It was easier the last two years. Maybe not easier to nail the pick, but at least to put together a list of targets. The Cubs were picking fourth and second, respectively, and you didn’t have to think about eight teams in front of them like this year. Plus, this draft is just weird. The Diamondbacks appear to be looking at 47 players with the first-overall selection and no one ever knows what to expect from the Astros, who have two picks in the top five. Also, the White Sox pick ahead of the Cubs for the second year in a row and that forever bothers me.
With just over two weeks until the 2015 MLB draft to be held on June 8-10, I think it’s safe to put out a list of targets the Cubs are likely looking at with their first pick at ninth overall. I’ll start with the pitchers, and I am profiling seven guys who should still be on the board when the Cubs are on the clock. I feel pretty safe in assuming UC Santa Barbara RHP Dillon Tate and Illinois LHP Tyler Jay will be drafted and therefore not available. This also undoubtedly means you can push all-in that the Cubs will either draft Prep southpaw Kolby Allard or prep right-hander Ashe Russell because I am not profiling them here. Not that they aren’t super talented, it’s just I haven’t heard anything tying them to the Cubs. With all that said, here are seven possible pitching targets for the Cubs with their first selection. Hitters are up next (see here).
Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt
Fulmer is a dude, as the saying goes these days. He is that guy you hand the ball to in big situations and tell the pen to sit down and watch. The kid has a great track record of making bats miss as he has allowed just 165 hits through 244.1 career innings. He also has struck out 282 batters, and I believe a K/9 over 10 is still considered good. His fastball is gasoline-powered and can touch 98 mph with some silly arm side arm. He can maintain that velocity, and he also adds a plus slider and ever-improving change-up. His mound presence is better than yours and it seems his worst-case scenario is a lights-out closer.
“But why would he still be available here, Dan?”
Glad you asked. You see, Fulmer is 5’-11” and there is this thing about pitchers who are just south of six feet tall. The thing is that the track record of success isn’t really good at all. Sure, there was Pedro Martinez, but no one is Pedro Martinez. Guys like Tim Lincecum and Johnny Cueto come to mind as recent examples, but you kinda have to go back to old-timey baseball, when almost everyone was under six feet, to come up with a lot of examples. Another knock: There is effort to his delivery. In his defense, he was a closer and you tend to give max effort in that situation. He also has toned it down over the past year and that isn’t a huge knock anymore. His command can also get away from him at times as he has allowed 104 free passes over those 244.1 innings.
In summary, Fulmer is a guy who could help the bullpen this year if needed, à la Brandon Finnegan last year for the Royals. You don’t draft for need in the first round of the MLB draft, but let’s face it, the Cubs could use some arms, especially in the pen. You are kind of hedging your bets with Fulmer. You run him out as a starter, and if it doesn’t work out, he can be the guy that closes out games for you. He has one of the highest floors in the 2015 MLB draft because of that.
Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt
Fulmer’s teammate is another possibility for the Cubs here. While Buehler isn’t all that much taller (6’-1”) than Fulmer, there aren’t as many concerns about his height. Buehler possesses an electric arm and can touch 96 mph while sitting 92-94. He adds a plus, 11-5 curve that sits 78-81 and his change-up is an above-average offering. He has better command of his stuff than Fulmer, and most think he is the safer pick to remain a starter. There isn’t much effort to his delivery, and that’s a good thing when evaluating a starting pitcher.
“But Dan, do we really want another Buehler at Wrigley? Did you see what I …”
Ah, yes, I get it. That is a joke that is already old and cringeworthy, and the draft hasn’t happened yet. If the Cubs do select Buehler, we fans will just have to deal with that poor attempt at humor for as long as someone thinks it’s funny. We have dealt with much worse, however, and this kid can flat out pitch, so it should make things easier. While he hasn’t been his best this spring, posting a 2.97 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 72 K/22 BB over 69.2 innings, his showing at the Cape Cod League is still fresh in most scouts minds. He was tabbed the top overall prospect by most and cemented his status as one of the best arms available this spring. I should also note that he missed the first couple of weeks this spring with elbow soreness, but it isn’t considered a red flag by most.
In summary, Buehler has the stuff, if not the ideal size, you want in a frontline starter. He has the track record you look for without any serious injuries. If he turns out to be a three or four starter, you did a good job, especially in a draft class with so much uncertainty and is considered weak.
Jon Harris, RHP, Missouri State
Harris has seen his stock continue to soar all spring. With some of the top arms falling down draft boards due to injuries and inconsistencies, Harris has been as steady as anyone and has shown great improvement in his command and overall stuff this spring. And look, he’s 6’-4” so there are zero concerns about his height. He has a 10.6 K/9 ratio, is holding opponents to a .196 BAA and has yet to allow a home run over 89.1 innings. That is good stuff. His fastball sits 90-94 mph and he adds a curve that flashes plus. His change-up has made strides this spring, and there might still be room for more with him.
“Those stats look great Dan, but Missouri State? Really?”
Yeah, so he isn’t facing the best competition out there. And he did get shellacked by Tennessee-Martin, allowing five runs on nine hits over three innings on April 17. But it’s not always about the stats, especially with pitchers. The kid has great stuff and he still has projection left, and that’s something you can’t say about many college arms. He can still add more velocity as he fills out and his offspeed stuff is getting better.
