The Cubs made three picks on the first day of MLB’s amateur draft last night, and if that is news to you then you should stop reading this and go check out Brett’s excellent writeup of Day One of the draft.
So, how did the Cubs do? Pretty well I think.
As the draft got into the middle picks of the first round, it started to become apparent that the college bats were not going to fall to the Cubs. In a way, this is partly the Cubs’ own fault. After other teams watched Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber party in Cleveland last year, and then saw Ian Happ join them in Chicago this season, the perceived relative value of college hitters versus everyone else may have shifted a little. All things being equal, taking the college bat was probably starting to look like a pretty smart move.
As a result, eight college hitters were off the board when the Cubs made their first pick – almost one third of the total players drafted. And that in a draft class thought to be weak among college hitters.
That opened the door for the Cubs to do what they have done so well in recent years – zig while others zagged, and draft college pitchers that we were not watching before the draft but felt like obvious picks after the fact.
A junior college lefty with a mid to high 90s fastball, good command, and a breaking pitch that some regarded as among the best curveballs in the draft? Yep, that’s a guy that ticks all the Cubs’ boxes, and that’s who they got in at No. 27 in Brendon Little. I suspect that he will be either the best or second best lefty in the next Top 40, contending with Bryan Hudson for that honor.
A former very highly-regarded pitcher who fell on some rougher times, but is in mid-rebound and whose value probably hasn’t caught up to his more recent success? A guy who also has an excellent curve and who also stays near the strike zone? That sounds like the sort of player the Cubs target in trades and waiver wire pick ups. And Alex Lange was drafted at No. 30.
A pitcher who tacked on a new pitch and started dominating, even though he maybe didn’t pitch exactly the way the text book says you should? That familiar story could be about the Cubs second round pick, Cory Abbott.
All of these guys come with risk … consistency for Little and Lange, uncertainty about how the stuff will hold up against better competition for Abbott, and probably the need for a third viable pitch for each of them … but they do all have upside. And since they have all had success as college pitchers, the risk is mitigated relative to high school arms.
I would not go so far as to say the Cubs drafted on need, but I think once again they went into the draft intending to take pitching unless a great deal on a hitter fell to them, and in this draft that simply hasn’t happened.
But it might. Today teams draft rounds 3 through 10, beginning at 11:30am CT, and I suspect we will continue to see the Cubs focus heavily on pitching. I think there is a chance that all three of their Day One picks could come in somewhat under slot, though, so taken together, they may have as much as a million or so extra dollars to play with. They may well use those dollars to take some shots on high ceiling high school players who are sliding due to signability reasons, or on players who are sliding due to injuries. They have done both in the recent past, with D.J. Wilson being an example of a signability guy, and Dylan Cease one who slipped due to injury.
The criteria they draft by will, I think, remain the same. On the pitching side, look for at least one plus or better pitch, good command, some sort of a track record of success, and plenty of height when it is available. On the hitting side, look for good defenders who probably play up the middle and have the potential to switch positions if needed, show a strong understanding of the strike zone, get on base at a better than normal rate, and … probably … show an ability to put the ball in the air with consistency.
As for the three pitchers the Cubs drafted today, they are all but certain to sign. That does not mean all three are likely to play very much this season. The Cubs may prefer to rest them since they are coming off full college seasons, and they would probably be smart to do so.
The pitchers may see a few innings in Arizona, and then perhaps a few more in Eugene or, if they are suitably advanced, South Bend. But that’s about it. I would not read any long-term plans into how they are used; even if the Cubs plan to develop them as starters, they may well pitch out of the pen for a few innings just to reduce the work load on the arm.
And as for Cubs’ fans, I think we should be content. The Cubs hit no home runs on Day One of the draft, but I think they might have picked up a couple hard doubles and a solid single. For a team drafting at the back of the first round, that’s a pretty good day.