By the time the 2012 June draft rolled around, the Cubs were in the midst of a top to bottom organizational shakeup.
Most of the old front office was gone, and in their place were Theo Epstein and his hand-picked band of trusted, veteran lieutenants. The problems they faced were multifold: the Major League roster was aging and not up to the challenge of winning the division; the minor league system was very thin on impact talent and held back in many areas by a lack of staff compared to other organizations, not to mention some dated training facilities; the scouting and player development operation was one of the smallest in baseball, and it was not one that had yet embraced the advantages that could only be offered by technology and advanced statistics.
One of the early first steps in restocking the organization with talent, not to mention one of the early challenges, was the 2012 draft. The Cubs had a strong 2011 draft under their belts, and thanks to that draft the organization did have a couple potential impact bats lurking in the lower minors (Javy Baez and Dan Vogelbach). The pitching situation, though, was not good. In what was to become a running theme of Cubs drafts under the Epstein front office, drafting pitching in bulk after the first round was going to be a focus in 2012.
Unfortunately, that aspect of the draft has not yet work out as hoped.
To date, only one player from the 2012 draft has reached the majors for the Cubs: first round outfielder Albert Almora. A defensive wizard in center, Almora appeared in 47 games for the Cubs in 2016. He also made some very key plays for the Cubs in the playoffs. His future in Chicago may not be entirely certain, but odds are good he will emerge as the center fielder of the near future.
After Almora in the first, the Cubs did not take another non-pitcher until eight picks later. Immediately after the draft, there was a fair amount of optimism regarding the seven consecutive pitchers the Cubs drafted. There was a mix of high school and college, left and right, and a number of potentially high ceilings on the list. Looking back, though, things have not gone well for this group. I think we will see some Major League contributors from the 2012 pitching class, perhaps as soon as this season, but for now it stands more as a cautionary tale on the dangers of expecting that drafting a lot of pitchers highly in the draft will always pay dividends.
To take them in order:
- Pierce Johnson – Struggled with command and non-arm injuries, moved to the bullpen, may have a future as a big league reliever.
- Paul Blackburn – Traded to the Mariners in the Mike Montgomery deal.
- Duane Underwood – He has good stuff and a high ceiling, but has struggled to translate his stuff into outs. He won’t turn 22 until mid July, though, and showed some promise in Tennessee last season. Don’t give up on him yet.
- Ryan McNeil – Thanks to injuries and rehab, he pitched just 36 innings prior to 2015. In 2016 he broke out as one of the best closers in the Carolina League and may yet have a Major League bullpen in his future.
- Josh Conway – Thanks to injuries and rehab, he didn’t pitch at all until 2014. Since then he has made it as high as Double A. When he can control his stuff he is effective in relief, but his 2016 walk per nine was a double digit number.
- Anthony Preito – He hasn’t pitched since six rookie league games in 2013.
- Trey Lang – His last professional game came in the Northwest League in 2014.
That is not what the Cubs were hoping for when they loaded up on pitching in 2012, and I think it is fair to say that the struggles of this group collectively have lead in part to the Cubs’ current pitching need (and their resulting late spring push to acquire multiple depth options to stash in Iowa).
Unfortunately, when you get past the run of pitchers early in the 2012 draft, you just about run out of things to talk about.
Stephen Bruno (8th) is an undersized utility infielder with a decent bat, but the Cubs’ depth of middle infield talent makes his future in that role with this organization cloudy.
Rashad Crawford (11th) is a left handed hitting outfielder with a lot of tools and Major League potential. He started to break out with Myrtle Beach this season, and then was included in the deadline deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman.
Bijan Rademacher (13th) should be part of the deep and talented Iowa outfield this year, and may well get a shot in Chicago if the Cubs need a corner outfielder for a time. Long term, he profiles best as a bench bat, but one who seems likely to get a shot at the majors.
David Bote (18th) is another of the Cubs’ utility infield prospects, but he faces the same logjam challenges as Bruno.
Jasvir Rakkar was part of the Canadian team that beat the USA (featuring Almora) in the gold medal game of the 2015 Pan Am games. He spent 2016 playing for an independent team in Quebec.
Rhett Wiseman (25th) drew a lot of attention when the Cubs drafted him, but they could not sign him away from Vanderbilt. The Nationals took him in the 3rd round in 2015.
And that’s pretty much it. Four and a half years after the draft took place, just one player has reached the majors, and two were involved in trades that brought back a Major League return. That is not the hallmark of a good draft. If a few of the other pitchers do find regular roles in the majors, even in relief, this draft starts to look much better. And if Almora becomes an above-average bit league regular, that probably makes the draft a win. For now, though, it does not grade out very high.
2012 is also the last time the Cubs drafted a high school player higher than the third round. Four of their five picks in the third round or higher were high schoolers in this draft, and only Almora has reached Chicago.
This draft also illustrates the importance of drafting pitching in bulk, instead of concentrating it in one top pick. Banking heavily on an impact bat at the top of the draft can pay off tremendously (as we will see in 2013 and 2014), but gambling on pitching can be very risky. Five of the overall top ten draft picks in 2012 were pitchers; only two of those have reached the majors (Kevin Gausman and Andrew Heany). All of the hitters taken in that range have made it.