Bulls

With Soler and the draft, Cubs in the market for game-changers

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With Soler and the draft, Cubs in the market for game-changers

SAN FRANCISCO Jason McLeod put it this way: Youd be lying if you didnt say that everyones looking for a loophole somewhere in the collective bargaining agreement.

The new labor deal will severely limit how much the Cubs head of scouting and player development can spend in the draft. Theo Epstein cant use the same Boston Red Sox playbook, paying over slot for those perceived to be difficult to sign and showing two-sport athletes the money.

But the entire industry knew there would be one last talent grab: An international player signed before July 2 wouldnt count against the cap.

And so begins the Jorge Soler sweepstakes, with FOX Sports first reporting on Saturday that the 20-year-old Cuban defector had been cleared by the U.S. Treasury Departments Office of Foreign Assets Control and declared a free agent.

That loophole could create a bidding war. But the buzz about the Cubs and Soler was so strong during spring training that general manager Jed Hoyer called the rumors of a done deal completely bogus with no merit.

Around last Thanksgiving, Hoyer, McLeod and Epstein were among a group of Cubs talent evaluators who traveled to the Dominican Republic, where Soler was trying to establish residency.

Manager Dale Sveum watched video of Soler and came away impressed with the young outfielders bat speed and ability to drive the ball, comparing him favorably to Yoenis Cespedes.

Thats the first time Ive heard (Solers) name in quite awhile, Dale Sveum said Saturday. Now youll probably start hearing a lot more about him.

The Cubs were in on Yoenis Cespedes last winter, until the Oakland As closed with a four-year, 36 million contract. The Cubs were comfortable with the money, but wanted it spread over a longer timeframe. Still, they felt like they were able to establish a level of trust with Cespedes.

The Cubs gave Gerardo Concepcion, another Cuban defector, a five-year, major-league contract that contains 6 million guaranteed. The 20-year-old left-hander is 1-4 with a 7.24 ERA through eight starts at Class-A Peoria.

Several team officials have connections in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and relationships could matter there. The Soler chase will only add to the sense of urgency as the Cubs gear up for the amateur draft that begins on Monday.

For what its worth, Sveum preferred Carlos Correa a 6-foot-4-inch, 190-pound shortstop from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy over Soler. Sveum threw batting practice to Correa during a workout at Wrigley Field and was reminded of a young Alex Rodriguez. Why not both?

The Cubs hold the sixth overall pick, and five selections within the first 101 spots. This is the scouting contest they keep talking about.

Every team has set aside some time to think through how theyre drafting differently, Epstein said. It effects how we approach sign-ability, gathering sign-ability information, how we allocate our resources in terms of who well scout and how often, that type of thing. But I think its the same for all 30 clubs. Its a level-playing field.

Last year Jim Hendry, the general manager at the time, consulted with chairman Tom Ricketts and they decided to make a major investment in the draft.

The Cubs committed around 12 million in bonuses to their draft class, which essentially doubled the amount from the previous year. That figure exceeded what the organization spent in the previous two drafts combined.

You can be certain that Epstein and the Cubs would have spent far more than 12 million in the 2012 draft if the labor deal hadnt imposed a cap-and-tax system. According to Baseball America, their aggregate signing bonus pool will be 7,933,900.

Twenty years ago, a high school shortstop from Michigan fell to the New York Yankees at No. 6, and that put Derek Jeter on the path toward Cooperstown.

Ten years ago, the Kansas City Royals took Zack Greinke sixth overall and watched him deal with social anxiety disorder before emerging as a Cy Young Award winner.

The Cubs have to be thinking big here, and with Soler, because they know whats coming, and how far they still have to go before they get to October.

Now that weve been through spring training and I have gone out to see a couple of our affiliates, McLeod said, we definitely feel like theres a need for impact in the organization. One thing that we know is you need power pitching. You need impact players to get into the postseason and go deep into the postseason.

It takes a little bit of time to acquire those guys from different avenues, whether it be trades or major-league free agency (and) certainly the draft and the international market. Thats something were going to try to do. Again, its that word of impact. Thats what were looking to get.

NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

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USA TODAY

NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

With Zion Williamson making his NBA regular season debut Wednesday night, we finally got a chance to see what a No. 1 overall draft pick is supposed to look like: an athletic and versatile skill set, with the chance to impact a franchise for years to come. 

