A little more than a month ago, I posted a list of dark-horse candidates for the Chicago Cubs to take with the fourth pick in the 2014 MLB draft. Some of the guys on the list are getting serious consideration and no longer fall into the dark-horse category. This draft is extremely deep, especially high school arms. With so many possibilities for the Cubs with their first pick, I decided to put together my list of 20 players who should be considered. Having said that, with so many players stepping up of late, I feel the need to quote Thomas Edison:
“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this — you haven’t.”
Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State
At the beginning of the season, I would have never considered Rodon because there seemed no way he would be available when the Cubs were on the board — barring injuries, of course. Well, he isn’t injured, he just hasn’t been as sharp as he has been in the past and others have jumped him in most experts’ minds for the moment. He still offers a plus/plus slider, plus fastball and two other quality offerings and is the workhorse of all workhorses because of his size (6′-3″, 240 pounds) and massive trunk. He is a guy who could be inserted into the big-league rotation minutes after getting drafted and hold his own. Through seven starts, he has a 2.09 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 55 strikeouts and 18 walks in 47.1 innings. His command has been off this year and he has hit nine batters. He has a proven track record, a tireless arm, great stuff and could still end up being the best player from this draft.
Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt
I have been one of the biggest Beede supporters and continue to be, despite everyone going a little overboard with his recent two starts, where his command has been a bit shaky. He still misses bats better than maybe anyone in this draft, and he has four quality pitches headlined by a plus, mid-90s fastball and devastating curveball. He has the size (6′-4″, 210) you want in an ace and is a high-character kid from a baseball family. Through seven starts, he has a 2.47 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 46 strikeouts and 14 walks in 40 innings. He is holding opponents to a .176 batting average in a tough conference. There are many things that tie him to Chicago as his dad was a draft pick by the Cubs in 1981 and their minor-league pitching coordinator is Derek Johnson — former pitching coach for Vanderbilt. What matters most, however, is his talent, and he has a ton of it.
Jeff Hoffman, RHP, East Carolina
Hoffman has been inconsistent this season, but he has great stuff, size (6′-4″, 200) and one of the easiest deliveries around. His fastball can touch 98 mph and sits 93-96 with late life and movement. There is minimal effort in his delivery and he adds a slurve, which flashes plus. His change-up sits 86-88 and it also shows plus potential. His command has been shaky this season, and he doesn’t have the track record of the guys above, but he has all of the ingredients to be a great one. Through seven starts, he has a 3.80 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 45 K/18 BB in 45 innings.
Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
Nola doesn’t have the upside of others on this list, but he has been the best pitcher in college this season and his control is otherworldly. Through seven starts, he has a 0.55 ERA, 0.69 WHIP and 61 K/9 BB in 49 innings, holding opponents to a .151 batting average. He has 272 strikeouts and 34 walks in 264.2 career innings at LSU. The 6’-1” right-hander features a plus, low-90s fastball with nasty sink to it. He offsets his fastball with a deceptive change-up that freezes hitters. Again, he doesn’t offer the size you would like in an ideal frontline starter, but not many can toss a game quite like him.
Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford
In 39.2 innings this season, Newcomb has yet to allow an earned run. He has 46 strikeouts and 19 walks and is holding opponents to a .111 batting average. He isn’t facing the competition as some of the guys above, but you can’t do much better than that. At 6′-5″ and 240 pounds, the southpaw features a mid-90s fastball that touches 98 with giddy-up. He also has a plus, wipe-out slider that demoralizes lefties and is effective against righties. His change-up is developing, but with two plus offerings, along with his size from the left side, there is a lot to like.
Luke Weaver, RHP, Florida State
Like Newcomb, Weaver offers two plus offerings in a mid-90s fastball and change-up, and his slider is above-average. At 6′-2″ and 180 pounds, he still has upside and could add velocity as he matures. He starred for Collegiate Team USA, striking out 17 with five walks in 21 innings. Through seven starts, he has a 2.53 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 38 K/11 BB in 46.1 innings. He has a lot of deception in his delivery and gets through the lineup the first time maybe better than anyone.
Brandon Finnegan, LHP, TCU
Damn the height gods! If Finnegan was three inches taller, he could go 1.1 as his stuff is silly from the left side. His fastball can touch triple-digits and he adds another plus pitch in a wipe-out slider. At 5′-11″ and 185 pounds, however, the talks always circle around his height as the track record for front-line starters his size isn’t great. Through seven starts, he has a 1.42 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 73 K/12 BB in 50.2 innings. His 13.2 K/9 ratio ranks second in the nation among starters. He could be a dominant closer but should be given every opportunity to start.
