Had a chance to talk with Cubs scouting director for about 20 minutes that just flew by Tuesday afternoon. Tim is in Boise, watching the Cubs’ Class A Hawks. He said to check out the hit this year’s third rounder, Zeke DeVoss, put on the catcher Monday night. Our subject today was the Cubs’ 2011 draft signings. We get into that in our column for the paper tomorrow.
But Tim was generous with his time, as usual, so we got into the nitty-gritty and some of the stuff that’s easier to get into on the blog than in the paper. As I’m sure you read, the Cubs signed 34 picks, and they say they set a franchise mark of about $12 million in signing bonuses. They had four picks with seven-figure bonuses. That compares to one from last year and none in 2009. They had 19 picks with at least six-figure bonuses, compared to 17 last year and 13 in 2009. Between domestic and international signings, the Cubs figure to reach about $20 million.
The big signings were Nos. 1 and 2 picks Javier Baez and Daniel Vogelbach, and 14th-round “over-slot” pick, pitcher Dillon Maples. Baez got $2.625 million, Vogelbach $1.6 million and Maples $2.5 million.
Wilken termed the commitment from the Ricketts family “hugely satisfying.” Let’s get into a few things here as a Q and A, and we’ll finish with some miscellaneous notes about the draft at the end.
Did the extra dollar commitment enable you to scout players in a different way?
"Definitely,” Tim said. “That changes your whole strategy. Sometimes, if you had a limited budget, so to say, why be spinning your wheels and seeing someone more than once that basically you weren't going to sign?
"Now, all of a sudden, you've got pretty much a chance to find guys. There were a few guys in this draft that we did not extend on because we didn't feel that was smart spending. But just to have a chance in almost every round you're selecting, it really changed the nature and changed the nature of where we set our national guys, Sam Hughes and Steve Hinton and Ron Tostenson. It changed our whole plan of attack."
Did you look at different types of players this year?
"Good question. We sure did. I think you're going to see it in the types of hitters we acquired in this draft. We've got some guys that may be able to fit that bill in the 3-5-hole in our lineup. I feel confident some of them well. We know we needed starting pitching. Where do we go first?
"I think you go where you think the strength is. There were pitchers, but as the prognosticators say, there was velocity. There wasn't pitching ability. Maples, I believe, has pretty good pitching ability. I just didn't see the style of pitcher we were looking for. There were more velocity guys in there than anything. That said, we went after the hitters, and we went after what we termed in the higher picks to be a little bit more intelligent at the plate, guys that have a chance to have a pretty good OBP. They're selective, they want to work the pitcher hard. Sometimes that doesn't always result in walks, but what it does is it results in high counts, which gets the pitcher out of the quicker.
"With Vogelbach and Baez, they're mature for their ages at the plate. They've got good hand-eye. There's not a lot of strikeout in either one. They've shown an aptitude to make adjustment in these high-profile showcases and also as they were playing in the state of Florida.
"You look at Zeke DeVoss in his first 90-100 plate appearances, he's got a .462 on-base percentage."
How hard was it to get the first two picks done?
"There was talk that Vogelbach was going to go the University of Florida and just stay there until this semester. He wasn't a slam-dunk. To parlay that with Baez, there were all sorts of stuff and rumors going on. It became a little uneasy as it got down to the buzzer. But in the end, it prevailed. With the people that represent him, we had the good fortune with Reggie Golden last year, the same people. We were able to hammer out something less than an hour before the buzzer.
"There was some uncertainty. It wasn't as slam-dunk as some people have portrayed it. It got a little uneasy when Jim (GM Hendry) called me and said, 'Hey, I don't know. This could go one way or another.' When Jim says that, you better pay attention. I kind of had that uneasy feeling for a good 6-8 hours yesterday."
Why did Maples fall to the 14th round?