2019 No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant also looks like a franchise-changing talent with his speed and playmaking ability, lifting Memphis into playoff contention.

So, which players will have that kind of impact in the 2020 draft?

Well, for now it’s almost impossible to say. James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 Memphis center, dropped out of school after playing just three games because of an eligibility battle with the NCAA. His size and raw tools are intriguing, but at this point his offensive game is extremely limited.

Meanwhile, Lonzo Ball’s younger brother, LaMelo is sitting out the rest of the Australian professional league season while he rehabs from a foot injury, another Australian professional, R.J. Hampton, just returned from a hip injury and North Carolina’s combo guard Cole Anthony is getting ready to return from a knee injury to finish his one and done season. 

That’s left NBA talent evaluators scrambling in trying to figure out the top of the draft, with only Georgia’s Anthony Edwards healthy and available among the players projected as the possible No. 1 overall pick. 

So, as we get closer to the end of January, here’s a look at how teams could view the available talent, with the understanding that the draft order will change dramatically as NBA scouts and GMs get a look at how players perform in the most important games of the season still to come.

2020 NBA mock draft 3.0

Will Nick Madrigal make Opening Day roster? White Sox say he has 'a few more things to prove'

Will Nick Madrigal make Opening Day roster? White Sox say he has 'a few more things to prove'

What’s the White Sox plan for second base in 2020?

Depends on when you ask.

“If we sat here today,” general manager Rick Hahn said during his pre-SoxFest press conference Thursday, “it would be some combination of Leury Garcia, Danny Mendick and Nick Madrigal.

“Ask me again on March 25.”

Presumably, Hahn and manager Rick Renteria will be asked many more times between now and then.

It doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult question to answer if we’re talking about the bulk of the 2020 campaign, as Madrigal — ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball — figures to be the guy at second base for a majority of the season. But with just 29 games played at Triple-A Charlotte last year, the White Sox might not be as ready for him to make the leap to the bigs as the fan base seems to be.

“He's got a few more things to prove,” Hahn said. “I think that when we go through trying to be as objective as possible thinking about where he is developmentally, he hasn't necessarily answered all the questions we have for him at the minor leagues.

“But we're going to go in with fresh eyes and a fresh approach in spring training and see where he's at and in all probability make an assessment there.

“I don't think we have him, by any means, written in pen as the Opening Day second baseman at this point, if that's what you mean. But could he change our minds? Yeah.”

Madrigal just might do that. After all, the bat-to-ball skills that continue to be described as “elite” are still there. He struck out just 16 times — 16 times! — in 532 trips to the plate between three levels of the minor leagues in 2019. He’s had his defense talked up as Gold Glove caliber since the White Sox selected him with the No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft. All the rave reviews are still there.

Considering the alternatives are two guys who seem to be ticketed for reserve status, at best, in Garcia and Mendick, it’s no shocking thing to suggest that Madrigal is probably the organization’s best second baseman. But during this rebuilding process, the White Sox have been consistently patient with their prospects, an approach that has maddened fans at times. But Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez arrived at the big leagues eventually, and a big-money extension for Luis Robert has cleared his path to an Opening Day roster spot a year after he set the minor leagues on fire.

“We still want him to get more at-bats,” Renteria said of Madrigal on Thursday. “I want to see him out there defensively. He can catch the ball. We already know that he's a heady player. I think we want him to still have the at-bats this spring to see big league play, more big league pitchers.”

And so you can begin to envision an Opening Day lineup without Madrigal in it as he continues to polish off the final stage of his minor league development in Charlotte. That means Garcia, likely, as the Opening Day second baseman and the main option there until the White Sox deem Madrigal ready for the major league stage. Mendick will probably earn a roster spot, as well, and he might see more time than expected should Renteria opt to utilize Garcia’s versatility in the outfield on any sort of regular basis.

While there are plenty of guys out there on the free-agent market that might strike as better options than those two — and the White Sox might not be done making smaller additions before Opening Day — it might also not make the most sense to pay for someone who will be backing up Madrigal in a matter of weeks or a couple of months. Just something to consider.

Anyway, Madrigal’s really going to have to blow the doors off the Cactus League, it would seem, if he’s going to be starting alongside Robert & Co. in the March 26 opener against Kansas City. But until he and the White Sox get down to Arizona, the answer can’t be more certain than “maybe, but probably not.”

But, hey, feel free to ask Hahn again come March 25.

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