By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) When their turn comes around this evening in the 2014 MLB First Year Player Draft, Chicago Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have insisted that they’ll select the best player available with the No. 4 pick.
But should they, if that player isn’t a pitcher?
Shedding light on the franchise, Baseball America currently rates the Cubs’ minor league system as the fourth best in baseball, calling it a “very top-heavy system that drops in talent quickly” before also adding that, “Championship teams are built on star power.”
I’d actually argue, however, that championship teams are built on power pitching, of which the Cubs have little in their ballyhooed minor league system. And considering that crucial need, I believe the time has come for the Cubs to finally roll their first-round dice on the best pitcher available – and not just the “best player.”
Of the top 100 prospects listed by Baseball America prior to the 2014 season, the Cubs lay claim to an impressive seven in Javier Baez (No. 5), Kris Bryant (No. 8), C.J. Edwards (No. 28), Albert Almora (No. 36), Jorge Soler (No. 41), Pierce Johnson (No. 87) and Arismendy Alcantra (No. 100).
Two of those players – Edwards and Johnson – are pitchers, but among all right-handed prospects, Baseball America ranks Edwards as only the 14th best, while Johnson comes in at No. 32. The Cubs have no left-handed pitching prospects listed in Baseball America’s top 30. They do have one reliever (No. 6 Arodys Vizcaino) listed among the top 10.
Such numbers don’t seem to add up to a future championship-caliber pitching staff, especially if the team trade opts to trade current ace Jeff Samardzija rather than sign him to a long-term deal.
But if the Cubs are ever to win it all, the elite pitching clearly is going to have to come from somewhere. And with the franchise’s relative wealth of positional prospects, it’s time to try to finally grab some top pitching via the draft.
I understand, of course, that picking pitchers high in the draft is a gamble, something that CBS Chicago’s Nick Shepkowski highlighted on Wednesday when he shared his research showing that since 2000, 37 pitchers have been selected with top-five overall picks and only four of them – Justin Verlander, David Price, Stephen Strasburg and Mark Prior – have been All-Stars, while only one other, Gerrit Cole, appears on pace to be an elite hurler.
However, I’d counter that plenty of top positional players – including the Cubs’ Luis Montanez (No. 3 in 2000), Ryan Harvey (No. 6 in 2003) and Josh Vitters (No. 3 in 2007) – haven’t panned out over the years, either.
But that’s just baseball. There are no sure things in the draft.
What is for sure, though, is that the Cubs need star-caliber starting pitching more than they currently need anything else. By far. On Wednesday, however, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman projected in his latest mock draft that the Astros, Marlins and White Sox will nab the top three pitchers in the draft, leaving the Cubs with a tough decision about who to pick at No. 4.
If such a scenario unfolds, the Cubs may indeed opt to select the supposed “best” positional player in the draft instead of the supposed “fourth-best” pitcher, and Heyman believes they’ll be drafting catcher-outfielder Kyle Schwarber out of Indiana.
On that topic, my buddy Jamey down in Louisiana – who has been stumping all season for the Cubs to draft LSU ace pitcher Aaron Nola (who Heyman has at No. 7) – said to me via text, “If they pick an outfielder, I may become an Astros fan.”
With Houston having selected Stanford righty Mark Appel with their No. 1 pick a year ago and likely to select another highly touted pitcher first overall tonight, he might some day have good reason.
Because World Series truly are won with great pitching, and the Cubs really need to get in the arms race soon.