After Day One of the draft, Cubs fans could understandably feel excited, but also somewhat puzzled. Maybe even a little worried. Once again, when much of the baseball world was expecting the Cubs to zig, they zagged. And in then in the second round they threw a lot of us for a bit of a loop.
I think, though, that while the other emotions are certainly understandable, excitement should win out. I like what the Cubs did yesterday in the first round, and in the second round they may have done exactly what we thought they would, only not. Trust me, it will make sense.
Furthermore, when we combine yesterday with their past drafts, particularly last year, I think we can see a pretty clear plan for how the next great Cubs teams will look taking shape.
Round One – Kyle Schwarber
I wanted a pitcher here. You probably wanted a pitcher here. The Cubs wanted a pitcher here. But when the top three pitchers were off the board, the Cubs did the smart thing and took the best bat available. We can debate whether that title should have gone to Nick Gordon or Alex Jackson instead of Schwarber, but in Schwarber’s favor is that he is a college guy. There is less risk in his game and more already-baked-in upside. Neither Gordon nor Jackson as are as good of a pure hitter as Schwarber, and Schwarber rivals anyone in the draft in the power department.
The big question with Schwarber is whether or not he can stay at a defensive position. If the Cubs felt he couldn’t, I doubt they would have taken him at Number 4. While I think catcher is unlikely, I haven’t seen any reports that make me think he can’t stick in left. And to be honest, I’d like to see him move up the system as fast as hit bat will let him. That also suggests he may be moved to the outfield since catchers just take more time to develop defensively. We’ll find out whether he can be good enough with the glove when he signs and heads to Arizona, but for now I see little reason for pessimism.
With defensive questions aside, we are left with the best college hitter, a guy with MLB.com grades of 60 hit and 65 power, a guy who walked more than he struck out for his college career, and a guy who projects as a potential middle of the lineup left handed thumper. That is a very solid pick. Fast moving sluggers with plate discipline are rare enough, but when you factor in the left handed aspect he just looks even better.
The upside here is not as high as Kris Bryant, but no hitter in this draft had Bryant’s upside. I suppose you could argue that the Cubs played it safe instead of gambling on a riskier Gordon or Jackson or an inherently riskier pitcher, but when playing it safe consists of a serious left handed slugger with more walks than strikeouts (and more extra-base hits than strikeouts), I am perfectly ok playing it safe. The risk here is that Schwarber can’t play anywhere but first base or DH, but right now that looks like a fairly low risk.
I think the Cubs did well in the first round. Once the top three pitchers were off the board I didn’t really like anyone at full slot value, but since Schwarber will almost certainly sign for less than slot, that isn’t a concern here either. Despite having the fourth pick in a draft where the elite talent ran three deep, the Cubs still got the best hitter in the draft.
Round Two – Jake Stinnett
This one is very interesting. We expected the Cubs to gamble on a high school pitcher with a very high ceiling, and instead they took a college senior. The initial reaction is that the Cubs made a value pick with the idea of signing him for under slot because that is typically the case with college seniors (and it may be the case to some extent here). I think, upon first glance, a lot of fans were probably both puzzled and concerned that the Cubs had lost their minds.
On second glance, though, I think the Cubs did almost exactly what we thought they would. Stinnett was a two way player for much of his college career, so his pitching is not as polished as you might expect for a typical college guy. As Brett mentioned last night, his fastball is clocked as high as the upper nineties and both his strikeout and walk numbers this season have been excellent. He already has a pretty good slider. Once he polishes off his changeup, he will have the three pitch mix he needs for success as a starter.
And that’s not all. He is apparently a very good ground ball pitcher as well, one who can rely on his hard sinker to produce weak contact (when hitters don’t miss it completely). So what do we call a guy with a plus fastball, very good command, strong ground ball tendencies, and quality supporting pitches (assuming his changeup develops)? We may very well call him a number three starter.
He needs to get that third pitch working, and I would not be surprised if the Cubs keep him in the lower minors until they are comfortable with it. Once that happens, though, I would not be surprised to see him move up the system fairly quickly. He may stay in A ball longer than we think he should, but once he starts to move his fastball and sinking stuff could land him in the major league conversation sooner than we expect.
As for the risk side of things, it is more limited than it would be with any high school pitcher. If his third pitch never rounds into form then he still projects as a back end reliever. Finding a potential closer in the second round is still doing pretty well (although I’d greatly prefer he start).
So it looks like the Cubs drafted a fairly high upside guy after all, but did so in a way that greatly reduced the risk they would have accepted with a high school pitcher. Skeptics will accuse them of playing it safe, but to me this looks like a fairly smart pick. And, as with Schwarber, they will probably also pick up the added bonus of a somewhat under slot signing.
If you are a dreamer, then dream on a future line up of:
Pitcher or Vogelbach, DH
Ok, so if the DH comes to the NL and Vogelbach pans out, then he would be hitting higher than ninth, but you get the point. That is a lot of power in one lineup, and we are in era when power is at a premium.
And in the rotation? A lot of hard throwing, ground ball inducing guys like Stinnett (not to mention several who are in the Cubs bullpen already (and even more who are in the minors)).
That’s a nice future the Cubs are building, and it is a future that their Day One draft picks fit into very nicely. When we look not just at yesterday, but at the drafts this front office has made over the past two seasons, I think we can see plenty of evidence that a plan not too far from what I just described is exactly what they are building towards. It should go without saying that not all those prospects will hit, but that’s where depth comes into play. Adding to that depth will be one of the priorities for the Cubs throughout the rest of the draft.