Who’s next? Cubs fans want to know after being sold a brighter future built around first-round picks Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein doesn’t know yet. There are too many variables involved with the No. 4 overall pick. Scouting/player development chief Jason McLeod, amateur scouting director Matt Dorey and their staffers have been running through multiple scenarios for Thursday night, going over The List.
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General manager Jed Hoyer said the Cubs had narrowed the options down to “a half dozen, probably,” by Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, with another long strategy session scheduled for that night.
Here’s a rundown on the different directions the Cubs could go, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation:
• The Houston Astros play things close to the vest, but Brady Aiken could become the first prep pitcher to go No. 1 overall since 1991. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the 17-year-old lefty from San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic High School is still there for the Cubs.
• Depending on how the dominos fall, the Cubs could get a shot at Carlos Rodon, especially if the Miami Marlins pass on the North Carolina State lefty at No. 2. Rodon probably would have been the consensus No. 1 overall pick before the season started, but could slip amid questions about his workload and consistency.
• Tyler Kolek might be the most talented player in the draft, as well as the biggest risk up top. The Cubs appear to be backing away, given the history of high school pitchers. Kerry Wood could have seen his mirror image in Texas while scouting the 6-foot-5 right-hander with 100 mph heat. Kolek might not fall past the White Sox at No. 3 anyway.
• Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto is in the mix as a left-handed hitter who got on base more than 50 percent of the time this season. The Pac-12’s two-time player of the year is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, college baseball’s Heisman Trophy.
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• There’s a sense the Cubs could have a “mystery player” on their radar: Kyle Schwarber. A CBSSports.com mock draft first identified them taking the Indiana catcher/outfielder, but there are conflicting signals that make it sound like a reach. Schwarber, who’s listed at 6-foot-0, 240 pounds, may have trouble sticking behind the plate, but the left-handed hitter could also be the most powerful college bat in this draft class.
• Nick Gordon comes out of Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla., fitting the profile as an athletic, up-the-middle player with great bloodlines. His father, Tom/Flash, lasted 20-plus years in the big leagues and his half brother, Dee, plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
• Max Pentecost would have to be a “conviction pick.” The Kennesaw State catcher has a strong defensive foundation, a low-maintenance style that should work on the next level. This would address the farm system’s biggest weakness, but his bat might not justify going fourth overall.
• The Cubs have mixed feelings about LSU’s Aaron Nola, recognizing the two-time SEC pitcher of the year is a winner who could be on a fast track. But a 6-foot-1, 196-pound frame and the three-quarter arm slot create concerns about how he would carry 200 innings, making him an awkward fit with the organization’s philosophy.
• Despite media speculation, the Cubs don’t appear to be in on Alex Jackson, who’s been loosely linked to the Marlins if they don’t take a pitcher. There are questions about where the catcher/outfielder would play once he leaves Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego.
• North Carolina State leadoff guy Trea Turner has been on the fringes of the conversation, but there are doubts he will stick at shortstop and it’s a stretch to think the Cubs would actually take him at No. 4.