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The MLB Rule 4 Draft (AKA "First-Year Player Draft") starts in about a half hour (2 PM ET, with the 1st round to be televised on ESPN2), and the latest prediction from Jim Callis at Baseball America is Vanderbilt LHP David Price to TB at #1, Chatsworth (CA) HS 3B Mike Moustakas to KC at #2, and Cypress (CA) HS 3B Josh Vitters to the Cubs at #3. As late as last night, Callis had Price going to TB at #1, Vitters going to KC at #2, and Norwell (IN) RHP Jarrod Parker going to the Cubs at #3. But the Cubs apparently prefer Vitters over Parker, and are poised to select the California third-sacker if the Royals do indeed take Moustakas with their #2 overall selection. AZ PHIL UPDATE #1: And as predicted by Jim Callis at BA, Josh Vitters indeed is the Cubs #1 pick. Vitters bats and throws right-handed, is 17 years old (he'll turn 18 in August), and checks in at 6'3 195. In BA's scouting report on Vitters, they describe him as having outstanding bat-speed and hand-eye coordination, allowing him to make consistent contact. He hits the ball hard to all fields and adjusts well to off-speed pitches. His main shortcoming at this point (so far) is an apparent lack of aptitude at 3B, but he does have a "third-baseman's arm," so it has been suggested that he could be moved to RF at some point if he is unable to improve his play at the hot corner. He also has average speed for a corner IF-OF and middle-of-the-order run producer. Presuming they are able to sign Vitters, he will probably be assigned to AZL Mesa. The Cubs would not have to add Vitters to their 40-man roster until after the 2011 season, and if that were to happen, he would not be out of minor league options until Spring Training 2015, after Ramirez, D-Lee, and Soriano's contracts have expired. So Vitters is probably a "next generation" Cubs prospect. The next Cubs selection will be pick #48, a so-called "sandwich pick" (so-named because these picks are "sandwiched" between the 1st and 2nd rounds), which the Cubs received as compensation for losing Type "B" FA OF Juan Pierre to the Dodgers after last season. After making a selection at the #48 slot, the Cubs will not have another selection until the 3rd pick in the third round (#97). That's because their second round pick (#67) goes to the Washington Nationals as compensation for the Cubs signing FA OF Alfonso Soriano last November. AZ PHIL UPDATE #2: With the #48 pick (compensation for losing FA OF Juan Pierre to the Dodgers), the Cubs selected right-handed hitting (6'1 202) catcher Josh Donaldson out of Auburn University. A multi-sport (baseball/football/basketball) star in HS in Mobile, AL, Donaldson played 3B as a freshman at Auburn, and was moved to catcher in his sophomore season. So he has been catching for only two seasons, and is considered a "work in progress" defensively. He hit .302 with 15 XBH in the wood-bat Cape Cod League last Summer (where he was selected to the Cape Cod League All-Star team), and was a power-hitting run producer for Auburn this past season, hitting 349/444/591, with 11 HR and 54 RBI, and 19 doubles. He also had 17 SB (3 CS) and 38/27 BB/K. He was in the Tigers lineup primarily for his powerful bat, not for his defense. According to BA, Donaldson is an "aggressive hitter" who murders fast balls, but has some trouble with breaking balls (which sounds suspiciously like Jake Fox to me, and the Cubs already have one of those). He has an average arm, but was hampered this past season with a thumb injury. If the Cubs are able to sign him, look for Donaldson to be assigned to Boise. The Cubs don't have a second round pick (that one goes to the Washington Nationals as compensation for the Cubs signing FA OF Alfonso Soriano last off-season), so their next pick will be the #3 pick in the third round (#97 overall). AZ PHIL UPDATE #3: And with their third selection in today's Rule 4 Draft (3rd pick in the 3rd round - #97 overall), the Cubs selected right-handed hitting Florida State second-baseman and 2007 ACC Player of the Year Tony Thomas. Thomas (5'10 180) led all of NCAA Div 1 in hits and doubles, was second in OBP, and 3rd in Avg in 2007, and had as many walks as strikeouts. According to BA, Thomas is a below-average defender with a below-average arm at 2nd base, with just average speed. A right-handed version of Mike Fontenot, perhaps? Thomas also was a member of the National Honor Socieity while in high school. If the Cubs are able to sign Thomas, he will (like Donaldson) probably be assigned to Boise, although as an advanced and highly successful college hitter (obviously one of the best in Division 1 in '07), and with no real 2B prospect presently at Peoria, Daytona, or Tennessee, Thomas could conceivably be assigned to a higher level at the outset, quite possibly Peoria. AZ PHIL UPDATE #4: With their 4th round selection (#127 overall), the Cubs selected Oregon State shortstop Darwin Barney. A 5'10 175 right-handed hitter, Barney was a member of the 2006 CWS champion Beavers, as well as Team USA. He hit 296/370/432 in 2007, with 4 HR and 48 RBI, a team-leading 18 doubles, 30/29 BB/K, and 12 SB (3 CS) in '07. As with Thomas, Barney could start his pro career at Peoria, since Dylan Johnston has struggled there and could be a candidate for demotion to Boise. AZ PHIL UPDATE #5: With their 5th round selection (#157 overall pick), the Cubs selected University of Virginia OF Brandon Guyer. A right-handed hitting and throwing 6'1 210 junior, Guyer hit 370/440/559 this season, and led the Cavaliers in HR (8) and doubles (19). He also had 18 SB (with only 1 CS) with 19/27 BB/K. If the Cubs do in fact sign him, I would think Guyer will likely start his pro career at Boise. To summarize... The Cubs selected five players over the first five rounds of the 2007 Rule 4 Draft: 1. Josh Vitters, 3B - Cypress (CA) HS 2. Josh Donaldson, C (Auburn) 3. Tony Thomas, 2B (Florida State) 4. Darwin Barney, SS (Oregon State) 5. Brandon Guyer, OF (Virginia) The draft will continue tomorrow. And for lots more interesting Cubs draft talk and info, check out our buddies at Road to Wrigley.
