MLB draft: Will Cubs take pitcher with first-round pick?


MLB draft: Will Cubs take pitcher with first-round pick?

Is this the year the Cubs finally take a college pitcher with their first-round pick?

“Maybe,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If he’s the best player with the best combination of upside and certainty. But he has to be the best bet.”

The Epstein administration knows all the risks associated with pitching, how history shows it can come from anywhere in the draft, building this franchise’s future around power hitters and athletic, versatile position players like Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.

So when All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo noticed scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod talking with two reporters on Tuesday at Wrigley Field, he made this prediction while walking down into the dugout: “Left-handed power bat.”

“That’s it,” McLeod said before a 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals, an elite National League team methodically built through the draft with No. 1 overall picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and a collection of homegrown players.

[MORE: Rookies come through in the clutch as Cubs beat Nationals]

The Cubs don’t know what they will do with the No. 9 overall pick on June 8. But they don’t plan to be drafting that high again – at least for the next several years – and they are finally seeing results at the big-league level.

So if there’s a college pitcher who can be put on the fast track – and maybe factor into the 2017 rotation and the middle of this competitive window – does that change the calculus?

“I don’t think so,” McLeod said. “If the position player is the right guy, then we’re going to take him. It’s just a different draft because of some of the injuries. I think there are going to be some picks go off the board that maybe we wouldn’t have thought (would) happen. And someone’s going to probably be there that we didn’t think would be there for us. We’ll figure that out in the next two weeks.”

So when the Cubs gather their scouts and executives for draft meetings that begin on Sunday night in Chicago, they will likely be focusing on at least four prospects McLeod mentioned as standouts in a pool of college position players that’s not particularly deep.

It’s probably a stretch to think Vanderbilt University shortstop Dansby Swanson and Louisiana State University shortstop Alex Bregman will slip all the way to No. 9.

[MORE: Maddon, Cubs sticking with Starlin Castro in No. 4 spot]

There’s also a feeling the Cubs might do a below-slot deal – like they did with No. 4 overall pick Schwarber last year – and spread that money around to sign pitchers with upside later in the draft. That scenario could line up with University of Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi or University of North Florida outfielder Donnie Dewees.

It’s a long shot, but it sounds like the Cubs haven’t completely ruled out Brady Aiken yet. Last year’s No. 1 overall pick is recovering from Tommy John surgery after not signing with the Houston Astros, but there are many unanswered questions about the lefty’s medical history.

The Cubs had Aiken as the No. 1 player on their board coming out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego last year. Aiken’s still only 18 years old, a high-risk, high-reward pitcher who’s not expected to be there when the Cubs make their second pick at No. 47 overall.

“A kid of his talent certainly is going to be discussed,” McLeod said, “and he’ll be someone that we talk about.”

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.