MLB draft: Cubs keeping Brady Aiken on their radar screen


MLB draft: Cubs keeping Brady Aiken on their radar screen

The Cubs are keeping Brady Aiken on their radar screen.

Actually drafting Aiken – who’s now recovering from Tommy John surgery – would be a huge gamble. Last year’s No. 1 overall pick couldn’t reach an agreement with the Houston Astros amid serious medical concerns that haven’t disappeared.

Theo Epstein’s front office plays the odds, viewing college position players as the safest bets and knowing that history shows pitching can come from anywhere in the draft. The Cubs have used first-round picks on hitters – Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber – in each of the last three drafts.

But the Cubs haven’t completely ruled out Aiken as they gear up for next week’s draft meetings in Chicago, trying to figure out what to do with the No. 9 overall pick on June 8.

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The Cubs had Aiken as the No. 1 player on their board coming out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego last year. The 18-year-old lefty is a high-risk, high-reward pitcher with enough potential that it’s unrealistic to think he will still be available when the Cubs make their second pick at No. 47 overall.

“We haven’t actually – on purpose – talked about it too much,” amateur scouting director Matt Dorey said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “Just because you get caught up in the innuendo and the rumors. We had a great relationship with Brady and his family last year. We were proud of the work that we did – and our area scout did – to get to know them.

“At the appropriate time here in the next week, when we sit down in a draft room and we really start to evaluate the players at the top of this draft, his name will come up, because it was literally a ‘1-1’ talent that didn’t sign.

“It would be very irresponsible to not have a conversation with our doctors, with Brady and his family, just to get an updated breakdown of where he’s at in his rehab, where he’s at mentally, so that he – and the player that he was pre-injury – is allowed to compete against the players that will be on our board this year.

“That’s fair to the player. That’s fair to the Cubs. It’s fair to our fan base to make sure that we just don’t take the easy way out and say: ‘He got hurt, he’s out of our picture.’”

Aiken publicly disclosed his torn UCL and elbow-reconstruction surgery through an essay for The Players’ Tribune – Derek Jeter’s digital publishing venture – in late March. On his Twitter account, he posted a photo from his hospital bed, giving the thumbs-up sign.

“We’ll just take all the information,” Dorey said. “We’ll let our doctors really kind of dig into the medicals, paint a pretty clear picture of what his rehab would look like. And then we’ll just compare the player that we scouted last year against the guys that we have a ton of information on this year – and let them kind of slug it out as magnets on the board.”

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The Cubs don’t have an agenda and will take the best player available. Period. One year after taking an Indiana University catcher/outfielder with the No. 4 overall pick and giving him a below-slot deal ($3.125 million signing bonus), people are talking about whether or not Schwarber could help the Cubs in a pennant race this season.

“It’s not as clear-cut at the top of the draft this year,” Epstein said. “Some of the higher-profile talents got injured, and it’s just one of those draft classes that’s a little bit all over the place, which makes it more difficult, but also creates opportunity.

“We surprised some people last year and we like who we got. I think it’s an opportunity to do that again. When the sort of standout talents aren’t as obvious, it frees you up to take some risks here and there, too, and trust your instincts.”

Another player the Cubs scouted heavily last year – East Carolina University right-hander Jeff Hoffman – fell to the Toronto Blue Jays at the ninth pick after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Whether or not the Cubs are really serious about Aiken – or simply doing due diligence – it’s important to remember that they probably won’t have this kind of access to the draft during the next several years as the big-league team becomes more and more competitive.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion about: Hopefully we’re not picking this high ever again,” Dorey said. “This might be one of our last opportunities to really like go and shoot for the best player, the best impact, because as you start to win, you start to fall down the first round. We (might) not be looking at this quality a player in a long time, from the draft perspective.”

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Remember that one time Sammy Sosa threw out his back while sneezing? Well, Brandon Morrow may have topped that on the Cubs all-time list of wacky injuries.

The 33-year-old closer was placed on the 10-day disabled list prior to Wednesday's game after hurting his back while taking his pants off upon returning from the team's road trip to St. Louis. It's being labeled as "lower back tightness."

"It's frustrating any time you can't get out there, and especially when you can't go because of something stupid like taking your pants off," Morrow told reporters on Tuesday.

And that's put the Cubs pitching staff in a tough spot for the rest of the week, given Wednesday's series finale against the Dodgers is the third game in a little more than 24 hours for the Cubs.

"I don't want to downplay anything," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Obviously he had back spams, he had the same thing in spring training. We'll start treating it the same way we did in spring training; I think he was out about a week to 10 days. If things go as we hope, I think it'd be the kind of thing where he'd probably be able to be throwing before the 10 days is up.

"But we felt like it wasn't going to be something where he was ready this weekend and if he's not going to be ready all weekend, we can already backdate it three days so it made sense to put him on the DL."

Morrow is tied for fifth in the National League with 16 saves and owns a 1.59 ERA is 26 relief appearances this season. Justin Hancock, who served as the 26th man during Tuesday's doubleheader, stayed with the team as a result.

