Cubs complete first night of Draft

The Chicago Cubs tonight made three selections in the opening rounds of the 2012 Major League First-Year Player Draft, including outfielder Albert Almora out of Mater Academy Charter in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., with the sixth overall pick.

In the compensation round, the Cubs selected right-handed pitcher Pierce Johnson out of Missouri State University with the 43rd pick (compensation for Aramis Ramirez) and right-handed pitcher Paul Blackburn out of Heritage High School in Brentwood, Calif., with the 56th pick (compensation for Carlos Peña).

Almora was recommended by area scout John Koronka, Johnson was recommended by area scout Stan Zielinski and Blackburn was recommended by area scout Scott Fairbanks.

Almora, 18, was named by Baseball America as the second-best outfielder available in the draft, and the third-best high school player in the 2012 draft class. In addition, the publication ranked him as the best defensive player and the second-best pure hitter with the third-best strike zone judgment among high school eligible players in the draft.

The six-foot-two, 180-pound Almora batted .603 (44-for-73) with 13 doubles, five triples, six home runs and 34 RBI in 25 games for Mater Academy last season. He recorded a 1.164 slugging percentage and a .667 on-base percentage thanks in part to 14 walks compared to just three strikeouts in 87 plate appearances. Almora, who made the Mater varsity squad as an eighth-grader in 2008, last season stole 24 bases in 25 attempts.

Almora, who bats and throws right-handed, has an extensive resume with Team USA Baseball. In 2011, he was named USA Baseball’s Athlete of the Year after helping the 18-under squad go 9-0 and earn the gold medal in the Pan-Am Games, an event in which he was named tournament MVP. He has been part of six USA national teams, tied for the most by any player with former major league catcher A.J. Hinch, and has earned five gold medals.

Almora committed to the University of Miami. He is the cousin of Baltimore’s 2010 first-round pick (third selection overall) Manny Machado.

Johnson, 21, had a 2.53 ERA (28 ER/99.2 IP) in 14 starts for Missouri State University this past season, recording a single-season school record 119 strikeouts to lead the Missouri Valley Conference, averaging 10.7 strikeouts per 9.0 innings of work. He helped lead the Bears to their first NCAA Regional appearance in nine years, going 2-1 with a 1.36 ERA in his final four starts, and was twice named the conference’s Pitcher of the Week.

The six-foot-three, 180-pound Johnson in 2011 ranked ninth in the conference with 72 strikeouts and recorded 8.6 strikeouts per 9.0 innings of work. Beginning April 5 of that season, he logged a 2.36 ERA and struck out 55 in 53.1 innings to close out the year.

In three seasons with Missouri State University, Johnson has struck out 227 batters in 216.0 innings of work, the fifth-highest career strikeout total in Bears history.

Blackburn, 18, went 8-3 with a 1.27 ERA for Heritage High School in 2012. He struck out 84 batters in 77.1 innings of work, good for an average of 9.8 strikeouts per 9.0 innings pitched, while walking just 17 hitters. In May of this season, he recorded his first career no-hitter, striking out eight and walking two in a 6-0 win over state-ranked Deer Valley of Antioch.

The six-foot-two, 175-pound Blackburn owns a 3.40 high school grade point average, and has committed to Arizona State University.

The 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft continues tomorrow at 11 a.m. CT with rounds two-through-15 and concludes Wednesday with rounds 16-through-40.