Baseball’s First Round Draft huge for Chicago teams | WBEZ
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MLB 2012 First Round Draft huge for Chicago teams

From left: Jason McLeod, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer of the Cubs management team during the MLB draft. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Raise your hand if you watched the Major League Baseball draft?

Four years ago, I happened to be in Orlando, where the MLB draft was taking place. My curiosity drew me to it, but I didn’t have much company. There were about 30 or so fans in the audience and just a handful of reporters. It wasn’t like the NFL or NBA drafts, where the media and fans are familiar with players or have a vested interest in the outcome with their favorite teams. You really have to be either a sports enthusiast or a geek (or maybe both) to spend time at the baseball draft. 

That said, this year’s draft should draw interest from Cubs fans, because this is where the team hopes to turn its fortunes around. And with their ball park in mind, the White Sox look to add future star power to their ranks.

New Cubs brass adjust to new draft rules and take a high school star

Baseball threw the new Cubs regime an early curveball by changing the monetary rules of the draft. Now each team has a salary cap, depending on where they have their picks. This means clubs won’t be using their money for big signing bonuses, or overspending on players. 

Last season, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts gave GM Jim Hendry all the money he needed to sign the team’s draft picks. Now the Cubs can spend $7.9 million on the first ten rounds. The Cubs are upset – and just imagine what the agents are thinking? This will also be the last year foreign players can sign without a limit; there will be a cap implemented next year.

The management team – Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod – was essentially “on the clock” when they made their first selection. They chose Albert Almora, a high school outfielder from Mater Academy Charter in Hialeah Gardens, Florida. He was the sixth player taken overall, and at 6’2” and 180 lbs., Almora is considered a “five-tool” player. He turned heads when he played for Team USA Baseball, winning a gold medal at the Pan-Am games. He bats and throws right and his defensive skills are considered outstanding. 

McLeod, the Cubs Vice President of Scouting and Player Development, said he got the player he wanted. Almora “can come into this market and into this organization and have impact,” McLeod said. Almora is expected to play centerfield for the Cubs. At just 18 years old, he’ll have to shoulder big expectations from a fan base that wants miracles sooner rather than later.

In the supplemental draft in round one, the Cubs took right hand pitcher Pierce Johnson from Missouri State (compensation for losing free agent Aramis Ramirez) and right hand pitcher Paul Blackburn from Heritage High School in California (compensation for Carlos Pena).

For the first time in 11 years, the White Sox grab a high school player for their first choice

The White Sox first pick in the draft was Courtney Hawkins from Carroll High School in Corpus Christi, Tex. The 6’3”, 230 lb. pitcher and outfielder is the first high school player taken by the Sox since 2001 and he has already become a YouTube sensation: He did a back flip on live TV at  draft headquarters.

Hawkins is already familiar with U.S. Cellular Field, having played in the 2011 Double Duty Classic, where he was named co-MVP. He has some big plans for this weekend – winning a state high school championship. The White Sox followed up in the first round-supplemental draft (for Mark Buehrle) with Keon Barnum, a left-hand hitting first baseman and another power hitter, from King High School in Tampa, Florida.

The MLB draft may have changed its presentation, but it’s still a matter of picking players that can have impact for years to come. The White Sox would love to have the same success they had when they drafted Robin Ventura (1988), Jack McDowell (1987), Alex Fernandez (1990) and future Hall of Famer- Frank Thomas (1989) – all number one selections. Chris Sale, the 2010 White Sox number one draft pick, was the AL Pitcher of the Month and is proving to be one of the best left-hand pitchers in the majors.

The MLB draft has 40 rounds, so quantity is not an issue; the ability to perform and get signed are. Plenty of quality players have been taken in later rounds, including Anthony Rizzo going to Boston in the 6th round in 2007. Players who are committed to a college program have to decide if they want to begin their career right now or return to the draft later. 

The deadline to sign draft picks is July 13th.

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