[Brett: This post will serve not only as Luke’s recounting of yesterday’s picks and preview for today, but also as your open thread for the final day of this year’s draft. We won’t be tracking picks live today, so feel free to follow along in the comments. We’ll have plenty more on the draft in the coming days and weeks.
Rounds 11 through 40 of the draft kick off today at 11am CT, and the picks stream by conference call at MLB.com.]
Well, Friday’s drafting was certainly interesting.
First off, if you haven’t read through the pick by pick tracking Michael kept up on Friday, stop and do that.
All caught up? Then let’s start by doing the totals. So far, the Chicago Cubs’ draft breaks down like this:
High School Draftees: 0
College Draftees: 8
Right-handed pitchers: 7
Left-handed pitchers: 0
I strongly suspect no one would have predicted that is precisely how the board would look at the end of the first ten rounds, including those who were in the Cubs’ draft room.
The Cubs were definitely pursuing pitching with a single minded focus, but I’m not entirely convinced they went into the draft intending to take just college pitchers or just right handed pitchers. It certainly worked out that way, but along the way the Cubs drafted a lot of pitchers who don’t exactly fit the typical bill for a Day 2 college pitcher draftee.
College players are generally seen as safer draft picks, the Cubs picked up quite a bit of risk as they took a shot on some wild cards. The level of risk the Cubs drafted is closer to what I’d expect from a draft loaded with high school arms, not college ones. It isn’t a bad approach, but it is interesting. And it gets more interesting the more I think about it.
If I had to summarize the Cubs’ approach, it would be to pick the best of the areas other teams were ignoring. The Cubs passed on a lot of safe college pitchers for guys who lost velocity, have control problems, have injury concerns, or are untested against quality competition. In the process, they may have landed a draft with more upside than we’d expect, but it is really hard to say. I’m not sure we’ve seen a draft quite like this in the past.
The Cubs’ predilection of zigging where other teams zagged started right out of the gate.
Third round pitch Tom Hatch, for example, had a very good junior season at Oklahoma State (good), but also has a strained elbow in his past (bad). The third round is a little early for most teams to spring on injury risks; the Cubs jumped that market a bit and landed one with mid-rotation starter potential.
In the fourth round the Cubs went to Division II California Baptist for Tyson Miller. He appears to have a traditional three pitch mix (fastball, breaking ball, change up), but the supporting pitches are behind his fastball. He could have a future as a mid-rotation guy, or he could have a future a little better than that. It seems that he was able to survive mostly on his fastball in Division II, so it may be awhile before we know how high quality those secondary pitches could be. In short, he’s a wild card.
As is fifth round pick Bailey Clark. Clark started the year as a starter for Duke, but lost that job when his stuff backed up mid-season, and ended the year in the bullpen. If the Cubs can make some improvements to his delivery and he can re-find the stuff and velocity he had early in the year, he could turn out to be the best pitchers in the Cubs’ draft. A best case scenario could set him up for a future as a potential number two starter. But the delivery isn’t ideal, and his velocity did decline, and instead of a number two starter who throws 99 he could wind up as a middle reliever who throws 94 with control problems. I love this pick for the upside, but it is a risky one.
Then in the sixth round, with Chad Hockin, the Cubs took another reliever who lost velocity during the season AND who had some elbow soreness. He has closer upside if he stays healthy and keeps throwing in the high 90s, and that would be a great value in the sixth round. On the other hand, the Cubs inherited a lot of risk here.
In the eighth and ninth rounds the Cubs went back to tapping into the small colleges with Stephen Ridings (Haverford) and Duncan Robinson (Dartmouth – even though it is Ivy League, it is small potatoes so far as college baseball is concerned). Both of these pitchers have the stats that say they are strikeout artists, but those strikeouts came against not great competition. There is a lot to like, but until we see how they hold up against professional hitters it is going to be tough to project their futures. Both have the frames to be starters, but time will tell.
Finally, in the tenth round, the Cubs went back to the reliever ranks and took Dakota Mekkes. Mekkes looks to have a very good fastball, but he also looks to have some serious control issues. Still, a 6’7″ reliever with a plus fastball is nice gamble to take… if he can find the plate more consistently.
There was also one lone position player, a left-handed hitting catcher, that the Cubs took in this draft, and he is about as prototypical a Cubs’ positional draftee as he could possibly be. Left handed, good power, good on base percentage, patient approach, college hitter… Michael Cruz pretty much checks all the boxes on what the Cubs look for in their first overall bat in pretty much every draft since 2013. He is also the youngest player in the Cubs’ draft (so far).
What do all (or most, at least) of these pitchers have in common? They are going to need quite a bit of work from the Cubs’ training and development staff. More, I think, than we’ve seen from similar points in the draft in previous years. The Cubs are effectively betting on the ability of their development staff to help these draftees correct their various flaws and maximize their talent. Whether we’re talking velocity that faded over the season, control issues, new mechanics, or potential elbow problems, most of these draftees are going to be projects, to some degree, for the Cubs’ training teams. That is true to an extent of any draftee, but I think it is more the case with this group than any collection the Cubs have taken in the first ten rounds since this front office took over.
That may sound like a bad thing to fans who are concerned about the Cubs lack of success in developing pitching, but I’m not so sure that it should be. This front office does not sit still. If they see a weakness, they move to address it, and we know there have been some recent changes on the pitching development staff. It probably wouldn’t be accurate to assume they are continuing to do all the same things in 2016 that did not lead to the hoped for success in 2012 through 2015. That means this draft, or what we have so far, can be seen as a vote of confidence in the current pitching development team as put together by Jason McLeod, his player development director Jaron Madison, and their new minor league pitching coordinator Jim Brower. And that is very interesting indeed. This draft group is going to be fascinating to watch over the next few seasons.
I expect all of these players to sign, and all of them will report to Mesa upon signing. Hatch (3rd), Miller (4th), and Cruz (C, 7th) look to me like the best candidates to move to Eugene at or near the start of the Northwest League season, though any of them certainly could finish the year there.
I don’t see any especially fast movers in this group yet. There are some likely relievers here (Clark, Hockin, and Mekkes in particular), but all of them seem likely to need some time working on mechanics that may slow them down a bit. Still, most of this group should be in South Bend at some point before the end of next season, and that is about what we’d expect from a college heavy crowd.
And As For Saturday
The fun isn’t over yet. We still have thirty rounds to go!
The Cubs are going to take some more position players today, and probably some high school players as well. I imagine they’ll find a left-handed pitcher or two before the day is out. In other words, look for today to be more balanced (if with a continuing emphasis on pitching).
So far as pitchers are concerned, look for the Cubs to focus on height, control, or pitchers who can cause a lot of ground balls. With hitters they will be seeking players with a strong understanding of the strike zone who can get on base at a high rate, preferably with some power. Odds are good they’ll mostly take up the middle types (shortstops, center fielders, catchers), but I imagine we’ll see a sprinkling of third basemen and corner outfielders here and there.
I’m not certain how they stand from a budget perspective, but none of the players they took Friday struck me as particularly tough signs. If anything, the Cubs may have saved up a little money. If that is the case, look for them to take a shot at one or two higher dollar tough sign types today. Those shots may not come in the first few rounds (though we generally expect them to). Should the budget be there, the Cubs will likely take the guy they really hope to sign as well as a couple of back ups in case he doesn’t; don’t expect all the tough signs they draft to be realistically sign-able.
If you want to follow along with the draft, everything I said yesterday still applies. The best way to do it is to hang out here with the rest of the Bleacher Nation crowd, but there are plenty of sources in yesterday’s article to make sure you are covered in draft day goodness wherever you may happen to be.