All the picks are in for the Chicago Cubs, and here’s what they look like at the end of the 2018 MLB Draft:
… But now what?
First comes the signings. There will be some people who start to worry about various players drafted in the first ten rounds who haven’t signed as the deadline approaches (July 6). We saw it last year when Jeremiah Estrada and Nelson Velazquez came down the wire before inking a contract. But there was no real drama then, and there probably won’t be too much drama this year, either, so we don’t need to worry about. Every one of the Cubs’ picks in the first ten rounds will almost certainly sign.
And sure, pre-draft deals are technically forbidden, but those conversations are happening to some degree. I am very certain that the Cubs were confident that they could sign all of their picks in the first ten rounds before they made the pick, thus preserving their full bonus pool.
Players taken in the eleventh round or later, on the other hand, are a different animal altogether. We may not know which players sign and which don’t until the deadline has passed. We’ll see some announcements unofficially via social media and officially from the Cubs over the next few weeks, but the Cubs have a habit of saving up signing announcements until they have a bunch to release all at once. In fact, sometimes players in that announcement may have already been in camp for several days before the announcement comes.
Once the signing is over, look for players to head to Mesa for at least a few days. The Cubs like to do some organizational orientation work with their new players before turning them loose in a league, and Mesa is where that happens. A couple of days in camp and they’ll be assigned to, most likely, either one of the two Arizona Rookie League teams, or to Eugene. A few very advanced college players may go straight to South Bend, but not many. And some players coming off of heavy work loads or recent injuries may just stay in camp working out and not join a team at all this season.
In particular, look for Eugene to feature SS Nico Hoerner (Round 1), 2B Andy Weber (5), RHP Paul Richan (2C), RHP Derek Casey (9), 3B Luke Reynolds (10), and probably OF D.J. Artis (7) at some point in the season, if not right away. High school OF Brennen Davis (2) and OF Cole Roederer (2C) I expect to head to Mesa. RHP Ethan Roberts (4) will probably either pitch in relief for Eugene or stay in Mesa to be stretched out as a starter. Beyond that, we’ll just have to see.
As for the how the Cubs did … ask me again in 2022. In a normal draft it takes three to five years to really be able to assess the impact it had on an organization, but this isn’t an ordinary draft. This is a draft in which the Cubs went hard after players who had been injured or otherwise missed time and might be undervalued as a result. This isn’t a strategy we’ve seen before beyond a player or two.
We also saw the Cubs focus much more than in the past on low-strikeout, high-contact hitters. That’s not a strategy we’ve seen from the Cubs before either. Not to this degree anyway.
Officially, the Cubs drafted 42 players: 14 right handers, 4 lefties, 3 catchers, 10 infielders (most SS/2B types) and 11 OF.
So let’s stop and talk about the outfield for a moment. That’s a lot of outfielders, and the easy conclusion to draw is that the Cubs’ farm system is totally barren of outfielders right now. Except … it isn’t. Three of the top five hitters on the latest Top 40 were outfielders, and I have four outfielders in the top twenty two. Most of the really high upside bats are outfielders (Sierra, Velazquez, Wilson).
So why did the Cubs take so many outfielders? I suspect three reasons. First, they took the best bat on their board, and that just happened to an outfielder a lot. Second, those outfielders can also fill in at first base. The Cubs don’t tend to draft many first basemen (one in this draft), and it isn’t uncommon to see a second baseman or a backup catcher filling in at first. We see outfielders over there as well. Third, the Cubs have a ton of young infielders already. There is already a bit of a logjam of middle infielders in the low levels of the system right now. Drafting too many more infielders would only make that worse. Shifting some of the draft focus to the outfield should help balance things a bit in the low levels and make it a little easier on the Cubs to find at bats for all their second basemen and shortstops. The Cubs weren’t totally without outfield prospects, but that was certainly where there was some room to fill things out.
All in all, I think we can say the Cubs’ farm system is in better shape after the draft. I think their top three picks could emerge as Top 100 types eventually, and if that occurred anytime in the next few years it would be a huge shot in the arm for a depleted system. I’m not sure how many in this group will make it into our mid-season Top 40, but anywhere from four to six wouldn’t surprise me. If some players start out strong, it could even be a little higher.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this moves the Cubs’ farm system much relative to the rest of the league. At least, not yet. They started the draft as a bottom three-ish farm system, and I think they are still a bottom three farm system. Remember: every team drafted this week, not just the Cubs. And until some development takes place, it’s impossible to say that the Cubs’ draft, specifically, was a needle-mover.
If the Cubs’ recent positive trends on the pitching side hold through the end of the year, however, they could move up to a bottom ten farm system by next spring, but I wouldn’t expect anything any better than that at this point. My guess is they’ll stay in the bottom five or so for another year.
And while these drafted players could one day become the sorts of prospects that can be flipped in trades for players to help out the Major League roster, none of them are there yet.
In other words, the farm system isn’t restocked. It isn’t reloaded. It isn’t fixed. It is still thin on potential impact talent (although less thin than it was before this week) and has most of the depth in the very lowest levels. When it comes to the Cubs’ ability to make trades this July, this draft has changed nothing. That’s kinda how it is when you’re drafting later, even with a lot of picks.
But the situation is better. If things break right for the injury picks, this draft could turn out to be a key in pushing the system back up the charts in a couple of seasons. That will be a story we monitor closely over the next year or two.