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Cubs savoring signings in a banner draft year

Updated: November 3, 2011 9:31AM

HOUSTON — Between a draft deep in talent and an ownership commitment that Tim Wilken said he hasn’t had since he ran the Toronto Blue Jays’ draft 20 years ago, the Cubs just completed their best draft in Wilken’s six years as scouting director.

‘‘I enjoyed a lot of the others,’’ Wilken said, ‘‘but this had a little bit of a euphoric feeling to it in the sense that I thought we were taking quality with almost every pick, the most quality you could get out of that pick.’’

Most important in that process, the Ricketts family backed up its pledged commitment with $12 million to get several tough picks signed, vaulting the Cubs from the bottom third in the majors in draft spending into the top third this year by the time Monday night’s signing deadline passed.

The result is a draft class of signed players that some outside analysts consider among the better classes in baseball and that Wilken said includes four signed players whose talent projected at or near first-round level — but some of whom were available in lower rounds because of perceived signability problems.

Among those was 14th-rounder Dillon Maples, a high school right-hander from North Carolina the Cubs considered the best pitcher they drafted — and perhaps the pick that most illustrates the Cubs’ philosophy this year.

Maples dropped so low in part because he was also a football kicker who seemed intent on going to the University of North Carolina as a two-sport player. When he was still on the board as the Cubs selected in the 14th round, chairman Tom Ricketts — who spent the first two days of the draft in June with Wilken and his staff — personally OK’d the pick and assured the resources to aggressively pursue signing him.

The Cubs paid Maples $2.5 million — second among Cubs picks only to No. 9 overall pick Javier Baez ($2.65 million), the prep shortstop from Jacksonville whose negotiations went into the final minutes Monday night.

‘‘He knew signing him wasn’t going to be real easy,’’ Wilken said. ‘‘[Ricketts] was saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to be aggressive and we’re going to try to sign him at the end.’ We knew most of these guys would take the length of the summer [to sign]. We didn’t know if we could sign them all, but with that little nudge that Tom did give us, it just gave us a lot of confidence in going ahead and taking these guys over guys who might get [to the majors] — role-player-type guys — who we would normally take in those spots in years past. . . .

‘‘It’s something that I’ve not been part of for almost 20 years since the heydays back in Toronto where that was pretty much the norm. It was a pretty special spring and pretty special summer.’’

The Cubs signed 10 of their top 11 picks (missing No. 8) and 20 of their top 22 among the 34 picks signed overall.

That included 11th-rounder Shawon Dunston Jr., another near-first-round-level talent who had a scholarship to Vanderbilt but eventually signed with the Cubs for $1.275 million. The fourth first-round talent in the Cubs’ evaluations was second-round power-hitting prep first baseman Daniel Vogelbach ($1.6 million), who may have gone higher if not for a Prince Fielder-type body and DH projections by some organizations.

In all, the Cubs have substantially ramped up spending on amateurs this year, including about $7 million on international signings.

‘‘I feel proud of what we’ve done for the five years up to now,’’ Wilken said, pointing to the 14 who made it to the majors from those drafts (third-most in MLB). ‘‘I think we’ve done decent so far, and I think we’ve done real [well] in this draft. And I hope it’s a sign of things to come.

‘‘We need to be a winning club every year, and I think this is a good avenue to do that.’’

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