When the Theo Epstein front office took over the Chicago Cubs back in 2012, it was the first season under new draft rules preventing teams from spending as much as they wanted on amateur players – a devastating blow to a franchise that desperately needed (and planned on) a complete tear down and rebuild. But the beauty of employing one of the most progressive front offices in MLB is staying ahead of the curve.
So while the Cubs were limited in the draft, the front office dove through loopholes in international free agency to add more/better amateurs than other teams – the sort of loopholes, for example, that may have forced your team into the penalty box for an entire summer … but did so while bringing guys like Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez into the organization.
To a much lesser extent, this year reminds me of that ingenuity. The fundamental rules of the draft may not have changed in 2020, but the rounds were reduced from 40 down to 5. And any undrafted free agent signed thereafter are/were limited to deals of just $20K. But while many teams are apparently sitting on the sidelines now that the draft is done, the Cubs are going hog-wild, relatively speaking.
According to Baseball America’s Undrafted Free Agent (UDFA) tracker, here’s how many amateurs each team has signed since the draft:
Total 2020 UDFA Signees:
11 signees: Red Sox
8: Astros, Phillies, Cardinals
5: Yankees, Padres
4: Orioles, Mets, Mariners
3: Braves, Brewers, A’s, Blue Jays
2: Twins, Giants, Nationals
1: Diamondbacks, Indians, Rockies, Dodgers, Pirates
0: White Sox, Tigers, Angels, Marlins, Rays
Only one team, the Red Sox, have signed more undrafted free agents than the Cubs, and that’s the Boston Red Sox, led by Chaim Bloom, who used to run the prospect-hungry Tampa Bay Rays. Also, the Red Sox didn’t have a draft pick this year in the second round (sign-stealing), so they had just four picks.
Put another way, 17 teams have signed 3 or fewer UDFAs (3x fewer than the Cubs have added so far). I know this tracker is imperfect and more signings can still trickle out (indeed, a 10th Cubs signee has been reported elsewhere), but I think it’s fair to say the Cubs are using this unfortunate reality as an opportunity to do something very few teams are doing: adding as much talent as possible. So good on them.
With all that in mind, we’ve already discussed UDFAs Jacob Wetzel, Bailey Reed, two-way star Matt Mervis, Bradlee Beesley, and five more Cubs signings, but today we have another name to add to the list: Sam Thoresen, the Cubs 10th (or 11th) undrafted free agent signing.
Have been offline today, but good to see Cubs scoop another arm that has touched mid 90s via undrafted free agency. 2021 will see no decline in Low-A bullpen competition, which is a good thing. https://t.co/drBnbeyf19
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 15, 2020
Thoresen, 21, is a 6’3″ 205lb righty out of the University of Minnesota, where he pitched alongside best friend and pitching mate Max Meyer, who was drafted third overall by the Miami Marlins this year. As a matter of fact, Thoresen was expecting/hoping to sneak into the 2020 MLB Draft, and had several teams on the line: “It was nerve-wracking,” said Thoresen, per Twin Cities. “I had a couple of teams that were telling me to keep my phone on me and if falls a certain way they might call.” But obviously that never happened.
After a shortened junior season with relatively weak numbers (7.71 ERA over 2 starts and 3 relief appearances), Thoresen considered staying in school and waiting for 2021, before ultimately agreeing to join the Cubs organization. “I thought about it for a long time,” said Thoresen. “This was the best decision for my career.” My hopeful speculation? Despite the opportunity to go back to school for his senior year to improve his draft stock/ability to earn more in the next draft, Thoresen was sold on the Cubs pitch lab and what they could do for him and his career.
Lo and behold … According to Twin Cities, the Cubs already laid out a plan for him to fix some of his control issues, and “personalized” their approach to his development, a plan he apparently took to heart: “That was something that really intrigued me about them,” Thoresen said. “They have really thought about what I need to improve on and how I can go about doing that.”
On top of everything, a “few different teams” were said to have interest in signing Thoresen, so good on the Cubs for being able to recruit talent. A lot was working against it.
But poor results aside, Thoresen was a top-5 round draft candidate for a reason: “His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and he struck out 118 batters in 91 innings with the Gophers. He also proved to be nearly untouchable against right-handed hitters this year, as they failed to notch a single hit against him (0 for 16). His biggest problem has always been his control. He walked 85 batters in his collegiate career.”
Big strikeout numbers, some control issues, a mid-90s fastball … I get it. There’s plenty to like, especially for a post-draft signing.
Now let’s get these kids actually playing baseball again, so the Cubs can take advantage of all the leg work this front office is putting in.