Yesterday, I profiled seven pitchers the Cubs could target with their first-overall selection in the 2015 MLB draft. The last two years, many thought they would opt for a pitcher in the first round due to lack of depth in the organization. Both times they chose a college hitter, and both times they have looked like geniuses for it. Kris Bryant is a superstar in the making, and Kyle Schwarber has done nothing but rake at every level he has reached. There is still a good amount of chatter that the Cubs will finally take an arm with the ninth-overall selection this year. Personally, I think they go bat again, and four bats I am comfortable assuming will be off the board by the time the Cubs pick are Brendan Rodgers, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker and Dansby Swanson. If any of those studs are still available, I would hope the Cubs pounce on them.
Here are nine bats the Cubs could target in the first round, in my own personal order:
Trent Clark, OF, Richland HS (TX)
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Clark is a name that comes up most when linking the Cubs to hitters, especially the prep bats. I actually had him going to the Cubs here in my first mock back in September since he checks most of the boxes as far as what Theo Epstein and Co. look for in players. The 6’-2”, 200 pound left-handed hitter is a pure hitter with developing power and an advanced approach. He was an absolute stud for U18 Team USA Baseball last summer, hitting .538/.655/.923 over 12 games with four doubles, three home runs, 24 RBI and a perfect 10-for-10 in stolen bases. He played stellar defense in center field and drew 13 walks to just three strikeouts. He continued to show off all the tools this spring even though he wasn’t getting much to swing at.
“But Dan, he grips the bat like a golf club with his thumbs pointing up. That’s weird.”
So, yeah, he has an unorthodox grip he picked up after watching golfers because he was constantly rolling over his wrists. It obviously works for him, so I don’t understand what the big deal is. He also can change it if it doesn’t work for him down the road. Hank Aaron had a cross-handed grip growing up, and he changed it his first season in the minors, so people can change.
In summary, Clark brings a pretty full tool shed with him, as well as high character. He is a student of the game and has a high baseball IQ already. Most believe even more power will come due to his frame, and he has the speed and instincts to remain in center field.
Garrett Whitley, OF, Niskayuna HS (NY)
I’m a sucker for using high picks on up-the-middle defenders because they tend to be great athletes who can move all over the field. Whitley is one of those guys, and he may have the best set of all-around tools in the prep ranks this year. He’s strongly built at 6’-1” and 195 pounds, and his plus speed and strong arm will allow him to remain in center field. At the plate, he has raw power from the right side, a mature approach and excellent bat speed.
“New York? You don’t see many baseball players come out of the Northeast.”
Well, Mike Trout is from Jersey, and there are a lot of similarities in Whitley’s game to the best player in baseball. He’s also built like Trout. His power/speed potential is some of the best in this draft, and he gets high marks for his character.
In summary, you would hate to miss out on the next big thing, and Whitley has that kind of upside. He’s got all five tools and would probably be getting a lot of first-overall talks had he played in a warm weather state and had more exposure.
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Arkansas
With the success of Kris Bryant at the major league level, and the way Kyle Schwarber has been raking since being drafted fourth overall last year (1.051 OPS through 469 plate appearances), I would say there is a pretty good chance the Cubs will to stick to their strategy of selecting a proven college hitter with their first pick. Assuming one they like is available, that is. Benintendi has been tied to the Cubs of late, and he has been solidly crushing balls all season. In a conference with Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman, both considered top-10 picks, it was Benintendi who snagged SEC Player of the Year honors by hitting .391/.492/.738 over 57 games with 18 home runs, 22 stolen bases and 40 walks to just 29 strikeouts.
“But where is the track record?”
Okay, so yes, Benintendi didn’t play summer ball, and no one had him among their top 50 prospects heading into this spring. As a freshman, he hit just .276/.368/.333 over 225 at-bats but he did steal 17 bases and drew more walks than strikeouts. He has above-average speed and the instincts and glove to stick in center field. He shows a mature approach from the left side and his speed plays on the base paths. He’s also third in the country in SLG, so the power is there, too.
In summary, sometimes people look too much into track records. Some guys develop at their own pace and put it all together later than others. Benintendi has shown all five tools this spring in the toughest conference and against the best pitching. You don’t often see a guy with such a low strikeout rate who also puts up a silly SLG.
Ian Happ, OF/2B, Cincinnati
Many believe Happ is the most advanced bat in the 2015 MLB draft, and if great track records are your thing, he is the guy. He hit .322/.451/.483 as a freshman and put up nearly identical numbers as a sophomore by hitting .322/.443/.497. He stepped up the offense even more this spring despite playing on a team that went 15-41. Over 56 games, he hit .369/.492/.672 with 18 doubles, 14 home runs and 49 walks to 49 strikeouts. The 6’-0”, 205 pound switch-hitter has excellent bat speed and can rake equally to all fields. He showed more power this spring and has a solid approach at the plate.
“The offense is great, but where will he play in the field?”
That’s the big question and one that could effect where he lands in the draft. He has played all over the field and most believe left field is his eventual landing spot, but he has a chance to stick at second base with more work.
In summary, Happ’s value obviously greatly increases if he can stick in the infield where he could be one of the top offensive second basemen in the game. Even if he ends up in left, however, the bat is really good from both sides of the plate, and he could move quickly through the system.
