While most of the focus on Cubs draft possibilities has been on college-level players, and for good reason, it’s still worthwhile to take a look at the high school ranks. I’ll split it up into two separate segments, with this one looking at a few pitchers who could be available at the No. 24 spot. Prep phenom Cole Wilcox is a player we profiled in an earlier primer, but there are other arms just as worthy who should also be available when the Cubs first pick.
The main thing to keep in mind about high school pitchers is that their draft stock tend to rise and fall pretty quickly. While most do have a long track record of playing in high school, USA Baseball, and showcases, other arms can rise on the scene out of nowhere. Because they are so volatile, the Cubs have yet to take a high school pitcher in the first round in the Theo Epstein era. And it was only last year that they took a college arm, actually two, in the first round.
Though it’s perhaps unlikely, an organizational shift to young pitching may change the Cubs’ draft strategy. With that in mind, here are some names to keep a look out for this spring.
Carter Stewart comes across as a very projectable arm who could be a top-of-the-rotation starter if all goes well. At 6-foot-6, he definitely has the big frame that the Cubs tend to be enamored with. And at just 200 pounds, there still is some room for physical development, which might be the best thing for the Cubs.
Mason Denaburg might be available at number 24 if Wilcox and Stewart are already gone. The biggest concern for him is whether he’s going to be a catcher or a pitcher. If he’s a catcher, teams will draft him a little bit higher than 24. If they see him as a pitcher, he might fall to the mid-20’s where the Cubs could be waiting. In reading about his makeup, he’s the type of athlete that Jason McLeod tends to covet. As a pitcher, he can throw in the low to mid 90’s and still has a nice big frame to develop more physically. As a catcher, he has a quick release and a developing bat. If he’s available at 24, it will be hard to pass him up.
Here is what MLB Pipeline had to say about Mason’s potential:
At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Denaburg has the prototypical pitcher’s body. Given that he’s split time behind the plate on the mound, not to mention as a placekicker and punter — something he would also have the opportunity to do at the college level — there is some serious upside here. As it is, he’s already up to 97 mph at times with decent command of his fastball. He will throw both a curve and a slider, but it’s a better breaking ball when it has that slider look and bite. He also shows a good feel for his changeup. He hasn’t always been able to consistently maintain his stuff, but many feel a focus on his craft would allow him to improve across the board.
Ryan Weathers is the son of former Cubs right-handed closer David Weathers. While the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, the younger Weathers is a southpaw. He projects to be picked in the mid to late teens, so I doubt he would fall to the Cubs unless there is a run on college bats that pushes him down. Right now, his ability to command three pitches for strikes while throwing in the low 90’s is his greatest asset.
Mike Vasil is a big right-hander who attends Boston College High School and will get a late start to the season. He came on strong last year on the summer circuit and might be a reach at number 24 unless he has a spectacular spring. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he has a starter’s body and can throw in the low to mid 90’s now. With pro coaching and training, combined with pro nutrition, his velocity could improve.
One development that might actually be a positive for the Cubs was top prep pitcher Ethan Hankins undergoing elbow reconstruction that will force him to miss all of 2018. He’s already fallen five spots in Baseball America’s most recent rankings and he will probably will continue to slide over the rest of the spring. His injury is one reason the Cubs tend to shy away from pitchers this early and stick with college bats most times.
I would still rate Wilcox as the No. 1 prep arm likely to be available in the 20’s, followed by Stewart and then Denaburg. All three would be hard to let slide by unless there is a special college bat available. The one thing these pitchers all have in common is that they are nowhere near their potential either physically or on the mound.
After college bats, I think prep arms might be the next best bet in terms of talent/risk ratio for the Cubs with that first pick. They have much more long-term potential than any college arm who could be available then and they also have the most risk.