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Chicago Cubs 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Chicago Cubs 2011 Draft Selections

Despite some tense moments on deadline day the Cubs managed to knock out a deal with Arlington County Day HS (FL) SS Javier Baez (25th ranked draft prospect). It was a bit of a surprise to see him selected in the top ten, but Tim Wilkin and his staff couldn’t pass up the change of a dreamy potential Starlin Castro/Javier Baez left side of the infield. Still loving that Michael Young comp, but, as with any comp, your mileage might vary.

From watching Baez a good bit this spring, scouts are pretty confident that can run, throw, and hit for power. Much of his projection revolves around his defensive upside. Considering many think he has the requisite footwork and quick release to catch and perhaps the agility and range for shortstop, I have to believe he’ll be just fine at third base as a pro. A pretty cool outside the box comp I’ve heard on Baez is current Rangers infielder Michael Young.

Baez might someday be found chucking throws across the diamond at Wrigley to Bishop Verot HS (FL) 1B Dan Vogelbach (60th ranked draft prospect). Care of a scouting report on Vogelbach? How about this: power…and lots of it. Original, I know.

The popular comparison for Dan Vogelbach these days seems to be Prince Fielder. Now I’m as big a fan as comps as you’ll find and I think I get the basic idea behind this particular one – both guys showed plus to plus-plus power and minus to minus-minus (I just made that up…clever, right?) body types as prep stars – but the only way I could get behind comparing Vogelbach to Fielder would be if we specified that it is a “very poor man’s Fielder” comp. Maybe my hesitation to use Fielder as a comp for anybody has to do with using him as a point of reference for what I thought Bryce Harper can and will do as a pro. As a jumping off point for conversation, however, the Fielder comp is very interesting. Vogelbach does have tremendous raw power. He also has a distressingly large body that does not fit what most teams look for in a high school draft pick. Some (but not all) concerns about his body have been put to rest by a combination of his major weight loss in the past year (he’s no longer pushing three bills, so that’s a plus) and his outstanding makeup that has some teams believing he’ll do anything it takes (i.e. continue to work on reshaping his body) to succeed in pro ball. It is easy to envision Vogelbach as a 1B/DH capable of hitting 30 homers if everything goes to plan, but the risk factor here is high.

Miami OF Zeke DeVoss (127th ranked draft prospect) is one of my absolute favorite players in his draft class, so I’m pretty thrilled to see him drafted even higher than my generous (or so I thought) pre-draft ranking. Speedy defensive center fielders with pop and patience often find their way to the big leagues.

Miami SO OF Zeke DeVoss: plus to plus-plus speed; plus range; average at best arm; very raw with bat; 5-9, 170

I’m biased against college relievers, but even I can admit Louisville RHP Tony Zych (164th ranked draft prospect) is a good one. Though I tend to side with those who think of him more as a setup man than a closer, it is pretty undeniable Zych has the two plus pitches needed to get big league hitters out when on.

Louisville JR RHP Tony Zych: heavy 90-93 FB with sink, 95-98 peak; velocity up and sitting 93-96 now; plus 84-87 SL; violent delivery; good athlete; 6-3, 190

Notre Dame Prep (AZ) RHP Tayler Scott (214th ranked draft prospect) is the quintessential lottery ticket. Relatively new to baseball: check. Crazy athletic: check. Blessed with an arm that sits comfortably in the low-90s with limited coaching: check. There are issues here, to be sure, but the upside makes Scott’s lack of a consistent quality secondary offering worth it.

