CHICAGO -- Hayden Simpson knew the Cubs were interested in him, but the right-hander said it was a "shock" to be selected in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft on Monday. His selection surprised some of the so-called experts, too, but Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken said it's the right choice.
The Cubs took Simpson with the 16th overall pick. He starred at Division II Southern Arkansas, posting a 13-1 record and 1.81 ERA in his junior season. He had six complete games in his 15 starts, and struck out 131 in 99 1/3 innings while walking 35.
Simpson, recommended by area scout Jim Crawford, expected to be taken somewhere between the second and fifth rounds. Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken liked the right-hander's bulldog attitude, especially after watching him strike out 13 in a shutout against Florida Southern in the Southern Regional tournament. Simpson did not walk a batter in that game.
"This guy just made sense," Wilken said Monday. "They can say what they want to, the prognosticators. It was very, very simple, but you had to say, 'Hey, wait a minute, this is almost too good to be true.'"
He's the second pitcher Wilken has tabbed in the first round since joining the Cubs in Dec. 2005. The other was Andrew Cashner, the Cubs' top pick in '08, who is now on the Major League team.
Simpson throws a four-seam fastball up to 97 mph, a circle change, a slider and 12-6 curveball. He says his best pitch is his slider, but scouts like the knee-buckling curve the wiry right-hander has.
And don't think playing in Division II is not as tough as Division I.
"There are a lot of great players in Division II baseball who end up there one way or another," Simpson said. "I've played against Division I players. Division II baseball is very competitive and there are a lot of great players. A lot of Division II players we see are just as talented; they just may not be as big or strong."
Wilken said his scouts all reported that Simpson is a lot stronger than he looks. His pitching style is a cross between Roy Oswalt and Tim Lincecum.
Simpson was a two-sport star at Magnolia (Ark.) High School, starting at quarterback and also pitching. He wasn't sure about college until Southern Arkansas baseball coach Allen Gum came over for a chat. Gum lived in Simpson's neighborhood and talked to the youngster for about two hours. That convinced Simpson to join the Muleriders.
As a freshman, Simpson was 10-0 in 17 appearances at Southern Arkansas. He didn't become a full-time starter until two-thirds of the season was over yet led the team in wins and opponents batting average against. In a seven-game stretch, he won five and struck out 38 while giving up more than two earned runs once.
In three seasons at Southern Arkansas, Simpson was 35-2 with a 2.39 ERA (72 earned runs in 271 innings) in 48 career games. His 323 career strikeouts are a school record, and in 271 career innings translates to 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
"With that record, it shows you his competitiveness, his will to win," Wilken said.
Simpson finished runner-up for the inaugural Tino Martinez NCAA Division II National Player of the Year Award. Erskine (S.C.) outfielder Bryan Fogle took top honors. The pitcher was watching the First-Year Player Draft on his laptop computer, surrounded by family and friends from high school.
"To hear my name called, everyone was in shock and it got real crazy from there," Simpson said.
Wilken said Simpson "needs some polishing," but didn't think it would take long for the right-hander to work his way up through the system.
"He has a very good feel for pitching," Wilken said. "He has a very good feel for pitching and very athletic. I saw someone I thought could be a starter in the Major Leagues."
Last year, the Cubs had the 31st pick overall and selected outfielder Brett Jackson out of the University of California-Berkeley. He signed quickly and played in the Rookie League, for Class A Boise and Class A Peoria. This year's signing deadline is Aug. 16.
Outfielder Tyler Colvin, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2006, and Wilken's first pick with the team, also is on the 25-man roster.
The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft continues Tuesday with rounds 2-30 and concludes Wednesday with rounds 31-50.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.