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Cubs start restocking pitchers in Draft

Cubs brass is well aware of the organization's lack of pitching depth.

They didn't necessarily want to get tunnel vision in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, but selecting pitchers was a primary objective.

The Cubs met their goal on the first day of the Draft, selecting college right-hander Pierce Johnson (No. 43 overall) and high school righty Paul Blackburn (No. 56) in the first Compensation Round on Monday.

Johnson and Blackburn followed the selection of Florida high school outfielder Albert Almora with the No. 6 overall pick.

After selecting Almora, vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod reiterated on a conference call that pitching would be highly sought after in the Cubs' next two picks.

"As we have been saying, pitching will be a point of emphasis," McLeod said. "We're not going to force it, but we are definitely going to try to infuse the organization with pitching."

McLeod and the rest of the staff did, drafting Johnson with the pick received when Aramis Ramirez signed with Milwaukee and selecting Blackburn in the slot the club gained after Carlos Pena returned to Tampa Bay.

Both Ramirez and Pena were Type B free agents

Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound righty, recently completed his senior season at Missouri State. He was ranked the No. 38 overall prospect by's Jonathan Mayo after going 4-6 with a 2.53 ERA in 14 starts this season.

The 22-year-old right-hander had been rising on many Draft boards earlier this year, but suffered a forearm strain in April. He closed the year by posting a 2.36 ERA and striking out 55 in 53 1/3 innings. He also threw three complete games (one shutout) and struck out a single-season school record 119 in 99 2/3 innings.

Johnson has two plus-pitches: a fastball that touches 94 mph and a hard curveball. He profiles as a No. 3-type Major League starter and has drawn comparisons to Nationals closer Drew Storen.

He was originally selected by the Rays in the 15th round of the 2009 Draft.

Blackburn is a 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander out of Heritage (Calif.) High School who is committed to Arizona State. He boasts a fastball that regularly hits 92 mph with the ability to go a bit higher, and also features a curve and changeup that show potential to grow.

The 18-year-old went 8-3 with a 1.27 ERA this season, striking out 84 in 77 1/3 innings, and posted a 1.50 ERA the past two years. He was ranked the No. 69 overall prospect, according to Mayo.

Johnson and Blackburn figure to be the first of numerous pitchers the Cubs select when the Draft continues Tuesday (Rounds 2-15) and Wednesday (Rounds 16-40), as Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer eluded to last week.

"As an organization, I think our pitching depth is one of our bigger concerns," Hoyer said. "We don't have a ton of arms in the Minor Leagues, and the best organizations are organizations that are just littered with power arms.

"Some guys will become starters, some guys will become relievers, but the best bullpens are built internally, and the more we can add those sort of arms throughout the Draft, the better, and it'll be a focus not just in 2012 but in every year."

Chicago Cubs