Nick Plummer, OF, Brother Rice HS (MI)
Arguably the best pure prep bat in the draft, Plummer has advanced hitting skills with some intriguing raw power from the left side. He has a great eye and takes what’s given to him without chasing balls out of the zone. Plummer seems to always shine during tournaments and events, and he put his name on the map last summer with outstanding performances. He’s a better pure hitter than both Clark and Whitley, and his power has equal potential to the two. He’s not as fast as them and is the most likely of the three to move from center to a corner outfield spot.
“What makes him a better prospect than Clark or Whitley?”
I guess that is up to what Theo and Co. think. I have Clark ahead of Whitley and Plummer behind the two, but I am not making the selection. Having said that, I saw Plummer live at Wrigley last summer, and the kid can flat out hit and he looks like a savvy vet in the batter’s box.
In summary, left-handed bats who can swing the stick like Plummer aren’t easy to find. The power is there already, and once he really finds his power stroke, he could be one exciting player. Wherever he lands in the outfield, the bat will play well. He has slightly better than average speed and great instincts for the game.
Daz Cameron, OF, Eagle’s Landing HS (GA)
Daz has been a big name for this draft since he played his first high school game. Even before that, really, as his dad is former major league All-Star and 17-year veteran Mike Cameron. Having grown up around the game, Daz has great instincts and a high baseball IQ. He has solid tools across the board and has shown increased power over the past year. At 6’-1” and 190 pounds, the right-hander has excellent bat speed and a short, compact swing. He also has above-average speed that plays in the field and on the base paths. He was a beast last summer for U18 Team USA, hitting .405/.519/.667 over 12 games with three home runs, 19 RBI, seven stolen bases and 10 walks to six strikeouts.
“He sounds great, Dan, so why do you have him as the fourth prep bat on this list?”
I have been a huge fan of Daz since his freshman year and would be totally fine if the Cubs selected him here. While Daz may have better present tools than the other three, I feel that he doesn’t have as much upside as the guys above.
In summary, although he may lack the ceiling of the other three, Daz has a pretty high floor, in my opinion. He could be the safest bet of the prep bats listed here, and he should be at least a solid player with 20/20 potential and a chance to stick in center field.
Tyler Stephenson, C, Kennesaw Mountain HS (GA)
Stephenson has been the prep darling of the draft over the past month. The 6’-4”, 210 pound right-hander missed the first part of the season with an oblique injury but wowed scouts with his tremendous power potential, along with some outstanding defensive skills. He has a plus/plus, accurate arm and frames pitches like a pro already. He needs to work on his footwork, but that’s common for a prep catcher.
“Can he really stick behind the plate at 6’-4”?”
That’s a legitimate question as you don’t see many catchers his size. Joe Mauer is 6’-5”, as is Matt Wieters. Mauer hasn’t caught a game since 2013, however, and those days are behind him. In fact, only four players taller than 6’-3” have appeared in more than 1,000 games as a catcher. Stephenson is an athlete with a great arm, so he can make the move to right field if needed.
In summary, a lot of Stephenson’s stock rides on his ability to stick at a premium position. The bat has potential but it is raw and behind the defense. You don’t draft for need in the first round, but if the Cubs select Stephenson, it could say a lot about their hopes for 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber’s potential to remain behind the plate.
D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State
Talk about a track record. All Stewart has done since he arrived at Florida State is get on base. Through 171 career games, the 6’-0”, 235 pound left-hander is hitting .348/.490/.572 with 53 doubles, 25 home runs and a whopping 144 walks, including 66 this season. He has an advanced approach and tremendous power potential from the left side. He is a good athlete for his size and should be able to hold down left field at the next level. An alumni of Team USA Baseball, he also gets high marks for his character.
“But can he hit pro pitching with that batting stance?”
It’s true, his batting stance is a sight to behold. He has a pretty extreme crouch and some question whether he will be able to catch up to pitches at the next level. So far so good, however, and he could change it a bit if problems arise.
In summary, there are a lot of similarities offensively to Schwarber in that both have advanced approaches and a lot of power from the left side. The success of Schwarber could entice the Cubs to take a long look at Stewart at this selection, especially if they can save some money for later in the draft. The drawbacks are that he is almost certainly limited to left field and whether he will continue to tap into his immense power.
Donnie Dewees, OF, North Florida
Dewees leads the nation in total bases with 188, and it’s not even really close as Chris Robinson of Morehead State is second with 160. Dewees also ranks among the leaders in practically every other offensive category, hitting .422/.483/.749 through 60 games with 18 home runs, 23 stolen bases and 30 walks to just 16 strikeouts. He has plus speed, an advanced approach and has shown a lot of power from the left side this spring. He also is a plus runner with excellent base running skills.
Alright, so like Benintendi, Dewees wasn’t one of the big names coming into the spring and most didn’t have him in their top 100 prospects, including me. It’s not like he came completely out of nowhere, however, as he made a name for himself by hitting .340/.427/.473 at the Cape Cod League last summer. He has a better track record of hitting than Benintendi, albeit against inferior pitching. He also might end up in left field putting more pressure on his bat.
In summary, I would take Benintendi over Dewees, but if Benintendi is already off the board, Dewees is an intriguing pick due to his offense potential from the left side, speed and chance to stick in center field. He is another bat who could move quickly, and the Cubs could get him for well below slot at this pick.
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