Tim Wilken on 2009 Draft

Major League Baseball's annual First-Year Player Draft is set for Tuesday evening from the MLB Network's studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, and the Chicago Cubs have the 31st overall pick in the first round. There are some changes to the draft from previous years. Among them are a new 5 p.m. CDT start time on Day 1 and the expansion of the draft from two days to three.

All first-round selections from Day 1 of the draft can be seen live on MLB Network. The first day of the draft will consist of the first 111 picks with the conclusion of the third round and second compensation round. The draft will resume Wednesday with the fourth through 30th rounds beginning at 11 a.m., and conclude Thursday with the 31st through 50th rounds beginning at 10:30 a.m., according to Major League Baseball. The Cubs' representative at this year's draft will be Billy Williams.

This will be the fourth Cubs draft for Scouting Director Tim Wilken, who joined the club in that title in December, 2005. Predicting who Wilken and the Cubs might draft with such a late pick in the first round is an almost impossible task. Wilken in the past has shown an affinity for hitters, saying it is "tough to get offense."

He also has shown an affinity for college players, as all but eight of the Cubs' 51 draft picks a season ago were college products.

It should go without saying that one player the Cubs won't be selecting is Stephen Strasburg. The right-handed power pitcher from San Diego State is projected to go to the Washington Nationals as the unanimous first overall pick Tuesday and is the most talked about player in this year's class.

Wilken agreed that it was common sense for the Cubs to focus their efforts and resources on scouting other players.

"We're picking at 31 and I think there's a little bit of common sense here," Wilken said. "We had a few people see him early. We've checked him out to make sure that he's OK and doesn't get hurt, but I think common sense will tell you that you can see what's going to happen. It looks like he's going to go pretty decent and you don't want to be wasting your time.

"The commissioner's office has also been cracking down on making comments on players. So we know he's a talent and it sounds like he's got a chance to be the No. 1 guy. We respect that, but we're picking at 31. There's common sense here and common sense tells you we need to be looking at other players."

Just how many "other players" are there? Wilken said the number was close to a thousand.

"I think we (scout) close to 800 to 900 players that we probably have some kind of reports on," he said. "I personally will end up with around 250 to 260 players."

Wilken said the order in which the Cubs pick could allow for some wiggle room to try and get creative. That is what the club did in Wilken's first draft when the Cubs gambled on left-handed hitting Clemson outfielder Tyler Colvin with their first-round pick at 13th overall.

Colvin was considered the first surprise pick in that draft, and later the Cubs rolled the dice on another surprise pick: right-hander Jeff Samardzija.

Wilken is no stranger to taking risks, but said that teams must use discretion and avoid red flags.

"You've got to make sure you've done all your background work and everything else," he said. "Once in a while, there's a reason why a guy falls to you and you've got to know those reasons.

"You become a little weary if someone else has not selected those guys, but at the same time, if we know their background, I think we've got a good chance at getting a pretty productive player."

Wilken said his philosophy is to ideally take the player he and his scouts perceive to be the best overall with the first-round pick, regardless of that player's position and the current stock at that position already in the organization.

"It's basically the best pick kid," he said. "(In the later rounds), you kind of decide once in awhile if you've got three or four guys in the same area, then maybe you might attend to lack of strength in the organization a little bit. But the first pick, I don't normally have that in mind."

On that note, Wilken addressed what he thought were the biggest strengths and weaknesses currently in the Cubs' system.

"The weakest is probably left-handed pitching," Wilken said. "Two of the things that we've addressed pretty good I think are our catching -- maybe not Soto-type of ability but definitely the depth of our catching has improved -- and I think if you look at our middle infielders, mainly shortstops, they start to shape up pretty good."

Already accounted for in the Cubs' system are an abundance of middle infielders, beginning at Double-A with the double play tandem of second baseman Tony Thomas and shortstop Darwin Barney. Both were third and fourth-round picks in the 2007 draft, respectively.

Further down, 19-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro headlines the infield at Class High-A Daytona, and players like Ryan Flaherty, Junior Lake and (on occasion) Josh Harrison make up the infield at Class-A Peoria.

That is not counting the number of infielders in the Cubs' extended spring training camp that will soon be dispatched to short-season A-ball beginning next month.

"Like I've said many times before, it doesn't hurt to take (middle infielders) because if they don't play short, they can play somewhere else," said Wilken. "We've got Castro and Flaherty and Lake. That's a pretty good crew of shortstops, and on second basemen we're not doing bad, either."

Wilken was asked about the strengths and weaknesses of this year's crop.

"It's one of the stronger left-handed (pitching) crews that I've seen in awhile, but right-handers, it's kind of ordinary," he said. "There are plenty of them but the quality of them is not as good. The pitching is pretty good and there are a fair amount of middle infielders. The outfielders are kind of fair."

One thing that has been on the docket and is often a popular rumor in some circles is the thought of allowing teams the option of including future draft picks in trades. Currently teams cannot trade draft picks, unlike the NFL and NBA for example.

Wilken said the draft has changed a lot over the years and that he would not necessarily be opposed to allowing teams to trade draft picks in the future.

"It's been on the docket," Wilken said. "They've talked about it. You've got to get the OK from the players (union). That's the problem. So until that gets OK'd by the players union, you're not going to see a lot of progress in there. I think from what I've heard about it, I'd be all for it.

"But things tend to move slow when you're talking about Major League Baseball and the players in it, and evidently they've not been able to come to some kind of agreement to allow it."

Wilken said the Cubs have had an assortment of players on hand in Arizona for pre-draft workouts at the team's spring training headquarters. He did not say who those players were, but said all clubs must follow certain protocol.

"We try to have about five guys out on the field at once," he said. "You've got to get a signature from the principal if the school is still (in session). The NCAA is a little different. If they're finished with their baseball, those rules don't apply to them unless they're still in school."

The Cubs will have the 31st overall pick in the first round of Tuesday's draft, the 79th overall pick in Round Two, the 109th pick in Round Three, and the 140th overall selection in Round Four. After that Chicago will made one selection per every 30 picks beginning with No. 170 overall.

Follow the Cubs' 2009 draft, pick by pick, on the InsideTheIvy.com Twitter page Tuesday.

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