson, a 6’-2”, 200 pound right-hander has the size, arm and footwork to remain behind the plate, although some question that and believe his offensive potential may land him in a corner outfield spot. He may have the best power in the prep class and the ball jumps off his bat differently than others. He knocked some moonshots of his own out of Wrigley and the sound his bat makes upon contact lets you know the power he possesses. He hit .343/.479/.806 over 35 games as a junior with 14 home runs and 29 walks. If he remains at catcher, his road to the big leagues will take longer then if he played in the outfield as learning the position takes time. Like Kolek, however, he could be worth the wait.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @DanMKirby for 2014 MLB draft updates, prospect news and Chicago Cubs ramblings.