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Cubs 'shock' Simpson by taking him in first round
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Hayden Simpson

 

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Published: 6/7/2010 9:58 PM

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How obscure was the Cubs' No. 1 pick in Monday's amateur draft? So obscure that the talking heads on MLB TV kept calling him a left-hander.

Actually, Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken surprised again, taking right-handed pitcher Hayden Simpson out of Division II Southern Arkansas University.

"To hear my name called with the 16th pick in the first round, it came as a shock to me," said the 21-year-old Simpson. "I'm extremely happy to be a Chicago Cub right now, and I'm looking forward to getting my major-league career started."

Baseball America rated the 6-foot, 175-pound Simpson 191st overall, putting him in the fifth or sixth round. But Wilken has never cottoned to the "experts," and he liked what he saw in Simpson.

"I got to see a pitcher with a four-pitch mix that I thought were at least plus-average pitches to plus pitches, and he had a very good feel for pitching," Wilken said. "I think you can see that by his record, albeit in Division II school. I saw a pitcher that a very good feel for pitching, very athletic, and I saw someone I thought could be a starter in the major leagues eventually.

"This guy just made sense. They can say what they want to, the prognosticators. You say, 'Hey, wait a minute, this is almost too good to be true.' "

This year at Southern Arkansas, Simpson was 13-1 with a 1.81 ERA in 15 starts, including 6 complete games and 3 shutouts. He led his team in wins, ERA, opposing batting average (. 201) and innings. He had 131 strikeouts in 991/3 innings.

Simpson said his slider is his best pitch and that he also has a four-seam fastball, a circle change and a "12-to-6 curveball."

Wilken described Simpson physically as reminiscent of Roy Oswalt and Tim Lincecum, a pitcher "with a fast arm." Wilken said Cubs minor-league pitching coordinator Mark Riggins graded Simpson "100 percent" on his delivery. He also said he had indications clubs with extra picks after the Cubs had their eyes on Simpson.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry has talked with Simpson already, and all sides see no issues with getting the pitcher signed.

"I think we're going to have a chance to get this deal done really quickly," Wilken said. "Jim contacted Hayden earlier and had a very nice talk with him. I don't see a lot of kinks in this one."

Added Simpson: "I don't see any problems with signing."