The class of draftable college pitchers this year is a little odd in that there’s a group of four or five that bunched together very high in the rankings and then they’re strung out in a long tail after that. For example, MLB Pipeline’s top 50 draft prospects has four college arms in the top 15, one in the 20’s, a couple in the 30’s, and three in the 40’s.
That could leave plenty of options for the Cubs, who have a stated desire to improve what has been pretty stagnant pitching development in the Theo Epstein era. Even with that in mind, the odds of them selecting a college arm before the third round are not very good. There are just too many high-quality college bats available in the mid-20’s and the rest of Day 1 of the draft.
The Cubs could possibly take an arm at the end of the second round or with one or both of their compensation picks, but prep pitchers might be more intriguing. A lot can change between now and the draft, though, so let’s take a quick look at some of the college pitchers who could make sense for the Cubs.
One college arm rising rapidly up the board is Tristan Beck from Stanford, who will probably end up being ranked in the late 20’s or early 30’s. After missing all of 2017, the junior right-hander has put himself in a good position for the draft. He’s currently striking out about one batter per inning but he has struggled against some high-profile teams in Oregon and Texas and he could not get it done against conference rival UCLA.
Righty Blaine Knight of Arkansas is right behind Beck. He throws in the mid 90’s and has a 2.10 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 56.1 IP (10 starts), but what I like most about Knight is that he has dominated some of the top teams in the SEC. He is also a control pitcher, something the Cubs haven’t really targeted, and has only walked 12 this season. Despite working around the plate, opponents are hitting just .237 against him. He could be a nice snag in the second round.
I also like David Lebron, even as a bullpen piece. The University of Tampa righty has been one of the most elite pitchers in Division II this spring. He has great command (2.66 BB/9) and he misses bats (11.7 K/9), posting nearly five times as many strikeouts (207) as walks (47) over 159 innings for the Spartans. I don’t care if he’s a DII prospect, that’s a lot of strikeouts. He is looking more and more like an excellent Day 2 option to take in rounds 3-10.
The Cubs originally selected Rayne Supple out of Champlain Valley Union High School (VT) in 2015. He was the Vermont player of the year as a senior, but chose to go to Wake Forest instead. His college career has plodded along until this year, when the 6-foot-3 righty took off in the closer role.
“Rayne has made a huge jump from last season to this one,” Wake head coach Tom Walter said of his star reliever. “A power right-handed arm with good life on his fastball and a plus breaking ball, Rayne could see himself starting on the weekends or anchoring our bullpen in leverage innings. He is an excellent athlete who is expected to have a break-out season.”
Supple has a 1.39 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 32.1 innings. Even though he has walked 16, his incredible .152 batting average against shows that very little is being done to advance those free runners. Much of that is owing to his sharp slider, which you can see in action in the video below.
Supple is not necessarily destined to remain a high-leverage reliever and he did start some last summer in the New England Collegiate League. He made five starts and appeared in three other games as a reliever with a 3.67 ERA and similar strikeout/walk ratios. An organization will always try to put a player in the best position to succeed, but having that built-in versatility could be a plus.
If the Cubs do re-draft Supple, they will need his consent per MLB draft rules. More than likely, he’ll be taken in the top 20 rounds, maybe even Day 2. He does have one more year of eligibility left, though, and he is not a sure thing to leave college.
Now that there are less than five weeks to go to the draft, there will be a lot of movement on draft boards and new updates on mock drafts. Fangraphs and Keith Law (subscription required) both released draft lists in the past two weeks and will continue to update moving forward. Baseball America is another to include in the mix, though there is no consensus on who the top pick is on rankings in general. For instance, I have seen Wichita State’s Alec Bohm at No. 3 and No. 26 on different lists. That is a huge disparity.
Around the end of May, I will evaluate the Cubs’ past six draft classes and begin looking at exactly who I believe they will take with the 24th pick. Odds are that player has already been profiled in a previous piece.