ATLANTA — The Cubs say they’ve been hard at work narrowing their candidates for the No. 4 overall pick in the draft June 5-7.
Unfortunately for them, so have the college-baseball gods.
The Cubs appeared to be strongly considering taking a pitcher with their first-round pick for the first time in three drafts under Theo Epstein’s watch.
But insiders suggest recent injuries to some of the potentially available pitchers high on their list might lead to the historically better risk-reward selection of a hitter.
That could put Florida high school shortstop Nick Gordon and San Diego high school outfielder/catcher Alex Jackson in play.
In just the last week, it was announced that two of the three pitchers the Cubs projected to be among those who might available at No. 4 — East Carolina’s Jeff Hoffman and UNLV’s Erick Fedde — would undergo Tommy John surgery because of elbow injuries.
“Certainly, it’s sad to see that,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said of Hoffman, who had his best outing with Cubs officials, including Epstein and Hoyer, in attendance. “He’s obviously a kid that worked hard going into this draft year.”
From a baseball standpoint, it could be especially sad for a Cubs front office plotting a strategy for replacing emerging ace Jeff Samardzija long term once he is traded this summer.
Next month’s draft might have been one of the best available, and cost-effective, options.
Even before Fedde’s surgery was announced, Baseball America had the Cubs selecting Texas Christian left-hander Brandon Finnegan at No. 4. Finnegan remains on their radar for that pick despite shoulder inflammation that sidelined him for two weeks until a strong return Friday.
He might have to back up that effort with especially strong performances in his final two or three starts for the Cubs to pick him that high.
Most expect the teams ahead of the Cubs to nab the consensus top three pitchers left in the draft: NC State’s Carlos Rodon and high school prospects Tyler Kolek and Brady Aiken.
If any of the three fall to the Cubs, it could make No. 4 an easier pick.
Otherwise, the recent injuries could create a “scramble” by draft day for the Cubs and two or three teams behind them, said one major league player-development source.
Hoyer said the best-available-player approach is the front office’s policy regardless.
“In the [NFL] draft, you get to plug in a guy at defensive end, and you get to draft a quarterback if you need a quarterback,” he said. “We can’t really do that in our game.
“That doesn’t mean you don’t have certain things you look for, certain fits. But when you start drafting for need in baseball, given the fact that players aren’t going to be here for a few years, you can make a lot of mistakes.”