By most definitions, the 2014 draft goes down as a success. The Cubs turned the fourth overall pick into Kyle Schwarber, now a postseason legend and World Series hero. His career bWAR is only 1.1 so far thanks largely to a 2016 season lost to injury, but it is likely to go a lot higher now that he is healthy and expected to be a regular part of the Cubs offense.
Mark Zagunis (OF, 3rd round) also reached the majors, albeit briefly, and is likely to be back at some point this year. So that’s two Major League players from the 2014 draft, and one of them a high impact guy. That’s a solid draft.
But this was supposed to be a great draft. This was the draft when the Cubs managed to sign three million dollar high school pitchers on the second day. This was the draft that was supposed to deliver some good young pitching to the Major League team.
Well, sort of.
Dylan Cease was one of those three high ceiling high school pitchers drafted, and he was a key part of the package that brought the Cubs Jose Quintana. Trading prospects is a perfectly valid way to turn draft picks into Major League production, so we need to add a third Major Leaguer to this draft’s (partial) credit. And Quintana is a very good major leaguer at that.
And we might not be done here. Even though this draft turns four in June, there still might be another big league player or two lurking. There might even be some upside worth keeping an eye on.
Unforunately, the real story of this draft has been time spent on the disabled rather than in the majors. Of the remaining pitchers taken in the first ten rounds, only two, Jake Stinnett and Ryan Williams, have pitched 100 innings in a season. And both Stinnett and Williams have each lost substantial time to injuries. With all those injuries, it is really hard to grade this draft. There still might be some impact talent to come … once that talent gets done with rehab. But, as is always the case with injured pitching prospects, we can’t really count on it.
With Dylan Cease out of the system, the Cubs’ two remaining high-upside, million-dollar high school arms from this draft are Carson Sands (LHP, 4th round) and Justin Steele (LHP, 5th round). Steele was pitching well for Myrtle Beach until he had Tommy John surgery last year. His strikeout rate was down a little, but the walk rate had improved significantly (to 3.28 BB/9) over 2016, and his groundball rate had climbed to near 49%. If he keeps those trend lines when he comes back, hopefully sometime late this season, he’ll once again become one of the Cubs’ pitching prospects to watch.
Sands started his own injury rehab in late June of 2017 after surgery in the spring; we didn’t learn much about Sands last year. Assuming he comes all the way back health-wise, I think he still projects as a innings-eating fourth or fifth starter who can keep his team in the game. I thought he had a shot to move fairly quickly (for a high school draftee, that is) before he got hurt, but now we just need to see him come back. I think he’ll probably open the season with South Bend, but he may stay a while in extended Spring Training before he does.
Another pitcher who lost most of 2017 was Jake Stinnett (RHP, 2nd round). After missing the majority of the season, he came back in time to pitch a few innings for Tennessee out of the bullpen, and shows a nice ability to get both grounders (56.3%) and strikeouts (8.59 K/9) in relief. A return to Tennessee seems likely, but a strong start there should put him on the fast track to Iowa. And if the Cubs need an extra reliever in Chicago down the stretch, Stinnett might just get the call.
Another 2014 draftee who has been hammered by injuries is Ryan Williams (RHP, 10th round). Williams rocketed through the farm system early in his career, reaching Double A the year after he was drafted. He has consistently put up quality ground ball numbers, not great strikeout numbers, and has done a nice job avoiding walks. In short, he looked like a potential fifth starter. But injuries capped him at 44 innings in 2016 and just 13.2 innings in 2017, and now he just needs to get back on mound for a full season before we can say anything. I still really like Williams as a back of the rotation starter, provided he can stay healthy.
That’s not to say everyone from this draft has missed substantial time with injuries … although it does sometimes feel that way. Brad Markey (RHP, 19th round) has stayed fairly healthy. After a couple of seasons of putting up remarkably good results with remarkably questionable peripherals, he kept the good results and matched his peripherals to them as a reliever in Tennessee and Iowa. He could be a mid-season middle relief candidate for the Cubs.
Zach Hedges (RHP, 26th round) has also stayed mostly healthy. He has pitched 130+ innings every year since 2015, and his 146.1 innings last year brought him to Iowa for a brief stint. In his 22 starts with Tennessee he put up an ERA of 3.49 with some good walk (2.09 BB/9) and ground ball (52.8%) numbers. Hedges should be in Iowa’s rotation this year, and he has a shot to one day be the second Epstein/Hoyer drafted pitcher to make a start in the majors for the Cubs (Rob Zastryzny was the first).
On the offensive side, Kevonte Mitchell (OF, 13th round) continues to show off some good tools, but he hasn’t yet put together that really good sustained stretch that he’ll need to break onto the prospect radar. Don’t lose track of him, though. Mitchell, if things break right, could explode up the system in a hurry.
Joe Martarano (INF, 22nd round) played football for Boise State and baseball for the Cubs for a few years, but now has focused entirely on baseball. He posted an OPS of .873 for Eugene (60 PA), but struggled in South Bend. He should return to South Bend as he starts the season with a full season league for the first time in his career.
Andrew Ely (SS/2B, 32nd round) played 97 games for Tennessee last year, and his .356 OBP means he shouldn’t be entirely overlooked – which he wasn’t when the Mets plucked him from the Cubs in the minor league phase of this year’s Rule 5 Draft. Ely projects best as a utility player, and the Mets will help him try to get there.
And there are few others of note in the 2014 draft, but most of them are injured or rehabbing from injuries. A year from now, we may look on 2014 as a very good draft, but for now I see as a somewhat disappointing one. There may be a few more Major League players in there somewhere, but for now, this class looks like it will go down as the Kyle Schwarber draft.
Although, again, a Schwarber who breaks out this year, alone, makes this a pretty good draft. Just not a great one.