Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken said they did take more high school players than in the past and did so with Cubs chairman Tom Rickett's endorsement. Ricketts was in Mesa, Ariz., at the team's Draft headquarters Monday and Tuesday.
"Tom came out and told us we'll be more active on the amateur side," Wilken said Wednesday. "When you feel you have a shot to sign players, it changes the strategy in how you pick. It was like Christmas Day for scouts."
What Ricketts' message meant was that Wilken and his scouts were able to select high school players that might not have been signable in the past. In Wilken's five years with the Cubs, they have ranked 24th among Major League teams in bonus spending on the amateur side.
The Cubs tabbed high school shortstop Javier Baez with their first pick, ninth overall. Baez's .771 average at Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville, Fla., is pretty dazzling. Wilken looked beyond the stats.
"You have to go on skills," he said.
Baez, a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, played a couple games in Puerto Rico and against Francisco Lindnor, a shortstop who was selected eighth overall by the Indians on Monday. Wilken saw Baez in some showcase games and said he could switch to third base. A home run the right-handed hitter launched in a recent Florida All-Star Game is still talked about.
"That was a 'wow,'" Wilken said. "The kids in the dugout started laughing because they couldn't believe how far it went."
Speaking of power, the Cubs' second-round pick, Daniel Vogelbach, definitely has some. Some of his home runs can be found on YouTube, and he apparently launched one 508 feet at a showcase. Wilken also said not to be fooled by Vogelbach's physique. He was 288 pounds last summer and was listed on the Draft stats at 250 pounds, but he's lost more weight and is in shape.
As for Gretzky, son of the Great One and actress Janet Jones, Wilken said his scouts had heard talk from people who said not to bother with the high schooler. Wilken saw the first baseman play in a showcase last fall and was impressed, and Trevor also worked out for the Cubs in Mesa on Saturday. Cubs scout Tim Kissner developed a good relationship with the Gretzkys.
"People would say, 'Hey, it's the Great One's and the movie star's son and you're wasting time trying to sign him,'" Wilken said. "We believe we have a chance."
Dunston's son, who played at Valley Christian High School in California, has a chance to be a true center fielder. Wilken said Ricketts gave him full support on selecting Shawon Jr.
There was another interesting selection taken on Wednesday. Left-handed pitcher Sheldon McDonald attended Northeastern in Boston for two seasons before transferring to University of British Columbia. He has played for Team Canada, throwing a no-hitter in last summer's Grand Forks Tournament. This season, the lefty was 7-2 in 11 games (eight starts) with a 1.46 ERA and struck out 55 in 55 2/3 innings. The Cubs picked him in the 33rd round.
You never know. Cubs pitcher Randy Wells was a 38th-round selection in 2002.