"The future, it’s a killer, how f***ed up it’s gonna be.” So sang TripThrottle on their cult masterpiece Future Four. It’s easy to agree with them if you paid attention to baseball’s draft yesterday. The Pittsburgh Pirates took the number one rated player in the nation, Mark Apple, with the eighth overall pick. The reason that happened is that the new CBA was drafted by demented howler monkeys. In an attempt to level the playing field they have actually managed to set up a system that penalizes teams for taking highly rated players.
What happened is that higher picks cost more and teams are given a finite pool of revenue to use on draft day. So, if player “A” is going to cost 30% of your budget then you have to think long and hard if you could be better served by taking a few players instead of just one.
And, let’s face it, the Cubs have so many needs right now that tying up a chunk of their budget on a pitcher who’s 3 years (at least) away doesn’t make sense. But the other teams above them may regret their conservatism.
So let’s look at how our two teams did in the draft.
Phil Rogers details the Cubs first pick.
Jason McLeod admires hitters with good plate discipline. So does Theo Epstein.
The Cubs’ decision-makers had to show some discipline of their own in Monday night’s baseball draft.
Months of work done before the draft were leading them to 18-year-old outfielder Albert Almora but suddenly, in less than 30 minutes, everything changed. Stanford ace Mark Appel, the guy whom almost all the members of the draft intelligentsia were projecting first overall, plummeted toward them.
The Astros didn’t take Appel. The Twins didn’t take Appel. The Mariners didn’t take Appel. The Orioles didn’t take Appel. The Royals didn’t take Appel. And now it was the Cubs’ pick, the first for Epstein’s scouting machine in Chicago, a pick that would be the result both of the organization’s new blood and holdover scouting director Tim Wilken.
They had five minutes to decide what they were going to be: Opportunists who looked to take advantage of others’ mistakes or guys who believed in their own work.
They did what they hope Almora will do at some point in 2014 or 2015 at Wrigley Field: They spit at the curveball (Appel) and stuck with their plan of attack (Almora). Appel, who could be an impact big-league arm in the near future, then slid past the Padres and was selected by the Pirates with the eighth overall pick.
“We have a process in how we evaluate and select,’’ said McLeod, the Cubs’ senior vice president player development/scouting. “Certainly we saw Mark Appel a lot this spring. He’s a very talented young man, and we wish the Pittsburgh Pirates well.’’
So why Almora, not Appel?
“For us it’s not to compare the two players,’’ McLeod said. “We know who we were looking for, who we had done the due diligence on. It was going to be Albert or one of two other players (even if someone like Appel fell). Albert was the guy we wanted.’’
In Almora, the Cubs have a player the MLB Network’s John Hart called “their center fielder of the future.’’ Hart’s colleague Harold Reynolds dropped a Ryan Braun on Almora, comparing his short, powerful swing from the right side to the 2011 National League MVP.
But rather than rave about his hitting skills, the Cubs will sell Almora’s all-baseball, all-the-time approach to life and the work ethic he was taught by his father in a middle-class neighborhood in Hialeah Gardens, Fla.
Almora’s dad installed a backyard batting cage instead of a swimming pool when he was a boy. He has gone through personal workouts there on almost a daily basis as he has grown up, when he wasn’t playing on national teams or South Florida travel teams, that is.
Almora doesn’t just live in the batting cage, either. His workouts often find him climbing a long rope, doing reps on a pull-up bar and even dragging a heavy chain to help build speed and explosiveness.
“He is a driven person,’’ McLeod said. “He cares about himself, cares about winning, cares about putting his team in front of himself.’’
While McLeod didn’t hang any numbers on Almora, the Cubs believe he can be a .300 hitter with 20-plus home-run power and the ability to patrol center field at Wrigley Field. Because he’s younger, further away, his pick carries a bigger risk than Appel would have.
But it’s safe to say that Almora will be less expensive to sign than will Appel, whom agent Scott Boras represents. Appel’s price tag was a major consideration for the seven teams that passed on him, as they are being held to spending limits for the first time. Appel seems likely to hold out for at least $8 million, which is what the Pirates gave first overall pick Gerrit Cole in 2011.
Had the Cubs taken Appel, they almost certainly would have had to pass on players they wanted in later rounds, as their signing pool is $7.9 million for 12 picks in the first 10 rounds. That’s why McLeod and Epstein spit on this curveball.
