1. LHP Brady Aiken
Scouting Report: Around this time last year, Brady Aiken was projected to be a mid to late first round pick but has dramatically increased his stock over the past few months. Once a two sport athlete, Aiken spent his offseason focusing on his baseball career. At the end of his 2012 season, the young lefty was hitting 88-91 mph on his fastball but added muscle helped him consistently reach the mid 90’s with some reaching 97 mph. In his senior season at Cathedral High School, Aiken posted a 0.91 ERA with 97 strikeouts over 53.2 innings pitched.
Strengths: Aiken mainly throws a fastball, curveball and changeup with his fastball being his strongest pitch. However he has recently been working on adding a slider to his repertoire. The biggest strength of Aiken’s game is his ability to command and mix all of his pitches and his delivery reminds me of Clayton Kershaw. His great command and athletic frame will allow him to move very quickly through the minor leagues, possibly even making his major debut by the age of 20.
Weaknesses: Hard to find a weakness in Aiken’s game. He is everything you want to see in a pitcher and is very advanced for his age.
Other Notes: Something that I think is overlooked here is the positive side of Aiken being a two sport athlete for his first two years of high school. So many young pitchers spend all year pitching and working on their mechanics but actually hurt themselves by putting too much mileage on their arms. Does that have something to do with the amount of Tommy John surgeries we have seen recently? I would have to argue, yes.
How he fits: The Cubs obviously lack a lot of top-tier pitching in their system. Aiken would immediately jump to one of the Cubs best arms in the minors along with C.J. Edwards. I originally didn’t like the Cubs drafting a high-school arm with their first pick because of the length of development. The Cubs’ top prospects are close to reaching the big leagues so a high school player might not make the most sense. However, with the great command and intelligence, Aiken is more advanced than most high school arms and could therefore only take a year or two to reach the majors.
2. RHP Carlos Rodon
Scouting Report: Rodon was considered to be the census number one pick in this year’s draft for quite some time. However things changed when he struggled in the first half of his 2014. His fastball that usually sits in the mid 90’s was down to 88-91mph and could not command many pitches. Thankfully Rodon turned things around in the second half of his season and is still at the top of all draft boards across the league.
Strengths: Has an above average fastball but his slider is easily his best pitch. Rodon has the best slider of any pitcher in the draft and some scouts have rated it at an 80 on the 20-80 rating scale (80 being exceptional). Along with a great slider and fastball, Rodon has the frame to be a very durable pitcher. The size and strength will allow Rodon to be a work horse number one starter in the majors.
Weaknesses: Rodon has struggled with his command in the past and may need a few tweaks in his mechanics once he gets drafted. Although his slider is a dominating pitch, he tends to rely on it a bit too much and will shy away from his other pitches. Unlike Aiken, Rodon only has two above average pitches. He will have to develop his changeup in order to have a lot of success in the major leagues. The final possible knock on Rodon is the mileage on his arm. Although he only starts once a week during the season, his coach allowed him to throw well over 100 pitches in many of his starts.
How he fits: The Cubs would love to have Rodon there when they pick at number four. He would be a player that could possibly make an impact in the majors in the second half of the 2015 season and would become a guy they could build a rotation around. I think Rodon would be a steal if he falls to the Cubs and they would have no choice except to draft him.
3. RHP Aaron Nola
Scouting Report: Nola was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 but decided to attend LSU for three years. Now, Nola is one of the top college arms in the 2014 draft. A little bit undersized but a dominate 2014 season has Nola cemented into the top 10 of the draft. His ability to make batters miss with his fastball makes him a sure bet to be a starter his whole career.
Strengths: His fastball is definitely his best pitch as he is able to make hitters miss with it. The command is the best aspect of Nola’s game. Since he is not as overpowering as some other top pitchers in this draft, Nola relies on his ability to control his pitches and locate his slider on both sides of the plate. It is definitely tough for pitchers to be successful in the majors with poor command so Nola certainly has that aspect of pitching in check. He posted a 10.7 strikeout rate per nine innings.
Weaknesses: Nola spent a lot of time trying to improve his slider, which he did, but he decreased the effect of his once above average changeup during that time. Although his fastball and slider are both above average, he will have to regain confidence to throw his change.
