Pipeline Perspectives: Cubs need Jackson in Draft
High school catcher/outfielder should be Chicago's top target with No. 4 pick
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Left-hander Carlos Rodon established himself as a candidate for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft two years ago, during his freshman season at North Carolina State. He entered this year as the prohibitive favorite, with East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman given the best chance of unseating Rodon.
Once the college and high school seasons began, a pair of prep pitchers quickly made their move toward the top of Draft boards. Cathedral Catholic High's (San Diego) Brady Aiken could become just the third high school lefty taken with the top pick, while Shepherd (Texas) High's Tyler Kolek is pushing to become the first prep righty to go No. 1.
The news last week that Hoffman requires Tommy John surgery left Aiken, Rodon and Kolek standing as the clear top three prospects in the 2014 Draft class. Which begs the question: Who should be the No. 4 overall pick?
The Cubs, who own the fourth selection in a Draft that stands out for its depth in arms, have a farm system stacked with hitters but not nearly as bountiful with pitchers. However, it's foolish to pass up the best available player, especially at the very top of the Draft, in favor of filling a particular need.
For that reason, Chicago shouldn't focus on taking a pitcher and instead should opt for Rancho Bernardo High (San Diego) catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson. That would give the Cubs the Draft's top position player for the second straight year, on the heels of selecting third baseman Kris Bryant over right-hander Jon Gray at No. 2 in 2013.
Jonathan Mayo agrees with me that the fourth overall choice should be a bat rather than an arm, though he prefers Olympia High (Orlando, Fla.) shortstop Nick Gordon. He makes the case for Gordon here.
I like Jackson more than Gordon because he has a higher offensive ceiling. In fact, he's the best all-around prep hitter available in this year's Draft.
Jackson offers exciting bat speed from the right side of the plate. He has natural loft in his swing, plenty of strength in his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame and the capability to hit monster blasts to any part of the ballpark. Jackson's swing can get a bit long at times, but he generally does a fine job of covering the plate and barreling balls, boding well for his ability to hit for average.
Jackson profiles as a middle-of-the-order hitter, though at what position he'll do his damage at remains to be seen. He certainly has the tools necessary to remain behind the plate, with above-average arm strength and good agility. As with most high school catchers, Jackson's receiving requires some work to bring it up to Major League standards.
The team that drafts Jackson will have to decide whether it wants to invest the time to develop him as a catcher or expedite his bat's arrival in the big leagues. The Nationals and Royals faced similar situations with extremely talented hitters in Bryce Harper and Wil Myers, and they both decided to turn their phenoms into outfielders.
The guess here is that the same thing will happen with Jackson and that he'll become a right fielder. He runs well enough and definitely has the arm to fit in right, where his bat still would allow him to project as an All-Star. If Jackson were solely an outfielder right now, he'd still be a worthy No. 4 selection.
Before Hoffman went down, the Cubs' decision seemed fairly simple: take whichever of the top four pitchers remained on the board after the Astros, Marlins and White Sox made their selections. Now it has become much more complicated. Jackson and Gordon are the most attractive position players -- there isn't a college hitter who merits going fourth overall -- and the second tier of pitchers includes righties Aaron Nola (Louisiana State) and Tyler Beede (Vanderbilt) and lefties Kyle Freeland (Evansville) and Brandon Finnegan (Texas Christian).
None of those guys offers more upside than Jackson, regardless of whether he stays behind the plate or moves to right field. That's why he should be the No. 4 pick.