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Cubs Minor League Daily: Where Do Aces Come From?

Cubs Minor Leagues and Prospects

Baseball America recently ran an article suggesting that teams are starting to once again draft high school pitchers high in the first round because they have decided that is a good way to develop an ace, and developing an ace is a lot cheaper than signing one. The article goes on to suggest that modern data and analysis methods have made drafting high school pitching less risky, and that most aces are in fact drafted early in the first round.


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But are those claims actually supported by data? I don’t think there is any question that drafting an ace is cheaper than signing one, but other than that we can turn to good, old fashioned numbers.

The number of high school pitchers drafted in the top ten picks by year are: 2017 – 2, 2016 – 4, 2015 – 1, 2014 – 2,
2013 – 3. And if I jump back to an era before the modern data revolution, say 1997 to 2002, the number ranged from 0 to 5. I’m not seeing any clear pattern, but further study would be needed to say for sure.

As far as risk is concerned, this would be tough to say. But I can say that drafting high school pitching still seems like the riskiest draft strategy, particularly for a team fortunate enough to have a top ten pick.


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As for where in the draft aces are drafted and whether or not they are drafted out of high school, those points we can take together. Here are the ten top pitchers in baseball by fWAR from 2014 through today. That’s probably not the best way to find who the aces are, but it’ll do for now. Kershaw, Sale, Kluber, Scherzer, Price, Arrieta, Lester, Quintana, Greinke, and Bumgarner. Yes, there are three Cubs on that list. Nice.

Kershaw, Greinke, and Bumgarner are the only three drafted in the top ten picks out of high school. Lester (2nd round) is the only other high school signee of the bunch. Reserving Quintana, who was never drafted, the other five went to college. Kluber and Arrieta weren’t drafted in the first round, even out of college.

The verdict? Based on our very rapid, non-scientific study, the best way to find an ace is to draft primarily from college by a narrow margin (5 to 4), and then just take good pitchers anywhere in the draft you can (two of the five weren’t first rounders).


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By a curious probably-not-a-coincidence, that’s pretty much what the Cubs’ have been doing.

Triple A: Iowa Cubs
Iowa 2, Sacramento 1
Sign me up for the “Get Tseng To Chicago in September” campaign.

Double A: Tennessee Smokies
Biloxi 3, Tennessee 2 in eleven innings
The Smokies struck out sixteen times in this one.

High A: Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Potomac 9, Myrtle Beach 8
Little official wind on the box score, but this was definitely a day for offense anyway.


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Low A: South Bend Cubs
South Bend 5, Dayton 2
A grand slam proved to be the difference.

Short Season A: Eugene Emeralds
Boise 6, Eugene 3
Other than the first, Albertos looked good in this one.

Rookie: AZL Cubs
D-backs 6, Cubs 4
The Cubs outhit the D-backs 12 to 8.

Other Notes

  • Tseng also had nine ground outs yesterday. Through six starts for Iowa he as an ERA of 1.95, 32 strikeouts, and only 9 walks. Right handers are hitting .197 off him and have a GO/AO of 2.78. Lefties give him a bit of trouble (avg of .269), but that’s still pretty decent. At this point I can’t think of a reason to NOT try him out in September for a couple of starts regardless of the state of the division title chase. [Brett: I think it depends on how the starting five are looking at that time. If they’re pitching well and the race is close, then I think you worry about upsetting the apple cart (especially since the sixth starter is, and should be, Mike Montgomery. If the Cubs pull clear or if someone gets dinged up and you need a fill-in, I’m very down with Tseng getting a look. He has to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason anyway.]
  • Maybe limiting his innings is a reason, though. Tseng’s up to 127.1 now, and since he pitched only 113.1 last year I doubt the Cubs want to push him too far over 150. If he makes four more starts in Iowa this year, they may want to limit him to just one September start in the majors for that reason.
  • And let’s get Maples to Chicago in September, too. Innings may be a concern there as well, though. He pitched 32 last year, so I doubt the Cubs want to push him much past 70 this year (if that high). He’s up to 56.2 now will probably finish the Iowa season around 64.

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  • Including yesterday, Zack Short has a High A line of .293/.387/.483 with five homers. Between South Bend and Myrtle Beach, he has now has 12 total homers and an OPS of .837.

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Luke Blaize

Luke Blaize is the Minor League Editor at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @ltblaize.