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Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
The Chicago Cubs went from a rebuilding afterthought to World Series champs thanks in large part to the front office’s ability to draft and develop young talent.
While the team didn’t have a first-round pick last year after signing Jason Heyward and John Lackey in free agency, they have two this season.
Their assigned slot gives them the No. 27 overall pick, and they’ll also be picking at No. 30 as compensation for losing free agent Dexter Fowler after he declined the team’s qualifying offer.
So how will the team approach two early selections?
Ahead we’ll take a look at the current state of the farm system and potential areas of need before highlighting a few hitters and pitchers who could still be on the board when their turn rolls around.
And, of course, we’ll wrap it all up with some our best guesswork for who those two picks will be.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Despite graduating a bumper crop of elite-level talent to the majors in recent seasons, the Chicago Cubs still have a deep and talented farm system.
Most of that talent resides on the position-player side of things.
Prized international signing Eloy Jimenez is the clear headliner of the system now that Ian Happ is playing at the MLB level. After a breakout season last year, he’s picked up right where he left off with a hot start at the High-A level.
Behind him, guys like Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Victor Caratini and Chesny Young are close to big league ready, while others like Eddy Martinez and D.J. Wilson offer intriguing upside in the lower levels of the minors.
That’s not to say the system is completely bereft of pitching talent.
Dylan Cease and Oscar De La Cruz have incredibly high ceilings, and Trevor Clifton could be ready to make an impact by next season.
Still, developing more in-house pitching talent figures to be one of the club’s main focuses as they continue to strive for sustainable success.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Let’s start off by saying that, in most cases, teams don’t draft based on need at the MLB level.
It’s about adding the best talent possible to the organization now and then figuring out how all the pieces fit together when the time comes.
Now that that’s out of the way…the obvious area of need for the Cubs is starting pitching.
Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are both free agents at the end of the year, the No. 5 starter spot has been far from settled this season and Jon Lester will turn 34 years old in January.
Eddie Butler has flashed some potential filling in for the injured Brett Anderson, and we’ve already touched on prospects like Dylan Cease, Oscar De La Cruz and Trevor Clifton.
Really, though, the only safe bet to be a high-performing member of the rotation by the time the 2020 season rolls around is Kyle Hendricks.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the team needs to draft its future rotation candidates, though.
Drafting position-player prospects who turn into trade chips to help swing a blockbuster deal or making a big play in free agency might be more likely scenarios for addressing the staff.
But if we’re trying to nail down a clear area of need, it’s the starting staff.
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Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
SS Nick Allen, Parker HS (Calif.)
In a mock draft last month, John Manuel of Baseball America wrote: “While they crave pitching, the Cubs love little (listed 5’8″) Nick Allen.”
The California high schooler is the best defensive shortstop in this class and despite his undersized frame, he has a chance to make a real impact offensively as well with one of the better hit tools among the year’s prep bats.
The intangibles are there as well, with MLB.com noting: “Allen endears himself to scouts even more with his outstanding makeup and baseball IQ.”
OF Tristen Lutz, Martin HS (Texas)
While they’ve been strongly linked to Allen leading up to the draft, Martin High School (Texas) slugger Tristen Lutz is another prep bat who could be on the team’s board at the end of the first round.
MLB.com noted: “Lutz’s calling card is his big right-handed power, the product of bat speed and strength. He might have even more pop if he had less of a crouch in his stance and got more leverage out of his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame. He’s more than just a slugger, as he has natural hitting ability, recognizes pitches well and uses the whole field.”
With that power profile and a strong throwing arm, he fits the prototypical right fielder profile, and his solid hit tool makes him more than just an all-or-nothing slugger.
1B/OF Brent Rooker, Mississippi State
It’s a thin year for college bats and guys like Pavin Smith, Adam Haseley, Evan White, Jeren Kendall, Logan Warmoth and Keston Hiura will likely be off the board already by the time the Cubs get around to picking.
One player worth keeping an eye on as part of the second tier of collegiate hitters is Mississippi State first baseman Brent Rooker.
The redshirt junior is already 22 years old, which means he’ll need to move quickly once his pro career begins, but he’s put together a spring that’s impossible to ignore.
He’s hitting .395/.498/.827 with 30 doubles, 23 home runs and 82 RBI, and he’s also shown decent wheels considering his 6’4″, 215-pound frame, swiping 18 bases in 23 attempts.
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Berry Davis/College of Central Florida
RHP Alex Lange, LSU
Three college pitchers—Brendan McKay, J.B. Bukauskas and Alex Faedo—are locks to be off the board by the time the Cubs pick, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Griffin Canning and Tanner Houck already selected as well.
One intriguing arm who could fall into the Cubs range is LSU ace Alex Lange.
Lange announced himself as a future top draft prospect with a dominant freshman season (12-0, 1.97 ERA, 131 K, 114 IP) and he’s backed that up with a stellar three-year career, going 29-9 with a 2.87 ERA and a 10.8 strikeout-per-nine-inning rate over 329 innings.
His changeup still needs work to develop into a viable third offering and there is some effort to his delivery, but he has solid middle-of-the-rotation upside.
RHP Nate Pearson, College of Central Florida
Outside of Hunter Greene, there might be no pitching prospect in the 2017 class who throws harder than Nate Pearson.
The JUCO standout has a big 6’6″, 240-pound frame and a legitimate 70-grade fastball that regularly sits in the upper 90s and can touch triple digits.
He used that pitch to go 5-2 with a 1.56 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 118 strikeouts in 81 innings this spring, dominating lesser competition and steadily climbing up draft boards in the process.
His secondary stuff is still very much a work in progress as his slider/curveball/changeup mix can all flash plus but remains inconsistent at best. The upside of a big arm like that is undeniable, though.
RHP Clarke Schmidt, South Carolina
Clarke Schmidt underwent Tommy John surgery in April, or there’s a good chance he’d be part of that group of college arms expected to be long gone by the time the Cubs pick.
The Gamecocks junior was one of the fastest-rising college arms in the class earlier in this spring, pitching to a 1.34 ERA and 0.98 WHIP with 70 strikeouts in 60.1 innings before his season came to an abrupt end.
The Cubs had success playing the draft-and-hope game with Dylan Cease a few years ago, and with two picks at the back of the first round, they could be compelled to take a chance on Schmidt with one of them.
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No. 27 Pick: SS Nick Allen
The Cubs don’t necessarily need a shortstop, but the consensus seems to be that they’re enamored with the slick-fielding Allen.
If you’ll recall, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein drafted another undersized infielder by the name of Dustin Pedroia while he was steering the ship in Boston and that worked out pretty well.
As much as any team in the league, the Cubs value the person as much as the player and how he’ll fit into the culture that’s being built. With off-the-chart intangibles, Allen might simply be a player the Cubs can’t pass on if he’s still on the board when their first pick arrives.
No. 30 Pick: RHP Clarke Schmidt
With a hefty $7,454,900 bonus pool at their disposal, the Cubs could use the No. 30 pick to pounce on a player who might have slipped due to signability concerns and offer up an above-slot deal.
TCU commit Shane Baz is one player worth keeping an eye in that scenario, as he’s a potential top-10 talent, but he is expected to be a tough sign.
With that in mind, the idea of rolling the dice on Schmidt as he recovers from Tommy John surgery still looks like the best use of that compensation pick if no appealing above-slot scenario presents itself.
All college stats courtesy of The Baseball Cube.