Cubs Director of Amateur and Professional Scouting Tim Wilken summed up his thoughts on the Cubs' 2009 draft and said that he felt the club addressed some weaknesses in the system.
"Speed-wise, this might be one of our best speed drafts," Wilken said. "I think we also addressed some left-handed pitching if we get them signed, and I think we got a little more power than we have in some of the drafts if it comes to fruition."
"Sometimes when you're sitting at the bottom of the rounds, you have some guys taken right out of your hands. You can sit there and script all you want, but it only takes one team to knock it out of place."
After taking outfielder Brett Jackson (University of California) in the first round, shortstop/second baseman D. J. LeMahieu (LSU) in the second round and high school left-hander Austin Kirk (Owasso HS, Oklahoma) in the third-round, the Cubs rounded out there top 10 picks with:
LHP Chris Rusin (fourth-round, Kentucky), shortstop Wes Darvill (fifth-round, Brookswood SS, Canada), LHP Brooks Raley (sixth-round, Texas A&M), shortstop Blair Springfield (seventh-round, MacArthur HS, Decatur, Ill.), RHP Robert Whitenack (eighth-round, SUNY Old Westbury, N.Y.), catcher Richard Jones (ninth-round, The Citadel), and infielder Joseph Thomas (10th-round, Edward Waters, Fla.).
Of the left-handers Wilken spoke of, Rusin returned for his senior season at Kentucky and led the Wildcats in wins and strikeouts. He finished 7-4 with a 4.20 ERA and 108 strikeouts to 27 walks in 94 1/3 innings after undergoing surgery to repair a torn muscle in his left forearm in October before the season started.
"I ran into the University of Florida guys here at a showcase (in Minnesota), and they told me they thought he was one of the two toughest pitchers in the conference," Wilken said. "I got a call from Paul Mainieri saying that he was very tough on LSU … They both complimented the way he pitches and his feel for pitching and his aggressiveness."
Wilken said Rusin brought with him plenty of pitchability, or more simply, feel for pitching.
"I think he relies on everything. He's got an average fastball and curve and change. He's a guy that's got a pretty good feel for pitching," Wilken said. "Both our area guy, Lukas McKnight, and our national guys, Steve Hinton and Sam Hughes … they all came back pretty much echoing the same things about his pitchability and feel for the game as a pitcher, and that he got all three pitches over."
"Sometimes pitchability can be the ability of a pitcher to re-correct himself in the course of a game, and I get that feeling with (Rusin). He knows when to throw certain pitches; he can see how hitters take certain swings off of different pitches."
Darvill, 17, rounded out the Cubs' top five selections and is one of the club's first known signings from the 2009 class. A shortstop and member of the Langley Blaze of the British Columbia Premier Baseball League, he has batted .291 with six doubles, three triples and 17 RBI in 79 at-bats for the Blaze. He also has 13 stolen bases and five walks to seven strikeouts.
Chicago scouts saw Darvill in Arizona this past spring during an exhibition game between the Blaze and the Cubs' extended spring training squad. Darvill led off that game with a triple.
"He's got good hands at short and has an average arm," Wilken said of Darvill. "He's got decent actions for a guy coming out of British Columbia. He's got a chance to be a pretty good hitter and he reminds me quite a bit of Reid Brignac with Tampa now. They're very similar. He's a taller, rangier guy, but athletic. He's 6-3, about 175, and he's got projection to get bigger and stronger. He swung the bat well when we had the Canadian team come down and play against our extended spring guys.
"He's a little bit better than an average runner and I think he's going to get a little quicker as he gets stronger. I think he's got a chance to be a true shortstop and he might surprise some people with his pop at the plate. I really like this guy's swing. Like I said, he's very similar to Reid Brignac when I was over in Tampa and we took him. I was really thrilled to get him (Darvill) in the fifth round.
"I don't know if he's a true leadoff hitter, but I could see him batting leadoff," Wilken added. "He's got enough speed and is a very competitive hitter. I could almost see him, as he gets a little stronger … some of the balls he drives to the gap, he could drive out of the ballpark and be a 3-to-5 hitter. I just feel really, really good about getting him signed. I think he gives us another athletic middle infielder."
Although Darvill has signed, he is not expected to report to Arizona until mid July because of prior obligations with the Canadian National Team, Wilken said.
The Cubs went back to pitching in the sixth round with Raley, a left-hander from Texas A&M that was the Aggies' Friday night starter this past season. Raley, who turns 21 June 29, led the Aggies with seven wins and had a 3.76 ERA and 95 strikeouts to 26 walks in 93 1/3 innings.
As a hitter, Raley finished fourth on the club with a .304 average and a team-high 19 doubles in 58 games between the outfield and DH. In late May, he was one of 14 players named to the USA Baseball National Team Trials roster.
"He pitched well this year and also plays in the outfield and DH's for them. He's every bit of a 70 runner as an outfielder, but we took him as a pitcher," Wilken said of Raley. "He has a really good feel for pitching. We're going to watch him on Team USA this summer. This is more of a summer project for us.
"I was really impressed by his feel for pitching. I think he's got a good feel for it. He's very athletic, gets off the mound well and fields his position. We're going to watch him this summer and stay on him tight. Hopefully we get an opportunity some time this summer to sign him."
