No sellout crowds. No buzz. No superstars. The most interesting battle between the Cubs and White Sox won’t happen within the 10 miles separating Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.
It will be all across the country, preparing for the night of June 5, when the White Sox and Cubs will pick third and fourth in the draft, hopefully adding some personalities to reignite this crosstown rivalry.
The Cubs erased one name high on their draft board with Wednesday’s news that East Carolina University right-hander Jeff Hoffman will have Tommy John surgery.
The Cubs are no longer looking at Hoffman at No. 4, according to a source familiar with the team’s thinking, but would consider him at No. 45, if he falls into the second round.
Industry sources say the White Sox are targeting two prep pitchers with the No. 3 overall pick – Tyler Kolek and Brady Aiken – though it’s unclear if they’ll slip past the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins.
The Cubs are also scouting Kolek and Aiken heavily. Kerry Wood went to see his mirror image in Kolek, another big right-hander from Texas with triple-digit velocity. Aiken is an athletic lefty with a good feel for pitching at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, where Cubs executives know the local baseball scene.
The White Sox weren’t believed to be as high on Hoffman, and any perceived interest in North Carolina State University left-hander Carlos Rodon could be a smoke screen.
Rodon, who’s being advised by Scott Boras, came into this season as the anticipated No. 1 overall selection, but hasn’t quite lived up to those big expectations. The Cubs have wound up using first-round picks on Boras clients the last two years – outfielder Albert Almora and third baseman Kris Bryant.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer saw Hoffman’s final start before getting shut down with what was called “arm soreness.”
Hoffman (3-3, 2.94 ERA) notched 16 strikeouts that game, running his total to 72 against 20 walks in 67.1 innings. He had starred in the Cape Cod League last summer and entered his junior season as Baseball America’s No. 2 overall prospect.
The school announced Dr. James Andrews will handle Hoffman’s procedure next week. In a wide-open draft, it shows how much can change with less than a month left until the Cubs and White Sox have to make their big decisions.
The Cubs probably wouldn’t have landed Pierce Johnson at No. 43 overall in the 2012 draft if he hadn’t dealt with a forearm injury at Missouri State University. Johnson, a first-round talent, is now in Double-A Tennessee’s rotation and ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s sixth-best prospect.
At one point last year, the Cubs had also seriously considered Sean Manaea for the No. 2 overall pick. Health concerns dropped the Indiana State University lefty to the Kansas City Royals at No. 34 overall, where Boras still got him a $3.55 million bonus.