Cubs

MLB draft: Cubs looking to make a splash with No. 9 pick

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MLB draft: Cubs looking to make a splash with No. 9 pick

WASHINGTON – Jason McLeod likes to call the draft his Super Bowl, but the Cubs executive who oversees scouting and player development thinks this could be the last time he picks this high for a long time.  

“I (bleeping) hope so,” McLeod said with a laugh. “The approach doesn’t change, (but) hopefully we’re picking in the 20s – late 20s.”

That’s why the Cubs went into Sunday’s meetings in Chicago with Brady Aiken still on their board, not ruling out the 18-year-old lefty they ranked as the nation’s best amateur player in last year’s class.

That would be a high-risk, high-reward gamble with Aiken recovering from Tommy John surgery after getting drafted No. 1 overall and failing to reach an agreement with the Houston Astros.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

But the Cubs understand they have a unique opportunity with the No. 9 pick on Monday night, knowing they won’t have the same access to premium talent if the major-league team becomes competitive for the next several years.

McLeod grew up in San Diego – where Aiken starred at Cathedral Catholic High School – and used to work for the Padres. The Cubs are plugged into the baseball community there and feel like they have a strong relationship with the Aiken family. But everything hinges on the medicals. 

Taking those injury concerns into account, the Theo Epstein administration has taken position players with their first pick in each of the last three drafts – outfielder Albert Almora (No. 6), third baseman Kris Bryant (No. 2) and catcher Kyle Schwarber (No. 4).

Two players who definitely fit that Cubs Way profile – Vanderbilt University shortstop Dansby Swanson and Louisiana State University shortstop Alex Bregman – won’t last until the ninth pick. University of Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi is on the radar and could be there for the taking.

[MORE: Cubs could think big with Kyle Schwarber at DH]

The Cubs have also analyzed two prep players who project as corner outfielders: Kyle Tucker (Plant High School/Tampa, Florida) and Trenton Clark (Richland High School/North Richland Hills, Texas).

“You look at the last three years, it just really lined up as we took what we thought was the best player available,” amateur scouting director Matt Dorey said. “It just happened to be a hitter. This is such a unique year because of the volatility with the injuries and we’re just picking later. Our pool had remained open longer throughout the scouting year for this pick.

“We’ve kept our peripheral open longer and we’ve had more players come into our mix. It was a really good opportunity to kind of keep our window open to listen to our scouts and not just laser focus in on one or two guys.”

If the Cubs try to make a below-slot deal ($3.351 million) and spread the money around in later rounds, University of Cincinnati outfielder/second baseman Ian Happ has been one name mentioned.

Daz Cameron – whose father Mike played 17 years in the big leagues – is committed to Florida State University and represented by super-agent Scott Boras. The 18-year-old outfielder might be a difficult sign for the Cubs compared to a team like the Astros, who have two top-five picks and more than $17 million in their bonus pool after whiffing on Aiken.

[ALSO: Why the Cubs once passed on Addison Russell]

“It’s dangerous ground to try to play the draft outside of just really evaluating and lining up the best player and eliminating all the other variables,” Dorey said. “In terms of the sign-ability, all that stuff should not come into play when you go out and scout and line up your main board. That’s really our philosophy, and as it’s worked out the last few years, it just happened to be a hitter.”    

The Cubs are running through the scenarios, anticipating three top pitchers to be gone by the time they select: University of Illinois closer Tyler Jay; Vanderbilt right-hander Carson Fulmer; and UC-Santa Barbara right-hander Dillon Tate.

If the Cubs ultimately decide to go in that direction, Missouri State University right-hander Jon Harris would be an option.

“It’s really, truly going to be the best player available,” Dorey said, “especially in this type of draft where there hasn’t been anybody that really separated themselves early and held that status all the way through the year as the true ‘1-1.’ There’s been literally multiple guys that everybody has predicted will go in that pick.

“We can make educated guesses about what other teams are doing ahead of us, but we’re so at the mercy of what happens before us. We’re just going to be prepared for a lot of guys. And then when it gets down to our pick, be in a really good position to take the best guy for the Chicago Cubs.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”