By Paul Sullivan
The Cubs and White Sox both got exactly what they wanted with their first-round picks on Monday.
For the Cubs, it was another strong college hitter in Cincinnati’s Ian Happ, while the Sox chose one of the top college arms in Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer.
The strange part is the Cubs could use a stud pitcher in their system like Fulmer who’s close to being major league ready. Their top pitching prospect is Carl (formerly C.J.) Edwards Jr., who has been converted to a reliever this year and is now at Triple-A Iowa.
Conversely, the Sox could use a quality outfielder like Happ in their system to push for a major league job, with top prospect Courtney Hawkins hitting only .234 in four minor league seasons, including .251 this year at Double-A Birmingham.
Nevertheless, both teams are excited about the futures of their first-rounders, as every other team is on draft day.
The Cubs’ selection of Happ with the ninth pick of the draft continues a trend of selecting hitters over pitchers. It’s worked out well the last 2 years with Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, both college players, while 2012 pick Albert Almora, a high school outfielder, remains a work in progress.
Jason McLeod, senior vice president of scouting and player development, reiterated that when all things are equal, the Cubs philosphy is to go with the hitter over the pitcher.
“They’re the ones that usually pan out the best,” McLeod said. “Talent being equal, probably we’d lean towards the college position player. But we’ve taken the guys the last 3 or 4 years we felt was simply the best player at that pick.
“It just so happens now that 3 years running it’s Bryant and Schwarber and now Ian Happ, and they’ve all been college position players. You go through your process, you trust the evaluations and you trust your process.
“We’re not going to take a player who we feel is a lesser talent or who will provide less of an impact to the organization. We did take the long-term view, and that’s what we did with this selection.”
The Sox are focusing on starting pitching, and have a quality pitcher in Fulmer who has a chance to come up in September and pitch out of the bullpen, even though he’ll be a starter in the long-term. That was the original plan for Carlos Rodon, but the suspensions in April to Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija forced the Sox to put Rodon in the rotation and he’s been their second-best starter since, after Sale.
Fulmer’s mid-90s fastball, power curve and changeup are all plus pitches, and Sox director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann isn’t concerned about an unorthodox delivery.
“You can’t pass on guys that win and guys that are effective and guys that get people out,” Laumann said.
Sale’s delivery is also unorthodox, of course, and Sale may be on his way to becoming the best pitcher in Sox history, as evidenced by his 14-strikeout game on Monday against the Astros.
With Samardzija’s future unknown since he’ll be a free agent after the season, the Sox can probably count on a rotation of Sale, Rodon, Jose Quintana and Fulmer in 2016 and beyond.
Sox fans can get a glimpse of their next potential star in the upcoming College World Series, after Vanderbilt advanced on Monday with a win over Illinois.