In the seventh round, the Cubs took another shortstop in Springfield, a local product of MacArthur High School in Decatur, Ill. Springfield had signed a letter of intent to play college baseball at Illinois State and was widely considered the program's top baseball recruit in its incoming class.
The last two summers, the 18-year-old Springfield has played for a travel team in Georgia, where he increased his draft status. Wilken said that although Springfield was drafted as a shortstop, he could see playing time in the outfield.
"He played shortstop for his (high school) team, but the last two summers, he's played on this travel team in Georgia. Presently he's playing center field for them," Wilken said of Springfield. "I think we're going to kind of keep our minds open. Our area scout, Stan Zielinski, did a real good job on him and Antonio Grissom just saw him play in Georgia about a week ago. Stan seems to think he could play second or third; Antonio is of the belief that he could play center or right field, so we have some flexibility there. We know he's a baseball player and he really swings the bat well.
"He's got a good approach to hitting and has had pretty good success with the wooden bat in those leagues that he's played in down in Georgia. He's a gap-to-gap, alley's kind of guy, and his approach to hitting for me was very similar to Shannon Stewart, who used to be with the Blue Jays. There's not a lot of wasted effort in his swing; he's an aggressive, line drive hitter, and he may surprise you with some pop down the road. I wouldn't write him off as just a line drive hitter."
The first Division III player taken in this year's draft went to the Cubs in the eighth-round. That was Whitenack, who was 5-2 with a 2.81 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings his junior season.
Some of Whitenack's accolades include Skyline Conference Pitcher of the Year and Eastern College Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year. The right-hander was also the first player ever drafted from SUNY Old Westbury in school history.
"Our area scout, Billy Blitzer, and our regional guy Charlie Aliano both got to see him pitch. He's got an average to a little better than average fastball," Wilken said of Whitenack. "He's 89 to 92 (mph) and he's got what our scouts described as a plus curveball and throws that up to 78 miles an hour. He's a tall, slender guy with a pretty athletic frame and we're kind of excited about him just because some times D-III guys don't get to play the teams the other schools do.
"Both our scouts in this case felt that, even though he's 6-5, 185, he's still got some projection to get a little stronger and perhaps some more stuff comes out of his arm as he gets a little older."
The Cubs took their first catcher in the ninth round, going with The Citadel's Jones. A left-handed hitting backstop, the 21-year-old Jones led The Citadel with 17 home runs and 69 RBI in 59 games. He had 19 doubles and batted .378.
Jones' accolades include being named to the Louisville Slugger and Collegiate Baseball All-America Second Team and the Ping All-America Team.
"He's got a chance to have some pretty good power," Wilken said of Jones. "He can hit some balls a long way. (Defensively) he receives pretty decent and has an average to above average arm. He's a big, strong guy (6-0, 210)."
Jones was one of three catchers taken by the Cubs in the first 20 rounds of the draft, joining Matt Williams (18th round, Duke) and Sergio Burruel (19th round, Trevor G. Browne HS, Ariz.).
The Cubs rounded out their first 10 picks with Joseph Thomas of Edward Waters College, an all-black college in Jacksonville, Fla. Thomas, who turns 21 July 2, batted .336 with eight home runs and 30 RBI in his junior season at Edward Waters.
Jones doubled as a pitcher, but Wilken said the Cubs plan for him to hit and play both first and third.
"We wanted to look at him as an everyday player first," Wilken said of Thomas. "We feel there's some untapped, big power potential if he can reach it. We've also seen him on the mound and he's been anywhere from 91 to 94 (mph), but we want to see what that bat's all about first, and we're going to see him on both sides of the infield.
"We'll probably send him to Mesa to let him hit for most of the summer and then evaluate how it went for him at the end."
Wilken said he was overly happy with the selections the Cubs made.
"You always feel that you don't get enough pitching," he said. "We kind of went after some guys that can run. We went and got some guys with some power. We got three catchers in the top 20 rounds, and we got a fair amount of left-handed pitchers. Maybe we could have gotten some more pitchers, but that's OK.
"We would have liked to have gotten some other guys that [were drafted ahead of the Cubs], but overall I'm pretty satisfied. I think our staff prepared well, were organized, and I think this draft had a pretty fair balance, with maybe right-handed pitchers being the weakest part of this draft for us."
Cubs Selections 1-22 | Cubs Selections 23-50
Tim Wilken on 2009 Cubs Draft
Northsiders Report Top Stories
Cubs May 23 Minors RecapSouth Bend wins in extras, Iowa falls, Tennessee had the day off and Myrtle Beach was rained out. More prospects signed.
Northsiders Report6:05 AM
Cubs May 22 Minors RecapIowa wins, Myrtle Beach’s bullpen give up 10 runs and South Bend is run over by Bowling Green. Smokies were rained out and some college pitchers to keep an eye on.
Northsiders ReportYesterday at 8:21 AM
Cubs May 21 Minors RecapPelicans win, Smokies split, while Iowa and South Bend both lost their games on Sunday. High school pitchers in the draft report.
Northsiders ReportMonday at 5:23 AM
Cubs May 20 Minors RecapSouth Bend scores 11 in the third, Iowa and Myrtle Beach fall, Smokies rained out.
Northsiders ReportSunday at 6:47 AM