The Cubs raised quite a few eyebrows with their first round selection of a dimunitive righthander from a diminutive school in an area with a diminutive population. While Baseball America had him ranked as the 191st best prospect, the Cubs felt he was good enough to pick with their top selection, number 16 overall. The pick was such a surprise that MLB officials scrambled to put together a name plate to put up on their draft board. The website Fangraphs had no analysis on him, saying the "only person in the world that knows anything about this guy is Jim Callis..."
"This guy" is Hayden Simpson and Callis isn't the only guy in the world who knows his name. There is Tim Wilken and all his scouts, and according to the Cubs staff, a team or two picking behind the Cubs were making googley eyes at Simpson as well.
So...who is Hayden Simpson then? We can start with the basics. Simpson was 35-2 in his collegiate career at Southern Arkansas with a 2.39 career ERA. Last year he was 13-1 with a 1.81 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 99 1/3 innings. As his strikeout numbers would indicate, he has good stuff, a fastball that's been clocked as high as 97 mph, a hard curve, a changeup, and a slider which Simpson calls his best pitch. Scouts are more partial to his curveball but believe all 4 pitches could be average or better in the majors.
With those kind of credentials, how does a guy like this go relatively unnoticed? Here are some possible reasons:
1) He is pitching in Southern Arkansas. It doesn't get much more rural and out of the way than that.
2) He is pitching against Division II hitters, so his level of competition may have contributed to his outstanding numbers.
3) He's only 6'0" tall and 175 lbs. That is pretty much toward the bottom of the scale when it comes to major league pitchers.
But we have seen pitchers succeed from out of the way places. We have seen Division II guys make an impact. His size is similar to many pitchers who have been successful, most notably our own Greg Maddux. The answer is that it's the combinaton of these factors that made Simpson an unconventional prospect.
Enter Tim Wilken.
Wilken is the Cubs Scouting Director and he is as unconventional as they come. His visions of players are different from most. He's been criticized for picks like Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, and Tyler Colvin -- all of whom, by conventional wisdom, were taken way too early but all of whom have found success in the major leagues. His track record of selecting pitchers includes Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter. Cub fans are crossing their fingers that Andrew Cashner will become that good too. While we can be skeptical about this pick, Wilken deserves the benefit of the doubt. He sees a major league starter in Simpson with 4 above average pitches. And while many of us look at Simpson and think small, Wilken sees Tim Lincecum and Roy Oswalt, another couple of small guys with big time talent.