RHP Tayler Scott (Notre Dame Prep, Arizona): 90-92 FB; flashes plus CB but below-average on balance; very raw; plus athlete; 6-2

Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (PR) C Neftali Rosario was a fast rising prospect this spring who, stop me if you’ve heard this before, has shown impressive arm strength and raw power. He wasn’t a favorite for me in what turned out to be a good year for prep catching depth.  Fellow fast rising prospect Oaks Christian HS (CA) 1B Trevor Gretzky deserved better than the way the national media treated him this spring. I understand being the son of an all-time great athlete can bring undeserved media attention (and, thus, backlash) in the name of making a big story out of a lesser talent, but the onslaught of coverage cuts both ways. Gretzky was seen by too many as a novelty prospect destined to college and disappear after a few disappointing seasons. The kid can play, as his amateur career and lofty draft standing show. He’s not the next Great One or anything, and I actually think three years at San Diego State would have helped, but he’s still as worthy a gamble as any outside of the top few rounds.

I feel like this ranking might catch some heat because so many have completely written off Gretzky as a prospect propped up solely due to his famous father. I think there is something there with the bat, and his athleticism, second only to Wallace Gonzalez’s in this group, will really help in the transition to pro ball. The backlash he’s received in some scouting circles makes me think he’d be a better ballplayer to some if only his name was Trevor Smith.

Alabama OF Taylor Dugas (76th ranked draft prospect) is really good at playing baseball. Most scouts won’t put a plus grade on any of Dugas’ tools, but I’m confident that his quick hands, sweet swing, and outstanding approach add up to plus. The biggest issue with Dugas’ future is his eventual position; he’s a classic tweener who might not quite have the speed for center (though his instincts and first step quickness could make it work), the arm for right, or the power for left. As much as I like him, I’m not sure how he’ll get himself picked before round eight next year.

Alabama JR OF Taylor Dugas: advanced idea of strike zone; above-average speed; good athlete; gap power; good friends with Mikie Mahtook; by no means a tools guy, but ultimate grinder; plus hit tool for me; 5-7, 165 pounds

As a future pro left fielder, Waterloo HS (IL) OF Garrett Schlecht didn’t show enough this spring to warrant much consideration as an early round pick for me. I was equally unimpressed with Hebron Christian Academy (GA) SS Daniel Lockhart, a curious pick to net close to $400,000 in bonus money as the son of current Cubs scout Keith Lockhart. These iffy picks aren’t that big of a deal for two reasons. First, the obvious: I could very well be wrong on either or both players. It has happened before, believe it or not. The other, better reason: the Cubs opened up their wallets in a big way for some young talent later in the draft. Do I smell a segue?

The signings of Valley Christian HS (CA) OF Shawon Dunston Jr. (Round 11 and my 206th ranked draft prospect) and Pinecrest HS (NC) RHP Dillon Maples (Round 14 and my 65th ranked draft prospect) go a long way in making this one of the league’s stronger drafts. The signing of overslot high school talent goes such a long way with me that I’ll just look past the fact the both Dunston and Maples are flawed prospects. Both are talented young men, but Dunston’s below-average hit tool and Maples’ spotty command and inability to hold his velocity are major red flags. Considering the two prospects signed for a combined total of less than 4 million bucks (roughly less than one year of John Grabow), neither player needs to hit their ceiling to be a worthwhile investment. If Dunston winds up an athletic defensive whiz of a backup outfielder in the mold of, say, Endy Chavez, and Maples shows himself capable of “only” handling a relief role, then you’ve still worked the system and received a pretty nice, cost-controlled return. I think Dunston would be fortunate to hit that ceiling, and wish, for purely selfish reasons, he enrolled at Vanderbilt instead of signing. Maples, on the other hand, has many of the things you want to see in a young pitcher: flashes of a plus fastball/plus curveball combo, great athleticism, good size, and a well-earned reputation as a bat breaker. Outside of the Cubs first two picks, he’s the guy with the most upside and not nearly as much of a lock to relieve as many might lead you to believe. Any talk about messing with his throwing motion scare me, but I’ve long been a proponent of the old “if it feels good, do it” chestnut. Find the kid a consistent release point and let him fire away.

