They still could, of course, but 2012 is definitely not 2011 in regard to the baseball draft.
Maples, a highly regarded pitcher from Southern Pines, N.C., was headed to the University of North Carolina as a punter on the football team and pitcher for the baseball team before the Cubs selected him in the 14th round of last year's draft. Owner Tom Ricketts had given scouting director Tim Wilken the funding to be unusually aggressive in the draft, and the Cubs changed Maples' plans with an offer of $2.5 million, immediately making him one of the most intriguing prospects in their farm system.
Because they were willing to spend more than most other teams — $12 million overall, which ranked behind only the Pirates, Nationals and Royals — the Cubs were able to accumulate more than their share of talent in last year's draft. It was a phenomenon that had gone on for at least a decade — one that accelerated when Theo Epstein became the Red Sox's general manager — and one that Commissioner Bud Selig and some owners, including White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf — had long lamented because it distorted the purpose of the draft.
The draft was created in 1965 as a backlash against teams like the Yankees and Cardinals, with the goal of allowing the weakest big-league teams to add the best high school and college players. Selig tried to restore that by creating so-called slot recommendations for signings, but as the years went by only a handful of teams — the White Sox, Twins, Marlins, Braves and Phillies among them — paid attention to the recommendations. But that changed last November.
Selig succeeded in getting the players' union to agree to spending limits in the amateur draft and in international signings, and the new rules kick in Monday night, when the first round of the draft will be held at the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J.
The Astros have the first overall pick, and are expected to choose between Stanford right-hander Mark Appel and Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton. The Cubs are picking sixth, seven spots ahead of the White Sox, and will be overjoyed if Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa is available. If he's not, they are expected to take outfielder Albert Almora or one of two highly regarded college pitchers, LSU's Kevin Gausman or the University of San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer.
With Ricketts opening his wallet, the Cubs spent $9.2 million more than the White Sox in the 2011 draft, which is why Sox general manager Ken Williams has said the new collective bargaining agreement will be a good thing for the Sox.
Teams have been given a spending limit for the draft, with the total depending on how many picks teams have in the first 10 rounds and how high those picks are. The Cubs have been given $7.9 million to spend on their 12 top-10 picks, while the White Sox get $5.9 million for their 11 top-10 picks.
Epstein was steamed when the new rules were announced in December. But the Cubs believe they still can land a difference-making player or two through solid scouting.
"It becomes more of a true scouting competition,'' said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' senior vice president player development/scouting. "That gets your juices flowing.''
In the last five years, the White Sox spent only $18.3 million on the draft, the lowest total among the 30 teams and almost $34 million less than the Pirates, who have been the biggest spenders. That's the biggest reason that the Sox have a farm system that doesn't get much love from national analysts.
"The draft is the biggest bargain in talent acquisition,'' Baseball America's Jim Callis said on WSCR-AM 670 last week. "If you're willing to spend $10 million a year, you can compete with anybody. I just don't believe Jerry Reinsdorf believes in paying amateur players.''
Callis said he'll be watching to see if the White Sox opt to spend their full allotment in the draft, as they spent only $2.8 million last year.
"I'll believe the White Sox aren't going to be the cheapest team in the draft when I see it,'' Callis said.
It will be a shock if the name of an Illinois-based player is called Monday night, when teams will go through the first 60 picks (the first round and supplemental first round). The majority of the picks in the 40-round draft will be made Tuesday and Wednesday. That's when Carmel's Young, Southern Illinois first baseman Chris Serritella (Loyola Academy), Niles West third baseman Kevin Ross, Illinois right-hander Matt Milroy (Marmion Academy) and Oak Forest right-hander Kyle Funkhouser are likely to be picked.
Barring a huge offer, Young is expected to honor his commitment to TCU. And that huge offer seems less likely to come with the new spending limits in place.
You never know, though. If you look hard enough, you can always find a loophole.