First-year regime replenishes pitching in Draft
Epstein, Hoyer, McLeod building organization on arms
CHICAGO -- The Cubs' new regime made no secret that adding pitching was a priority entering the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
In the team's first Draft under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod, the Cubs selected arms early and often.
The Cubs took 22 pitchers (18 right-handers, four left-handers) with their 42 picks. Their Draft was highlighted by No. 6 overall pick Albert Almora, a high school outfielder from Florida.
"We feel really good about it," Hoyer said. "It went according to plan. We talked about adding pitching depth to the system, and we really pounded at pitching after we took Almora with the first pick.
"I thought we'd take a hitter at the top and take a lot of pitching, and that's exactly what we did. I think every team feels good about their Draft today. Everyone had a good Draft, and we'll find out in five years if we were right."
The pitching trend began in Monday's first compensation round, as the Cubs picked college right-hander Pierce Johnson (No. 43 overall) out of Missouri State and California high school righty Paul Blackburn (No. 56).
Including those two, the Cubs selected seven straight pitchers before taking Virginia third baseman Stephen Bruno in the seventh round.
The team's second-round pick, right-hander Duane Underwood, is a a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, out of Pope (Ga.) High School. Underwood's fastball sits in the low 90s with the ability to reach 95-96. He also throws a late-breaking curveball and deceptive changeup.
"There are times he looked like one of the better high school arms in the Draft class, a guy who belonged in that conversation with a lot of the arms that went yesterday," MLB.com Draft expert Jonathan Mayo said on the Draft selection show. "Other times he looked lost, like he didn't belong in the second round."
Another upside arm is Coastal Carolina right-hander Josh Conway, who was taken in the fourth round. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Conway likely would have been drafted higher if not for tearing the UCL in his right elbow this season and undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 15.
Conway went 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings last summer in the Cape Cod League, and both Mayo and Baseball America's Jim Callis said he has plenty of upside.
"It's Tommy John surgery. It's not a labrum," Callis said. "Guys usually come back from that throwing harder."
The Cubs also selected seven infielders, eight outfielders and five catchers in the Draft. In all, 20 of their picks were college players, seven junior college players and 15 high schoolers.
Chicago took two players with Illinois ties Wednesday. Left-handed pitcher Nathan Dorris was taken in the 17th round out of Southern Illinois, while catcher Blake Hickman was taken from Chicago's Simeon Career Academy in the 20th round. Those picks followed the selection of Crystal Lake native Michael Heesch, a left-hander, in Tuesday's eighth round.
The Cubs also took manager Dale Sveum's son, Rustin, in the 39th round. Rustin is a third baseman from Desert Mountain (Ariz.) High School.
Although statistics are difficult to project -- especially for players at non-major schools -- a few of the Cubs' late-round Draft picks put up impressive numbers.
David Bote, the team's 18th-round pick, hit .419 with 15 doubles and six home runs in his first season at Neosho County (Kan.) Community College. He also had a .475 OBP and was successful in 20-of-21 stolen-base attempts.
Their 30th-round pick, right fielder Izaac Garsez, produced a .389/.467/.674 slash line at the College of Idaho. He also had eight home runs, 20 doubles, 13 triples and 29 stolen bases.
Tim Saunders, a shortstop from Marietta (Ohio) College, had a .441/.512/.667 slash line with five home runs and 19 doubles. He also stole 41 bases in 47 attempts.
The Cubs' final selection of the Draft, left-handed-hitting first baseman Jacob Rogers from Mount Olive (N.C.) College, hit 17 home runs with a .392/.527/.716 slash line.
Big offensive numbers aside, the Cubs' 2012 Draft was highlighted by pitching and will be remembered as the first under Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod.
Because baseball Draft classes often take a few years to fully develop, the impact of the 2012 Draft class won't immediately be seen. But Heesch -- who grew up a Cubs fan -- said he was excited to be part of the trio's first Draft class and was impressed with their pitching-first strategy.
"I understand what they're trying to do. Good pitching beats good hitting any day," Heesch said. "I'm excited for this Draft class, to see whether it's the future or if it isn't. I look forward to seeing all of us in action and, hopefully, on the same ballclub in a couple years winning a World Series."