OF Shawon Dunston (Valley Christian HS, California): plus athlete; plus speed; plus range; iffy arm; limited power, but has shown more pop to gaps this spring; super raw

RHP Dillon Maples (Pinecrest HS, North Carolina): 90-93 FB, peak 94-96; velocity will sometimes dip to upper-80s; potential plus 77-82 CB that is already above-average pitch; 80-81 SL; iffy command; emerging CU that still needs work; bat breaker; good athlete: latest: great athlete; spotty FB command; 6-3, 195

The Cubs also landed State JC of Florida (FL) 1B Rock Shoulders (Round 25), a player considered my many a difficult sign. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cubs plan on divvying up playing time between Shoulders and Vogelbach as they advance through the minors together in the coming years.

I wonder if Franklin HS (TX) RHP Ricky Jacquez (Round 39 and my 193rd ranked draft prospect) was selected as an insurance policy in case a deal couldn’t get worked out with Maples. There are some similarities between the two prospects – most notably the big FB/CB pairing – but Jacquez’ size, or lack thereof, was a deterrent for many clubs. I’ve mentioned many times that I have no qualms showing some love to a short righthander and Jacquez is no exception. He reminds me a great deal of current Duke closer and 2012 draft early round prospect Marcus Stroman.

RHP Ricky Jacquez (Franklin HS, Texas): 90-93 FB, 95-97 peak; potential plus 78 CB that is already very effective pitch; promising CU; great athlete; 5-9, 160

From Seminoles to Cubs, Florida State C Rafael Lopez (Round 16) and Florida State OF Taiwan Easterling (Round 27) won’t have to go through that pesky adjustment period of playing on separate teams after college. Lopez’ big senior year with the bat has upgraded him from ceiling of backup catcher to ceiling of damn good backup catcher, if he gets the proper organizational breaks in pro ball. Easterling got six figures after reportedly turning down top five round money last year; as a 27th rounder, he makes a lot more sense than he would have in the top five. Good to see the Cubs realized that toolsy outfielders can be found later in the draft almost as easily as they can at the onset.

Lopez is a really good defender with a strong throwing arm, but little projection with the bat makes his best case scenario that of a backup catcher. 

JR OF Taiwan Easterling reportedly scared off a team interested in drafting him in the fourth last year because of his extravagant bonus demands. If that story is true, one can only imagine what kind of attention the super toolsy former football player could draw with a big spring on the diamond. As is, the plus runner is almost a complete tools gamble. 

I didn’t go in to the year expecting to be impressed with Connecticut OF John Andreoli (Round 17), but a few weekend series later and I was won over. A potential backup outfielder (some speed, good defense, strong arm, solid approach) is good value in the 17th round.

He’s no speed demon on the basepaths, he won’t approach double digit homers as a pro, and he’s not build like a prototypical professional outfielder, but, boy, JR OF John Andreoli can swing the bat. The way he controls the bat through the zone is a sight to behold. Some of the guy’s hits couldn’t have been rolled by hand into holes any better than he hits them. Beyond the pure hit tool, I asked around about certain players before the game, and almost to a man I was told to watch out for Andreoli’s bunting. One gorgeous second inning push bunt for a single might not be stone cold proof of anything, but it gave the pregame prognostication a little extra weight. He’s a well above-average defender in a corner that might be stretched some in center, though I’m not so sure his 55ish speed wouldn’t also work up the middle. Andreoli is probably nothing more than a late round organizational player at this point, but he could make for an interesting senior sign in 2012.

East Tennessee State 1B Paul Hoilman (Round 19) is a three true outcomes hero who is mashing right now for Boise. The real challenge will come as he moves up, of course, but I like what Chicago did in bringing in three potential big league first basemen (Hoilman, Shoulders, Vogelbach) at three different levels of play (college, junior college, high school). Sometimes it pays to play the odds and overload at one spot with the hopes of finding that one viable keeper. This isn’t a direct comparison, but Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks has given more hope than ever to guys like Hoilman.

