Cubs putting emphasis on depth in '09 Draft
Chicago projected to select Wheeler or Pollock
CHICAGO -- This spring the Cubs released three of their top picks from the First-Year Player Draft: Ryan Harvey (2003), Grant Johnson (2004) and Mark Pawelek (2005).
What's going on?
Oneri Fleita, the Cubs' player development director, said that the players had not shown enough progress and that the organization decided it was time to move on. Harvey and Pawelek were first-round selections, with Johnson taken in the second round. The Cubs did not have a first-round pick that year.
Heading into Tuesday's First-Year Player Draft, the Cubs have the 31st selection overall, and the emphasis is more on depth than who's No. 1.
"I think when you look at a Draft, everybody gets focused on the first-round pick, and they forget there are 49 other players taken in the Draft," Fleita said. "When [Greg] Maddux was taken in '84 in the second round, nobody remembers the first-round pick.
"When you look at a Draft over time, look at 2004 and 2003. We took Eric Patterson, Sam Fuld, Sean Gallagher, Jerry Blevins, Jake Fox and Sean Marshall, and Casey McGehee, who's in Milwaukee. I think we fail to look at the depth of the Draft, and we get too focused on the first pick."
Patterson was an eighth-round pick, Fuld 10th round, Gallagher 12th and Blevins 17th in '04; Fox was a third-round selection, Marshall a sixth-rounder and McGehee a 10th-round pick in '03.
In other words, the Cubs are hoping that scouting director Tim Wilken, now in his fourth season with the team, can find another Geovany Soto, who was selected in the 11th round of the 2001 Draft.
"Those are the guys we fail to talk about when we talk about our amateur Draft," Fleita said.
By the way, the Cubs chose pitcher Drew Hall in the first round in 1984 ahead of Maddux. The overall first-round selection that year was outfielder Shawn Abner (New York Mets). Others drafted ahead of Maddux in the first round include pitchers Bill Swift (Seattle) and Terry Mulholland (San Francisco); outfielders Shane Mack (San Diego) and Oddibe McDowell (Texas); and infielder Mark McGwire (Oakland). Maddux was the 31st player taken. Tom Glavine was the 47th.
MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire First-Year Player Draft from June 9-11. MLB Network will broadcast the first round at 5 p.m. CT on June 9 from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J., and those 32 selections also will be simulcast live on MLB.com.
Beginning with the 33rd pick, up-to-the-minute on-air coverage from the remaining rounds will shift exclusively to MLB.com, where host Vinny Micucci will be joined by MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo and Major League Scouting Bureau director Frank Marcos.
Once the first night is done, the Draft will continue with rounds 4-30 via conference call from MLB headquarters in New York at noon on June 10. Rounds 31-50 will be on June 11, starting at 11:30 a.m.
Here's a glance at what the Cubs have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
Wilken's approach is to "take the best big leaguer left." He leans toward athletic players -- Tyler Colvin and Josh Vitters are good examples. The Cubs, hoping they can continue to pick low in the First-Year Player Draft, the order of which is determined by where the team finishes the year before, have expanded their scouting efforts, and signed players from Korea and Australia.
"In my mind, every scouting director is measured over getting three, four, five players to the Major Leagues. A lot of times, we fail to talk about the players traded away, like Bobby Hill to get Aramis Ramirez, or when we traded an international player in Hee Seop Choi to get Derrek Lee. I think you have to look inside the numbers inside the Draft. I think the scouting directors are measured by the depth of the Draft. The guy who's out there trying to get Mark Grace, who was a later-round pick, that's where you really value your scouts. Everybody in the country is talking about the top players. The true meaning of the scout is to go out there and scour and get the guy who nobody thought was going to be a top player." -- Fleita
Mayo projects that the Cubs will tab outfielder Tim Wheeler of Sacramento State. Baseball America projects the Cubs to take another Notre Dame player and select A.J. Pollock, who was the MVP of the Cape Cod League last summer, batting .377 with a .556 slugging percentage. According to the publication, Pollock "stands out most for his athleticism and pure hitting ability from the right side."
Wilken feels this isn't a true first round and that there isn't the superstar talent projected for that round. There is good depth, though, from the end of the first to the fifth round, and Wilken has had each of the Cubs' national and regional scouts picking their top five guys. Then they debate the players' pluses and minuses. With the team's expanded international scouting, Wilken said, he can address some of the organization's needs in the Draft, such as finding more left-handers, catchers and outfielders.
Wilken does not have a preference when it comes to college versus high school players. An example of the type of player he'll look for is outfielder Reed Johnson, who was a 17th-round pick by Toronto in 1999. Wilken was the Blue Jays' scouting director at that time. He also tabbed such players as Casey Blake, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Freel, Shawn Green, Roy Halladay, Orlando Hudson, Jimmy Key and Vernon Wells.
Since taking Kerry Wood in the first round in 1995, the Cubs have chosen eight pitchers in the first round. Only Wood and Jon Garland, selected in 1997 and traded to the White Sox, are in the big leagues.
Recent top picks
2008: Right-hander Andrew Cashner was the 19th player taken overall last season after winning nine games at Texas Christian University. He appeared in eight games at three levels in the Minor Leagues in '08, spending most of the time at Class A Boise, where he was 1-1 with a 4.96 ERA in six games. This year he opened at Class A Daytona, and on May 31 he threw four scoreless innings, holding Sarasota to two hits to lower his ERA to 1.99.
2007: Third baseman Vitters battled a sore wrist in 2008 and hit .328 in 61 games at Boise, then made a brief, four-game stop at Class A Peoria. This year he opened at Peoria and has had 20 multi-hit games, including a five-game stretch when he had three hits each game, and went 15-for-19. He was the third player taken overall in the Draft.
2006: Colvin was hitting .256 in 2008 at Double-A Tennessee with 14 homers and 80 RBIs, but he needed Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery on his left elbow in November. The outfielder was recognized by Baseball America as the third-best prospect in the Cubs organization going into the '08 season. He began this season at Daytona and hit .250 in 32 games, and was promoted recently to Tennessee. In 2007, Colvin was a member of the gold-medal-winning Team USA in the Baseball World Cup.
Steve Clevenger was drafted in the seventh round in 2006 as a shortstop, but he was converted to catcher, and the new role seems to fit him well. He began this season at Tennessee and was promoted to Triple-A Iowa after hitting .364 in 26 games for the Smokies with one homer and 10 RBIs.
Sometimes it takes guys a little longer than others. This year, infielder Bobby Scales was called up to the big leagues after 10-plus seasons in the Minors. Scales was a 14th-round pick by San Diego in 1999. But the guy who is making an impact is Randy Wells, a 38th-round selection by the Cubs in 2002. The right-hander was selected by Toronto in the Rule 5 Draft in 2007 and subsequently returned to Chicago. Good thing for the Cubs. He threw 6 2/3 innings of no-hit ball against Atlanta on June 2, and had a sub-2.00 ERA.
In the Show
Pitcher Jeff Samardzija was up with the team in late April but sent back to Iowa to work on his command. He was the Cubs' fifth-round pick in 2006.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.