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Emma: With Slugging Catcher Schwarber, Cubs Wisely Take Talent Over Need

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Cubs president Theo Epstein. (David Banks/Getty Images)

Cubs president Theo Epstein. (David Banks/Getty Images)

Chris Emma mug Chris Emma
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com,...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – With their bets placed and the hand shown, the Cubs’ bright baseball minds broke out of poker face.

Following weeks of protecting MLB amateur draft strategies and philosophies like a full house in hand, Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ director of scouting and player development, revealed the organization’s plan in place.

The Cubs’ brass knew all along it would end up with Kyle Schwarber, the 21-year-old slugging catcher from Indiana University. He was second on their board, McLeod unveiled, just behind Texas high school pitcher Brady Aiken, whom the Cubs correctly believed would be selected with the Astros’ top pick.

After waiting for hours and hours bunkered away in Wrigley Field on Thursday, the Cubs got their guy — and had reason to celebrate in the war room.

“That was the talent we thought (Schwarber) was in this year’s draft,” McLeod said.

Through this rhetoric, an important truth was bestowed. In stocking up one of baseball’s best farm systems, the Cubs never prioritized need over talent. They weren’t going to reach for a pitcher when a talent like Schwarber was on the board. Such was the case when the Cubs drafted Kris Bryant with the second overall pick in the 2013 draft, bypassing arms that weren’t equal to the third baseman’s big bat.

For a ballclub in desperate need of more top prospects in the farm system, the Cubs see greater value in taking the best player on the board rather than the most despairing need. Behind Schwarber, there wasn’t a better pitching option available in an underwhelming draft class.

No pick can be forced, because every prospect matters in this rebuilding project.

“When you’re picking up that high in the draft, you have a chance to get a talented, impactful player,” McLeod said. “That’s what we’re going to do, and it was no different this year.”

Chicago’s farm system is loaded with impressive bats but few arms. Baseball Prospectus has seven Cubs prospects ranked in its Top 101 list, but only two are pitchers. So where do they go moving forward?

The surplus in position players will eventually work itself into major league-ready pitching. Players who don’t quite fit the Cubs’ future lineup will later be flipped for pitchers, whether it’s a big league starter or promising Triple-A talent. This day will come years later, when the team begins to establish a lineup of homegrown players.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have partnered in countless deals to send big leaguers for prospects. In the coming years, the Cubs could be on the other end of the spectrum.

A strong free agent market provides the Cubs with pitching options, too. Names like Max Scherzer, James Shields and Jon Lester would move to the top of the rotation, offering an immediate fix for the pitching problems. With the chance to land one of those, reaching for an arm Thursday just seemed silly.

The Cubs are still several years from competing in the National League. They have time to develop the farm system and time to plan for the future. It’s even brighter after adding another elite prospect to the organization.

It’s no great gamble for the Cubs, and they were thrilled to show their hand.

Follow Chris Emma on Twitter @CEmma670.

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