"It seemed like the family had a strong commitment to North Carolina. He was on the double-sports deal with football and baseball. We knew he was a high-profile guy going into it. We had been seeing him for the last two years. Billy Swoope was the area guy and had seen him even when he was a sophomore. I got to see him at the end of his junior season. He played at Tropicana at the Perfect Game showcase there and a couple other showcases.
"He really pitched well in those places. We took that into this spring. I think in that particular area, the Carolinas, organizations have a lot of different philosophies of how to cover the geographics. Sometimes the guys from the Mid-Atlantic have North Carolina. Sometimes, North Carolina and South Carolina are paired together. Sometimes North Carolina and eastern Tennessee are paired together.
"You've got a lot of cross-scouting in there where I think people might not have done their homework as well and just took for granted that this guy was totally unsignable in their minds. Some did their homework well. He probably did not fit into their criteria. I think clubs kind of figured that this was a North Carolinian that was going to the University of North Carolina. I think some people kind of took for granted his allegiance to that school and the state of North Carolina. I think all this little things going into it probably let him get all the way to the 14th."
Some of the people on my blog want to know what happened with (39th-round pitcher) Ricky Jacquez not signing.
"A very athletic kid. A very quick arm. A little diminutive but seemed to keep a pretty good angle. Had a good breaking ball. We just couldn't get together. We had a pretty good conversation with him all summer. We scouted him all summer. In the end, we just couldn't meet eye to eye. I think he would say it went smooth. From our viewpoint, it went really well."
The Aug. 15 deadline has caused some concern. Talks seem to go to the deadline, and players miss out on playing baseball for a good part of the summer. Is there a better way to do this?
"I said this to a bunch of people the last three or four days. Take all these kids, young adults, and this is supposed to be the most joyful time of their life. This is something they've worked to attain the last so many years, and we've got to come down to all this dictated by an Aug. 15 date. It's become nothing but a headache for all involved. It's not really fun for the kid and his parents anymore.
"It's a feeling of uneasiness beyond all control. If you want to go to another part of this, you even help out the Division I schools if you can move this thing up. If I got to vote on this, I would vote on July 15. That way, it does a lot of things here. It makes the representation happy. It makes the family and the young player happy. It makes the organizations happy. It also helps the NCAA decide which guys they're going to go after, after they might lose a player or two. Now if you get them out July 15, you've got six weeks of play from the guy. You can get a nice little picture there. He won't have to start up the next year in March with 150 faces he looks at when he walks into minor-league spring training. The first thing that can hopefully be achieved is a date change. MLB has got to do whatever they can to make this thing a little bit better. We'll find out what they and union decide in the next agreement.
"In the second year (with the Cubs), the Vitters thing went down the bitter end. We didn't know with 40 minutes left before the buzzer goes off. It's just a sick feeling. Some of it's the anticipation. The other is, 'Let's hurry up and wait after the draft for two whole months.' All types of stuff happen. This way, we've got 3-4 weeks to negotiate and figure out what you're going to do. You're done by the 15th (of July) and you're out and you're playing for six weeks.
"In a perfect world, that we be the first suggestion I would have."
--Tim said there were few attractive left-handed pitchers in the draft. The Cubs did not sign lefty Jacob Lindgren, their 12th-round pick. The highest-drafted lefty signed was Andrew McKirahan out of the University of Texas, taken 21st.
--He said to keep an eye on outfielder Trey Martin, taken in the 13th round out of the Brookfield High School in Georgia. Tim said Martin has good speed and “glides” in the outfield in a way that’s reminiscent of Torii Hunter or Devon White.
--As far as catchers go, Tim said he feels the Cubs have some good “dirtball catchers,” meaning that in a good way. Their top pick was Neftali Rosario in the fifth round out the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy. Tim also said to watch Taylor Davis, a former draft pick of the Marlins who is now with the Cubs organization.
--Tim said that in the past five years, the Cubs are tied for third in getting their picks to the majors (some with other clubs via trades or releases). The Cardinals, according to Tim, rank first, with 20, followed by the Padres (14), Cubs (13) and Reds (13).