Cubs sign first-round pick Simpson
North Siders selected right-hander at No. 16 overall
CHICAGO -- The Cubs signed first-round pick Hayden Simpson, a right-handed pitcher from Southern Arkansas, and he got to work right away on Saturday, throwing in the bullpen for pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
Ted Lilly, who was starting the Cubs' game against the Angels, watched as the youngster worked out and was impressed by his four-seam fastball, curve and slider.
"Really?" Simpson said when told of Lilly's comments. "That's pretty cool."
It's been a pretty cool few days since Simpson was taken 16th overall in the First-Year Player Draft. His hometown of Magnolia, Ark., which is about 1 1/2 hours from Shreveport, La., was thrilled at the news.
"The first couple days were kind of a whirlwind," Simpson said. "I'm from a town of 13,000 people, and everybody wanted to take credit for this. I love the people of Magnolia. They've enjoyed it, and I've enjoyed it. The community has shown a lot of support, and the state has shown a lot of support. It's been fun."
Simpson, who signed for $1.06 million will get to work immediately, going to Mesa, Ariz., to work out before joining the Cubs' Class A Boise team. Simpson was 13-1 with a 1.81 ERA in his junior season at Southern Arkansas, a Division II school. He had six complete games in his 15 starts, and struck out 131 in 99 1/3 innings while walking 35.
Recommended by area scout Jim Crawford, Simpson was projected to be taken somewhere between the second and fifth rounds. Baseball America ranked him at No. 191 among the top 200 prospects. But Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken liked the right-hander's bulldog attitude, especially after watching him strike out 13 in a shutout against Florida Southern in the Southern Regional tournament. Simpson did not walk a batter in that game.
"It was a little bit surprising, but I knew the Cubs and some other teams had a lot of high interest in me," Simpson said. "It was a little bit surprising, but not really."
Simpson is the second pitcher Wilken has tabbed in the first round since joining the Cubs in December 2005. The other was Andrew Cashner, the Cubs' top pick in 2008, who is now on the Major League team.
"[Simpson's] a hard working, tough-nosed pitcher," said Crawford, who was at Wrigley Field for the workout. "He reminds me of [Roy] Oswalt. I've never seen [Tim] Lincecum, but some of our people have compared [Simpson] to him. He will challenge hitters, he's got four-plus pitches and he's an excellent, excellent kid."
Simpson throws a four-seam fastball up to 97 mph, a circle change, a slider, and a 12-6 curveball. He says his best pitch is his slider, but scouts like the knee-buckling curve the wiry right-hander has.
It's hard to imagine Simpson throwing that hard, looking at his slender physique.
"I'm an anomaly," Simpson said. "I don't know what to say."
Simpson's the first Cubs Draft pick to use that description, too.
"I've learned to get everything out of my body that I can," he said, "and luckily I've stayed healthy and just kind of progressed."
Among the pitchers Simpson liked to watch as he grew up were Roger Clemens for his competitiveness and Tom Glavine for his control. Greg Maddux, now an assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, also was one of Simpson's favorites.
"[Maddux] is going to have to keep me away from him, because I'm going to be bugging him," Simpson said.
His first workout at Wrigley didn't last long, but Rothschild gave him some pointers on his mechanics and Simpson made the adjustment on the next pitch.
"It's great," Simpson said. "Walking through the tunnel, walking onto the field, it's feeling like you've arrived. It's been fun and great. It's so historic, and to be a part of the Chicago Cubs organization is a great feeling."
But he stayed in the bullpen and did not throw off the mound.
"I'll hold off until that day comes," Simpson said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.