Erick Fedde, RHP, UNLV
Another reach at this spot, Fedde does have the size (6′-4″, 190 pounds), stuff and still has upside left because of an easy delivery and his athleticism. His fastball can touch the mid-90s and he uses a power sinker to induce a ton of groundballs. Through seven starts, he has a 1.98 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 50 K/15 BB in 50 innings. He is holding opponents to a .191 batting average and has yet to allow a home run this season. Like many on this list, he played for Collegiate Team USA and was one of the most impressive players at the Cape Cod League.
Bradley Zimmer, OF, San Francisco
“But the Cubs need an arm, Dan!” I hear this nonstop and it hurts my ears. Yes, the Cubs lack pitching in the system compared to the barrage of bats they have assembled. However, Theo & Co. have proved they will select the best available player (BPA), whoever that may be in their minds. Zimmer could be that guy. He is the best present five-tool player in this draft and has been displaying the power most thought would show up this season. Through 27 games, he is hitting .427/.492/.718 with seven doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 12 stolen bases. At 6′-5″ and 200 pounds, he has a plus arm and could play all three outfield positions because of his athleticism. He hits from the left side and also has the bloodline thing as his brother is Kansas City Royals top prospect Kyle Zimmer.
Michael Conforto, OF, Oregon State
Another left-handed hitter, Conforto may not have the athleticism Zimmer has, but he may be the best hitter in the 2014 MLB draft, and his approach at the plate is outstanding. Through 28 games, he is hitting .396/.545/.552 with eight doubles and a home run. He has drawn a whopping 29 walks to just 13 strikeouts. The power hasn’t shown up in games yet, but at 6′-2″ and 215 pounds, most believe it will. He is an on-base machine who could contend for batting titles at the next level. Defensively, he is likely headed to left field, but certainly isn’t a liability.
Trea Turner, SS, North Carolina State
Once my personal favorite for the Cubs at four, Turner hasn’t exploded the way I had hoped, but he still offers unusual abilities at a premium position. He has plus/plus speed, an advanced approach at the plate and has the range, arm and instincts to stick at shortstop. Recently, he has been showing the pop many wanted to see as he hit four home runs in five games in a recent stretch. However, he went just 6-for-23 (.261) in those five games with six strikeouts and no stolen bases. I like him better when he is making consistent contact to all fields, drawing walks and using his elite speed on the base paths. Through 28 games, he is hitting .298/.369/.456 with nine stolen bases and has drawn 13 walks to 13 strikeouts.
Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State
A reach at four, what Pentecost offers is a great athlete and hitter at a premium position, and a guy who could be fast-tracked to the majors. He is the best catching prospect in a class weak on them, and he could also play the outfield where his speed, arm and offensive upside would play well. At 6′-1″ and 190 pounds, the right-hander has a great approach and drives the ball to all fields. He has been showing power this year and is a great all-around hitter. Through 32 games, he is hitting .363/.425/.533 with 12 doubles, three home runs and has stolen nine bases. He has drawn 13 walks to 18 strikeouts.
High school arms
Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS (Calif.)
The newest darling of the 2014 MLB draft, Aiken has always been the most polished pitcher in his class. With his recent spike in velocity, however, he now is considered the best in his class, and maybe the best in the whole draft. At 6′-4″ and 200 pounds, the southpaw has touched 96 mph and has been sitting 92-94 with his fastball. With two potential plus off-speed pitches, and great command of all three, he has everything you want in an ace. He tossed a no-hitter April 2, striking out 10 to one walk and now has 40 K/3 BB in 20.2 shutout innings, allowing just four hits. Committed to UCLA. I’m always a little hesitant about taking high school arms this early, but Aiken would be my guy if available.
Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd HS (Texas)
As dominant as Aiken has been, Kolek has been even more so. The 6′-5″, 240 pound right-hander is just abusing his peers, and I think he would be just as effective from 80 feet out. In 27.1 shutout innings, he has 62 K/1 BB and has allowed just three hits. In his last start, his last pitch — pitch 65 — registered 98 mph on the radar gun of Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game. He has touched 102 mph this season and adds a slider that has devastating potential. Aside from refining his change-up, there isn’t much left to work on and he should be a quick riser to the majors. I often am worried about high school arms that can hit triple-digits so early, but with his size, it isn’t much of a concern. Committed to TCU.
