Creativity and resourcefulness are important attributes when it comes to scouting, and the Cubs deployed a little of both in this year's draft.
Having lost his second-, third- and fourth-round picks because of major league free-agent signings, scouting director Tim Wilken was left with a gaping hole at the top of his board in his first draft with the Cubs.
After making Clemson All-America outfielder Tyler Colvin their first round selection at No. 13, Wilken and the Cubs had to wait until the fifth round--136 picks later--before making their next choice.
With fewer early picks, the Cubs had money in their signing budget to spread out to later picks, as long as the commissioner's office didn't object.
So in the fifth round, the Cubs made Notre Dame righthander Jeff Samardzija their choice. Less than three weeks after the draft they signed the two-sport standout to a contract that will allow him to continue his standout football career with the Fighting Irish while pursuing professional baseball.
While Samardzija promptly drove to Boise, Idaho, where he made his pro pitching debut with the Cubs' short-season affiliate there, he has committed to return to South Bend for the start of football practice on Aug. 1.
Pending final approval by Major League Baseball, Samardzija would receive $7.25 million if he makes baseball his primary sport. The Cubs have five years to pay him under baseball's rules for distributing signing bonuses to two-sport players, and the deal is backloaded, with Samardzija receiving less than $1 million in the first year of the deal, according to sources with knowledge of the contract.
The record for a signing bonus for a player that signed with the club that drafted him is $6.1 million, set in January by the Diamondbacks and 2005 No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton. The largest bonus in history given to a drafted player remains $10.2 million, which the Devil Rays gave loophole free agent Matt White in 1996.
One source indicated the size of the contract--clearly above the slot recommended by Major League Baseball--caused friction between the Cubs and MLB, with commissioner Bud Selig becoming personally involved in the negotiations.
In an interview just after the draft, Wilken indicated the Cubs and Orioles had the best look at Samardzija at his best, in an outing during the Big East Conference tournament. Wilken said Samardzija repeatedly pumped his fastball into the 97-99 mph range, up significantly from the regular season, when he sat at 91-94. He also improved his slider greatly in that outing, using a higher arm slot (high three-quarters) to stay on top of it better.
The inconsistent quality of his breaking ball was one question that prompted Samardzija, a consensus first-round talent, to fall into the fifth round. He had success for the Irish, going 21-6, 3.82 in three seasons (including 8-2, 4.33 this spring), but his strikeout rate was low for a pitcher with power stuff. He had 61 strikeouts in 98 innings in 2006 and 159 strikeouts (and 84 walks) in 240 career innings.
His football commitment was the bigger factor, of course, as clubs realized Samardzija was a first-round NFL talent as a deceptively quick, athletic wide receiver. Ace In The Hole
Samardzija wasn't the only surprise the Cubs had planned for the draft's first day. With their 11th-round pick, they drafted a high school righthander who had thrown fewer than nine innings combined over his junior and senior seasons.
Chris Huseby, out of Martin County High in Stuart, Fla., was a household name in scouting circles in the spring of 2005. As a 6-foot-5 underclassman, he had the frame and had flashed the stuff to be a premium pick following his senior season. But Huseby came up lame early in his junior season, required Tommy John surgery and figured to be bound for Auburn after making a late-season return to the mound this spring.
What looked like a flier was close to becoming a seven-figure investment three weeks after the draft. While the deal had not been finalized, Wilken acknowledged, "You've got pretty good radar," when he was asked if the Cubs were considering signing Huseby for $1.3 million.
Huseby's adviser, Mark Rodgers (who is also Samardzija's adviser) would not confirm the bonus amount, but shared Wilken's optimism about reaching a deal.
Cubs area scout Rolando Pino had tracked Huseby since 2004 and scouted him again this season when he finally returned to the mound. His familiarity with Huseby compelled him to get detailed information on Huseby's health in April. The reports were good, and Pino alerted Wilken that Huseby could be a perfect supplement to the club's thin draft.
"We snuck in Sammy Hughes, our regional crosschecker, to see him once, and he was 90-93 there," Wilken said. "The last time he threw he was 90-94 with a 78 mph power curve and a nice changeup."
Huseby had surgery in March 2005 and aggressively pursued his rehabilitation. He showed a low-90s fastball and above-average breaking ball in 2004 when he went 2-0, 1.35 in seven innings with USA Baseball's youth national team in the Pan-Am Championship in Mexico.
"I was there the night he got hurt, it looked like to me," said an area scout based in Florida. "It was one night early in (2005), and he was 86-87 and my scouting director made the comment, 'He ain't right,' and after that he ended up being hurt.
"You had to have been scouting here for three or four years to have any history with the guy, and there were only a couple of teams that would have felt comfortable enough to go after him. (The Cubs) did a helluva job."DRAFT DOPE
• Three weeks after the draft, Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier and agent Scott Boras both had good feelings about negotiations involving No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar. "The lines of communication are very much open and we've had numerous talks about trying to get him out and pitching," Ladnier said. "Obviously we have not gotten him signed yet, but the positive is that there are open lines of communication."
• The Mets' loss could turn into the Orioles' gain. The Mets decided not to sign 2005 draft-and-follow Pedro Beato, and Baltimore drafted the hard-throwing righthander with the 32nd overall pick this year. Beato signed quickly for a $1 million bonus. Other teams might not have had a good feel for him because players under control who are deemed likely to sign usually aren't scouted as much as other players. Beato, who attended St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College this season while working his way back from Tommy John surgery, happened to be pitching the day Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan and East Coast supervisor Alan Marr were in town to evaluate a high school pitcher. "My comment to everybody was, 'This guy's not going back into the draft,' " area scout Nick Presto said. "It was a surprise, and it was good for us . . . This guy's pretty advanced--four pitches, and he was up to about 98. I couldn't believe we got him there, but we did."