ATLANTA – The two highest-rated high school players in this year’s draft class happen to live about 10 minutes away from each other. That made this the place to be for Cubs executives.
Team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting/player development Jason McLeod recently visited Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows in their Atlanta-area homes while weighing what to do with the No. 2 overall pick.
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The Cubs watched Frazier play on Wednesday and ran a workout for the Loganville High School outfielder the next day. Meadows, the Grayson High School outfielder, also worked out for the Cubs on Thursday during a separate showcase.
Epstein scouted Stanford right-hander Mark Appel on Friday in Los Angeles. Appel was one out away from a complete-game victory against USC. He has begun to erase some of the doubts during a dominant senior season (5-2, 1.13 ERA, 71 strikeouts in 55.2 innings) after turning down the Pittsburgh Pirates.
There’s a sense that the Cubs will come away with one of the frontline college pitchers – Appel, Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray or Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea. Hoyer confirmed that the Cubs feel there are multiple pitchers with high enough ceilings to justify the No. 2 slot.
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But in analyzing the history of the draft, the Cubs have found that the safer bet would be a position player. While pitching comes from all over the draft, the position players that become stars are usually found at the top. And someone could step up and make the decision for them (plus the Houston Astros are drafting at No. 1).
“We’ve been really open about the fact that we need a lot more pitching in the organization, whether that comes at the second pick or not,” Hoyer said Saturday at Turner Field. “We’re really very open to taking a hitter at No. 2. But I think it’s a safe bet we’re going to pound away at pitching throughout the draft, like we did last year.”
That’s when the Cubs passed on Appel with the No. 6 overall pick and selected Albert Almora, a high school outfielder from South Florida. They then chose seven straight pitchers and 22 in total.
During the upcoming 10-game homestand at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will run their midpoint meetings in Chicago and set the agenda for the rest of the spring scouting season. They are looking at around six possible players for their top pick and will have to figure out how to divide their $10.6 million bonus pool.
“We’ll really sit down at that point and make sure that our group (for) No. 2 is inclusive,” Hoyer said. “(We’ll) make sure there’s no one else we should be considering. And then at that point, we’ll really focus on getting all the information we need on those guys.”
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Hoyer also wanted to stress the draft runs three days (June 6-8) and doesn’t revolve entirely around the No. 2 pick. He pointed to the St. Louis Cardinals and their blueprint.
“In the best organizations, every pick is valuable,” Hoyer said. “A lot of the Cardinals’ success right now with their farm system is late-round draft picks. You look at the (Daniel) Descalsos and the (Matt) Carpenters and Allen Craig and Trevor Rosenthal – they’ve done a really great job late in the draft.
“(It’s) making sure you don’t focus so much on the top of the draft that you forget about the rest of it. Because we need to bring in a lot of good players and the rest of the draft gives that opportunity.”
Between 2006 and 2009, the Cardinals found Descalso (third round), Carpenter (13th), Craig (eighth) and Rosenthal (21st), rebuilding the foundation for a future without Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols and remaining annual contenders. One day, the Cubs hope to mirror their rivals.
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Remember that the collective bargaining agreement has severely restricted how much teams can spend in the draft and on the international market. And revenue sharing and new television money has allowed smaller-market teams to lock up their homegrown players and delay free agency.
So the Cubs can’t swing and miss at No. 2. For better or worse, it could change the course of franchise history.
“This is a really important opportunity to try to bring in an impact player or an impact pitcher into our organization,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, we hope this isn’t an annual thing where we draft No. 2. But when you do have the opportunity, you want to bring in someone that can have an impact for a long time.”