By Nick Shepkowski-
(CBS) With baseball’s 49th annual first-year player draft beginning on Thursday night and the Cubs picking second overall, much hope on the North Side has gone to the Cubs drafting their future ace.
On paper, it seems like a good year to have the second pick, especially considering how few Major League arms the Cubs farm system possesses.
Jonathan Gray is a junior right-handed pitcher from Oklahoma and was monstrous in his final collegiate season, putting up a 1.55 ERA to go along with a WHIP of just 0.92 and a 9-2 record. Mark Appel, a right-hander from Stanford also had convincing numbers in his final year with the Cardinal going 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA, while striking out 11 per nine innings. Both seem to be the “can’t-miss” types.
Either Gray or Appel project to go No. 2 to the Cubs in seemingly every mock draft you read online or in any major baseball publication. The instant either sign, they’ll immediately take over as the Cubs top pitching prospect.
Before you start to get too excited, Cubs fans, let me just give you a refresher that Major League Baseball has seen this before.
An All-Star appearance doesn’t give automatic merit to a career, nor does the lack of it instantly take away what could be a plenty respectable one. In terms of bringing in what the Cubs and their fans are hoping this pick will bring, history isn’t on their side.
Since the year 2000, there have been a total of 33 pitchers to go in the top five of Major League Baseball’s draft. Sure, it’s still very early for the young men who were drafted the last couple of season’s but just four of those 33 picks went on to appear in an All-Star game.
Mark Prior (2nd, 2001, Cubs), Justin Verlander (2nd, 2004, Tigers), David Price (1st, 2007, Rays) and Stephen Strasburg (1st, 2009, Nationals).
To give this more merit and to give respect to the guys who are still really young by Major League Baseball standards, we’ll look at those drafted from 2000-2008 where only 3-of-23 such selections selection’s ever saw an All-Star Game (13.04%).
Does Adam Johnson, the second overall pick by the Twins in 2000 do anything for you? How about Greg Reynolds, who went second to Colorado in 2006? If that doesn’t do it for you, perhaps Philip Humber who went third to the Mets in 2004 will. If you’re not yet impressed, then surely you will be after I mention Gavin Floyd, who was the fourth overall selection by Philadelphia in 2004.
The point is that for every Justin Verlander type that teams feel they’re drafting with these high picks, there are roughly seven guys that go on to be, well, far from Justin Verlander.
The Cubs sit in a damning position because what their farm system lacks more than anything is potential Major League arms. At the Major League level, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood have come of age this season but are either of them going to be the ace you can build a rotation around, or are they simply solid starting pieces? I side with the latter. Beyond them, Pierce Johnson has pitched well through 10 starts in Low-A Kane County, but most still project him to be at-best a middle-of-the-rotation type of guy, still leaving the team wondering where it’s future ace will come from.
Barring something unforeseen this Thursday, the Cubs will soon have a highly-touted new arm in their farm system. With the position they’re in and with how difficult signing free agents has become, they don’t have a choice but to gamble on the pick, which, contrary to what you’ll be led to believe, is at this point nothing more than high-risk/high-reward.
Nick Shepkowski is the associate producer for The McNeil and Spiegel Show and a weekend host on 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @Shep670.