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Cubs Thu Jun 05 2014
Editor's Note: Even if you're not a White Sox fan, read Mike Chamernik's White Sox draft preview -- since it contains good information about the team picking directly ahead of the Cubs.
Season ending arm injuries haven't just been limited to professional pitchers this season. In a draft that lacks a superstar-caliber player (for now), the calling card for the 2014 MLB Draft (known officially as the Rule 4 Draft) has been its depth at the top -- especially when it comes to pitching.
That was three months ago. Since then, East Carolina RHP Jeff Hoffman, once thought as a lock in the top five, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Pre-season top 15 pick Erick Fedde from UNLV is in the same boat. TCU lefty Brandon Finnegan missed starts in April with shoulder soreness, and that's worrisome because he's short (5'11"), has a funky pitching motion (think Chris Sale, but not as pronounced), and attended a school with a history overusing arms. All told, injuries and injury scares have robbed the top end of the quality pitching the class was becoming known for.
The Cubs pick at four, and if you read Mike's piece (seriously, you need to), you'd know that there are now three pitchers that have separated themselves from the pack, and those guys could very likely go one, two, three. The Cubs want pitching. Their minor league system is loaded with a legitimate hitting prospects at every position besides catcher, but are still a little thin when it comes to high end arms. But if Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon, and Tyler Kolek are all off the board in the first three picks, the situation gets tricky.
There's a less than ten percent chance that Aiken is available at four, but if he is, he's the pick. Rodon is likely right behind him on the Cubs board, and though there's a slightly better chance that he's still around, it's unlikely he'll last that long either. Kolek, like every pitcher from Texas that seems to pop up yearly, can hit 100, but doesn't have much of a clue where it's going. His name has rarely been linked to the Cubs, but the raw power might be too much for the team to pass up if he's around at four.
If all three pitchers are gone, or even if Kolek is still available but not high on Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein's list, then it's a crapshoot on who they might take. They likely won't take the best player available (by industry standards) in SS Nick Gordon, but instead will probably target a guy that will sign under-slot -- meaning for a lesser dollar figure than what the pick is valued at by MLB.
Michael Conforto, an outfielder from Oregon State, is the player who a number of mock drafters have the Cubs taking. He's projected by many as a left fielder only when it comes to defense (where he struggles), but the reason why he would go this high would (other than for cash savings) is his ridiculous ability to get on base. He has solid pull power from the left side, and led the nation in OBP this year at .504.
Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber has been a late rumor for the Cubs at this spot too, but there's a pretty definite split in the industry whether or not he could stick at catcher (where his bat would have more value than in the OF). If the Cubs don't think he can, then he probably won't be taken here.
Though there is still a lingering possibility the Cubs would consider Hoffman here, the other pitcher that could make sense is Aaron Nola from LSU. He could be the perfect mix of cash savings for the Cubs, and is believed to be the closest pitcher to being Major League ready out of any starter in the draft. Being a year or so away would sync up well with many of the team's top hitting prospects, and though he doesn't have the ceiling of an ace, a number three starter is something you'd take every day in the first round of a draft lacking sure fire picks.