Hoilman’s raw power is undeniable, but that’s about all he brings to the table. Over half of his senior year plate appearances ended in either a strikeout, walk, or homer. That’s fun.

Kent State OF Ben Klafczynski (Round 20) has scuffled badly in pro ball thus far, a big surprise for a senior sign expected by many to hit the ground running. I like him a lot as a prospect because of the way he got better as a player every time I saw him play. He’s a good athlete with a patient approach to hitting geared towards finding that one pitch to drive in every at bat. There’s not enough hear to project him as a starter, but he joins fellow draftees Easterling and  Andreoli as potential big league backup outfielders.

Kent State SR OF Ben Klafczynski: big power; really good athlete; really refined approach junior season; more raw talent than most; average speed; good arm

The stories of TCU RHP Steven Maxwell (Round 37) and College of Charleston RHP Casey Lucchese (Round 38) are sad ones, far as I can tell. Both pitchers were senior signs with some big league bullpen upside, but it seems neither will get the chance to show what they can do in pro ball. Hopefully the door isn’t shut forever for either talented guy. If baseball isn’t in the cards, best of luck in the real world. A healthy reliever prospect who did sign is Texas LHP Andrew McKirahan (Round 21). My notes on him after seeing him throw a few times: “LOOGY.” I think specialization will help him a great deal as a professional; it isn’t proof either way, but his pro numbers so far are leaps and bounds ahead of what he did at Texas in the spring.

TCU SR RHP Steven Maxwell (2011): Tommy John surgery survivor; 88-94 FB; above-average power 78-82 CB

College of Charleston SR RHP Casey Lucchese: 88-92 FB, 93 peak; good CB; 6-2, 210; has shrunk since entering school (was once listed as 6-4); never added third pitch to start, reliever all the way

Brookwood HS (GA) OF Trey Martin (Round 13) has the athleticism and center field range to play every day, but much of his development will come down to his currently below-average bat. La Jolla HS (CA) OF Bradley Zimmer (Round 23) is a similarly raw prospect, but will matriculate at South Florida in the fall with the hopes of getting popped early in 2014. I prefer the unsigned Zimmer’s upside (if he adds some strength he could hit in the middle of a lineup) to the signed Martin’s (more of a gap to gap leadoff type of hitter).

I have a really tough time ranking Canadian and Puerto Rican prospects. Power/St. Joseph HS (ON) C Justin Marra (Round 15), a complete pre-draft miss by me who will stick behind the plate and has shown enough of a hit tool to be interesting, is a prime example. If baseball ever moves towards a worldwide draft, I quit. Junior college prospects: another frequent blind spot of mine. The evidence to support this assestion: Hartnell JC (CA) RHP Michael Jensen (Round 26), Lamar CC (CO) RHP Arturo Maltos-Garcia (Round 30), and Des Moines Area CC (IA) RHP Austin Urban (Round 41). Little to nothing was written about these guys prior to the draft, but they all flash big league quality stuff. Jensen and Maltos-Garcia (a recent victim to Tommy John) both feature good bullpen approved fastball/curveball mixes. Urban, who I saw in person during his high school days, is my favorite long-term bet of the bunch and the most likely to remain a starting pitcher in pro ball.

Clemson RHP Scott Weismann (Round 46) and the Cubs had me on the edge of my seat as I waited to see whether or not my pre-season Clemson prediction (“Weismann, Schaus, and Hinson are also locks to get taken.”) would come to fruition or not. I’ve made many bad guesses over the years, including a few in the post that quote was taken from, but I’m happy for both myself and Weismann to have nailed that one. I guess I should talk about the prospect and not myself, huh? Weismann was a good college sinker/slider pitcher who will likely struggle to make it past AA as a pro.