Given the new signing rules, it was an easy decision. But how many people will remember that if Appel is an All-Star and Almora fails to deliver on his promise?
Gee, thanks Phil. Do you rain on parades by request or are we just blessed today?
In all seriousness, the Cubs just have too many holes to fill in one draft. Cubs fans are used to seeing patched together teams sometimes compete and sometimes not. What they will be getting, when the pain is over, is a team that competes. every year. It’s just going to take two or three years to get there.
And this wasn’t the draft to fix teams anyway. Kenny Williams, and several other GMs, said this was the thinnest draft they’d seen in years. One, off the record, said to me that there wasn’t a player worth a damn after the 20th pick. A couple of scouts I spoke to agreed in principal. So what did Kenny do with his 13th pick? Darryl Van Schouwen says he signed a gymnast.
General manager Ken Williams cringed after the White Sox drafted power-hitting outfielder Courtney Hawkins of Corpus Christi, Texas, with the 13th selection in the first-year player draft on Monday.
Minutes after the pick was made, the Sox braintrust watched the 6-3, 220- pounder execute a backflip for MLB Network television cameras — shiny black dress shoes and all.
“Sitting in front of the TV with Kenny, [assistant GM] Rick Hahn and [vice president player development] Buddy [Bell], I wasn’t tickled to death,’’ scouting director Doug Laumann said. “I know Kenny, in a fun way, was a little surprised.’’
Which was something he shared with an exuberant Hawkins.
“Mr. Williams said no more backflips,’’ Hawkins said.
The flip did demonstrate the 18-year-old’s athleticism, Laumann allowed. It wasn’t long ago, when Hawkins weighed 270 pounds as a 13-year-old, that such a stunt would not have been possible. But Hawkins’ brother Tim, who plays football for Texas State, promised Courtney he would help him lose weight. By the time Hawkins was a sophomore, he was down to 185.
“I’ve been working my butt off to get where I am now,’’ said Hawkins, the Sox’ first high school first-rounder since pitcher Kris Honel of Providence in 2001.
Also an accomplished pitcher with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, Hawkins is batting .437 with 11 homers, 39 RBI and 17 stolen bases for Carroll High School, which is still playing in Texas’ Class 5A state tournament.
“First and foremost, Courtney is a quality young man who we’ve followed for several years at various showcases, including our own Double Duty Classic,” Laumann said. “He has developed into the type of player we expected. This pick may seem like we are going away from our tendency with a high school player, but this kid has too much potential for us to pass up. We are enormously excited.”
“I see myself as a power guy who can run and hit,’’ said Hawkins, who signed a letter of intent to play at Texas but seems eager to sign. “I’m not just a one-tool guy. I can do it all. I’m excited to play for the White Sox, get into their system and develop into a better player.’’
Playing last summer in the Double Duty Classic at U.S. Cellular Field, a Sox showcase that promotes the advancement of minorities, Hawkins took a liking to the organization.
“The first thing that came to mind after the 12th pick was, ‘Man, I’ve already been to Chicago,’ ’’ Hawkins said. “I know the guys. I like them. When the clock hit zero and the commissioner called my name, I was like, ‘Wow.’
“This is just the beginning. I just started a race and want to get to the finish line.’’
The Sox picked another power-hitting high school player in first baseman Keon Barnum of Tampa, Fla., with the 48th pick in the first compensatory round, their compensation for Mark Buehrle signing with the Miami Marlins.
“We’ve always been directed to take the guys with the highest ceiling and impact,’’ Laumann said. “With those two kids, we felt like the potential to develop in the next wave, to have those two guys in a lineup would be impressive.
‘‘Hawkins is more advanced and polished, but both have potential to be impact players.’’
Keon Barnum is reputed to have hit a ball 430 feet ... in high school.
One thing that intrigued me about both teams first picks was the work ethic espoused by each player. Almora, Cubs, seems almost psychotically driven. Baseball to the exclusion of all else. My guess is that he’ll end up in a bell tower with a rifle long before he sniffs the major leagues. But Hawkins, Sox, comes across as just as hard working (it’s not easy dropping 100 lbs) but with a balanced head on his shoulders.
For those of you concerned about the present, the Sox picked up a half game over the Indians yesterday on thier day off thanks to the Twins knocking the snot out of them and the Cubs held to a half game above the worst record in baseball with another soul crushing loss to the Giants.
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