In a distinct change from recent years, attention paid to the MLB Draft by Cubs fans and blogs has waned dramatically this summer as the Cubs are in contention for a playoff berth. In the Theo Epstein era, the Cubs have taken a hitter in the first round every year. First, it was Albert Almora in 2012, Kris Bryant in 2013, Kyle Schwarber in 2014, and Ian Happ in 2015. I don’t think they’re going to change their pattern in 2016.
The 2016 draft stacks up at the top with a lot of high-end top of the rotation pitchers like AJ Puk, Alec Hansen, and Riley Pint. With less than nine months to go before the 2016 draft, it appears as though the Cubs will pick in the mid-to-late 20’s, so they are not going to have a chance at those guys. However, the Cubs do have a shot at several good players at the back end of round one as the talent pool is quite deep for next year.
When it comes to hitters, there are several the Cubs could select in the late 20’s. I would love to see Ryan Boldt from Nebraska make it all the way down to them, but for that to happen, a lot of things are going to have to go wrong and you don’t wish ill will on anyone. Boldt is a rare combination of speed, size, and elite power and the University of Nebraska outfielder projects somewhere in the 10-15 range. He just screams Theo pick, though.
As a rule, Theo Epstein and Jason McLeod tend to look for college hitters in the first round. They like players that hit for power and command the zone, areas in which the University of Miami’s Willie Abreu stands out. Through the Fence Baseball describes Abreu’s talent:
At 6’-4” and 225 pounds, Abreu has a lot of raw power from the left side. It hasn’t shown up in games as much as scouts would like but he gives you glimpses of the player he can be. He profiles as a corner outfielder with his strong arm, but he’ll need to hit for more power next spring to remain a day one pick. Through 63 games [in 2015], he is hitting .300/.395/.433 with nine doubles, six home runs and has drawn 27 walks to 38 strikeouts, showing a solid approach at the plate.
Arizona 3B Bobby Dalbec is another interesting name and his size — 6’4” and 195 pounds — is intriguing, as there is some physical projection left. Kel Johnson of Georgia Tech is a player that has a lot of power. On the other hand, the Cubs do not tend to select first basemen. Rather, they prefer to select a guys who are more versatile in the field and much athletic as is need in the National League.
I tend to think Stephen Wrenn of Georgia might be the style of player the Cubs have been coveting lately as Wrenn combines speed and power in a premium position – center field. Every year at Georgia his power has increased. At 6’2” and 190 pounds, he has ideal size for the position, not to mention a burgeoning power stroke.
When it comes to pitching, the most intriguing arm is Kyle Funkhouser, who went unsigned in 2015 after being drafted by the Dodgers. Funkhouser did not get the money he wanted and returned to Louisville. Depending on his demands, he could be a top ten pick. Or the power righty could slide all the way to the Cubs.
In the second round, the Cubs might be tempted to take right-handed pitcher Conner Jones out of Virginia. Jones, a reliever, could be transitioning to a starter role this spring. The Cubs tend to take guys without a lot of mileage on their arms and Jones fits that bill.
At 6’-4” and 215 pounds, the right-hander has the ideal size to take on a starter’s workload, and he features a 92-95 mph fastball to go along with an above-average curveball. He’ll need to refine his change-up, but he has good mechanics, repeating his delivery well.
Two names that intrigued me for either the first or second round are Bo Bichette, a high school shortstop and son of Dante, and Cavan Biggio, a second baseman at Notre Dame who’s a little bit bigger than his Hall of Fame Father, Craig. Both players have a great lineage, but neither is really comparable to their dads.
This is just a preview of some names you may be hearing and reading about in the future, as the draft season really doesn’t get going until the NCAA season does in January. Regardless, the draft will be an integral part of the Cubs season moving forward in 2016. A new wave of hitters is needed to arrive circa 2020-2021 For the first time in five years, the Cubs will have a smaller amount of funds to spread around the draft class. It should be interesting to see how the draft boards shake out the next few months and where that leaves the Cubs. My money is still on a position player.