I like to end on a high note when possible, so join me in recognizing Central Florida OF Ronnie Richardson (Round 31 and my 167th ranked draft prospect) as one of the three undersized college outfielders (along with DeVoss and Dugas) taken by the Cubs. The smallish outfielder thing could be part of a larger pattern, or it could have been just how the draft fell. I suppose it would be a little silly to think it part of a trend, especially considering Chicago failed to sign two of their three mighty mini outfielders. I’m a little bit out on an island with my love of Richardson, but I’m always happy to defend a great defensive center fielder with speed and pop. Devoss is probably the better version of Richardson, so you can’t fault the Cubs on leaving Ronnie unsigned. Their loss is Central Florida’s gain.

Central Florida SO OF Ronnie Richardson: plus athlete; plus arm; plus-plus runner; potential for some pop; plus defensive tools; 5-7, 175

Game Notes: Connecticut @ Villanova

Connecticut 2011 MLB Draft First Round Prospect George Springer

Connecticut JR OF George Springer

JR OF George Springer looked nothing like the player I had read so much about this spring. His results may not have been what you’d like to see, but the improved process stood out. Good pro coaching will do wonders for him, though it will be really interesting to see how much tinkering his future employer will really want to do after investing a hefty bonus in the college version of Springer’s swing. He looks a little bow-legged in the photo above, but it isn’t a great representation of his swing setup because it captures him just as he started his stride. I had great video of him swinging the bat, but it disappeared into the ether during a file conversion. As for Springer’s swing, again, I’m not a scout, but I was really impressed with his balance at the plate, both in his approach and follow through. I didn’t like his collapsed back elbow, but found many of his flaws to be those decidedly under the “Coach Him Up and He’ll Be Alright” umbrella. This may be a cop-out, but the rise of so many other prospects could really be a boon for Springer’s career. Taking him in the top ten scares the heck out of me, but if he slips closer to the middle or end of the round, watch out. Lowered expectations + more stable pro organization, especially at the big league level (less need to rush him) = transformation from overrated to underrated almost overnight.

Another quick note I’ll pass along without much comment: George Springer cares. I realize this is a dangerous game to play because, really, how can we ever know such a thing, but George Springer (his name just sounds better when you use the first and the last) cares, or, at worst, is one heck of an actor. I’d never get on a player for not reacting to a strikeout with anger (and, by extension, showing that they care) because, as a quiet guy myself, I know demonstrative displays of emotion shouldn’t be the standard by which we judge effort and dedication. But the way Springer reacted to an early strikeout — pacing back and forth in front of the bench seemingly in search of a tunnel to pop into and blow off some steam (soon enough, George) until finally settling to the far end of the dugout, just off to the side, where he took a knee, closed his eyes, and started pantomiming his swing — really stood out to me. Probably nothing, but there you go.

None of that changes my view of George Springer the prospect, by the way. Just thought it was a relatively interesting tidbit worth passing along. I have to admit that I do kind of love the idea of a player with a wOBA approaching .500 getting that worked up over a bad at bat. Or maybe I love the way a player who is is clearly pressing at the plate has still somehow managed to put up a league/park adjusted triple slash of .386/.482/.667 (as of mid-April).

Two pro comparisons for Springer came immediately to mind. The first is 100% physical and in no way any kind of projection of future pro value. Something about Springer’s body, swing, and overall on-field demeanor reminded me a great deal of Florida’s Mike Stanton. Again, the two are very different players, but the physical similarities were interesting. A comp like that is probably why most people don’t like comps, but they’ll live.

The second comparison is much, much better, I think. Springer’s upside and overall tools package remind me so much of Minnesota minor leaguer Joe Benson that it’s scary. File that one away…

***

He’s no speed demon on the basepaths, he won’t approach double digit homers as a pro, and he’s not build like a prototypical professional outfielder, but, boy, JR OF John Andreoli can swing the bat. The way he controls the bat through the zone is a sight to behold. Some of the guy’s hits couldn’t have been rolled by hand into holes any better than he hits them. Beyond the pure hit tool, I asked around about certain players before the game, and almost to a man I was told to watch out for Andreoli’s bunting. One gorgeous second inning push bunt for a single might not be stone cold proof of anything, but it gave the pregame prognostication a little extra weight. He’s a well above-average defender in a corner that might be stretched some in center, though I’m not so sure his 55ish speed wouldn’t also work up the middle. Andreoli is probably nothing more than a late round organizational player at this point, but he could make for an interesting senior sign in 2012.