How he fits: Nola and the Cubs would be an excellent match. His command will allow him to move quickly through the system and help the Cubs pretty soon. However, it appears the team on the South Side of Chicago is really interested in Nola at the third pick.
4. RHP Tyler Kolek
Age: 18 School: Shepard High School; Texas
Height: 6″5 Weight: 230
Scouting Report: Kolek is the highest rated right-handed pitcher in the 2014 draft. For much of his time in high school, Kolek was a three sport athlete and a very good defensive end. In March of 2013, Kolek broke his arm but came back better than he was before. In his senior season, Kolek decided to focus solely on baseball and now he sits as one of the best high school arms in the draft.
Strengths: Kolek has by far the best fastball of any pitcher in the draft. MLB.com has his fastball at an 80 on the scouting scale. Due to his great size and strength, Kolek can consistently throw his fastball 96-98 mph and has shown to ability to run it up over 100 mph. He definitely has more velocity than any high school pitcher in quite some time. The young flamethrower also has an above average curveball and slider with a changeup that has the potential to become an above average pitch. With that fastball, an argument can be made that Kolek has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in this year’s class.
Weaknesses: Like most pitchers that throw as hard as Kolek, his command and control is a work in progress.However he did show some good adjustments in 2014 that improved his command. Kolek also faced a lot of small competition in Texas so he does not have as an impressive track record like Rodon and Nola.
Other Notes: Clearly with a pitcher that throws so hard, the first concern that will cross your mind is the potential for future arm injuries. However, being a three sport athlete means that Kolek was only pitching competitively for a few months a year. Because of that, I’m not as worried about Kolek’s arm as some may be. The key for Kolek’s health will be to limit the amount of pitches he throws with 100% effort. For example, lets look at Justin Verlander. His max velocity is 100mph. However, his average velocity is just 94mph. Limiting the amount of times a team allows Kolek to toss 98-100mph fastballs will determine his future health.
How he fits: Probably the most ideal fit here with the Cubs because Kolek may take a few years to develop because of his command issues. Still, the sky is the limit for Kolek and the Cubs will have a hard time passing on that arm if he is there at four. Kolek would be worked into the Cubs team right around the time they should be emerging as consistent contenders.
5. C Max Pentecost
Age: 21 School: Kennesaw State
Height: 6″2 Weight: 190
Scouting Report: Pentecost has been rising up draft boards over the past year and could be the first catcher selected in the draft. Although MLB.com rates him as the 24th prospect in the draft, Jim Callis noted that Pentecost may be up into the top 10 now. Pentecost really grabbed attention when he won the Cape Cod League MVP last summer after hitting .346 with a .424 on-base percentage.
Strengths: Pentecost has great athleticism and speed for a catcher. Those traits will help him be a durable catcher that can deal with playing over 100 games a year behind the plate. He clearly showed the ability over the past year and really improved over the plate during his time at Kennesaw State. Although he has below average power, Pentecost can be a very good major league hitter.
Weaknesses: Certainly is not known for his defense behind the plate and will have to really work at improving his defense behind the plate. His arm and fielding is just average and is not good at throwing out runners. Although he projects to be an offensive catcher, Pentecost will have to improve his defense behind the plate to be an all-star catcher.
How he fits: Although the Cubs have a major need at pitching, Pentecost will get some consideration because the Cubs lack of depth at catching in their system and it is unclear if they are comfortable with Wellington Castillo as the catcher of the future. If Aiken and Rodon are gone when the Cubs pick at four, I think they will give Pentecost some thought. He would be an under slot pick so the Cubs would have more money to spend on their second and third draft picks.
Really though to make a prediction. There has been some chatter of the Houston Astros taking high school shortstop Nick Gordon with the first overall pick. That would certainly shake things up at the top. The Marlins are known to like high schooler Alex Jackson at the second pick. That would leave the Cubs with a great situation but I wouldn’t bank on it. My gut feeling is that Aiken and Rodon are off the board when the Cubs choose at four. I believe that Kolek and Nola will be there when the Cubs choose, leaving them with a very tough decision.
Ultimately, I think the Cubs will wind up taking Tyler Kolek.