Pants, seat of the pants and sim games: The current state of Cubs pitching

Pants, seat of the pants and sim games: The current state of Cubs pitching


That's how a smiling Theo Epstein described Yu Darvish's simulated game at Wrigley Field Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, in the bowels of the "Friendly Confines," the Cubs' clubhouse was getting used to the idea of closer Brandon Morrow on the disabled list.

Such is life for the current state of affairs for the Cubs pitching staff with their two biggest additions from the winter now on the shelf at the same time.

Darvish threw roughly 50 pitches in his sim game against hitters Ian Happ and Tommy La Stella. He worked in all his pitches and liked the way his fastball and slider felt, but needs to refine his curveball and splitter with more work.

"I feel good," Darvish said through a translator. "There was some anxiety beforehand, but I think it turned out to be better than I expected."

Darvish said the anxiety stemmed mostly from his past elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2014.

"Definitly the elbow aspect," Darvish said. "The anxiety came from whether I could throw at 100 percent condition."

This is the second time Darvish has mentioned his past elbow injury is in the back of his mind as he's worked through the current triceps issue. He said the same thing last week in Milwaukee after his first bullpen session.

Remember, too, Darvish was concerned about the possibility of cramps in his arm in his Cubs debut in Miami in late March.

It appears as if he has some mental hurdles to work through with his history of elbow problems, but he hasn't reported pain in weeks now and the MRI showed no structural damage in late May.

The Cubs do not yet have a set plan for Darvish after this sim game and will evaluate how he feels Thursday. If the reports are all good, he could head out on a rehab assignment shortly.

Darvish said he would only need one rehab start before he'd be ready to rejoin the Cubs rotation.

Meanwhile, Morrow's back tightened up on him in the wee hours of Monday morning after the Cubs made the trip back from the night game in St. Louis. He hurt his back taking off his pants, he said, and was unavailable Monday and Tuesday before the Cubs put him on the disabled list Wednesday morning.

"It's just one of those freakish things," Maddon said. "People bend over and hurt their backs all the time."

The Cubs have been uber cautious with Morrow all year with his injury history and now that they're in the midst of a stretch of 14 games in 13 days thanks to Tuesday's doubleheader, can't afford to not have a fresh arm in the bullpen.

"We thought it would be wise to give him a couple days," Joe Maddon said. "It's like a back spasm, back tightness. We just can't go with one less pitcher right now coming off the doubleheader. 

"...It's for him, too. I don't want him to go out there and pitch coming off that right now. There's really no reason to rush it back. Prefer him getting 100 percent well, getting him back out there when it's right and then moving on from there."

In Morrow's absence, Maddon will play matchups with the closing options as he did in Game 1 Tuesday. Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson and Pedro Strop all have experience closing.

The Cubs also don't have an update yet on Carl Edwards Jr. as he works his way back from a shoulder injury. He's been throwing from flat ground and looking "outstanding," Maddon said, but the team doesn't have a finish line yet. Edwards would probably need a short rehab stint before returning, too.

Then there's Brian Duensing, who is currently on the bereavement list due to the passing of his grandfather. The Cubs expect to have their left-handed veteran back by Friday.

All told, the Cubs are without Morrow, Edwards, Duensing, Mike Montgomery (rotation) and Eddie Butler (DL - groin) from their Opening Day bullpen. Only Cishek, Strop and Wilson remain from the group.

In their stead are Luke Farrell, Justin Hancock, Randy Rosario, Rob Zastryzny and Anthony Bass — all 5 of which have been pretty successful during their time in Chicago.

As if there wasn't already enough complications with the Cubs pitching staff, here are three more:

—The weather in Cincinnati this weekend
—Tyler Chatwood's wife is about to have the couple's first child
—Monday's rain/light-out at Wrigley Field pushed Chatwood back a day, so he cannot start Saturday's game

Let's start with the weather. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was a 100 percent chance of rain all day in Cincinnati on Thursday, where the Cubs begin a four-game series. The forecast doesn't look much better for Friday, either.

Even if the Cubs are able to play every game as scheduled, who will start Saturday? It can't be any of the current rotation members given none would be on regular rest. 

Chatwood would be in line to start Sunday's series finale in Cincinnati, but that's only if his wife isn't given birth at the time.

So right now, the Cubs don't know who's going to start either game this weekend. They could call somebody up from the minor leagues or give the ball to Farrell, who is still stretched out enough to give them 4-5 innings or so.

"It's totally by ear," Maddon said. "This is absolutely seat of the pants. We have Farrell, of course. By not using Farrell [Thursday or Friday], he would be a consideration, no question. 

"But other than that, we got a baby on the way, we got all kinds of stuff going on, so we're just gonna have to play that by ear."

With the pitching shortage, it makes what Jon Lester (7 shutout innings Wednesday) and Mike Montgomery (6 innings in Game 2 Tuesday) even more important to the overall health of the unit, eating up innings at a desperate time.

The Cubs' next off-day won't come until July 2, barring any weather delays. So this stretch will be huge for how Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff/front office handles the pitching staff.

But hey, at least it's only June and not October.