Day One of the 2017 MLB Draft has come and gone, and I think you’d have to say it was a success for the Chicago Cubs.
There were no huge surprises, even if this Cubs front office had not before used a first round pick on a pitcher and now they’ve used two. Given the rush to grab college bats early and the ever-present risks (and costs) associated with high school pitching, I like that the Cubs went after more established, but still with upside, college pitchers.
We always talk about how developing young pitchers has been the one bugaboo for this front office … well, a huge reason for that is because they’ve used most of their early picks on position players. Yes, you’d love to hit on a few later round pitchers – and they still might with some more development time – but the odds are always going to be better earlier in the draft.
Together with second rounder Cory Abbott, the Cubs will add Brendon Little and Alex Lange to their rising crop of pitching prospects at the A/High-A/AA level, and perhaps they’ll find some real breakouts for 2018 and 2019 when they’ll need it most.
As for today, Rounds 3 Through 10 will see the Cubs assuredly take more pitching – in fact, these are the rounds that have been the pitching heaviest for the Cubs in recent years – and maybe even some aggressive swings.
Remember, though: picks today are subject to the bonus pool, which means if the Cubs fail to sign any of the players they draft today (or yesterday), they lose the slot value associated with that pick from their bonus pool (full details in the draft primer here). In other words, if you’re going to take aggressive swings before the 11th round, you’d better either know you can sign the youngster, or that you can still sign your other top round picks without going too far over your newly-smaller bonus pool, lest you incur significant penalties.
To that end, look for the Cubs to take some senior college players in the later rounds today so that they can sign them for well under slot value, saving money to be used elsewhere in the draft. The Cubs have actually done an excellent job with those picks, landing actual prospects (examples: Ryan Williams, James Farris (traded to the Rockies for Eddie Butler), Zack Godley (traded to the Diamondbacks in the Miguel Montero deal).
All right. Day Two of the Draft. We’ll update this post with the Cubs’ picks as they’re made.
Away we go …
Round 3, Pick 105: RHP Keegan Thompson, Auburn. Another college pitcher! This one is coming back from Tommy John surgery, so this is an upside pick for the Cubs. Very interesting selection at this stage in the draft. As a former Team USA pitcher, Thompson has the pedigree – he’s just dealt with injuries.
— MLB Draft (@MLBDraft) June 13, 2017
“After turning down the Tigers as a 33rd-rounder last summer, the redshirt junior has looked as good as ever on the mound this spring. Since his high school days, Thompson’s best pitch has been his plus curveball, which features good depth. He usually works in the upper 80s with his two-seam fastball and the low 90s with a peak of 95 with his four-seamer, though his heater gets flat at higher velocities. He also has solid feel for a changeup. Thompson throws strikes with all his pitches and scouts have noted that he’s more mature as a pitcher now, focusing on getting outs and not worrying as much about velocity. As a polished college pitcher who’s already 22, he’ll get the opportunity to advance quickly in pro ball. Teams will have to balance his track record of success against his medical history, which also includes a missed start this spring with shoulder tendinitis.”
Each of MLB.com and BA had Thompson ranked roughly where he was selected.
Round 4, Pick 135: RHP Erich Uelmen, Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before … another college pitcher! That’s five in five picks for the Cubs. I don’t hate it.
“On the Cape, Uelmen was up to 93-95 mph with his fastball, but that was typically earlier in his starts there. As a starter this spring, he’s lived generally in the 89-91 mph range, though it plays up because of the terrific two-seam movement he gets on it from his low three-quarters slot, generating a ton of ground-ball outs. The right-hander has average secondary offerings, with a decent slider he uses to get people to chase and feel for a changeup. He’s more control over command, but he largely stays in the strike zone. Largely because he shows better velocity in shorter stints, there are some who feel he might be better suited for the bullpen, where he could be a rally-killing ground-ball machine. A team that takes him early will likely at least give him the chance to start at the next level.”
MLB.com’s crew expected Uelmen to go in the top five rounds, while BA had him outside the top 250 prospects.
Round 5, Pick 165: OF Nelson Velazquez, Puerto Rico (High School). Hey, a non-college player and a non-pitcher! I’ll have to dig a bit to find much on Velazquez, who was ranked 202 to BA, but not ranked by MLB.com.
