This Week In The Minors: Lessons from 2012

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This Week In The Minors: Lessons from 2012

Chicago Cubs

2012 mlb draftWelcome to Draft Week, the time of year when certain high school athletic department websites see more traffic than in any normal decade as tens of thousands of baseball fans try to dig up every last scrap of data on every single pick made by their respective favorite team in the draft.

We all know, of course, that you can’t properly evaluate a draft until a few years after it has happened. First we have to wait and see who signs and who doesn’t, and then to see how many of those signees even make it as high as Double A. Eventually, after five years or so, we can look back on the draft with pleasure because of number of draftees who made it to the majors or were traded for key major league pieces, or with disgruntlement because very few of those draftees amounted to much of anything.

Historically, Cubs fans have looked back with a lot of disgruntlement.

But to a great degree that history means absolutely nothing now. Drafts are the product of the front office, not the stadium or team logo. The Cubs inability to draft well in 1994 or 2004 has nothing to do with their ability to draft under the current regime. For that reason, even though it is years too soon to develop a clear picture of how the Cubs did, today I’m going to look back a bit to the Draft of 2012. That was the first draft run by the new Cubs current office.

Iowa Cubs : 28-25

The Cubs are lurking just one game out of first place in the division. They trail Oklahoma City, but Omaha is just a game behind the Cubs.

Iowa stays on the road in Nashville through Tuesday, but starting on Thursday they are at home against last place Colorado Springs. Next week starts a tough road trip into Fresno and Sacramento.

Tennessee Smokies : 26-29

It seemed like every game the Smokies played this week was close, but they lost nearly all of them. As a result, this team is now twelve and a half games behind first place Huntsville. They are still in second place, at least.

First order of business for the Smokies is to get back over .500, and they can do that by beating up on Birmingham at home early this week. They make the long trek to Jacksonville in the middle of the week for a series starting on Thursday.

Daytona Cubs : 20-33

The Cubs continue to avoid the cellar, thanks to the unbelievably bad record posted by Clearwater. Somehow the Phillies affiliate has managed to be thirty games under .500 on June 1. That is remarkable no matter how you look at it.

The Cubs are in St. Lucie to open this week, but they return to The Jack to host Jupiter starting on Wednesday.

Kane County Cougars : 37-19

Kane County keeps cruising along. They remain in first place with a comfortable six and a half game lead over second place Peoria.

The Cougars are in Peoria now, but they’ll be home on Wednesday to start a set against Clinton. Cedar Rapids comes to town on Saturday.

The 2012 Draft

I’m not going to talk about all the players the Cubs drafted in 2012 here, but you can find the full list in the link just above. This piece is intended to be more of a high level survey, looking for trends that could help inform what we are likely to see starting Thursday night. In particular, there are three trends that appear in the 2012 draft that I think we can expect to see reappear in 2014.

1 – Draft Pitchers In Bunches

The Cubs used seven consecutive picks on pitchers at the top of this draft, and when we look back at how those pitchers have fared we can see the reasons they took a bulk approach. Those pitchers were:
Pierce Johnson
Paul Blackburn
Duane Underwood
Ryan McNeil
Josh Conway
Anthony Prieto
Trey Lang.

That same list could also be read as:
Disabled List (Double A)
Low A
Low A
Hasn’t pitched since 2012 (surgery)
Hasn’t pitched in a professional game that counts (surgery)
Recently had surgery
Hasn’t pitched this year.

There is a lot of potential on that list. Johnson is one of the three best pitching prospects in the system, Blackburn and Underwood (while they need a lot of work) have ceilings that are very high, and McNeil is right up there with them. Conway we haven’t seen pitch yet, but he was considered to be a potential first round talent before he was injured. The talent is certainly there for the Cubs to develop a very rich crop of pitchers from that list. But, as the second list shows, drafting pitching is a gamble.

The Cubs took a bulk approach to drafting pitchers in 2013 as well (although that draft leaned more towards collage arms), and I see no reason to think they won’t go right back to that same strategy in 2014. By drafting in large quantities the Cubs can build in a bit of an insurance policy against arm injuries and surgeries. Until we gain a better understanding of how to prevent arm injuries from happening in the first place, piling up the pitching prospects is probably the best plan.

2 – Hitters Come From College

The Cubs first overall pick in this draft was Albert Almora, a high school hitter. They did not take another high school hitter until they selected center fielder Rashad Crawford in the 11th round. The next high school hitter was Blake Hickman, a catcher in the 20th.

