CHICAGO – It won’t matter who the Chicago Cubs choose as the No. 4 overall pick in Thursday evening’s amateur draft. Whomever it is, he’ll immediately be part of the Cubs' rebuilding program –- and eventually asked to help end a long World Series drought. That's why the Cubs are looking for talent and character. They know the spotlight will shine on their player, even if their major league team isn’t deserving of it right now.
“One of the things we focus on a ton is the makeup and which guys can handle [reporters] and which guys can handle the pressure,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday on the eve of the draft. “Coming from Boston, we learned pretty quickly that some guys are going to handle that scrutiny and other guys are better served to be in a smaller market.”
Cubs manager Rick Renteria was a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1980 but never had the fanfare that goes with being a top choice today.
“I was actually at school, in class [when drafted],” Renteria said. “You dream about playing professional baseball, and when that opportunity presents itself, it’s a big day.”
And then, immediately, the hype starts -- for any top pick, but especially for the Cubs'. That’s why the combination of talent and maturity is so important. The front office seemingly hit a home run in this regard when they chose third baseman Kris Bryant at No. 2 last June. He has the makeup and the ability. Can they find the same in Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto? Or will one of the top pitchers in the draft fall to them at No. 4? Or will they take another top hitter, high school star Alex Jackson?
As of Wednesday night, there was a lot of intrigue in this year’s draft and the Cubs were still talking about a half dozen names, according to Hoyer. He was asked if he knew how things would go ahead of the Cubs, with the White Sox at No. 3, the Miami Marlins at No. 2 and the Houston Astros at No.1.
“Much less than almost any other year,” Hoyer said of his advance knowledge. “We had a three-hour debate, kind of walking through guys, and we’ll probably have one more lengthy discussion.”
Hoyer admitted that a team's circumstances makes a difference in any draft. The Cubs are in the middle of their rebuilding process, so there’s plenty of need. But soon they hope to turn the corner with a stack of infielders and relievers ready or near major league ready. Outfielders, left-handed bats and starting pitching would fill gaps in the Cubs' system.
“You are taking the best talent,” Hoyer said. “You’re also trying to figure out how the pieces fit together. At some point, you have to think about what you currently have and your timing, to a certain extent.”
The Cubs' timing has infielders such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara nearing the completion of their minor league careers, or at least nearing the final phases. But with Jorge Soler sidelined with injuries and Albert Almora still stuck in Class A, the Cubs are thin in the outfield. And with likely trades of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, they’ll be thin on the mound too. Knowing they still need much to contend, they won’t say no to anyone –- high schooler or collegian. This is about getting another impact player wherever they can find one.
“There’s not enough talent out there to say you stay away from one thing or only go toward another,” Hoyer said. “In general, teams that go too dogmatic make mistakes, and so we try and evaluate the talent and have an open mind on different things.”