Among BA’s comments about Velazquez, who played high school ball in Florida for some time before moving back to Puerto Rico: “He had an outstanding showing at the Excellence Tournament in May, solidifying him for most as the second-best player in the Puerto Rico class behind the toolsier Heliot Ramos. He’s a physical specimen and shows plus raw tools. He ran the the 60-yard dash in less than 6.5 seconds at the Excellence Tournament, a 70-grade time on the 20-to-80 scale. Velazquez shows plus bat speed and average to slightly above-average raw power and he has a plus arm. Scouts describe Velazquez’s pure hitting ability as very raw; he’ll have to adjust his aggressive offensive approach against better pitching.”
Sounds like a legit prospect who may have been dinged a bit by whatever it was that made him no longer eligible to play in Florida (as of this moment, it’s not clear to me).
Round 6, Pick 195: RHP Jeremy Estrada, California (High School). Estrada was a top high school name coming into 2017, but he apparently fell off with scouts in the spring, settling into the 90 to 120 range in the rankings. That would still be a good value at this spot … if the Cubs can sign him out of his UCLA commitment. Slot here is just $223,000, so the Cubs will probably have to use savings from elsewhere in the draft to make it happen.
Baseball America says the fall-off for Estrada this spring was due to a comebacker he took off the arm, so maybe it was a flukey fall-off and the Cubs get a top two round talent in the 6th round.
“If one was to base Estrada’s Draft status on his summer showcase performance, he’d be approaching the top group of high school right-handers in the country. Looking at how he’s pitched this spring, however, could lead an evaluator to leave him off of the Top 100 completely. Over the summer, Estrada showed electric stuff from his slightly under-sized frame, starting with a fastball that was 93-95 mph. This spring, he’s been topping out at 92 mph and often sitting in the upper-80s. He showed one of the best changeups in the country last summer, but hasn’t been throwing it much this spring. And he’s lost sharpness in his breaking ball as well, a pitch that flashed plus at times and was up into the mid-80s but this spring has come in closer to 80 mph.”
Round 7, Pick 225: LHP Ricky Tyler Thomas, Fresno State. Back to the college pitching ranks for the Cubs with another lefty, that Jonathan Mayo described as a “pitchability” type – which tends to be the way scouting pundits describe guys without overwhelming velocity or stuff, but who can still get outs.
It sounds like, from BA’s scouting report, that Thomas is a bounceback candidate:
“The slight-bodied 6-foot-1, 185-pounder was consistently better in 2016, earning a spot on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. Thomas competes and has a changeup that at times earns 70 grades, though that was not the case frequently this year. He didn’t command his 87-90 mph fastball this spring, with his walk rate jumped from 1.38 per nine to 5.16 this season. Thomas has a fringy to below-average breaking ball, and he wasn’t holding his velocity over the course of the season.”
Round 8, Pick 255: 3B Austin Filiere, MIT. Somewhat surprisingly, not a senior here for the Cubs, though he still may be an under slot guy, as Filiere was not on the BA top 500. He was, however, BA’s preseason player of the year for Division III, so there’s obviously some talent there, even if in a less competitive sphere. The Cubs have taken a ton of college bats like this in recent years, though usually they’ve come in the later rounds.
Sounds like Filiere could also be a future front office prospect. Great write-up on that angle from Peter Gammons last fall.
Round 9, Pick 285: OF Chris Carrier, Memphis. The Cubs’ first senior selection (which usually means savings under slot, as seniors do not have the leverage of threatening to go back to school). Carrier flashed a ton of power in his senior year (.311 ISO, 16 homers in 56 games), so maybe he took a step forward after his junior year. When taking a senior sign, you’d like to see at least one above average tool, and it looks like power is the order of the day for Carrier. Dramatically improved his plate discipline numbers in his senior year, too.
Great read on Carrier here, as it sounds like he dealt with a serious and freak medical condition before his breakout.
Round 10, Pick 315: RHP Brian Glowicki, Minnesota. Another senior for the Cubs, and the prototypical pick here in the 9/10 round range. He was a solid performer in college out of the bullpen, but didn’t really have a great year until 2017, when he was very effective. But, again, that is as a reliever, and even the most dominant college relievers rarely emerge as big-time prospects. Here’s hoping Glowicki bucks that trend, or perhaps is converted back to starting, as the Cubs did with another 10th rounder – Ryan Williams, who was the closer at ECU before the Cubs made him a starter, and he flew up through the minors (though unfortunately has missed most of the last two seasons now with injuries).
— Minnesota Baseball (@GopherBaseball) June 13, 2017