The goal of any draft class is to produce quality players for the Major League roster, either directly via player development and promotion or indirectly via trade.
The 2015 draft already checks both boxes for the Chicago Cubs. By any reasonable measure, this is already a good draft. The only remaining question is just how good a draft it could be.
The Cubs picked ninth overall in the first round in 2015 and chose college switch-hitter Ian Happ. Happ has already reached the majors and is currently third in total fWAR among this crop of first round picks. Only Houston’s Alex Bregman (5.9) and Boston’s Andrew Benintendi (3.1), each selected before Happ, top Happ’s 1.8. Then again, only five first round picks have made the majors at all yet.
In the second round, the Cubs drafted outfielder Donnie Dewees, later traded to the Royals for right handed pitcher Alec Mills. Mills reached the majors briefly with Kansas City, but he spent his one season in the Cubs’ organization largely on the disabled list. He should be an option should the Cubs need an extra starter at some point this year, though, and if healthy will very likely join the major league team in September at the latest.
So that’s two major league players effectively coming from this draft. And we can also already mark down a partial third.
When the Cubs acquired Jose Quintana, the headliners from the Cubs were mega-prospect Eloy Jimenez, and the Cubs’ best pitching prospect Dylan Cease. But also in the deal was slugging corner infielder Matt Rose (11th round in 2015). Rose hit 17 homers in 101 games in 2016, his first full professional season, and followed that up with 18 bombs in 2017 in High A (split between the Cubs’ and Sox’ organizations). He wasn’t the main guy in the trade by any stretch, but he was part of it. That means we need to at least note Quintana as a (very) partial product of this draft.
If we stopped right there, this would be a good draft. But it could get better. Early in the draft, the Cubs took two shots on high upside high school players, and while neither is likely to appear on any national top 100 lists any time soon, both seem likely to be fixtures in the organizational top 40 for some time.
Bryan Hudson (3rd round, LHP) was drafted out of high school as a very tall (6’8″) left-hander with a very promising curveball … who needed a lot of mechanical work. After two full seasons in the minors, he is still a very tall left-hander with a very promising curveball who needs a lot more mechanical work.
But there has been progress. Through 124.1 innings (24 starts) for South Bend last year, Hudson finished with a so-so ERA of 3.91, a lackluster strikeout rate of 5.86 K/9, but a stunningly good ground ball rate of 66.2%. His biggest problem? Control. He walked 52, hit 9, gave up 10 homers, and threw 9 wild pitches. I strongly suspect that most of those control issues boil down to him getting comfortable in his improved mechanics with his size, and that once that comfort is achieved the numbers are going to start to improve rapidly. Right now, he looks more like a future fifth starter, but I think the raw material is here for him to be a lot better than that.
Right after Hudson, the Cubs drafted D.J. Wilson (4th round, OF), a smallish (5’8″), left-handed hitting center fielder with good speed, a good glove, and questions about his bat. So far the speed has carried into his professional game (42 steals in 177 games), and the defense might be his best overall tool. The bat still needs work, but it is looking promising. He has more power than you might expect given his size (9 homers in 88 games for South Bend), and posted a solid 9.5% walk rate on his way to a line of .229/.309/.419 (that’s 5% better than league average in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League).
Wilson’s biggest problem is his strikeout rate (25.6%), but if he can bring that down, even if he needs to trade some power to do so, he could make enough contact to let the rest of his tools carry him a long way. Given the very depleted state of the Cubs’ farm system, Wilson is actually one of the better positional prospects in the organization.
One of the more underrated players in the organization also came out of this draft. I ranked Ian Rice (29th round, C) highly in the last Top 40, but in general he remains largely under the radar. If he keeps putting up numbers like he did in Double A last year (15.2% walk rate, .193 ISO, wRC+ 129) while continuing to improve behind the plate, that underrating will not last long. His 22.8% strikeout rate is on the high side, but all in all Rice projects as a nice right-handed hitting backup catcher of the low-average, good-power, high-walk-rate variety.
Daniel Spingola (31st round, OF) also deserves a mention here. A left-handed hitter, Spingola did well in Myrtle Beach to open the season in 2017 (64 games, .285/.368/.434) before moving to Tennessee and holding his own (43 games, .237/.299/.317). Spingola hasn’t quite shown enough power to be considered a future slugger, but he may yet reach the majors as a platoon hitter or fourth outfielder.
On the pitching side, there are some interesting relief arms to note. Craig Brooks (7th round, RHP) struck out 13.28 K/9 in 20.1 innings for Myrtle Beach, and then 12.94 K/9 in 40.1 innings for Tennessee. His Double A walk rate jumped up to 6.47 BB/9, but if he can get that back under control he could emerge as a mid to late season relief candidate for the Cubs. He just received a non-roster invitation to big league Spring Training.
Scott Effross (15th round, RHP) hasn’t posted the strikeout numbers of Brooks, but he has been effective. His 8.39 K/9 in 79.1 (mostly) relief innings for Myrtle Beach was good, his 2.95 BB/9 was good, and his 53% groundball rate was good. Best of all, though, was his 0.11 HR/9. I’m not sure Effross has back of the bullpen stuff, but right now he has all the earmarks of a plausible future middle relief arm.
And then we have Casey Bloomquist (17th round, RHP). Bloomquist is a hard guy to figure out right now. He spent most of the season in Myrtle Beach, including nine starts, and put up mostly pedestrian numbers over 73.1 innings. His walk rate of 1.84 BB/9 was excellent, but that was offset by his high 1.10 HR/9 and a strikeout rate under 7. His ERA for High A was 6.14, but his FIP was 4.24. And then he went to Tennessee for two starts, 12 innings, and posted an ERA of 3.75 on a meh strikeout rate, an excellent walk rate of 1.50 BB/9, and a fantastic groundball rate of 61.9%. That led to a FIP of 3.95. So… if Bloomquist is a low-walk ground ball artist, he could have a nice future as either a fifth starter or in the middle of a bullpen. If he is just a low strikeout guy, though, Double A hitters will likely inflate his stat line in short order this season.
All in all, we have to grade this draft favorably already. The Cubs did well in 2015, and with a couple high upside types lurking in the low minors, and a number of potential Major League reserve possibilities developing in the middle tiers, it could turn out that they did very well indeed.