Power play: Could Cubs go outside the box to draft injured LHP Brady Aiken?

SHARE Power play: Could Cubs go outside the box to draft injured LHP Brady Aiken?

What if the Cubs could steal another elite top-of-the-draft talent in the strange and scrambled amateur draft less than two weeks away?

What’s something like that worth?

Just take a look at the late innings of the Cubs’ 3-2 victory over the National League-favorite Washington Nationals Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

Rookie second baseman Addison Russell, an 11th overall pick in 2012, won the game with two out in the bottom of ninth with his third hit of the night – just out of the reach of center fielder Denard Span in right-center to drive home Jonathan Herrera from second.

The winner came one inning after Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, tied it for the Cubs with a mammoth homer that hit the left-field video board – the first ball to hit the board in a game.

That came an inning after the Nats’ Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, hit his own tying homer in the top of the seventh (Span, another former first-rounder, putting the Nats ahead with a homer in the eighth).

Talk about the power of impact players from the top of the draft.

“Did it hit the board? I thought it was over the board,” manager Joe Maddon said of Bryant’s blast – his second homer in as many nights and seventh in 17 days. “It was really pummeled. Kind of got everybody stirring a little bit.”

Both the Cubs and Nationals have arrived at this intriguing intersection of young, competitive talent this week by similar paths – on the strength of impact-looking draft picks and occasional big free agents.

“They’re like us in 2011,” Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said of an 80-win team that broke into the playoffs two of the following three seasons.

It’s with visions of games like Tuesday’s and contending runs like the Nationals’ that the Cubs open their annual draft meetings Monday, just ahead of the June 8 draft.

They draft ninth overall – their fifth consecutive year of single-digit overall picks – in a class of talent hit hard by injuries to top prospects, turning this into what Cubs’ player development boss Jason McLeod calls “a weird year” for a draft not as deep in talent as recent years.

Could that open the door for an outside-the-box pick that might give the Cubs a chance at a No. 1-overall-quality talent?

At least one of those is out there: high school left-hander Brady Aiken, the No. 1 overall pick from a year ago, who failed his physical with the Houston Astros, went unsigned, then eventually had Tommy John surgery two months ago.

Worth the risk? Especially for a pitching-short organization?

“A kid of his talent certainly is going to be discussed,” McLeod said. “He’ll be someone that we talk about quite a bit.”

The Cubs’ fourth-year front office has not shied away from Tommy John guys during this organizational overhaul (closer Hector Rondon was a Rule 5 pick who was available in part because he’d had the surgery).

But industry insiders say nobody in MLB has seen any new medical evaluations of Aiken, who threw 100 mph before the surgery. And until teams know what they’re dealing with medically, it’s a daunting risk to take.

Draft analysts have predicted Aiken as a low first-round pick in recent mock drafts.

For now, McLeod said the Cubs have a working list of about four prospects they expect to be available at their No. 9 slot.

He wouldn’t say who’s on that list, but sources link the Cubs to SEC player of the year Andrew Benintendi, a sophomore outfielder from the University of Arkansas, and at least three other non-pitchers:

North Florida outfielder Donnie Dewees and a pair of college shortstops in Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson and LSU’s

Alex Bregman.

But for the chance to strike big with a potentially elite arm?

At the very least the Cubs are keeping options open to go away from their four consecutive years of drafting bats at the top.

“If there’s a hitter that’s available that makes sense we may well do that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “At the same time, we’ve scouted both heavily, and if the draft follows in a way that leads us to a pitcher we’ll do that.”

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