Cubs Stockpile College Bats Early

It used to be that the Cubs' top emphasis in the annual baseball draft each year was pitching, pitching and more pitching. The message relayed word for word throughout the organization ad nauseum was that you can never have enough pitching. Now the person in charge of the Cubs' draft believes the opposite; that you can never have enough hitting.

"I like offensive players," says Tim Wilken, the Cubs' Scouting Director and the person in charge of the club's draft these days. "I think it's tough to get offense. Other people say it's tough to get pitching, but there's a lot of successful pitchers anywhere from the 15th round on up. But with the exception of maybe Orlando Hudson, you don't see everyday players.

"Maybe this year you say, ‘Let's roll the dice and let's get some offense.'"

The Cubs got plenty of offense on day one of the 2007 draft Thursday. Four of the club's selections in the first five rounds were position players that have hit well at major college programs throughout the country.

After tabbing prep third baseman Josh Vitters with their first-round pick, Chicago added catcher Josh Donaldson (6-1, 200 pounds) from Auburn with their supplemental pick at pick No. 48 overall. Donaldson, 21, initially came to Auburn as a pitcher/infielder in 2005, but spent this past season as a catcher following an impressive showing in the Cape Cod League.

For Auburn, he batted a team-best .349, clubbing 11 home runs and finishing with a club-best 54 RBIs in 55 games in 2007. Donaldson also showcased good speed for a catcher with 17 stolen bases in 20 attempts.

Beat writer Jason Caldwell of Inside The Auburn Tigers, a leading print and online authority on Tigers athletics, remembers Donaldson's first year with the SEC school.

"In his first fall at Auburn, he really struggled and hit in the .100's," Caldwell recalled. "They (coaches) told him what he needed to work on and what he needed to do, and he improved more than anybody I've ever seen."

Donaldson can still man the hot corner if need be, but the Cubs hope Vitters will be able to do that all on his own should both players end up on the same roster.

"He plays a tremendous third base as a backup," Wilken said of Donaldson. "If the catching doesn't work, he's got something to fall back on."

The Cubs did not draft in the second round after forfeiting that pick to Washington in exchange for signing Alfonso Soriano.

In the third round, the club went after another top collegiate hitter in freshman infielder Tony Thomas (5-9, 165) of Florida State.

Thomas, 20, led the Seminoles in batting average (.430), home runs (11), doubles (33), on-base and slugging percentages (.522 and .733, respectively) and walks (43) in 62 games this season. He, too, flashed good speed with 31 stolen bases in 36 attempts.

"We were very happy to get him," Wilken said of Thomas. "He's got a chance to be a very good hitter. He has some things to work on defensively, but we'll get him to work with (Cubs Minor League Infield Coordinator) Bobby Dickerson. He's got plenty of arm strength over at second."

In the fourth round, the Cubs looked to the Northwest region and took Oregon State shortstop Darwin Barney (5-10, 175) with their next selection.

Barney was a member of the Beavers' College World Series championship team a season ago. After batting .330 that year as a sophomore, he returned for his junior year and has hit .296 through 60 games this season.

"He's a very good baseball player and was a catalyst on that championship club last year," Wilken said of Barney. "He handles the bat well. He's a winner and our area and regional guys were really strong on him."

Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry and Assistant to the General Manager Gary Hughes each were on hand at the Virginia Regional and saw both Barney and the Cubs' fifth-round pick, Brandon Guyer.

Guyer (6-1, 210) batted .336 in his sophomore campaign with Virginia a year ago and returned to hit .370 this past season with eight home runs and 43 RBIs. He was 18 of 19 in stolen base attempts.

Guyer, 21, who lettered as a linebacker in football throughout his prep career, has been suffering from a separated shoulder recently.

"His injury is just about aggressive rehab; no surgery," Wilken said. "We weren't really worried about that or about getting him out right away. He's a very strong young man. He can run really well. We think he's going to have some power and be an athletic left fielder."

The five hitters the Cubs selected on Thursday are right-handed batters.

With five rounds in the book, Wilken said he wasn't too discouraged with not drafting any pitchers on Day 1.

"We didn't have a pick all the way from 48 to 97," he noted. "We probably lost a lot of the primary guys there. We lost a fair amount of left-handed pitchers early and we lost some left-handed bats. I said, ‘Let's just go get big leaguers. We can't be picky here.'

"We're ecstatic about the five guys we took. We didn't take any pitching, but we'll get pitching some time. We're feeling pretty good," Wilken said.

Look for the Cubs to go heavy on high school players beginning in the mid to later rounds Friday.

"We have a plan to take some high school kids and get them placed on high-level ballclubs this summer to determine whether we want to pay them what they're asking for, what they're worth, or both," Wilken said. "We'll also take some guys that possibly were a little of a higher profile who kind of fell on their face; that either had a bad case of ‘draft-itis' or the injury bug."

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