ST. LOUIS — This weekend the Cubs are getting an up-close look at the St. Louis Cardinals and their player-development machine.
That assembly line has helped the Cardinals win World Series titles in 2006 and 2011, make the playoffs 10 times since 2000 and become baseball’s model franchise.
Behind the scenes, the Cubs are trying to close the talent gap. They recently emerged from midpoint meetings with their scouts and crosscheckers, trying to narrow their focus and decide where to seriously invest their time and energy for the June draft.
The Theo Epstein administration has used first-round picks on hitters the last two years (Albert Almora and Kris Bryant), studying the historical trends that say position players are a safer bet at the top of the draft.
North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon and East Carolina’s Jeff Hoffman headline a deeper class of college pitchers. Knowing the risks involved, it appears unlikely the Cubs would take a high school pitcher with the No. 4 overall pick. General manager Jed Hoyer is keeping an open mind.
“We’re certainly not in a position to rule out anything at this point,” Hoyer said Saturday at Busch Stadium. “Maybe that will be different a month from now or six weeks from now but not yet.”
Bryant’s stock soared during a monster junior season at San Diego, hitting 31 homers, getting drafted No. 2 overall, winning the Golden Spikes Award (college baseball’s Heisman Trophy) and signing for $6.7 million.
“It’s very fluid — we always have to remind ourselves of that,” Hoyer said. “Guys do come on late. Guys struggle late. A lot of different things happen that can change things up. You never want to get off a guy too early, and you never want to oversell on a couple guys early.”
After drafting at No. 4, the Cubs won’t select again until the 45th overall pick. There’s nothing like the NFL combine or a March Madness event that puts draft prospects on the same big stage. Whatever way Cubs scouts and executives are leaning now, it won’t necessarily be the same feeling inside the room on June 5.
“We’re dealing with 18-year-old kids and 21-year-old kids,” Hoyer said. “When that’s the case, guys can really improve in a hurry — and then guys can get hurt. One of the biggest challenges with pitching is you think a guy is definitely not going to be there in the second round.
“But all of a sudden, he has an arm injury or his velocity dips. And now all of a sudden, we might well be looking at him. We have to be able to make an educated decision. That is a real challenge.”