CHICAGO -- The cliche many teams use going into the First-Year Player Draft is that they want to select the best player available.
The Cubs want more.
Chicago has the sixth pick overall in the Draft, which begins Monday, plus two selections in the supplemental round (Nos. 43 and 56 overall) after losing Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena, both Type B free agents. This is the first Draft with the Cubs for president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting and player development director Jason McLeod, and they've logged thousands of miles to prepare.
"We're looking for impact players, and you'll hear that from us a lot," said McLeod, who spent six seasons with Epstein with the Red Sox, five as scouting director, and held the same position the last two years with the Padres. "We're trying to get impact players. Pitching is always important if the pitcher is great, but we're not taking one position over another."
McLeod, amateur scouting director Tim Wilken and the rest of the Cubs' amateur scouts convened in Chicago on Sunday to spend the week to compare notes on prospects. The Cubs moved their Draft headquarters from Mesa, Ariz., to Chicago this year now that there is enough space for them in a new office building near Wrigley Field.
Live coverage of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 5 p.m. CT on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Last year, Wilken took a more aggressive tack in the Draft than years past, with the blessing of Cubs owner Tom Ricketts. The players signed, including Javier Baez, Shawon Dunston Jr., Dan Vogelbach, Dillon Maples, Trevor Gretzky and Taiwan Easterling, were expensive and high risk.
Epstein noticed the change, saying the Cubs finally "get it." He called it a "significant moment" for the Cubs, and it influenced his decision to come to Chicago.
The Cubs will still be aggressive, but they also must work under the new rules prescribed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which has established prescribed bonuses for every pick in the first 10 rounds.
"It hasn't changed our approach," McLeod said. "If anything, it challenges us to be more thorough in information gathering. You always want to be right on with evaluations. It's a challenge for the staff to be more thorough in off-field evaluation. How badly do they want to sign? How sure are they [that the players are] ready to go out mentally? It's been a challenge on that front."
The Cubs will have three of the first 56 selections in this year's Draft. In 2002, they had a first-round pick plus three supplemental picks, plus the 56th and 62nd selections. (For trivia buffs, the players taken were Bobby Brownlie, Luke Hagerty, Chadd Blasko, Matthew Clanton, Brian Dopirak and Justin Jones.) Six picks in the first 62 is a lot.
McLeod hopes to find quality this year.
"It's an opportunity, and any time you have the opportunity to infuse new talent from the Draft, you like the idea of having multiple picks," he said. "We'll focus a lot on the first pick, and I think we've got the list narrowed down to seven or eight guys we feel comfortable with. We feel really good where we are there, and as you come back to the supplemental selections, [Nos.] 43 and 54, there are a lot more variables as to who will be there.
"There's a lot of work to be done," he said. "We're making sure area guys get into homes and know who the players are as people. It's a process. We'll work hard up until the day of the Draft."
The personal side is a huge part of the process, not just whether an infielder has good footwork or an accurate arm.
"You have to figure out what makes these guys tick and what will allow them to succeed or impede them from succeeding, especially when you're dealing with teenagers who haven't been away from home," McLeod said. "It's a huge, huge part of the evaluation process in who the person is that we're getting."
Here's a glance at what the Cubs have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The emphasis is on finding players who can make a difference. When McLeod was in Boston, he selected Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Daniel Bard and Clay Buccholz. He also took Anthony Rizzo, the Red Sox's first-round pick in 2007 who is now in the Cubs' system after a brief stop with the Padres. Said McLeod: "Early on, we'll go with who will make the most impact."
The Cubs won't tip their hand. It isn't just McLeod, Wilken and the area scouts involved in the process. Epstein and Hoyer also have been attending high school and college games around the country to check on prospective players. Don't be surprised if the Cubs seem to focus on pitchers.
"As an organization, I think our pitching depth is one of our bigger concerns," Hoyer said. "We don't have a ton of arms in the Minor Leagues, and the best organizations are organizations that are just littered with power arms.
"Some guys will become starters, some guys will become relievers, but the best bullpens are built internally, and the more we can add those sort of arms throughout the Draft, the better, and it'll be a focus not just in 2012 but in every year."
