Simpson Just as Surprised by First-Round Call

The Chicago Cubs made the biggest surprise in the first-round of the MLB draft Monday, selecting right-hander Hayden Simpson from Division II Southern Arkansas University of the Gulf South Conference with the 16th overall pick.

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The 21-year-old Simpson was 13-1 with a 1.81 ERA in 15 starts in 2010.

He struck out 131 batters in 99 1/3 innings, leading the Muleriders in strikeouts and ERA and finishing runner-up for the Tino Martinez Division II Player of the Year Award.

He compiled a 35-2 record in three seasons at Southern Arkansas.

But no one seemed to envision that the Cubs would take Simpson in the first round Monday. Projected only as a fifth through 10th-round pick by most draft analysts, it was a move that surprised pundits, fans and even Simpson himself.

"I was surprised," Simpson said, recalling that he was following the draft from a laptop computer with friends and family when he heard his name called. "I'd talked to the Cubs' scouts and I knew that they liked me as well as I liked their organization, and to hear my name called … it came as a shock. But I'm extremely happy to be a Chicago Cub right now and I'm looking forward to getting my career started."

Even though the selection came as a jolt to everyone, Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken said there is plenty to like about Simpson, who in his junior year this past season hurled six complete games and three shutouts.

"I got to see a pitcher that had a four-pitch (repertoire)," Wilken said. "I saw a pitcher that had a very good feel for pitching, (is) very athletic, and I saw someone that I thought could be a starter in the major leagues eventually."

Wilken also said there was at least one other club that had Simpson on its radar Monday. That club "had some extra picks not that far away from us and he was in their mix.

"You know, this guy just made sense. They can say what they want to, the prognosticators, but it was very simple. You had to say ‘this is almost too good to be true.'"

Simpson's fastball has been as high as 97 mph, and his repertoire includes a four-seam fastball, circle change, slider and 12-6 curveball. His delivery compares to San Francisco ace Tim Lincecum and Houston's Roy Oswalt, Wilken said.

"He's got a very fast arm," Wilken said. "(Cubs Pitching Coordinator) Mark Riggins graded him 100 percent on his delivery. During the course of a game every once in awhile, a pitcher's delivery gets off track, and he seems to fix it pretty good because of his athleticism."

Indeed, Simpson was a two-sport athlete for Magnolia High in Arkansas, playing quarterback on the football team and leading his team to the state playoffs as a senior. (He did not receive any scholarship offers for football – at least not officially.)

Listed as 6-foot, 175 pounds, Simpson might have saved his best performance for the end of last season. The Cubs saw him pitch against Florida Southern College in Tampa. That day, Simpson struck out 13 batters and did not allow a walk.

Sticking up for his roots, Simpson came to the defense of Division II baseball.

"There are a lot of great players in Division II that wind up there one way or another," he said. "I've played against Division I players that have come back down. We're very competitive and there are lots of great players."

Once Simpson signs, the Cubs plan to bring him to Mesa, Ariz., for a short mini-camp before their short-season rookie and Low Class A team's begin play.

Simpson sounds ready to get started.

"I do not see there being any problems with me signing," he said.

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