SR LHP Greg Nappo‘s upper-80s fastball plays up because of good deception in his delivery. It is still probably a below-average pitch on balance because the command isn’t quite what you’d hope it would be coming from a typical pitchability lefty. He relied quite heavily on the heater, mixing in occasional cutters and an average slow curve that he could drop into the strike zone more easily as the game went on. He’s also probably an organizational guy at this point, but he can always take pride that he’s the player featured in my header.

SO OF Billy Ferriter disappointed me a bit. Definite pro body, but he made a habit of swinging at junk and watching meaty fastballs go by. Small sample size, I know, but scouts made note that he’s made a habit of getting himself out all year long. Still like the upside, but have to keep telling myself he is only in his second year college ball. He’s draft-eligible this year, but unlikely to sign.

Really impressed by SO 2B LJ Mazzilli‘s swing and approach at the plate. He has a little toe-tap timing mechanism that reminds me a little bit of Mark Reynolds’ swing, only without the swing-and-miss length. Good speed, good athleticism, and good hands should keep him up the middle, and a little physical maturation at the plate could help turn him into one of those super annoying scrappy middle infielders we all know and love (or hate, depending on the player).

Still think I prefer JR UTIL Kevin Vance as part of a battery, whether that be behind the plate or on the mound, than at the hot corner. I like his above-average fastball/plus curveball combo and plus command as a potential relief arm down the line. If he sticks as a position player, I think that arm would be best served as a catcher. Surprised to see his batting line as weak as it is because I really liked his level, powerful, and well-balanced swing. A team could gamble on his upside, but it is starting to look like his down junior year could keep him a Husky for another season.

Villanova JR LHP Kyle Helisek has one of the most extreme wrist wraps/curls in the back during his delivery that I can remember. I won’t pretend to be an expert on pitching mechanics, but his windup looked painful to me. My main focus on the day was watching the Connecticut bats, so I didn’t notice much more than that, but I’ll probably see Helisek a few more times before the end of the year and/or next season.

Connecticut 2011 MLB Draft Prospect Nick Ahmed

Connecticut JR SS Nick Ahmed

I’m way more excited about JR SS Nick Ahmed‘s pro prospects after a weekend watching him play. My favorite sequence came after a 1-1 bunt attempt. Ahmed was hit with a pitch, but the umpire ruled he didn’t pull the bat back as he attempted to bunt for a hit. It wasn’t until he was halfway down the first base line until the umpire actually made the call. Ahmed was visibly upset with the call and kept repeating “no chance, no chance…” as he took to himself and anybody that would listen. Fast forward to later in the at bat: 3-2 count, fastball up in the zone, home run drilled deep and gone to left. No woofing afterwards, just a quick sprint around the bases, and back to the dugout. I’m still not totally sold on his power upside, but think he’ll hit enough to be league average with the bat assuming he plays a premium defensive position. On that note…

Ahmed is more difficult to judge in the field. He doesn’t look like a traditional shortstop (listed at 6-2, 205, though he was eye-to-eye with the 6-3 Springer), but he’s got a plus arm (not a direct comparison, but he has a similar flick of the wrist style throw to Jose Reyes) and more than enough athleticism to range in both directions. If he’s not a pro shortstop, and I really think he is, then he’d be best served moving to center, so as to better utilize his athleticism and surprising first step quickness, with third base as a backup to the backup. He has a long way to go before he becomes the player he’ll eventually be (if you can follow that), but I feel pretty comfortable slapping a big league utility guy floor on him.