2014 MLB Draft: Round 2 wrap – Blue Jays, Brewers take aim at falling stars

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There weren’t any huge stunners left on the board after the first round of Thursday night’s draft, though Baseball America’s 19th, 20th and 21st ranked players remained up for grabs, largely because of bonus demands. Those three players ended up going 49th, 50th and 41st, respectively.

The latter two there actually went to the same team, the Milwaukee Brewers, who also went with a high-risk, high-reward guy in round one: Hawaiian high school left-hander Kodi Medeiros. With their competitive balance pick after round one, the 41st overall selection, they grabbed high school shortstop Jacob Gatewood,  a 6’5″ shortstop with terrific power potential. His size suggests a move to third may eventually be necessary, especially if he fills out and becomes the 30-homer guy scouts are projecting.

Gatewood was the No. 21 player on the BA board. No. 20 was center fielder Monte Harrison, who was taken by the Brewers 50th overall. Considered one of the very best athletes in the draft, he has the option of going to Nebraska to play wide receiver. It’d seem to be an even more likely route now that he slipped in the draft. However, if the Brewers can land both he and Gatewood, they’ll look like the big winners of day one here. Even if they sign just one of the two, they will still have done pretty well for themselves.

No. 19 on Baseball America’s list was right-hander Sean Reid-Foley, and the Blue Jays made him the 49th overall pick. He’ll be a tough sign, but the Blue Jays are in position to accommodate him since they should be able to land ninth overall pick Jeff Hoffman for a reduced bonus after he underwent Tommy John surgery. They also might be able to skim a little bit off 11th overall pick Max Pentecost’s bonus. If it works out, they’ll have come away with three of draft’s top 25 talents.

– The Astros opened Round 2 by taking the University of Kentucky’s A.J. Reed, who hit .336/.476/.735 with 23 homers and 73 RBI as a first baseman this year and went 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA as the team’s ace starter. Unfortunately, while no one thinks he projects as a star as a hitter or a pitcher, he’s also too talented to go the Brooks Kieschnick route and try to make the majors as both. The Astros will groom him as a first baseman.

– The Twins and Yankees took the draft’s first pure relievers, with the Twins grabbing Louisville’s Nick Burdi at No. 46 and the Yankees going with Mississippi State left-hander Jacob Lindgren at No. 55, their first pick of the draft. First-round pick Nick Howard of the Reds (No. 19 overall) was also a closer this year, but he figures to be given an opportunity to start. Perhaps Lindgren will, too, but he’s also a candidate to be the first 2014 pick to reach the majors if the Yankees keep him in the pen. Burdi is a flamethrowing closer-type.

– The Dodgers took Alex Verdugo as an outfielder with the 62nd overall pick, even though most viewed him as a pitcher. He probably would have gone higher, except he much prefers hitting. Dodgers assistant GM Logan White already made it clear that while Verdugo will be used as an outfielder initially, a move to the mound will come if he doesn’t hit.

 

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.