With a focus on rebuilding the organization, the Cubs can’t afford to miss on their early round picks in the First-Year Player Draft.
Holding the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday’s draft, the highest the Cubs have been since selecting Mark Prior at that same spot in 2001, finding that impact player is the organization’s top priority.
They’ll have plenty of options to consider among the top talent in the country. Right-handers Mark Appel from Stanford, who was drafted eighth last year by the Pittsburgh Pirates but did not sign, and Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray are the best pitchers available, although the Houston Astros could pick either at No. 1. However, Gray tested positive for the stimulant Adderall, which could negatively affected where he is drafted. San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant and his nation-leading 31 home runs also present a solid option for the Cubs.
The three-day, 40-round draft begins at 6 p.m. Thursday with rounds 1 and 2. In addition to the No. 2 pick, the Cubs also have a second-round pick at No. 41 overall.
“Certainly we don’t go into any draft based on need, we go in drafting on who we feel will provide the biggest impact for our club hopefully for years to come,” senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod said. “Whether you’re picking sixth like last year or two, or when we were in Boston picking late in the first round, that’s always the mindset.”
The obviously choice for the Cubs would be drafting the pitcher the Astros don’t pick – Appel or Gray. McLeod wouldn’t rule out the Cubs selecting a position player, despite it being an area of need within the organization. McLeod said the Cubs have narrowed their choices to four or five players at No. 2.
“We all know you need dominate starting pitching to hopefully get to where we want to be and get into the postseason,” McLeod said. “At the same time, you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself to only taking based on need. We’ve been discussing those players a lot and we need to take the guy we feel gives us the best chance for him to provide significant impact and hopefully get us to where we want to go on a consistent basis.”
The White Sox have narrowed their decision for pick No. 17 to five or six players. While not in total rebuilding mode like the Cubs, the Sox certainly are in need of help. That will be a difficult task considering the Sox likely will be looking to draft pitchers and middle infielders with early picks.
Director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann and the Sox showed last year they are willing to draft high school players in the earlier rounds instead of focusing solely on college talent as they had in years past.