Grant Holmes, RHP, Conway HS (SC)
Some believe Holmes is the best right-hander in the country as he already has three above-average/plus offerings and can touch 98 mph with his fastball. At 6′-2″ and 200 pounds, he doesn’t have the size as Kolek but he has better overall stuff and great command of his pitches. Aside from the fastball, he adds plus curveball that sits 79-81 with late bite and great depth. His change-up already is an above-average offering, sitting 84-86 mph. He has a thick frame, is strong as an ox and just keeps getting better. Committed to Florida.
Luis Ortiz, RHP, Sanger HS (Calif.)
Another reach here, Ortiz is a 6′-3″, 220 pound right-hander who has been dealing this season, racking up strikeouts thanks to a fastball that sits 92-96 mph and a low-80s slider that shows plus potential. His delivery is clean and, mixed with his athleticism, there still is room for more velocity. As with most high school arms, his change-up is developing, but with his size and present arm strength, he is close to a finished product and there is less room for error in projection. Committed to Fresno State.
High school bats
Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS (Calif.)
Again, the Cubs need arms, I know. Jackson is the best high school bat in the 2014 MLB draft, however, and his potential as a power-hitting catcher is highly desirable. Most think he will head over to a corner outfield spot where his plus arm and bat would play very well. Either way, his bat is silly and the power is tremendous. At 6′-2″ and 200 pounds, the right-hander already has a powerful frame and has excellent bat speed, which allows him to wait on his pitch and drive it to all fields. Through his first 10 games, he is hitting .419/.571/.935 with two doubles, a triple and four home runs. A ton of upside. Committed to Oregon.
Nick Gordon, SS/RHP, Olympia HS (Fla.)
Bloodlines always are a good thing to have in baseball. Gordon’s dad is former closer Tom “Flash” Gordon, and while Nick does have a lot of upside on the mound, his future is at shortstop, where his strong arm, glove and instincts will allow him to stick there. Offensively, he has been showing every tool that will make him a star at the next level. He gained around 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason and has been showing some serious pop in his game without losing a step of speed or affecting his advanced approach at the plate. Through 21 games, he is hitting .482/.632/.833 with six doubles, two triples, three home runs and 15 stolen bases. He has drawn 17 walks to just two strikeouts and has been plunked five times. He is arguably the best shortstop in the draft, and his defense, speed, approach, arm and developing power make him a serious consideration at four. Committed to Florida State.
Michael Gettys, OF, Gainesville HS (Ga.)
Based on potential alone, Gettys warrants consideration at four. His plus speed, plus/plus arm and power potential are unmatched in his class. Scouts are split on his ability to hit at the next level, although he has been showing the in-game power we expected this season. Through 12 games, he is hitting .400/.475/.771 with two doubles, three home runs and six stolen bases. He also stars on the mound, where he has used his mid-90s fastball to strike out 39 in 27.2 innings. Like Jackson, at 6′-2″ and 200 pounds, he has a mature body already and generates a ton of power due to his bat speed and strong wrists. If the Cubs believe in the hit tool, he has everything else. Committed to Georgia.
Jacob Gatewood, SS, Clovis HS (Calif.)
Gatewood has been slipping on draft boards as scouts aren’t sold on his hit tool or where he will end up in the field. Nathan Rode at Prep Baseball Report recently noted Gatewood has shortened his swing and it shouldn’t affect his power as he has an enormous amount of it. He hit a near 500-foot bomb earlier this season and won every home run derby he entered in the summer. At 6′-5″ and 200 pounds, he isn’t likely to stick at shortstop, but he does have the arm and range to stick at third, where the power would more than play well. Some question marks, but a ton of upside. Committed to USC.
My personal order:
- Carlos Rodon
- Brady Aiken
- Tyler Beede
- Alex Jackson
- Tyler Kolek
- Jeff Hoffman
- Nick Gordon
- Bradley Zimmer
- Trea Turner
- Grant Holmes
- Michael Gettys
- Michael Conforto
- Sean Newcomb
- Aaron Nola
- Max Pentecost
- Jacob Gatewood
- Luke Weaver
- Erick Fedde
- Brandon Finnegan
- Luis Ortiz
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