In summary, Harris lacks the track record of other guys on this list, but he does have more projection than most. I am not as confident labeling him a future starter as I am with guys like Kaprielian and Funkhouser, but I do feel like he is going to succeed in that role. His stuff isn’t as sexy as the Vandy boys, but he’s improving at a faster rate currently, so the finished product could be better. That is what the Cubs would be banking on if they selected him.
Mike Nikorak, RHP, Stroudsburg HS (PA)
I fell in baseball love with Nikorak when I saw him pitch at the Under Armour All-American Game at Wrigley Field last summer. The 6’-5”, 190 pound right-hander was whipping his mid-90s fastball with ease and arm side run, and he was also showing off a plus curveball. He reminded me of Red Sox 2014 first round pick Michael Kopech, who, by the way, is touching 99 mph in the minors this season like a stud. Nikorak’s change-up is solid and he has smooth mechanics.
“Ughh, not a prep arm; those are way too risky, right?”
Of course, but all arms are risky. Have you been paying attention to college this spring? As the old and annoying saying goes, “There is no such thing as a pitching prospect.”
In summary, Nikorak has a great pitcher’s body with an electric fastball. One that, even if he lost a few ticks, would still be an above-average offering. Unlike most of the guys on this list, he has ace potential and is less of a project than most prep pitchers in this draft, if not all.
Donny Everett, RHP, Clarksville HS (TN)
Everett has been getting a lot of helium of late due to reportedly touching 100 mph. That kind of velocity thrusts you into first-round talks alone. At 6’-2” and 200 pounds, the right-hander has the size you look for, and he also features a slider that flashes plus. The change-up needs work, but he doesn’t need it right now. Over 67 innings this season, he had 125 strikeouts to just eight walks.
“But he’s a Vandy recruit, don’t those guys always honor their commitment?”
Okay, so historically Vanderbilt tends to keep its recruits. However, if he were to be selected this high, he could easily be pried away with the right bonus. Another knock is his command. I know you see 125 K/8 BB over 67 innings and wonder how control could be a problem. Well, most prep kids will swing at anything, especially if they can’t even see it as it is pumping by them at 98 mph, so those numbers get skewed at that level. He tends to miss his spots but that isn’t out of the ordinary for a kid his age who throws so hard. Release points get lost, you overthrow and a lot can go wrong.
In summary, you can’t teach 100 mph, but you can teach a change-up and command. Arms like Everett’s aren’t easy to find, and if one falls in your lap, it’s hard to pass on it. He is a project compared to everyone else on this list, but he may have the most upside. He’s a kid you develop for three to four years and then unleash his dominance onto feeble hitters.
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville
Funkhouser is a big, durable right-hander who has been a workhorse for the Cardinals the past two seasons — not those Cardinals. At 6’-3” and 225 pounds, he can maintain his velocity and has been touching 97 mph late in games. His slider is a plus pitch and one of the best in this draft, and his change-up is a solid offering. Like Harris, he also keeps the ball down and has only allowed three home runs over the past two seasons (218.2 IP). Last season, Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline tabbed him as the best prospect on the Collegiate National Team, a team that included Dillon Tate, Tyler Jay, Fulmer and James Kaprielian.
“His stuff is great, but 107 BB over the last two seasons? Yikes.”
Yes, those are some high walk totals. The good news is he has shown improvement in that area. As a sophomore, he had a 4.86 BB/9 ratio. He has trimmed that more than a full walk this spring and currently sports a 3.85 BB/9 ratio, so he is trending in the right direction. Plus, pro instruction should help that trend continue.
In summary, Funkhouser gives you the size and track record you want for a frontline starter. He has a classic three-pitch mix with two above-average offerings. He is one of the safer bets in this draft as far as arms go and, although he may not wow you with his stuff, he could be fast-tracked to the show. He is also a local kid having grown up in Palos Heights, Illinois.
James Kaprielian, RHP, UCLA
Kap is the kind of player who fits the mold of a player/person the current front office has shown to like. He has the arsenal to be a starter, led by a plus slider, a 91-94 mph fastball and an above-average change-up, with great command of all three. At 6’-4” and 200 pounds, the right-hander has the size and he also has a great track record without any injuries. As a sophomore, he posted a 2.29 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 108 K/35 BB over 106 innings. He has been equally dominant this season, posting a 1.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 107 K/31 BB over 97.2 innings.
“Wouldn’t this be a bit of a stretch grabbing him here?”
Not really. Kap may have started the season as a late first-round pick but he has been gaining steam of late. He was showing some of his best velocity ever in his outing against Arizona. He was sitting 92-95 mph as he tossed nine no-hit innings against a dangerous lineup. While guys like Buehler and Funkhouser may have slipped a bit since the season started, Kap has been consistent and has shown improvements.
In summary, Kaprielian is as polished a pitcher as there is in this draft, and he is a high-character kid. He has pitched in high-pressure games and has a great presence on the mound. Like Funkhouser, he isn’t going to wow you with any pitch, but he gets the job done and is a pitcher in the true sense of the word.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @DanMKirby for 2015 MLB draft updates, high school and college news, as well as Chicago Cubs ramblings.