Press Box 815: 2014 MLB draft preview: Could a left-hander go No. 1 overall?

Carlos Rondon
Carlos Rondon

By Chris Luttig
Sports Columnist

The 2014 Major League Baseball draft Thursday, June 5, is only a couple weeks away for the Chicago White Sox and Cubs, who are on the board selecting third and fourth, respectively.

As both teams are in a rebuilding phase, the MLB draft is the quickest way to build a contender for years to come. Both teams feature high-end hitting prospects in their farm systems and should be looking to add power arms from the college ranks that can reach the big leagues quickly.

In the modern baseball draft, only two left-handed pitchers have ever been selected with the No. 1 overall pick. In 1973, The Texas Rangers selected David Clyde out of high school, and he went straight to the big leagues, winning his first major league start. And not since Brien Taylor in 1991 by the New York Yankees has another left-handed pitcher earned the honor of being the No. 1 pick.

This could be the year a left-handed pitcher is selected with the No. 1 overall pick, since Carlos Rondon (LHP) of North Carolina State and his 98 mph heat were the consensus No. 1 prospect after dominating D-1 and international competition with Team USA heading into the 2014 season.

Rondon, however, hasn’t performed up to lofty expectations this season, getting hit more often than scouts like and not showing the top-end velocity that intrigued most teams. He has started to reclaim his previous form as of late, and looks to be one of the first three players off the board.

If Rondon falls to the Cubs with the fourth overall pick, considering the White Sox are loaded with lefties, you should expect Theo Epstein to pull the trigger quickly. Epstein was reported to be watching Rondon in person in April.

University of Evansville’s Kyle Freeland (LHP) has skyrocketed to the top of many draft boards since his coming out party in last summer’s prestigious Cape Cod League. Freeland could lock down the top spot — at 10-1 with a 1.62 ERA, Freeland brings the eye-popping stat of 13.55 K/BB ratio and a 95 mph fastball from the left side and carries the velocity deep into games.

In recent draft history, the Chicago White Sox’s Chris Sale led top draft picks with a 10.4 K/BB ratio. Even as dominant as Stephen Strasburg’s run was to the 2009 No. 1 overall pick, he only amassed a 10.3 K/BB ratio.

Jeff Hoffman (RHP) of East Carolina also opened the scouting community’s eyes in the Cape last summer with a fastball sitting in the 93-96 mph range and a lights-out slider that jumps at 83-84 mph range.

Hoffman is a bit of a wild card with a big upside who went undrafted out of high school, followed with two unnoticeable seasons in college. A strong summer and good showings recently, combined with a tall, lanky frame and lack of wear and tear, and room to fill out, project Hoffman as one of the top two right-handed arms in college. Hoffman recently underwent Tommy John surgery, but is still considered a first-round pick.

Tyler Beede (RHP) of Vanderbilt University will be looking to cash in on his decision to pass up a $2 million signing bonus from the Toronto Blue Jays with the 21st overall pick in 2011. Beede brings a loose mid-90s fastball and a jaw-dropping change-up with improved command to go with a tall, lanky frame that has room to grow. Coupled with a 14-0 sophomore campaign for Vandy in 2013 and coming on strong despite a lack of run support and defense this season, Beede will increase that signing bonus, as he is projected to go between the third and seventh pick.

Beede has been on the White Sox radar since last season. Should he fall past the White Sox, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs passing on a Vanderbilt pitcher who was recruited by current minor league pitching coordinator Derek Johnson while he was still the associate head coach for the Commodores.

A potential sleeper pick at No. 3 or No. 4 is former Downers Grove South and current Louisville closer Nick Burdi. Burdi is probably the closest player in the draft to the major league as a bullpen arm right away and promise of being a big league closer.

Burdi has used his 100-plus mph fastball to average 15.67 Ks per nine innings this season and a 0.58 ERA. Neither the Cubs nor White Sox has an entrenched closer on its major league roster, and Burdi could bring some local excitement to the ballpark, as well as an electric arm.

Depending on how the first two picks go, we could see Tyler Kolek, (RHP) Shepard, Texas, and his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame that reminds some of Roger Clemens and his 102-mph heat that could easily light up the eyes of the Chicago White Sox front office.

Kolek is a big-bodied arm that could gain strength — and, possibly, velocity. He has the highest ceiling of any prospect in this year’s draft, as well as the highest clocked amateur fastball since Strasburg.

If the Houston Astros choose to go with Rondon or the local Texas phenom, that opens the door for Brady Aiken, (LHP) San Diego, Calif., who touches 97 mph and has possibly the most refined three-pitch arsenal in the draft. Aiken is committed to the defending national champion UCLA Bruins, but the temptation of being a top-five draft pick will be too much for Aiken to pass up. If he is available at 3 or 4 and Rondon and Kolek are off the board, he would seem to be the surefire pick for a rebuilding team like the Cubs or White Sox. Neither team could afford to pass up such a high-ceiling left-handed arm in this position.

With four weeks to go until the draft, anything can happen. A couple top 10 prospects had a rough weekend, or they, too, could easily have been on this list — and still can be.

Don’t count out Aaron Nola (RHP), LSU, who carries a 1.43 ERA with a low-90s fastball and pinpoint control.

TCU’s Brandon Finnegan (LHP) recently got back on the mound, and with a couple of strong outings in the conference tournament and a clean bill of health, would make him a front-runner. Finnegan brings a triple-digit fastball from the left side with a hard slider. Concerns about his size make some question his ability to be a starter as he goes forward. With his electric stuff and coming with his arm angle from the left side, he reminds me of Billy Wagner.

Every year, the Wisconsin and Illinois area seemingly produce MLB draft picks. The top names to be on the lookout for are Providence New Lenox’s Jake Godfrey (RHP), an LSU signee and top-100 prospect with a 94 mph fastball.

A couple area high school outfielders will be drawing a lot of interest come draft day. Jeren Kendall (CF), Holmen, Wis., and Vanderbilt signee, brings a combination of speed (6.49 60-yard dash) and 93 mph outfield arm to go with a short, compact line-drive swing with a go get ’em glove.

Darius Day (CF-LHP), Chicago, and an Arizona signee, is very similar in size and speed to Kendall, but throws from the left side. Day is an athletic outfielder who is one of the draft’s fastest athletes, posting a 6.52 60-yard dash time and recording throws at 94 mph from the outfield.

Evan Skoug (C) of Libertyville, Ill., and a TCU signee, is widely considered one of the best left-handed high school bats in the Midwest.

Twitter: @pressbox815

Posted May 21, 2014

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