Jed Hoyer says pitching will be Cubs’ long-term point of emphasis
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org June 14, 2013 10:20PM
Updated: July 16, 2013 6:36AM
NEW YORK — The Cubs sidestep the Mets’ future during this weekend series in New York.
But did they do the same in search of their own future when they went with college power hitter Kris Bryant instead of power-pitching college right-hander Jonathan Gray at the top of last week’s draft?
It’s a question that might take at least a few years to answer. And that could be the point.
As the Mets unveil top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler on Tuesday in a doubleheader that also features their second-year stud Matt Harvey, the Cubs seem less certain about their competitive timeline than they were even a few months ago.
“I don’t think it affects our timing, but it does mean that pitching will be an emphasis in future drafts and in any kind of trades we might make and in free agency,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday before the Cubs’ 6-3 victory over the Mets at CitiField.
The Cubs selected 19 pitchers among their 40 draft picks, including 11 of the first 15.
But when Stanford right-hander Mark Appel went No. 1 to Houston, the Cubs passed on the clear next-best pitcher at No. 2 to take Bryant, the top power hitter in college.
Appel and Gray have reportedly agreed to terms with Houston and Colorado, respectively.
Bryant is expected to be the final pick the Cubs sign, likely at the July 12 signing deadline.
Hoyer and other top team officials have said that was the player they considered the top available player, even as they considered Gray a top-three talent in the draft.
Hoyer acknowledged the shortage of top pitching prospects in the system but also reiterated what he called the “exceptionally dangerous” practice of drafting for need at the top of the draft.
But in a season that could threaten last year’s 101 losses — and even on a night when struggling free-agent pitcher Edwin Jackson (3-8) showed he could be heating up — there seemed to be risk, too, in passing on a 100-mph arm to add to that 19-pitcher haul last week.
Especially at a time in the game when acquiring top young players is limited by amateur spending restrictions and shrinking pools of available young talent in free agency and trade.
“It is very difficult to find starting pitching, for sure,” Hoyer said. “It’s also very difficult to find power bats.”
As recently as Cubs Convention in January and in spring training in the weeks that followed, team officials talked about 2015 being the season they’d have a legitimate chance to contend.
Since then, the Cubs struggled as $52 million starter Jackson was the lowest-ranked starter in the league until his last two starts, and core players Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo endured extended slumps.
Meanwhile, division-rivals St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have rolled to three of the best records in baseball on the strength of three of the top four pitching staffs in the game, with loads of young arms in the mix.
But Hoyer remains confident in the core of young hitters the Cubs are grooming, as well as the team’s ability to identify and acquire strong pitching, he said.
If nothing else, the choice they made at No. 2 could affect how the front office views pending free agent Matt Garza’s future with the club.
“I wouldn’t say Garza specifically, but it does impact how we think about pitching,” Hoyer said. “That was one way to go out and get a starter. … I feel like we’ve been able to find pitching in different ways.
“Any kind of pitching comes with a risk. … It is a volume game with pitching.”