The MLB draft starts tonight at 6 pm CT. As all the mocks and rumors are being tied up, something of a consensus has been reached about the Cubs’ intentions with the fourth overall pick. The conventional wisdom runs something like this:
- High school lefty Brady Aiken won’t be available. The Astros are once again being frustratingly vague about their intentions, as they attempt to drive down the price at #1 overall. In fairness to them, it seems to have worked for the past two seasons, which is likely small consolation if you are an Astros fan staring longingly at Byron Buxton and Kris Bryant. I digress. Even if the Astros pass on Aiken, no one seems to think he will get past the White Sox.
- NC State lefty Carlos Rodon might be available. The Marlins at #2 seem to be interested, for reasons among which his Cuban ethnicity looms large, strangely enough. If he falls to the Cubs, most think they will take him.
- If both players are gone, the consensus seems to be that the Cubs will select one of: Nick Gordon, Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, Max Pentecost, and Aaron Nola. The more I read about Gordon, I get the impression that he’s the Albert Almora of infielders. He’s got the best makeup in the class, according to BA. He’s gritty. His defensive tools might not be great, but he’s surprisingly effective. These are not direct quotes, but the gist is clear. Also, they sound nearly identical to what we heard about Almora in 2012. The bottom line is that I think it would be silly to rule out Gordon.
For this exercise, though, I want to look at the three college bats that have been prominently mentioned: Conforto, Schwarber, and Pentecost. They are all college juniors, and have a body of work that lends itself to comparison. First, the measurables.
Conforto and Pentecost check in a notch higher in the rankings than Schwarber. Conforto played in a premier conference, and is a Golden Spikes finalist. Pentecost played against lesser competition, but led Kennesaw State to considerable heights this season. He has an athletic build and could stick at catcher. Schwarber checks in at a Vogelbachian 6’0″, 240 lbs. Most scouts seem to think he will end up as a first baseman. So why are all the late breaking rumors pointing to Schwarber as the pick? Let’s take a look at the stats, and throw last year’s pick Kris Bryant into the mix.
College Hitter Stats
Now it makes a little more sense, doesn’t it? I’m using combined stats over their college tenures, as is my preference. This hurts Pentecost the most; he really broke out this season. None of the picks comes close to matching Kris Bryant’s power, but Schwarber rates as next-best. In addition, Schwarber is probably the best in terms of plate approach. He has struck out the least and walked at a similar rate to Conforto and Bryant. Also, Pentecost apparently runs like The Holy Spirit, and Schwarber’s SB% is surprisingly high.
The big issue in comparing college stats is measuring the level of competition. At best, I can only give a rough approximation, with an assist from Boyd Nation. (That’s a real name, not some internet-era personality cult focused on a basic-cable villain.) First, conference strength.
The Pac12 is a definitely a notch above, but the Big Ten has been much improved over the last several years thanks in no small part to Schwarber’s Indiana squad. Perhaps more important is team strength of schedule.
I had to estimate 2014 numbers, since Nation doesn’t publish his rankings until the end of the season. This helps to put Bryant’s performance into context. Indiana and Kennesaw State come out a notch below. In fairness to Indiana, I know that B1G teams play most of their games on the road early in the season for weather reasons. It’s easy to imagine that making a northern team’s schedule more difficult than it looks on paper.
Perhaps the most important contextual consideration is park factor, and unfortunately I don’t have very good numbers. Nation published 3-yr park factors from 2008-2011 here:
|’08-11 Park Factors|
Indiana seems to have started playing in a new stadium in March 2013, and I have no insight into its properties. The main takeaway from these is that Conforto probably played in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks of any major-conference team. This goes along with what I have heard elsewhere.
My guess is that when the Cubs run the numbers through their equivalency calculators, Schwarber’s performance comes out looking similar to Conforto’s and a step above Pentecost’s. And since seemingly everyone in the Cubs’ system strikes out all the time, perhaps they favor Schwarber. As such, I will not be at all surprised if they select him tonight, despite him being not as well thought of by the experts. This also corresponds with Jed Hoyer’s comments about wishing teams had the flexibility to trade picks (i.e. he wants to trade down).