After backstop at top, Cubs' Draft is arm-heavy
Catcher Schwarber goes No. 4 overall, but Chicago uses 10 of first 12 on pitchers
CHICAGO -- The goal from the beginning for Theo Epstein and Co. has been to infuse the Cubs' organization with pitching.
The Cubs continued that trend this week in Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft, using 10 of their first 12 picks on arms -- many of whom possess high upside.
"We're really excited about the players we were able to draft over these three days, obviously going back to Day 1 on Thursday," Cubs senior vice president of player development and scouting Jason McLeod said Saturday. "We thought yesterday we were able to get some really high-upside, talented high school pitchers mixed in with the college group we did.
"I said here a couple days ago we were going to make a run on pitching, and certainly we've done that and it's continued into today."
The Cubs selected 21 pitchers (17 right-handers, four lefties), seven catchers, six outfielders and six infielders. Twenty-two of the picks were college players, while five were junior college players. Thirteen were high schoolers.
Though the Cubs selected two catchers with their first three picks -- Indiana's Kyle Schwarber fourth overall and Virginia Tech's Mark Zagunis in the third round -- they took pitchers in rounds 4-12.
The top pitcher selected was Maryland right-hander Jake Stinnett (second round), who on Saturday earned the victory over Virginia in the Super Regionals. Stinnett is a physical pitcher who led the ACC in strikeouts this year and is a pitcher McLeod and the Cubs feel is "on the rise."
The Cubs also took a trio of highly-rated high school arms -- left-hander Carson Sands (fourth), lefty Justin Steele (fifth) and righty Dillon Cease (sixth) -- to join a trio of college aces -- St. Louis right-hander James Norwood (seventh), Oregon lefty Tommy Thorpe (eighth) and Arizona righty James Farris (ninth).
The high school trio was highly rated, but fell due to signing concerns. With Zagunis reportedly agreeing to a $615,000 deal, which is under the $714,900 pick value, the Cubs figure to have wiggle room to sign the young trio.
"In this system of the Draft, you have a pool of money and you have to really work hard to make sure it all fits within the parameters ... and we did," said McLeod, who would not confirm the Zagunis deal.
"We got three young players we think we're going to be able to sign."
Cease, a starter at Milton (Ga.) High School, was one of the hardest-throwing high school pitchers in the Draft class. However, this spring, he had an elbow injury -- a partial tear of the UCL -- that kept him off the mound since March. He chose not to have Tommy John surgery, but the injury allowed him to fall to the Cubs.
"We know that there's risks -- he's a high school right-hander that will probably have to have some procedure on his arm -- but to get that kind of talented player in the sixth round, we certainly felt it was worth it," McLeod said.
A few notable late-round picks include:
• 21st-rounder Charles White, Stinnett's teammate at Maryland and a native of Naperville, Ill.
• 22nd-rounder Joey Martarano, a linebacker at Boise State -- which doesn't have a baseball program.
• 23rd-rounder Isiah Gilliam, a young high school outfielder who was recently reclassified to the 2014 Draft class.
• 30th-rounder Michael Cantu, a catcher out of Foy H. Moody (Texas) High School who was ranked as MLB.com's 139th prospect and is committed to Texas.
But the focus, for the third straight Draft, was pitching. And while the Cubs' farm system is healthier in terms of arms, McLeod said pitching is always going to be a key part of the Draft.
"I don't ever feel [like] you have enough depth, but certainly we've hit it hard now in our third Draft and now we're starting to see some of that get to the upper levels," McLeod said. "That's what you hope for, is now you get to a level and you have prospects there, and we feel like we have that right now.
"Of course it's still going to be a focus for us always, and that played out again in this year's Draft drafting pitchers we did."