SAN FRANCISCO – The Cubs need to find their “Freak.”
Cloning Tim Lincecum would be impossible, but the Cubs know they have to get more arms in next week’s draft, whether or not they use the No. 4 overall pick on a pitcher.
Especially in a year where top pitching prospects C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson have dealt with injuries and taken steps backward, while Theo Epstein’s front office prepares to trade Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija. At a time when there’s so much uncertainty surrounding the Wrigley Field renovation, the cable TV bubble and the franchise’s financial flexibility.
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The Year of Tommy John already took Jeff Hoffman’s name off the top of the draft board, and Cubs officials had fallen in love with the East Carolina right-hander’s potential. UNLV’s Erick Fedde also likely would have been a top-10 pick if not for the recent elbow-reconstruction surgery.
This can be a franchise-altering decision. That thought crossed your mind watching Lincecum throw five no-hit innings during Wednesday’s 5-0 victory over the Cubs at AT&T Park. That’s where the San Francisco Giants have created an identity, winning World Series titles in 2010 and 2012 and turning their waterfront stadium into baseball’s best game-day experience.
Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio recalled his time as a special assistant with the Seattle Mariners, the kid from the University of Washington and how projecting is a mixture of art and science.
The Mariners took Cal-Berkeley right-hander Brandon Morrow with the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft, while the two-time Cy Young winner fell to the Giants at No. 10, one spot before the Arizona Diamondbacks grabbed Max Scherzer.
“You’re always going to have those tough calls on the Tim Lincecums,” Bosio said. “I remember when we were with Seattle. Here’s a guy right in our backyard. Do you draft a guy that’s 5-10 and not a broad-shouldered guy? But he’s led the nation in strikeouts (and there) are exceptions.
“The big knock on Tim coming out of Washington was his frame. Do you take a chance on this guy? Well, if you break it down, there weren’t too many guys better (in terms of deception). He maximizes everything and he hasn’t changed.”
Bosio talked about the length of Lincecum’s stride and how that generates extra velocity, the consistent release point needed for 200-plus innings and the blur effect when the hitter sees the glove, the ball leaves his right hand and he uncorks his 170-pound body.
There’s also the freakish athleticism detailed in a 2011 New York Times profile – Lincecum’s ability to do a standing back flip and walk on his hands – that helps repeat a delivery and maintain mechanics.
So while fans on Twitter say the Cubs should take This Guy or That Guy, even the experts are only making educated guesses. No one will know who’s right and who’s wrong until the hindsight of five, 10, maybe even 15 years.
North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon, the preseason No. 1 overall pick, didn’t quite live up to expectations. High-school arms are historically the biggest risk, but Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek might not last until No. 4, the same slot where the Cubs once drafted Kerry Wood in 1995. Overall, Epstein said, this class of college pitchers is viewed as deep, but not necessarily elite.
“It’s not just radar gun, looking at this guy going: ‘This guy throws 95 miles an hour,’” Bosio said. “Well, is there more in there? Where are his misses at 95? Is he locating the ball?
“Does he have a consistent spin on his breaking ball? What happens when he throws a changeup? What’s his arm position? Does it differ? There are so many things that go into it rather than a stat line or a velocity line (for all) organizations, not just ours.”
The Cubs actually drafted Lincecum in the 48th round of the 2003 draft, but he didn’t sign out of high school, twice becoming the Pac-10’s pitcher of the year. Rick Renteria later saw Lincecum in the California League, where the future Cubs manager developed A-ball players for the San Diego Padres.
“I remember thinking: ‘Gosh, this little guy throws pretty hard,’” Renteria said. “It was kind of a little awkward delivery, but he actually had an explosive arm. Great angle. (He’s) gutsy. He’s not scared.”
That’s an essential quality seeing the way Cubs prospects are relentlessly covered now, years before they’re trapped inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl.
“That’s why Theo’s working his (tail) off on the road, along with the rest of our scouting staff,” Bosio said. “They want to know what that guy’s going to do in the big-game moment once they get the third deck. In the SEC tournament, in the Pac-10 tournament, the College World Series: What does this guy do in the big moment?”