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Cubs will need more than just this draft to rebuild

No team knows better than Red Sox whTheo Epstebrings front office..  | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

No team knows better than the Red Sox what Theo Epstein brings to the front office.. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 4, 2012 7:01PM



It doesn’t matter whom the Cubs get with the sixth overall pick in today’s major-league baseball draft. I stopped getting excited about the names after Ty Griffin and Earl Cunningham several GMs ago.

There’s only one pertinent question for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer with regard to their No. 1 pick: How soon will he be good enough to play here? And regardless of what either of them say, I can translate it into a language Cub fans can understand: Not soon enough.

As is painfully evident to anyone paying any attention to the Cubs, they need more help than the No. 6 pick in this or any other draft. It’s pretty bad when we’re anticipating the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft even before the Cubs selected sixth overall on Monday. The best player on the Cubs’ next playoff team might be a year away from being two years away from the big leagues.

They look like a good bet for at least the No. 2 pick in next year’s draft at this point. The Cubs have lost 15 of their last 18 games to fall to 18-35. Only an ill-timed sweep of the San Diego Padres (18-37) — their only three wins in the last three weeks — are keeping them from the worst record in baseball.

The Cubs, though, have a good shot at undertaking the Padres for the bottom spot, because they have an incredible knack for losing games. They’ve allowed three runs or fewer seven times in the last three weeks, but have lost six of the seven games. The Washington Nationals are 13th in the National League in batting average (.241), behind even the Cubs (.247). But when they allow three runs or fewer, they’re 24-8.

It helps to have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft two years in a row, like the Nationals did with pitcher Stephen Strasburg (2009) and outfielder Bryce Harper (2010). The Cubs, for now, will have to do with No. 6.

It’s unlikely they’ll get Strasburg or Harper. Since the Yankees drafted Derek Jeter in 1992, only one No. 6 pick in major-league baseball’s June draft has made the All-Star team — Royals right-handed pitcher Zack Greinke, who was drafted in 2002, reached the big leagues in 2004 and made the American League All-Star team in 2009.

That’s the challenge facing Epstein, Hoyer and the Cubs’ scouting staff in the draft. But you have to like their chances. Epstein made his mark with good draft picks — Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz among them. And he never had a pick higher than No. 17 (his first No. 1 pick, outfielder David Murphy in 2003, who is a regular with the Texas Rangers). If he can find Pedroia with the 65th overall pick, there’s no telling what he can do with No. 6.

Cub fans are anticipating the upgrade. The last time the Cubs had the sixth overall pick, they took Ryan Harvey in 2003. Epstein took Murphy at No. 17. In 2005, the Cubs took pitcher Matt Pawelek with the 20th pick. Epstein took Ellsbury with the 23rd pick.

Epstein’s draft resume has faded in recent years, but for what it’s worth, two of his first-round picks with the Red Sox last year are tearing it up at high-Class A — pitcher Matt Barnes at No. 19 (78 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings, 1.15 ERA) and outfielder Jackie Bradley at No. 40 (.376, 13 steals, 1.066 OPS). The Cubs’ took shortstop Javier Baez at No. 9. He’s hitting .286 with an .855 OPS at Class A Peoria.

Epstein’s on-field moves so far have been unimpressive. The Cubs are paying Carlos Zambrano $15 million this year to help put the Marlins in contention in the NL East, while Chris Volstad is at Class AAA Iowa. And manager Dale Sveum doesn’t have much to work with, but it’s hardly reassuring to see any manager sacrifice bunt with his No. 3 hitter, or play for one run run in the early innings with the wind blowing out at Wrigley in a game that end ups 8-6.

But it’s all about the future on the North Side. The day the Yankees drafted Jeter in 1992, they had only one player who would play on their 1996 World Series team. When Dallas Green took over the Cubs, he turned a rotation of an aging Fergie Jenkins, Doug Bird, Randy Martz and Dickie Noles into Rick Sutcliffe, Dennis Eckersley, Steve Trout and Dick Ruthven in less than two years.

For Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the No. 6 pick in the draft is another small step. They hopefully get much, much bigger from here.



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