WARR baseball writer Kevin Luchansky writes about the Cubs and the White Sox
Also, check out Kevin’s daily baseball betting picks on NorthSideWire.
Still under way, the lengthy MLB Draft kicked off on Monday and concludes this evening as soon as Round 40 is complete.
Forty rounds of drafting seems extreme — especially relative to the NBA’s two and the NFL’s seven rounds — but it is an incredibly difficult task projecting how high school and college baseball players will develop as they continue to age and face stiffer competition. As such, it wouldn’t surprise me if some scouts and front office execs didn’t find 42 rounds to be enough.
The Cubs have enjoyed a lot of recent success drafting in the early rounds under the Jed Hoyer-Theo Epstein regime, and they’ve done so mainly by stockpiling talented hitters from the collegiate ranks. Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ senior VP of scouting and player development, recently explained they trust their evaluation and process, “especially with college hitters.”
Kris Bryant — selected second overall selection of the 2013 draft out of the University of San Diego — is a former college player and name you might be familiar with. Kyle Schwarber — the fourth overall selection just a year ago out of Indiana University — is one you might be familiar with as well, as the catcher is quickly climbing through the minor league ranks and is currently hitting .322 with a .585 slugging percentage in 54 games with AA Tennessee this season. (Rumors are flying around he could join the major league club as early as next month in a fourth outfielder role.)
Monday, the North Siders continued their trend of going with offense in Round 1 by drafting second baseman Ian Happ out of the University of Cincinnati with the ninth overall selection in the draft, making it three years running they have took a college bat.
Happ is a very versatile fielder as well, he has good size (especially for the position — he stands 6’0 and weighs 205 pounds) and he’s got a good amount of pop in his bat to show for it. Many scouts graded him as having the best hit tool in the entire draft class, thanks to his great swing and balance in the box. Happ switch-hits, but he’s shown an ability to drive the ball out of the stadium and find outfield gaps particularly from the left side.
As a junior at Cincinnati this spring, Happ batted .369 with 18 doubles, 14 home runs, 44 runs batted in and he also drew 49 walks, good for a .492 on-base percentage and American Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors.
(Click on image for video of Happ in action)
As for the Cubs’ South Side counterparts, they held the eighth overall selection in Round 1. The White Sox scouting and player development staff were drafting for the third time under the direction of GM Rick Hahn. In 2013, they selected shortstop Tim Anderson out of East Central Community College in Mississippi and last year they selected left-hander Carlos Rodon out of NC State University.
Both of those picks have looked great in the early going, especially Rodon, who is pitching beautifully at the major league level this season. Anderson is producing this season as well, currently hitting .300 with eight doubles and 23 RBI in AA Birmingham.
As well as those two picks have panned out to date, the White Sox staff probably felt additional pressure in this year’s draft, for two main reasons. First is that after their selection in the first round, the Sox would have to wait until Round 4 to select again. (They lost their second and third round picks due to the off-season signings of David Robertson and Melky Cabrera.) The second is that the South Siders’ pitching has been less than stellar, brought down mainly by their bullpen, which ranks 20th overall in the majors.
The professional and amateur scouting departments, along with the player development execs, collectively decided on Carson Fulmer, a right-handed pitcher out of Vanderbilt University. Fulmer stands 6’0, 195 pounds and is one of the main reasons Vanderbilt is still vying for a College World Series championship this weekend after winning its first ever CWS last year with Fulmer playing a big role then.
Several scouts have graded Fulmer’s arm as “one of the most MLB ready” in the draft and many believe he could be of value to the White Sox as early as this August. He’s got a very strong fastball that sits around 93-94 MPH but can reach as high as 97, his curveball has been described as “special.”
The curve is a pitch Fulmer can not only throw with great command for strikes, it’s an excellent swing-and-miss pitch, too. Fulmer is currently working on his change-up, which would pair very well with a hard fastball and a curveball with excellent bite on it. The third pitch will be crucial to develop to succeed as a starter at the major league level.
Speaking of starting, Fulmer projects (and hopes) to be a starter in the MLB, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sox develop him in a similar path to that of Rodon and Chris Sale, who both previously worked out of the pen before earning spots in the starting rotation.
That path allows the pitching coaches to see how Fulmer looks against MLB hitters in small chunks, while managing his workload. Working out of the pen would not be a foreign role for Fulmer, either, as he moved from the closers’ role last season to a starting role this season for the Commodores.
(Click on image for a scouting report of Fulmer)
Neither the Cubs or White Sox front office execs predict any issues in signing Happ and Fulmer to their first professional contracts. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see these two in Chicago sooner than later, especially in the case of Fulmer.
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