SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Cubs fans, the Chicago media and national writers have been obsessed with Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, three first-round picks who have dominated the headlines coming out of Mesa this spring.
So who’s next? That’s what the Cubs are discussing on weekly conference calls and thinking about while watching amateur games across the country.
The Cubs hold the fourth overall pick and don’t know what the White Sox will do at No. 3. The Houston Astros and Miami Marlins hold the first two picks in a draft that was supposed to be dominated by two college pitchers who so far this season haven’t lived up to the enormous expectations.
The disclaimer: So much will happen between now and June 5.
At this time last year, Bryant began soaring to the top of the board with a monster junior year at the University of San Diego. It earned the No. 2 overall pick a $6.7 million signing bonus and left Cubs fans wondering when he’ll be playing third base at Wrigley Field.
At this time last year, University of Oklahoma right-hander Jon Gray exploded onto the scene and wound up going No. 3 to the Colorado Rockies, who beat the Cubs 9-6 on Wednesday night at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. (Daily Baez Watch: Smashed his fifth Cactus League homer into the batter’s eye in front of a sellout crowd, survived a collision chasing a ball into left field.)
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The Cubs could be heading toward another power hitter vs. power pitcher decision. These are the 12 impact players they’re focusing on now, according to multiple sources familiar with the team’s thinking:
• Carlos Rodon, North Carolina State University left-hander: It’s difficult to picture him falling past the White Sox, though a good-but-not-great start (2-3, 2.45 ERA) may have opened up some possibilities for the odds-on favorite to go No. 1 overall.
• Jeff Hoffman, East Carolina University right-hander: After starring in the Cape Cod League, Baseball America had ranked him as the No. 2 prospect in this draft class, but a slow start (0-3, 4.06 ERA) means he could be in play.
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• Tyler Beede, Vanderbilt University right-hander: His relationship with minor-league pitching coordinator Derek Johnson, a former Commodores assistant coach, will be overstated, but his stock is rising with a fast start (4-1, 0.84 ERA).
• Aaron Nola, Louisiana State University right-hander: Probably a reach at No. 4, but last week a high-ranking team official traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to watch his Friday night matchup against Beede in the Southeastern Conference.
• Tyler Kolek, Shepherd High School (Texas) right-hander: The big Texan makes 100 mph velocity look easy, but it will likely take a “once-in-a-generation” performance to convince the Cubs to take a prep pitcher here. Committed to Texas Christian University.
• Brady Aiken, Cathedral Catholic High School (San Diego) left-hander: The Cubs and White Sox had representatives watching the UCLA commit on Tuesday in Southern California.
• Alex Jackson, Rancho Bernardo High School (San Diego) catcher/outfielder: The farm system’s biggest weakness happens to be catcher, and this front office has so many connections in San Diego. Committed to the University of Oregon.
• Kyle Schwarber, Indiana University catcher/outfielder: Might be another reach at No. 4, but this could be the best college power bat available. Not sure if he would remain at catcher. The Cubs had at least two staffers scouting him when the Hoosiers came to Surprise Stadium for last month’s Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge.
• Trea Turner, North Carolina State University infielder: There are long-term questions about whether he could stay at shortstop, but with nearly 100 stolen bases on his college resume, he could become an offensive catalyst from the leadoff spot.
• Nick Gordon, Olympia High School (Orlando, Fla.) shortstop/pitcher: Good bloodlines as the son of Tom/“Flash,” who lasted 20-plus years in the big leagues, and younger brother of Dee, who plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Committed to Florida State University.
• Michael Conforto, Oregon State University outfielder: The reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, from the same program that produced Jacoby Ellsbury and Darwin Barney.
• Brandon Finnegan, Texas Christian University left-hander: Opening eyes by putting up 55 strikeouts against seven walks through his first five starts this season. The Cubs are on the clock.