The first two rounds of the 2014 MLB draft is on June 5 — only five days away. With all of the rumors and speculation surrounding the Chicago Cubs and who they will select with the fourth overall pick, I decided to take every player who has been linked to them and rank them — in my own personal order. Brady Aiken, the 6’-4” southpaw from Cathedral Catholic HS in California, is not on the list. He appears to be the only lock to not drop out of the top three selections. Another player whom I love and have supported all year is Vanderbilt RHP Tyler Beede. By all accounts, he is not on the Cubs board right now after an up-and-down season. His last start, however, showed everyone his ridiculous potential as he had 14 strikeouts to two walks over eight shutout innings against Xavier on May 30. He was touching 99 mph and has three potential plus offerings in his arsenal. I’d still be happy with him at 1.4.
That leaves 10 other players who have been in the mix at one point or another in recent weeks. Here is how my big board looks:
1. Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State
If Rodon falls here, and there is a good chance that he does, I think he has to be the pick. No player had more eyes on him this spring than the 6’-3”, 240 pound southpaw with the lethal slider and bullet fastball. Every start was put under the microscope and, even though he struggled at times, he finished strong, posting a 1.46 ERA, 1.11 WHIP with 57 K/13 BB over his last six starts (43.1 IP.) He is a workhorse pitcher with a loaded arsenal. It appears his asking price may be high, which could sap money for other players in an extremely deep draft, but if you have a chance to get a frontline starter with his stuff, you have to jump on it.
2. Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia HS (FL)
There has been a lot of chatter surrounding Gordon and the Cubs with this pick. They could get him for slightly under-slot and he also happens to be pretty damn good. The 6’-2”, 180 pound left-handed hitter has plus speed, an advanced approach from the left side, great instincts for the game and developing power. He also has the bloodlines thing as his dad his former closer Tom Gordon and his brother is Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon, who is on pace for about 100 stolen bases this season. Nick has the kind of speed and instincts to rack up stolen bases, and he should be able to stick at a premium position due to his plus arm, range and soft hands. Over 30 games this spring, Gordon hit .506/.613/.874 with 10 doubles, six home runs and 19 stolen bases. He drew 18 walks and struck out just three times. If Rodon and Aiken are gone, he’s my pick.
3. Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS (CA)
Jackson has excellent bat speed and ridiculous power potential. Because of his tremendous offensive upside, he will most likely end up in a corner outfield spot and he seems to be fine with it. His strong arm would play well there, too. If you are a Cubs fan and were at the Under Armour AA Game at Wrigley last summer, you saw, and heard, the kind of easy power he has. At 6’-2” and 215 pounds, the right-hander already has a mature body and is a good athlete despite only having average speed. Over 25 games, he hit .403/.587/.944 with five doubles, 10 home runs and drew 20 walks to seven strikeouts. He also was plunked a whopping 12 times. Theo and Co. took Albert Almora in 2012 with the sixth-overall pick when there were some high upside arms on the board. Jackson has the same kind of make up and polish to him as Almora.
4. Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd HS (TX)
Kolek is a 6’-5”, 240 pound right-hander who can regularly hit 100 MPH and also adds a slider that shows plus potential. He adds a change-up that he doesn’t have to use right now but shows a good feel for it already. Over 54.1 innings, he had 112 K/6 BB, allowing two runs on 20 hits. He threw a first-pitch strike to 132/194 batters and averaged 86.6 pitches-per-start. Kudos to his coaches for taking care of his arm and not overusing him. Obviously, the upside is unreal and if the starting point on his velocity is 101 MPH, he should be able to maintain gas for his whole career. That being said, there is also risk. There is a reason why a prep righty has never gone first-overall and, with the recent epidemic of injuries, hard-throwing prep arms are getting more and more risky. There is a ton to like about Kolek, but this selection has risks, as well as some serious upside.
5. Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
Maybe the safest pick of everyone on this list, Nola, at worst, should be a mid-rotation starter at the next level. He is extremely polished, has elite control and could move quickly through the system. Through 16 starts, he has a 1.47 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 134 K/27 BB over 116.1 innings. Over 332 career innings at LSU, he now has 345 K/52 BB. 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, and his slider is a quality offering, although it has been a bit inconsistent this season. Selecting Nola wouldn’t save the Cubs much money, if any, but the risk is extremely low and they could gamble on a higher-upside pick later.
6. Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State
After winning MVP at the Cape Cod League, Pentecost continued to show off his hit tool and athleticism, as well as his developing power this spring. The 6’-1”, 190 pound right-hander is hitting .416/.470/.624 through 59 games with 21 doubles, nine home runs and has drawn 24 walks to just 25 strikeouts, showing a very good approach at the plate. He has also gone 16-for-18 in stolen base attempts, showing above-average speed and the athleticism that could force him to a corner outfield spot where his strong arm would play well. This would be a strategic move as the Cubs would likely get him for under-slot money and be able to use the savings for a higher upside pick — possibly a prep arm — with a later pick. I love Pentecost’s offensive upside, as well as his potential to stick behind the plate. If they could also snag a kid with a high ceiling later on, I’m all for the strategy.
7. Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville
I have been a huge fan of Freeland all year and have probably tweeted more about him than anyone out there. He wowed everyone at the Cape Cod League, striking out 48 to just four walks over 40 innings. He kept that silly control up this spring, striking out 128 to 13 walks over 99.2 innings. He also posted a 1.90 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and didn’t allow a home run all season. The 6’-4”, 190 pound southpaw features a plus slider and his fastball sits in the low/mid 90s. He adds a solid change-up with good sink but there is a lot of effort in his delivery, making some question if he can remain a starter. Most, however, believe he can stick in the rotation, and I am one of them. I wouldn’t be upset with this pick, I just think there will probably be better options available.
8. Michael Conforto, OF, Oregon State
One of the best hitters in the 2014 MLB draft, Conforto has a very advanced approach at the plate and has shown developing home run power this year. Through 55 games, the 6’-2”, 215 pound left-handed hitter is hitting .356/.510/.565 with 15 doubles, seven home runs and has drawn a whopping 50 walks to 35 strikeouts. He is an average defender and is most likely a left fielder at the next level but the bat is what makes him special. I love Conforto and think he is going to be a heck of a hitter, but I just don’t think he is the right pick here. I would rather go with Bradley Zimmer out of San Francisco if the team was going college outfield bat with this pick. I get that it would be an under-slot deal but Pentecost makes more sense to me than Conforto.
9. Brandon Finnegan, LHP, TCU
Finnegan is a southpaw who can touch triple-digits with his fastball and he also adds a plus slider and decent change-up. Through 15 starts, he has a 2.07 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 122 K/25 BB over 91.1 innings. His 12 K/9 and 4.88 K/BB ratios show the kind of power and command he has of his stuff. The knock is his size and recent injury. At 5’-11” and 185 pounds, you have to be concerned about his durability as a starter over the long haul, and with a recent elbow injury, the concerns just get greater. Add in the effort he uses in his delivery and I don’t think getting a potential closer with the fourth overall pick is good value.
10. Jeff Hoffman, RHP, East Carolina
Some have tossed Hoffman’s name around as the Cubs are still in rebuilding mode and waiting a year for him to rehab from Tommy John surgery wouldn’t be a big deal. Also, the front office has shown the willingness to take a kid who has had the procedure as they selected Josh Conway out of Coastal Carolina in the fourth round in the 2012 MLB draft. Hoffman is a stud — when healthy. At 6’-4” and 185 pounds, he can touch 98 mph with his fastball and maintains velocity deep into games. He adds a plus change-up and plus slurve. Even though the recovery success for the surgery seems to be getting better each year, there is always the chance that he is never the same guy. With an organization in rebuilding mode picking this high, I don’t like them rolling the dice here.
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