Extended Spring Training (EXST) came to an end today, as the EXST Cubs (Boise/Mesa) played an intrasquad game at Mesa's Fitch Park Field #3 this morning.
Luis Aparicio. Dave Concepcion. Manny Trillo. Ozzie Guillen. Magglio Ordonez. Bobby Abreu. Omar Vizquel. Carlos Zambrano. Miguel Cabrera. Ramon Hernandez. Johan Santana. Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez. Victor Martinez. Melvin Mora. Felix Hernandez. Jose Lopez.   Just a few of the many past and present MLB stars from Venezuela. On Opening Day 2007, there were 51 players from Venezuela on MLB 25-man rosters, with many more Venezuelans playing in the minor leagues.  Since 1999, the number of Venezuelans playing in MLB has doubled.  Last July, the Cubs gave 16-year old Venezuelan RHP Larry Suarez (currently at EXST at Fitch Park) a reported $850K signing bonus (an amount equivalent to "2nd round money").
The EXST Cubs (Boise/Mesa) rallied with four runs in the bottom of the 8th to defeat the EXST Angels 6-4 at Mesa's Fitch Park Field #3 this morning, in a game that featured the second rehab start for RHP Juan Mateo. Mateo, who has been on the Cubs 15-day DL with a sore shoulder since ST, increased his innings to three and his pitch count to 40+, as he threw 41 pitches (29 strikes, 4/2 GB/FB), with his fastball topping out at 92 MPH. He allowed three hits (one HR) and one run, but no walks, with three strikeouts, in his three innings of work. As long as he does not having any significant negative physical symptoms in the aftermath of today's game, Mateo looks fit and ready to leave Mesa and continue his rehab (gradually increasing his pitch count) at Daytona or Tennessee, with a return to the Iowa starting rotation probably by no later than mid-June, possibly even earlier.
The EXST Giants defeated the EXST Cubs (Boise/Mesa) 6-1 this morning at Fitch Park Field #2 in Mesa, a game that featured the first game appearance for RHP Juan Mateo.
Many of us here at TCR have been trying to understand the rationale behind Lou Piniella's recent "brainstorm" where Ryan Dempster was (apparently) supposed to move from closer to the starting rotation, with Angel Guzman moving from #5 starter to closer.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article here about players selected by the Cubs in last June's Rule 4 draft who did not sign at the time, but who will be eligible to be signed up until ten days prior to the '07 June Draft, as long as their team is not involved in NCAA, NAIA, or NCJAA post-season play as of May 28th. These players can be signed under the "Draft+ Follow" rule, and this is the last year for the D+F. (Starting with the 2007 draft, any player not signed by August 15th cannot be signed and goes back into the draft the following June). Well, the Cubs have signed two "Draft+Follow" players they had selected in last June's draft, and they are two of my top four: 3B Jovan Rosa (Lake City CC) and RHP Jordan Latham (College of Southern Idaho).
David Price? Matt Wieters? Josh Vitters? Max Scherzer, maybe? The Rule 4 Draft (AKA "June Draft", or "First-Year Player Draft") is just about a month away (June 7-8), and the Cubs are preparing their list, and checking it twice. Thanks to their lousy 2006 season, the Cubs will have the 3rd overall pick in the draft, as well as the #48 overall pick as compensation for losing Type "B" FA Juan Pierre to the Dodgers. However, in addition to players selected in the draft, the Cubs will be able to sign more players...
Tonight's game between the Cubs and Cardinals has been canceled due to the tragic death of STL RHP Josh Hancock in a traffic accident in St. Louis early this morning. He just turned 29 a couple of weeks ago, and worked three innings in yesterday's 8-1 Cubs victory. Hancock was reportedly traveling westbound on I-64 west of Compton Avenue at about 12:30 AM when his Ford Explorer SUV plowed into a tow truck parked on the side of the road. Hancock was pronounced dead at the scene. The tow truck driver told police he was assisting a stranded motorist, and was seated in his parked truck in the far left lane of the highway with the wrecker's emergency lights activated. He said he saw the SUV coming up behind him, but it did not slow down before slamming into his vehicle. The tow truck driver was not injured. Hancock played college ball at Auburn, and was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 5th round of the 1998 June draft, making his MLB debut with BOS in 2002. The Red Sox traded him to the Phillies for 3B Jeremy Giambi during the MLB Winter Meetings in December 2002, and then Josh was dealt to CIN in a trade deadline deal where RHP Todd Jones went from CIN to PHI on July 30, 2004. Hancock started nine games for the Reds over the last two months (August-September) of '04, but spent most of the 2005 season on the 60-day DL (groin). Hancock was released by the Reds in February 2006 when he reported to Spring Training overweight and out of shape, but was subsequently signed by the Cardinals as a FA, becoming an important cog in the Redbirds '06 World Series Champion bullpen (3-3 with a 4.09 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 62 games). Our prayers are with Josh's family and friends.
With Angel Guzman scheduled to get the start next Tuesday at Pittsburgh, but with a 5th starter not needed again until May 12th at Philadelphia, here is what the Cubs should do to give themselves a little bit of an edge, although they probably won't:

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