Baseball’s amateur draft began last night, and the Cubs front office enjoyed it the same way you did – by spectating. Granted, they were probably constantly updating draft boards and continuing discussions about what they would be doing today, but they were mainly spectating. They weren’t drafting anyone, anyway.
Today that changes, as rounds three through ten begin at 12pm CT. The Cubs first pick appears near the end of the third round, pick 104 overall, and they’ll pick in every round thereafter.
But now the focus turns to today. What might the Cubs’ strategy be? Will they be able to find talent? Who might they take? How you can follow along with the draft and stay up to date, even if you can’t be glued to a computer all afternoon? Good questions. I have answers.
Can the Cubs find good talent at pick 104?
Yes. They are not going to find another Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber that deep in the draft, but there is plenty of talent still on the board. For example, let’s take a look at how the Cubs have fared with their picks right around 104 under the Epstein/Hoyer administration.
2012: This was the first year under the new front office, and pick 104 came right in the middle of the Cubs’ run on pitching. Ryan McNeil (101) has been slowed by arm injuries, but is emerging as an effective late inning reliever in Myrtle Beach. Josh Conway (134) has also been slowed by injuries, but is now working in relief in Double A. Both have work to do, but both are legitimate relief pitcher prospects.
2013: This was the Kris Bryant draft, and the Cubs had to work under a bit of a budget in the rest of the first ten rounds to make sure they could hit Bryant’s bonus. Tyler Skulina (108) has an ERA of 3.59 in 12 starts in Tennessee this season, and Trey Masek (138)… well, he’s out of the organization and (so far as I can tell) currently not attached to any affiliated team. Not every pick works out. It is worth noting, though, that Zack Godley was the Cubs’ 10th round pick in this draft. He’s since been traded to Arizona where he has already reached the majors.
2014: In this draft the Cubs had plenty of money to play with (thanks in part to landing Kyle Schwarber at a very team friendly bonus), and they cashed in with some million dollar arms. Carson Sands (109) and Justin Steele (139) are now two of the better left handed pitching prospects in the organization, and after those two the Cubs added more promising pitching prospects like Dylan Cease (169) and Ryan Williams (289).
2015: Last year the Cubs did not focus exclusively on pitching around pick 104, but they still did very well. Bryan Hudson (82) is one of the highest ceiling pitching prospects in the organization, Darryl Wilson (113) is a very exciting outfield prospect, and Ryan Kellogg (141) is already starting for South Bend in his first full season as a professional. It is too early to know how any of these will turn out, but that is a talented bunch.
Without a doubt, there will be quality talent on the board when the Cubs pick today. The trick will be finding it.
What will the Cubs’ strategy be? Will they focus on pitching?
There are certainly plenty of indications that the Cubs will be hunting for pitching prospects with impact potential in this year’s draft, but that doesn’t mean they’ll find it. And the Cubs are too smart to force a thing where it doesn’t exist. For their first pick, quite possibly the only pick they will be able to give a seven a digit bonus (and even that will require plenty of below-slotting later on), look for the Cubs to take the best player on the board. I suspect they will take a high ceiling pitcher (high school or college) if one is there to be had, but they’ll likely take whoever is highest on their board.
Still, there are some trends we can look to for indications. The Cubs have shown a willingness to go for high upside high school picks in this part of the draft, both on the mound (Hudson, Sands, Steele, McNeil) and in the field (Wilson) if the right player was on the board. My guess is that the Cubs will aim for a high ceiling high school pick at number 104, but I honestly think it is just about a coin toss as to if that player will be a pitcher or a bat. It just comes down to who is still on the board.
The Cubs have also demonstrated a willingness to take pitchers who slid due to arm injuries in this area (Cease, Conway), and that could be the direction the Cubs take. In all honesty, if there is a high ceiling pitcher needing elbow surgery on the board, he might be the Cubs’ best bet to maximize their talent acquisition in this draft slot.
Later on in the draft the Cubs will absolutely buy pitching in bulk. Don’t be surprised if all or nearly all of their picks in the first ten rounds are pitchers.
And that isn’t a bad thing. The Cubs have done very well finding good pitchers at the back of the first ten rounds, when teams are typically taking college seniors. Zack Godley was a 10th rounder, as was Ryan Williams.
Who might they take?
It is nearly impossible to say. But … we can make some guesses that fit the pattern of previous Cubs’ picks (assuming they are on the board). Erik Miller, a 6’5″ high school lefty pitcher from St. Louis is a candidate. The Cubs like tall lefties, and they do scout heavily in that part of the country. Early reports on his stuff include the potential for two plus pitches, and that also would be a good fit. He could be a candidate.
In Sevierville, TN, right in the back yard of the Tennessee Smokies, there pitches Zach Linginfelter, a 6’4″ right hander who is reported to throw in the low to mid 90s. The Cubs have probably had ample opportunity to take a look at him, and, again, they do like taller pitchers. They also have a tendency to draft players with last names that twist my fingers into knots in typing them, and Linginfelter fits that bill as well.
One more guess, and these really are guesses: Dalton Sawyer, a left handed pitcher from from the University of Minnesota. Sawyer is 6’5″, so he checks the height box. He is a senior, but the Cubs have drafted at least one college senior in the early rounds (Jake Stinnett, although that was a bit of an unusual case because Stinnett had only been pitching for about two years at the time) and probably would do so again for the right player. They have also shown a willingness to scout and draft from the northern baseball programs, programs that often have shorter seasons due to weather. It can sometimes be tougher to evaluate talent from more northern states, and that can sometimes result in players from those areas being undervalued entering the draft (the classic case is Mike Trout) since fewer teams may have watched a particular player play. That hasn’t phased the Cubs in the past, so Sawyer stays on the list.
But it would be impossible to make a full and complete list of all the candidates. Right now the Cubs likely have in excess of fifty players on their draft board, and they probably won’t make their choice until the last possible minute.
How to follow the draft
(In addition to the traditional view methods … )
Normally I’d say “make sure you are following me (@ltblaize) and Brett (@BleacherNation) on Twitter”, but this year neither Brett or I are likely to be all that active during the draft today or tomorrow. So… be sure to follow Michael (@Michael_Cerami) and Luis (@lcm1986) on Twitter as well as Brett and me. I’ll also have a recap of the day’s draft with a short analysis of each pick written up either this evening or early tomorrow morning, and Michael will be loading up a draft tracking article to keep an eye on the picks and provide a place for conversation once the big event gets underway today.
In other words, stick close to Bleacher Nation and you’ll be in good shape.
There are a ton of good draft day Twitter follows as well, too many to list here. At a minimum, make sure you are following Keith Law, Jim Callis, Michael Lananna, Jonathan Mayo, John Manuel, JJ Cooper, Aaron Fitt, and Nathan Rode. You’ll see that crew retweet plenty of more good follows into your timeline during the day, and before long you’ll have an 80 grade draft Twitter of your very own.