This Week In The Minors: Still Talking Draft

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This Week In The Minors: Still Talking Draft

Chicago Cubs

2013 mlb draftAfter three exciting, exhausting, and occasionally confusing days, the 2013 draft is in the books. Now comes the signing process, the assignment of new players to their various teams, the strategy critiques, the re-evaluation of the organizations, the re-ranking of the top prospect lists, and all those other aspects of minor league tracking and over-analysis from which so many derive such enjoyment. This is a great time of year to be a baseball fan, and particular a fan of the minors.

And that draft analysis begins today, in a small way. Until players have signed it will be tough to get an accurate sense of just how well the Cubs did this year, but this year, even with signing questions factored in, I think the only question be whether the Cubs did well or very well. This is a strong draft.

After a quick assessment of the four currently active teams we will take an early, high level look at the Cubs draft and start to figure out what it means for the farm system and the organization as a whole.

Iowa Cubs : 27-34

The worst team in the Cubs organization is in second place and just five games out of first. The Pacific Coast League does not declare first half division winners as a means of locking up postseason slots, so the Cubs have until the beginning of September to close that gap.

They should be getting some reinforcements. Junior Lake has finally arrived in Iowa after a long rehab stint in Arizona, and eventually the Cubs should promote Double A veterans such as Matt Szczur and Jae-Hoon Ha (currently injured) and Justin Bour (also injured) to Iowa. The large class of college pitchers in this draft might allow some bullpen pitchers to be promoted as well. Zach Rosscup, Tony Zych, Trey McNutt, and Frank Batista would all be candidates for relocation to a more northern bullpen.

Tennessee Smokies : 31-30

The Smokies are still over .500 and in second place, but they have fallen 7.5 games back of first. If Tennessee is going to enjoy postseason baseball, they’ll do it with a second half title.

In the meantime, the Smokies are running an online auction with proceeds going to support the Oklahoma City Red Cross. There are signed items from Cub greats like Fergie Jenkins on that list, as well as Message Board favorites like Tony Campana. Whether you are a serious collector, a casual  fan, or shopping for a loved one I think you’ll find something on that list worth bidding on.

That list does have some rare and unusual items. This might be your only chance to bid on a game used bat signed by reliever Frank Batista. I have to wonder, though, who used that bat? According to Baseball Reference, Batista does not have an At Bat this season. Or in any other season for that matter.

Daytona Cubs : 29-28

The Cubs are in a tough division, but despite that they are still lurking just four games back of the division leader. They are not out of contention for the first half title yet, but it would take some unlikely events to close that gap at this point in the season.

Kane County Cougars : 28-31

Believe it or not, the Cougars are not mathematically eliminated either. Sitting in sixth place and 8.5 games behind the leader, though, it is all but impossible that they can come back in the first half. The Cougars have more talent than their record indicates, though, and there is no reason they can’t rule this division in the second half.

The 2013 Draft – An Early Look

Mike Safford, the voice of the Boise Hawks, has compiled the available stats for nearly every player the Cubs took in the draft this weekend. After spending the weekend chasing down stats for a lot of these players myself, I can appreciate how titanic an effort this was.

The Cubs took 19 pitchers this weekend, three of them southpaws. That is an indicator just how rare left handed pitchers are. Rob Zastrynzy will become the best left handed starter in the organization as soon as he signs a contract. Tyler Ihrig and Sam Wilson both have some potential, but it will take some patience to see what they develop into.

That means the Cubs took 16 right handed pitchers, and many of them were from college. And many of them were tall. Very tall. Scott Frazier and Sean Johnson both stand in at 6’7″. Brad Renner is 6’6″, Tyler Skulina is 6’5″, and Daniel Poncedeleon and Trevor Clifton headline a cluster of hurlers who are 6’4″. Taller pitchers generally throw pitches at a steeper downhill angle and, as a result, are often tougher for hitters to pick up. By drafting a basketball team worth of tall, hard throwing right handers the Cubs likely stacked the deck in their favor a bit. Not all will sign, but even so the Cubs appear to have done a nice job injecting another wave of pitching talent into the system.