College hitters taken in the first twenty rounds included Stephen Bruno (7th), Chadd Krist (C), Bijan Rademacher (13th), Carlos Escobar (15th), David Bote (18th), and Damek Tomscha (19th).

Given the relative success of that college group, I can’t argue with the tendency to draft collegiate hitters. Off that list, Bruno is doing quite well in Double A right now, and Rademacher is anchoring the Daytona lineup. Both are legitimate second or third tier prospects, and if we look even further down the draft we find a couple more college hitters who have drawn attention with their bats: infielder Tim Saunders and infielder (possible catcher convert) Ben Carhart.

As for the rest of the high school hitters the Cubs drafted in 2012? There aren’t any. After Crawford, not one 2012 high school position player signed.

When the 2014 rolls into Friday and Saturday (especially Saturday), look for the Cubs to focus more heavily on college hitters over their high school counterparts. That was the trend in 2012, and it was even more the trend in 2013 when the Cubs took just two high schoolers of any type in the first twenty three rounds.

3 – Look To The North

I’m on thinner ice on this one, but during the 2013 draft I thought I noticed the Cubs trending a little more towards northern prospects than other teams, and when I went back to check to the 2012 figures the same weak pattern again emerged. The Cubs appear to trend a little more heavily towards prospects from more northern, colder weather states.

If this is a real thing, there is some good logic behind such a move. The big baseball states tend to be the warmer weather states (Florida, California, Georgia, Texas, the Carolinas, and so forth). In those states the baseball season can start earlier, players can work out outside more often, and scouts will have an easier time and more opportunities to see the players in action. In the more northern states, on the other hand, the weather tends to shorten the season a little. More workouts are held indoors, and players who warm up with the weather may not be playing at their peak level until the later part of May – just before the draft. The shorter season of baseball friendly weather also reduces the number of games that are available for scouts to watch a particular player. In short, northern players tend to be scouted a little less and are thought to be somewhat more likely to fly under the radar as a result.

The most famous recent example of this is Mike Trout. Somehow the best young player baseball today lasted until the 25th pick of the draft in 2009, and many think part of the reason for that was that he played baseball in the Northeast.

There is an opportunity that comes as a result of these geographic complexities, though. If a team, such as the Cubs, were to invest more heavily in scouting in the northern states, it is possible that team would have better information on those cold weather prospects than other teams would. That means the Cubs would be in a better position to spot sliding northern talent in the middle rounds of the draft and pick up a few bargains. Is that what is happening? I don’t know.

But I do know the Cubs appeared to look to the north a little more often than many other teams in 2012. They opened the draft with a fairly normal list of states (Florida, Missouri, California, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, etc.), but starting with Escobar in the 15th things changed. The sequence of states starting in the 15th reads: Nevada, Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, California, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York. A little later on, starting in round 29 we have this sequence: Idaho, Idaho, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, Ontario. That is a lot of cold weather picks in a short period of the draft.

The Cubs did not find a great deal of talent looking north in 2012 (Steve Perakslis may be the best of the bunch), but the trend emerged again in 2013 with some more interesting results. Jacob Hannemann came from Utah, Trevor Graham from Rhode Island, and Sam Wilson from Colorado. You could probably throw Tyler Skulina from Ohio on that list as well.

The Cubs are not alone in this, either. I’ve spotted a slight tendency to draft from colder weather states more often from Atlanta and Tampa of late as well as from Chicago.

I need to emphasize, though, that the tendency is very slight. The Cubs are emphatically not abandoning their scouting efforts in the traditional baseball states, and in the early rounds of the 2014 draft I very much expect to hear a lot of Texans, Floridians, Georgians, Californians, and other warm weather types come off the board to the Cubs. In the middle to late rounds, though, do not be surprised if you see a few more Michigan, Idaho, Rhode Island, New York, Oregon, and other colder weather prospects filtering into the Cubs camp as compared to many other teams in baseball.


So what should we expect to see in the draft this week?

  • A lot of pitchers, particularly in the first 15 rounds.
  • A strong and definite preference for college hitters over high school hitters, particularly in the middle to late rounds.
  • A slight tendency to draft from cold weather states more often than some other teams in the draft, particularly on Saturday.
  • Brett and I frantically Googling every name as it is announced to try to glean any useful knowledge or worthwhile insight to share on these guys.

All in all it should be a lot of fun, and I can’t wait for Thursday to get here.

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Author: Luke Blaize

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