Last year with the Padres, McLeod and Hoyer picked 24 pitchers, 15 infielders and eight outfielders, selecting 35 college players and 17 high school players. In 2011, Wilken and the Cubs selected 26 pitchers, 10 infielders, 11 outfielders and three catchers in the three-day Draft. Of the 50 players picked, 29 were college players and 21 high school players. They did take more high school players than in the past and did so with Rickett's endorsement.
Said McLeod: "[The Ricketts family] certainly understands the importance of building a strong foundation. We're definitely on the same page as an organization from ownership on down. Whether it's international or domestic in the Draft, you need that strong foundation to have that opportunity for sustainable success."
In his early mock drafts, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo predicted the Cubs would take outfielder Albert Almora of Mater Academy (Fla.). The Cubs also have reportedly shown interest in left-handed pitcher Max Fried of Harvard Westlake High School in Southern California and shortstop Carlos Correa of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.
cubs' bonus pool
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.
Any team going up to 5 percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.
Wilken has always favored good athletes, such as Brett Jackson and Tyler Colvin. The Cubs need to improve the pitching depth in the organization. Maybe they can find another James Russell, a 14th-round pick in 2007; or Chris Rusin, a fourth-round pick in '09; or Jeff Beliveau, an 18th-round pick in '08.
Although Junior Lake and Josh Vitters, the club's No. 1 pick in '07, are third-base prospects, the Cubs could use depth there, too. Everyone's involved. McLeod recruited Cubs manager Dale Sveum to review video of some of the position players they were considering.
McLeod said he's interested to see if teams change their approach toward high school players because of the new CBA rules. There is more talent at the prep level this year.
"It's a better high school Draft in terms of the volume of players at high school ranks," McLeod said. "Once you get past the very top college guys, the college guys aren't very deep, especially the position players. That will make it interesting as well to see how teams shape their board with the new CBA in place and having it be a very good high school draft. It'll be interesting to see how many high school players are taken. In years past, you could overpay high school kids, and now you could be penalized for doing that."
Recent Draft History
We'll count Rizzo as one of the Cubs' up-and-coming Draft picks, because McLeod is the one who selected him in 2007. The first baseman could be called up this year, but he won't be rushed. Hoyer has learned from last year, when he promoted Rizzo from Triple-A Tucson and the first baseman struggled to hit .141 in 49 games with the Padres.
Jackson, the No. 1 pick in '09, had a stellar Spring Training, but his strikeout totals at Triple-A Iowa are high. He's a five-tool player who is very close. Lefty Chris Rusin, a fourth-round pick in 2009, has been solid at Iowa this season, too.
Cubs recent top picks
|2011||Javier Baez||SS||Class A Peoria|
|2010||Hayden Simpson||RHP||Class A Daytona|
|2009||Brett Jackson||OF||Triple-A Iowa|
|2008||Andrew Cashner||RHP||Padres (traded Jan. 6)|
|2007||Josh Vitters||3B||Triple-A Iowa|
Randy Wells was a 38th-round pick in 2002. The right-hander was a catcher at that time at Southwestern Illinois Junior College. He played in 23 games for the Cubs' Rookie League Mesa team and Class A Boise before being convinced to try pitching.
In 2009, he won 12 games for the Cubs in 27 starts, compiling a 3.05 ERA. He won a spot in the starting rotation in 2010 and totaled 18 quality starts, second highest on the pitching staff. This season, Wells did well in Spring Training, but there wasn't a spot for him in the rotation, and he's now pitching out of Chicago's bullpen.
In The Show
The Cubs have had success developing players outside of the Draft, such as those from the Dominican Republic (Starlin Castro, Carlos Marmol, Welington Castillo, Lake). On the current 40-man roster, players drafted by the Cubs include Jeff Samardzija (fifth round, 2006), Darwin Barney (fourth round, '07), Geovany Soto (11th round, '01), Wells (38th round, '02) and Casey Coleman (15th round, '08).
Andrew Cashner, a first-round pick in '08, was traded to the Padres for Rizzo, now considered the Cubs' top prospect. Chris Carpenter, a third-round pick in '08, was dealt to the Red Sox as compensation for Epstein. Tyler Colvin, the No. 1 pick in '06, was traded to the Rockies along with DJ LeMahieu, a second-round selection that year, for Ian Stewart.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.