The Cubs Deployed a Solid Strategy on Day One of the Draft, and What It Means for Day Two
The Draft, Day One
We expected upside, and the Cubs definitely took some risks to go for impact bats. Two of their picks (24th overall and 78th overall) were both fairly high floor types. The other two (62nd overall and 77th overall) were both pure upside plays, and with both the Cubs were swinging for the fences. These may not have been the high ceiling players you thought the Cubs would take, but they are high ceiling players nonetheless.
First off, Nico Hoerner is a contender for the top overall prospect in the system. I think his tools compare fairly well across the board with current top hitter Aramis Ademan; just how well we’ll have to see once he gets into playing professionally. As a college hitter, he should be able to move quickly. The Cubs will likely let him get acclimated in Mesa and Eugene, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in South Bend this year or Myrtle Beach to start next year.
The thing to watch with Hoerner will be his power. He should be able to hit for average, so if he can produce at least average power while sticking at shortstop, he’s going to be a valuable guy to have around.
Paul Richan, the last pick and only pitcher for the Cubs on the day, is a little hard to grade. It sounds like he wore out later in the season, so people who saw him late weren’t impressed with his velocity. Those who saw him early saw a 92+ MPH fastball backed by a good change and a slider. Both groups agree he could consistly stay in the strikezone.
Given the fatigue concerns, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cubs pitch him sparingly out of the bullpen in Mesa and Eugene to open his professional career, but don’t rule out a move to the rotation next season. As a guy with a three pitch mix and possibly good control, he could move relatively quickly. It is too early to say anything for sure, but so far the Cubs’ appear to have done fairly well in their recent efforts to build up their ranks of pitching prospects by drafting college guys. I don’t see Richan changing that trend.
And then we get to the high school outfielders. Both were relatively unknown by Cubs fans where they were taken, but both have significant potential. Brennen Davis pretty consistently has 60s dropped on both his speed and his power, and grades in the 50s on his defense and arm. That translates to a guy who can hit long balls, steal bases, and play in center field. The catch, other than that he’s been injured and is very raw, is that his hit tool only grades out as 40 at best. If that stays the case, that will be a problem.
But remember, this guy is a two sport athlete who has been slowed by injuries. The bat is going to be behind everything else right now. The Cubs may have to spend some effort working on his swing, but so long as they believe he’ll be able to recognize and react to pitches well enough, that effort could pay off substantially. I think one of the biggest weaknesses in the farm system right now is a lack of high upside bats, particularly power bats, and Brennen helps fill that void pretty effectively.
As does Cole Roederer. He also missed time with an injury this year, and he showed more power than he had in the past before that injury. Given that other terms Baseball America used in his description include ‘bat speed’, ‘well rounded toolset’, and ‘above average runner’, I see Roederer as another high ceiling project who could turn into a good hitter who hits for plenty of power and has good speed.
One final thing to note on both Davis and Roederer – both are committed to very good baseball schools (Miami and UCLA respectively). Those college commits would have been made before their injuries. That two good baseball schools liked them enough, when healthy, to sign them bodes well for their abilities when healthy. I suspect in both cases not many professional scouts saw them healthy, and that in turn depressed their stocks.
In short, I think the Cubs had a good day. I really like the first round pick, and I like the philosophy behind the next three picks, and particularly the high school outfielders. Those are exactly the sorts of players the Cubs need to draft, and to hit on, if they are going to rebuild this farm system as efficiently as possible while remaining competitive at the big league level.
Something else to keep in mind about the secretive nature of the draft:
Reminder on draft prospect rankings (especially HS): everyone is doing best they can while teams are hoarding information & hiding their true motivations. I'd bet you a good bit of donuts that if everyone knew Cubs were this high on Davis/Roederer, they'd be ranked higher.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) June 5, 2018
Looking Ahead To Day Two
So what does that tell us about today? I think we need to think draft philosophy over particular players.
The Cubs have shown that they subscribe to a ‘buy in bulk’ philosophy of player development. When they really needed pitching in the farm system, they drafted a ton of pitchers in both 2016 and 2017. At that same time, although it recieved less notice, they drafted and signed a ton of middle infielders.
The bulk approach helps insure against the uncertainties of prospect development. The Cubs could hit on a relatively low percentage of those prospects and still produce multiple players for the future major league roster. If one or two of them break out in a big way, and that sort of thing does happen in every draft class and International Free Agent group, the Cubs will look like geniuses for finding that player. What no one will remember is that the also had nineteen other players who were very similar in many ways who didn’t break out.
I think they are taking that same buy-in-bulk approach to high ceiling power hitters. Already in the system they have Jonathan Sierra and Nelson Velazquez, and we could probably toss Miguel Amaya into that group. Already this draft they have added Davis and Roederer.
I think we should look for more of the same. The Cubs will probably take some shots on the pitching front today, they usually draft at least one high upside high school pitcher each draft, but I think today and tomorrow we will see plenty of toolsy hitters with projectable power. We may also see them continue to hone in on players who may be undervalued due to their missing time with injuries.
Keep in mind that the Cubs now have an extremely large scouting operation, so it is very possible that they are getting more eyes on these players than many other teams. That could explain the differences in the Cubs’ valuations in the injury cases.
I’m not sure they have much financial wiggle room left – anything they saved on their first and fourth pick they may need to sign the middle two – so I don’t expect more than maybe one highish dollar sign today. Then they’ll kick over to senior signs probably around round eight.
But even then, don’t dismiss those guys. The Cubs have done a fantastic job finding quality prospects in that range (Zack Godley and James Farris both became trade chips after being senior signs). Value in that window seems to come from relievers and smaller college hitters, so I think we’ll see some of each late today.
All in all, I’m encouraged by where the Cubs are so far. They didn’t draft some players I thought they would, and there were some they didn’t draft I’d like to have in the system, but I can’t argue with the philosophy I think I am seeing unfold. This is a team with a plan, and I like the thinking behind that plan. I think the 2018 draft is off to a pretty good start.