The Cubs won’t have a slam-dunk decision to make with the No. 4 overall pick, but they should have a good answer to this question: Does this guy have any idea what he’s getting into?
Because this player’s life will change instantly on Thursday night, the way it did for Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant. All first-round picks feel the heat, but it’s different playing inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl, at a time when the Cubs have bet everything on the farm system and Theo Epstein’s brand name.
Baez, Almora and Bryant are three of the biggest names in the organization, the subject of marketing blitzes, constant Twitter updates and endless fan/media speculation. Even though they’ve played less than 50 games combined above the Double-A level (all Baez across the past two-plus months).
“One of the things we focus on a ton is the makeup and figuring out which guys can handle you guys (in the media),” general manager Jed Hoyer said with a smile. “And which guys can handle the pressure. You’re going to play in a big market. Coming from Boston, we learned pretty quickly that some guys are going to handle that scrutiny and other guys are probably better served being in a smaller market.”
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Surrounded by reporters, Hoyer kept turning his head to answer questions before Wednesday’s 5-4 win over the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. Hoyer dismissed a report that had the Cubs exploring the idea of acquiring a competitive-balance pick and the slot money in a Jeff Samardzija deal: “Totally false.”
Trading away an Opening Day starter will create another hole in an organization that’s watched top pitching prospects C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson take steps back while dealing with injuries. The Cubs will load up on arms, even if they don’t take a pitcher at No. 4.
It might take the Miami Marlins passing on Carlos Rodon at No. 2, ignoring a potential box-office attraction in Little Havana, a pitcher of Cuban descent to pair with Jose Fernandez. But the North Carolina State lefty is another Scott Boras guy who could fit into this rebuild.
“You are taking the best talent,” Hoyer said. “You’re also trying to figure out how pieces fit together. This isn’t the NFL or the NBA. You don’t necessarily have a need and you go after it, but I do think at some point you have to think about maybe what you currently have and your timing to a certain extent. That’s not just with the fourth pick. Everyone focuses everything on one pick, but I think it’s throughout the whole draft.”
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LSU pitcher Aaron Nola and prep shortstop Nick Gordon are two more names the Cubs have been discussing. Sources said Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto and Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost are in play, while also sending mixed signals about Indiana catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber.
Philosophically, the Cubs would love to take a college position player that high, believing those are the best bets on a career. But this class doesn’t feature many everyday guys with high ceilings.
Signing a player to a below-slot deal and saving money for later in the draft sounds intriguing in theory. But it’s difficult to execute when you don’t pick again until No. 45 and the collective bargaining agreement severely restricts spending on amateur talent.
The Cubs are leery of taking a prep pitcher this high, though Tyler Kolek has been on their radar. It’s unclear if the Texas flamethrower would fall past the White Sox at No. 3 – and sources made it sound iffy the Cubs would take him in that scenario.
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“You can’t cross out demographics,” Hoyer said. “There’s not enough talent out there just to say you stay away from one thing or only go towards another. In general, teams that go too dogmatic make mistakes. We try to evaluate the talent and sort of have an open mind on a lot of different things.”
As talented as Kolek is now, he still might need a five-year runway before taking off and executives fear the breakdown factor with any pitcher. The Year of Tommy John has already claimed potential top-10 picks Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina) and Erick Fedde (UNLV), though both could still go in the first round.
The dominos will start falling after the Houston Astros make the No. 1 pick on Thursday night.
“We don’t expect to know what they’re going to do until they announce the pick on TV,” Hoyer said. “They’ve done that two years in a row and I wouldn’t expect that to change.”