The Cubs also loaded up behind the plate. Six catchers were drafted, including some fairly high ceiling backstops like Jeremy Martinez, Tyler Alamo, and Cael Brockmeyer. It is unlikely that all of the Cubs catcher draftees will sign, but the Cubs knew that when they drafted them. We do not know just yet how large an infusion of catching talent the system is going to receive, but for the second year in a row the Cubs made an effort to shore one of the organization’s largest weaknesses.

The Cubs attacked the system’s other big weakness, outfielders, as well. With the big names like Jorge Soler and Albert Almora taking the headlines it can hard to remember that the Cubs are actually a little thin in this area, particular in the corners. After Soler, the next best corner outfield prospect in the system might just be Josh Vitters, currently playing third base. Reggie Golden and Bijan Rademacher have potential, but both are fairly far away. The Cubs needed some bigger bats to play left and right, and in this draft they may have found a few.

Kevin Brown, a left handed hitter from Bryant College, is one intriguing possibility. Third round pick Jacob Hannemann is another strong candidate (although he might be able to stay in center). And of course the Cubs snagged a fair assortment of speed-first outfield types as well, but they were already reasonably deep in that department. What the farm system needed was an infusion of big bats.

And in first round pick Kris Bryant, the Cubs drafted one of the biggest. Whether he plays third base or outfield is almost beside the point. Bryant’s value is primarily his bat. He is no liability on defense, far from it, but this guy put on a nearly unprecedented power showcase all season in college. Bryant was the best hitter in this draft and instantly joins the very top tier of Cubs prospects.

Including Bryant the Cubs drafted seven infielders (counting Tyler Sciacca who was announced as a CF and then re-listed as a 2B). Bryant easily outshines them all. I suspect we will see many of the other infielders playing in Boise and Arizona soon, but I don’t see any Top 40 list candidates among them.

Finally, I did notice three general trends from the Cubs that I think will end up defining this draft (other than the tendency to draft really tall pitchers, that is).

First, the Cubs stuck to the college ranks. An overwhelming majority of the Cubs players came from college, and most of those were drafted out of four year colleges. The Cubs are looking for more polished talent that could help out in the majors sooner rather than later. To me, that suggests that the Cubs can see the competitive window in the major leagues opening as soon as next season and they are trying to prime the farm system with the reinforcements they will need to build the Cubs into a consistent juggernaut. The lower levels of the system are already stacked with talent, but the middle ranks were somewhat lacking (particularly at pitcher). With the 2013 draft the Cubs tried to correct that.

Second, the Cubs did not forfeit any picks. While other teams were drafting the son of so-and-so and the brother of some-other-guy, the Cubs stuck to their rankings and drafted the players they wanted to draft. There were no wasted picks this year.

Third, it seemed to me that the Cubs were drafting from cold weather states more frequently than in years past. I know the two big baseball hotbeds (Florida and California) were both considered to be in down years talent wise, but I don’t think that completely explains it. The Cubs barely touched the other Southern states (such as Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi) at all. Instead, the Cubs were drafting from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey.

There is a school of thought that says that players from these cold-winter states are often undervalued in the draft because they have shorter seasons, less time to practice outdoors, and are less frequently seen by scouts. Mike Trout is often cited as an example of a player who was badly undervalued in the draft because he hailed from the chilly North East. If this theory is true (and I personally think it is), then the Cubs might have focused on those states in an effort to find talent other teams would miss. Cold-state scouting could, in other words, become one of those inefficiencies that good front offices look to exploit. That does not mean they found another Trout in this draft, but it does mean they may have found a player or two who should have been drafted much higher than they were had their true potential been realized.

We will have plenty more to say about the draft and this draft class in the coming weeks, but now it is time to look a bit further down the calendar.  Now that the draft is over, the trade season can officially get underway. Rumor season has arrived, and just like the draft, I think it will prove to be both exhausting and a lot of fun.

Author: Luke Blaize

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