The Cubs had eight picks during Day Two, and, as expected, they focused heavily on pitching, with seven of the eight choices going to an arm. Unexpectedly, only three of those pitchers were from the high school ranks. I fully expected a majority of the Cubs pitcher draft picks would be high schoolers by now, but so far the college guys out number the teenagers five to three (including Stinnett from Day One). There is a lot of upside on this list, and there are some very interesting guys as well.
Round 3 – Mark Zagunis, C
An athletic guy with a lot more speed than you expect from a catcher. That may sound like faint praise, but he really is fairly quick. If the Cubs wanted to move him to the outfield, he has the speed to make that possible. He’s no Matt Szczur (also a college catcher) by any means, but he’s not your typical catcher either.
At the plate, I don’t love the swing, but he appears to adjust to pitches pretty well and makes solid contact when he connects. I don’t see him emerging at a potential slugger, but he has a chance to hit for a decent average if he can keep the strikeouts down. His bat flip needs some work, though it does show promise. I wouldn’t grade that any better than a 45 for now, but I think it has 60 potential.
Round 4 – Carson Sands, LHP
The first lefty pitcher taken by the Cubs is a high schooler with a good fastball, a promising curve, and a changeup that appears to be coming along nicely. He has good size for a pitcher, and with that size and strength came a late increase in velocity. The mechanics look pretty good for his age, but that doesn’t mean he will move quickly. Sands is going to needs time in the minors to develop and improve his secondary pitches; it may be 2016 before we see him in a full season league.
That patience could be rewarded, however, with a mid-rotation starter. Without a better idea how his secondary stuff will shape up I hesitate to project him too confidently, but I think a number three or four starter is within his range of potential.
Round 5 – Justin Steele, LHP
I really like this pick. Steele can run his fastball up into the mid-90s, he appears willing to attack right handed hitters inside with that fastball, and he pairs it with a curve that is already pretty good. As he continues to add muscle and clean up his delivery, that velocity could even tick up a notch. Even though he is a little smaller than some experts prefer for a pitching prospect, I think he has a very good chance to stick as a starting pitcher. If not, a mid-90s left handed fastball is a great start to a good bullpen arsenal.
Like Sands, Steele will require a lot of patience. There is a lot of projection here, and I suspect the Cubs will keep him in short season leagues this summer and next as they continue to work on his mechanics and secondary pitches. I already like what I see, though, and would probably rank him higher than any other pitcher the Cubs have taken except Stinnett.
Round 6 – Dylan Cease, RHP
This guy is a pure lottery ticket. On the upside, he can throw in the upper nineties with good location. On the downside, his secondary pitches are inconsistent, his fastball (at least from what video I have seen) tends to stay up in the zone at times, and he has already had elbow problems. When he is at his best you can see a potential ace… and I do not use that word lightly… or elite closer in the making, but right now those are glimpses of diamond in a whole lot of rough.
The risk here is tremendously high. Cease looks to me like a boom or bust kind of guy. If he regains his health he has a chance to be one of the very good ones, but he also has a chance to one of those guys who never quite makes it out of A ball. He is considered a very tough sign both because of the extreme upside and his strong commitment to Vanderbilt, but his elbow issue plays against that. The Cubs will need to go well over slot to get him, but I think he would risk too much by heading to college on an iffy elbow. I think he signs.
One very possible scenario: he signs for a healthy amount over slot, but winds up having surgery in the fall. He misses most of 2015 on rehab, spends 2016 in the short season leagues, and doesn’t reach a full season league until sometime in 2017. In other words, we could easily be three years away from really knowing what the Cubs have in him. I like that the Cubs took this risk, but I do think Cease will require more patience than any of these other pitchers.
Round 7 – James Norwood, RHP
A mid nineties sinking fastball gets my attention right off the bat; unfortunately he doesn’t have much to back that pitch up with just yet. I do like the fastball, but he will definitely need some better supporting pitches as a professional. Figuring out which of his fairly pedestrian breaking pitches to keep and refine will be the first order of business for the Cubs.
Normally I like to keep a guy starting as long as possible, but in this case, given that he already has a good, hard, sinking fastball and is a college guy, I’d be tempted to move him into a dedicated relief role. Starters need three quality pitches whereas relievers can get by with two. If Norwood can round one other pitch into shape he could move up the system fairly quickly in a relief role while working on a third pitch on the side. Long term I see him as a potentially high grade middle reliever or a fifth starter.
Round 8 – Tommy Thorpe, LHP
He isn’t a bug guy, and he doesn’t throw that hard, but he has had some success at a high level in college. To keep that success going in the majors he will have to continue to get ground balls, avoid home runs, and not give away any more bases than he absolutely has to. That said, after watching what recent video I can find on him, I think he might just pull that off.
Thorpe could move up a little more quickly than some of these other guys, and I suspect the Cubs will be content to keep moving him up so long as he can is getting outs. The absolute upside is probably that of a number five starter in the crafty lefty mold, but since I see a fair bit of refinement to his game already I’m probably a little more optimistic that he can reach that ceiling than I really should be. I’m very interested to see what the Derek Johnson led Cubs development staff have in mind for Thorpe. This is not a pitcher that is likely to make too many top prospects list, but I wouldn’t count him out just yet.
Round 9 – James Farris, RHP
Do you want to see the most insanely over-produced pitcher highlight video I’ve found this year? Of course you do! It has solemn profile shots. It has fadeaways into the sun. It has super slow motion footage. It has precision cuts between three cameras on the same pitch. It has ESPN cut-ins. It has a suitably cheesy quasi-electronica soundtrack. This thing has it all, and it is all about James Farris.
If there is such a thing as a crafty righty, that would be Farris. What he can’t do with velocity (his fastball tops out in the high eighties) he does with movement, off speed pitches, breaking stuff, and command to both sides of the plate. He doesn’t have the raw stuff that teams like to see in the draft, but he won’t need as much development time as a guy with that sort of raw stuff either.
The ceiling here is limited, but it is a ceiling that could land him in the majors one day. I can imagine Farris evolving into a number four or five starter of the innings eater variety, but his margin for error is very small. He’ll have to continue to take full advantage of all the stuff he has if he is going to make it to the majors, but fortunately for him the Cubs minor league pitching coordinator is probably just the guy to help him do that.
Round 10 – Ryan Williams, RHP
There is not a lot of good video on Ryan Williams out there, not that I’ve been able to find anyway, so I don’t have much to go on here. From the little I have seen I suspect his stuff might play up better in relief than in the starting rotation, and some of his pitches look reasonably polished. Quality information on Williams may not emerge until he heads to camp and first hand reports start to trickle in.
Right now I would pencil him down as a potential middle reliever, maybe with setup man upside, but I am basing that on very little.
The Cubs took some high ceiling pitchers early in the day, but I think they did a nice job of picking up some high floor under slot types late in the day. While the players taken on Day One have a chance to move through the farm system relatively quickly, the theme of Day Two should be patience. The Cubs have added a lot of pitching talent to the system, but it is talent that is going to need time to develop.
I’m fairly happy with how Day Two went. I love that the Cubs drafted a couple of high-ceiling left-handed pitchers, I’m cautiously optimistic that the mega-lottery ticket Dylan Cease might pan out, and I strongly suspect that the Cubs may have found some real value from the college ranks late in the day. I can’t ask for much more than that on Day Two of the draft.