The Cubs draft pick of the moment is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the Hey, why not? move they made in the 43rd round in 2009.
This one was all about projection. The Cubs had NFL sources telling them that Kaepernick might be a mid-to-late round pick, with a game that could translate better in the Canadian Football League, plus reports he threw around 90 mph in high school.
National crosschecker Sam Hughes had buddies in Reno helping tip him off about the University of Nevada quarterback, who had no interest in a summer job that could have paid him some 50,000 for throwing bullpen sessions in Mesa, Ariz.
As the Super Bowl hype reaches its saturation point next week, the Cubs will have their amateur scouts meeting in Chicago, working on their draft board and trying to figure which players can become cornerstone pieces to a championship team.
The diehard fans hanging out at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers for Cubs Convention over the weekend seemed patient enough, deferring to team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and their World Series rings. But they also wanted to know when they really think this rebuilding project is going to come together.
The Cubs are definitely on the clock.
The No. 2 overall pick in the June draft could be a franchise-altering decision. The names that will be discussed figure to include Indiana State University left-hander Sean Manaea, Stanford University right-hander Mark Appel and University of Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek, as well as two high school outfielders in Georgia, Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier.
Theres a bit of an imbalance in the organization, Epstein said. We have probably better position-player prospects and we lack some starting-pitching prospects. So in an ideal world, there would be that cant-miss college starting-pitching prospect available No. 2 overall that we all know is a lock. (We) would move in that direction.
But its interesting because in the history of the draft, the best bets up top are position players because of the uncertainty and the attrition and injury risk of pitchers. So those are pretty real trends over time. Were going to take the best player available.
If there were a cant-miss position player and pitchers that we had some questions on, wed go with the position player and then attack the pitching with volume. Because the history of the draft also shows that great pitching can come from all over the draft. You might hit on a guy in the fifth round, the 15th round, the 25th round. With position players, most of your great players come from the top two rounds.
Thats why the Cubs once took a chance on Kaepernick. Their strategy could mirror what they did last year, when they took a high school outfielder from South Florida (Albert Almora) with the sixth overall pick before drafting seven consecutive pitchers, and eight within the first eight rounds.
It could be telling that the Cubs passed on Appel, a Scott Boras client who was drafted at No. 8 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates but decided to return to Stanford for his senior season.
The Cubs will obviously have to work within the constraints of the collective bargaining agreement, but otherwise Epstein told fans during a convention session: I dont see us backing down from any player that legitimately wants to play professional baseball.
Jason McLeod the senior vice president of scouting and player development said the Cubs are still in information-gathering mode but have a pretty good feel for whats out there. Is there a guy that could come out of nowhere and leap to the top of your draft board?
I hope so, I really do, McLeod said, because the college summer wasnt great. Team USA was a little down. Everyone knows Mark Appel is going back to school. Theres kind of that pocket (of players) everyone knows about. Were going to spend a lot of time with them. Were certainly hoping that guys step up (and) enter the mix, just because it gives you more options.
The NCAA season starts in just under a month or so, and McLeod already has a good idea of what his weekends will look like this spring: It will be a lot of Friday night college pitching, spending a lot of time on some of those guys this year.
Once the initial shock wore off from the restrictive language in the new labor deal last winter, the Cubs began calling this a scouting contest. They restructured their department, hiring Jaron Madison away from the San Diego Padres to be their amateur scouting director and elevating Tim Wilken to Epsteins special assistant.
This pitching shortage pushed the Cubs to give Edwin Jackson a four-year, 52 million deal last month, and a reluctance to give up a draft pick and a percentage of their signing-bonus pool has colored their entire approach to free agency.
The Cubs continue to say they arent going to cut corners, so dont expect them to draft a college pitcher with 2015 in mind, hoping he could rocket through the system. They are going to make what they think is the best long-term investment.
This reservoir of goodwill with Cubs fans isnt unlimited. The Chicago media is going to have a harder edge if this spirals into another 100-loss season.
McLeod who was responsible for drafting core players like Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury for the Boston Red Sox is going to look at the big picture.
Until my job title says general manager or president of baseball ops, I dont have to deal with that as much the win-now mentality, McLeod said. But, (bleep), we all want to win. But whats in my control is player development, how were going to teachdraft, who were going to pick and how were going to go about it. And thats what I (can) contribute.
Or, as Epstein said: Hopefully, it will be the last time we pick second overall.