One sure thing in draft for Cubs: pitching

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs are battling the Chicago White Sox on the field this week, and they’ll do the same in next month’s amateur draft as the two teams pick one after another. The Sox pick ahead of the Cubs, who are readying themselves for the No. 4 overall selection. For a rebuilding team, this is one of the biggest days of the year.

A lot of the drama might unfold on draft day for the teams picking in front of the Cubs -– Houston, Miami and the White Sox. That’s because at the moment there are three pitchers whom most observers believe are clearly at the top of the prospect list. Then it’s a bit of a crapshoot, though pitching is still believed to be the Cubs' first-round priority, as it's a deep draft in that area and a major Cubs need. To help them, the front office is employing a couple of former hurlers to gauge the top guys.

“Kerry [Wood] went down and saw [Tyler] Kolek, who is the big high school right-hander in Texas,” general manager Jed Hoyer said recently. “Was probably like watching himself in the mirror.”

Kolek started his last high school game of his career last Thursday for Shepherd (Texas) High School. His game is power, as reports have him exceeding 100 mph. Cubs scouting director Jason McLeod was in attendance along with plenty of other scouts. McLeod also has seen the other potential top choices over the past couple of weeks: lefties Brady Aiken of Cathedral Catholic High school in San Diego, Carlos Rondon from NC State and righty Jeff Hoffman from East Carolina.

Cubs special assistant Ted Lilly, who watched Aiken throw recently, and Wood will both give their input to the Cubs front office.

“The plan is to have those guys in the draft room,” Hoyer said.

As much as teams look at the complete history of a player, things can still change in the final month.

“For pitchers, it’s critically important because you want them to demonstrate health at the end of the year,” Hoyer said. “One of the things that’s a challenge in the draft is sort of the moment in time.”

Hoffman, for example, is ailing a bit after striking out 16 in a recent game. He’ll miss time for East Carolina, according to reports, which should drop him in the draft, considering it’s only weeks away. There’s no clear-cut pick after the top three, but righty Tyler Beede is a Vanderbilt product who crossed paths with current Cubs minor league pitching coordinator Derek Johnson when he was the pitching coach at Vanderbilt. He was 14-0 last season. Beede could be the Cubs pick at No. 4.

LSU’s Aaron Nola is the other choice the Cubs could go for, as he’s projected to reach the majors the quickest, but Beede’s upside might be better.