Houston took Carlos Correa to take him off the boards with the first overall pick of the 2012 MLB First Year Player Draft. The Twins took Byron Buxton, the Mariners took Mike Zunino, Orioles took Kevin Gausman, and the Royals took Kyle Zimmer. A rumor was started that agent Scott Boras was trying to push expected first round pick Mark Appel all the way down to Washington at #16, which would be the equivalent of Washington having three first overall picks in four years after drafting Strasburg and Harper the last two times. Appel ended up with the Pirates at #8. Read past the jump for the Cubs’ picks.
The Cubs selected “toolsy” outfielder Albert Almora out of Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens, Florida with the #6 pick. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus was told last week that the Cubs would have taken Almora even if they had the first overall draft pick this year. Almora can do everything well, but is not elite in any specific category. The Cubs tweeted about Almora that “Almora hit .603 with 13 doubles, 5 triples, 6 HR, 34 RBI and 24 SB with a 1.164 SLG and .667 OBP in 25 games for Mater Academy last season.” MLB Network remarked that the Cubs had found their Center Fielder of the future, but they may already have that in Brett Jackson. The addition of Almora and potential addition of fellow outfielder Jorge Soler may take Matt Szczur out of the team’s future plans and could leave no backup position for Josh Vitters to go to once Javier Baez makes it to the majors.
Albert Almora combines a high school player’s upside with the polish of a college hitter. He’s headed to Chicago after the Cubs selected him sixth overall.
Almora has tools, game instincts and makeup; his lone weakness is his fringe-average speed, which some scouts describe as below-average. Scouts give him 60s across the board otherwise, with some giving him higher grades for his arm strength. His instincts allow him to play center field at a high level; one scout said he was a 40 runner with 80 range and said he played center field like some players do shortstop, being instinctual rather than reactive like almost all outfielders.
UPDATE: The Cubs selected Right-Handed Pitcher Pierce Johnson from Missouri State University with the 43rd overall draft pick (compensation for the loss of Aramis Ramirez to Milwaukee). The Cubs will also select at #56.
Johnson was ranked as the 34th best draft prospect in Baseball America’s most recent rankings.
Johnson is a name that has risen up draft boards early and often thanks to a strong spring for the Bears. Despite sporting a 2-6 record, Johnson has dominated his competition and potentially pitched his way into the 1st round in June. To date, he has a 2.85 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 74.2 innings pitched. He is not a physically imposing presence on the mound and he can certainly fill out his frame a bit more as he develops.
Health is a concern, as he has been riddled with various, minor injuries throughout his career and as recently as this year. He came back from the most recent injury, a forearm strain, and was throwing in the 91-93 range with both of his off-speed offerings, a hard curveball and a downer changeup, working well. Before the injury he was sitting in the 92-94 range and could crank his fastball up to 96 mph. A potential sleeper thanks to his injury and recent arrival on the scene, Johnson should hear his name called within the first 3 rounds in June.
MLB Comparison: Zach Stewart
Projected Draft Position: Supplemental Round-3rd Round
UPDATE: The Cubs selected Paul Blackburn from Heritage High School in Home Oakley, California with the 56th overall pick (compensation for the loss of Carlos Pena to Tampa Bay).
After a big performance at last summer’s Area Code Games, Blackburn has continued pitching well this spring to keep him firmly on the prospect map. The NoCal high schooler has a good fastball that hits 92 mph consistently and will touch a tick or two higher on the radar gun at times. His two secondary offerings – a curve and a changeup – both have the chance to be very effective pitches. He’s generally around the strike zone and thanks to his athleticism and sound delivery, his command should only improve with experience. The Arizona State recruit has some projectability, meaning his already pretty good stuff has room to get even better. That should get him off the board early enough to keep him from heading to Arizona.