CHICAGO -- In the first two months of this season, the Cubs have shown how much they depend on their farm system.
Because of injuries, the Cubs have had to dip into the Minor Leagues, and in a span of five days, they made 15 roster moves. That included promoting infielder DJ LeMahieu, a second-round Draft pick in 2009, from Double-A Tennessee. Thirteen of the players on the 25-man roster have come up through the Cubs' system.
That's why Monday's 2011 First-Year Player Draft is so important. The Cubs have the ninth pick overall in the first round, and it's time to restock the system.
"You want to take the best player available on the first day," Cubs player development director Oneri Fleita said. "I think that's always the way to go about it.
"The second day, you start augmenting and figure out what holes you need to fill in. Do you need an extra outfielder, another infielder, a catcher, etc., etc. I think we'll go about it like we always do, which is take the best players available the first 10 to 15 rounds, and we'll worry about where they play and what teams they play for after."
Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday at 5 p.m. CT on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following@MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken doesn't like to show his hand. His emphasis is on athletic players. He did surprise the Draft prognosticators last year by picking right-hander Hayden Simpson out of Southern Arkansas. Simpson did not play in the Cubs' organization in 2010, nor did he go to instructional league during the offseason because he was sidelined with mononucleosis.
"I've never had a guy miss an offseason like he did," Fleita said.
Fleita met with Simpson in May to remind him of his goals for 2011: One, finish healthy; and two, establish a routine for next season.
Cubs' recent top picks
Class A Peoria
"The last goal, which is most important, is that he still loves the game," Fleita said. "I think then we're off to a good start."
The Cubs began the 2011 season with three of their No. 1 picks on the Opening Day roster: Andrew Cashner (2008), Tyler Colvin ('06) and Kerry Wood ('95). Cashner won a spot in the rotation and made one start April 5, but has been sidelined since with a strained right rotator cuff. Colvin had a slow start and was demoted to Triple-A Iowa before being called up May 31. Wood re-signed with the team this offseason.
The farm system has helped the Cubs not only survive all the injuries, but also acquire players. In January, they traded Minor League pitcher Chris Archer, catcher Robinson Chirinos, infielder Hak-Ju Lee, outfielder Brandon Guyer and outfielder Sam Fuld to the Rays for Matt Garza and two Minor Leaguers. Archer and Guyer were the Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Year for the organization in 2010.
Here's a glance at what the Cubs have in store as the Draft approaches:
In about 50 words
The 2011 Draft appears to be one of the strongest and deepest pools of talent in a long time. Wilken, who took over as the Cubs' scouting director in December 2005, said he sees a lot of good velocity among the pitchers available. There aren't a lot of middle infielders or left-handed pichers, he said[, but there are some power and speed players available.
The Cubs have developed more depth in the Minor League system since Wilken took over, and proven it. Darwin Barney, a fourth-round pick in 2007, leads all National League rookies in hits and batting average.
"We thought he was a real good baseball player and had enough strength to endure," Wilken said of Barney. "He came from a winning program [at Oregon State]. He's got that insatiable drive to be a winner."
It depends on who you read. The Cubs have been linked to outfielder Bubba Starling of Gardner-Edgerton High School (Gardner, Kan.), right-hander Matt Barnes of UConn, right-hander Archie Bradley of Broken Arrow, Okla., and outfielder George Springer of UConn.
"There are eight people in front of us," Wilken said of the teams who select ahead of the Cubs. "We have to see what they do."
The Cubs do seem well-stocked with middle infielders and outfielders, so it would make sense for them to look for help at the corners and add more pitching. They could use help with a middle-of-the-order type of bat and a top rotation starter. Wilken also likes to pick what he calls "late bloomers," which would be players who might be converted to another position. "Early on, you look for an organizational changing type of player," Wilken said. "Once that's filtered out, if everything's equal, you look for that balance." He also noted there was some decent catching prospects projected for after the fourth round.
Eight of the Cubs' first 12 picks last year were pitchers. In 2008, seven of the first 10 were. In '09, only four. What Wilken likes to do is look for depth and balance in the Draft. You never know who will surface. For example, highly touted pitching prospect Trey McNutt was a 32nd-round pick in '09. "The Draft is not over until the 50th pick for Tim Wilken," Fleita said. "I think that's been a great dynamic and great strength that he's given the staff."
Recent Draft History Rising fast
It's only a matter of time before Brett Jackson arrives. The outfielder's season was slowed by a finger injury suffered during a steal attempt. He was batting .295 before he was hurt, and rejoined Double-A Tennessee this week. How close is Jackson? "You have to look at what he can do when he comes up here," Fleita said. "The beauty right now of Brett Jackson is he has a good eye, takes his walks, he's going to throw to the right bases and he has a good foundation that allows him to have success. He's playing good baseball and if the opportunities come, why not?"
Tony Campana was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of 6. He underwent surgery to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor in his chest and had to endure six months of chemotherapy. He was cancer-free at 17. At the age of 24, he was called up to the Major Leagues. It was perfect timing as Campana joined the Cubs when they were playing in Cincinnati, not far from his hometown of Springboro, Ohio. A 13th-round pick in 2008 out of the University of Cincinnati, Campana is 5-foot 8-inches of hustle. He now gives the Cubs an element of speed that has been missing.
"When I was in high school, all the coaches I talked to said, 'You're a little too small to play college ball,'" Campana said. "Once I got to [University of] Cincinnati, they were like, 'Well, he's a little too small to play pro ball.' I got drafted after my senior year and then it was, 'Well, he's fast. Let's see what else happens.'"
"'Campy' can run," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "He plays great defense. He'll slap it around and help us win a ballgame late. He can do things that we haven't had available."
In The Show
Cashner, the No. 1 pick in 2008, and Colvin, the top selection in 2006, were both on the 2011 Opening Day roster, as was 1995 No. 1 pick Wood. Cashner made his Major League debut May 31, 2010, and was used in relief, but won a spot in the rotation this year. However, he made one start, April 5, and has been sidelined since with a strained right rotator cuff. Colvin hit 20 homers last season, but scuffled at the start of this year. He was sent down to Triple-A Iowa for 12 games and recalled when Alfonso Soriano was put on the disabled list Tuesday. Lou Montanez, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in the 2000 Draft as an infielder, rejoined the team this spring and was called up May 24.