The second day of the 2022 MLB Draft is here, which will come with rounds three through ten, starting at 1pm CT. Why precisely rounds three through ten? Because the first ten rounds are the ones that make up a team’s bonus pool (every pick through the tenth round is assigned a “slot value,” and you add the slot values up for every pick a team has through the tenth round, and boom, that’s your pool).
This is particularly notable on the second day of the draft, because it is often when you see picks that are guided by the bonus pool system – picks made specifically to sign under slot so that the pool money can go to other players who are expected to command over slot bonuses. Teams can go up to 5% over their bonus pool without losing future draft picks (instead you just pay a tax – the Cubs are among only a handful of teams that have gone 5% over every year in this system). Also very important to remember: if you fail to sign a pick, his portion of the pool goes away. It just vanishes from your bonus pool. So that means it can be very risk to draft a player in the top ten rounds if you don’t know that you can sign him. Losing a big chunk of your bonus pool for failing to sign a player can wreak havoc on the rest of your draft.
Speaking of the bonus pool, slot values, and how it impacts the draft strategy, we saw that already with the Cubs on day one when they took Cade Horton in the first round (likely under slot) and Jackson Ferris in the second round (likely over slot).
One way to think about what the Cubs did on the first day with their first and second round picks:
We are still only guessing at this point, but it’s likely that the Cubs aren’t much, if any, under slot at this point. Most of what was saved on Horton probably went to getting Ferris to agree to sign. Even if that’s correct, don’t forget that 5% overage – for the Cubs, it’s more than $500,000 of extra money to play with. Throw in some likely under slot signings in the later rounds today (typically seniors who just want to go pro, and know they can’t command a big bonus), and the Cubs could get up to the seven-figure range of overage available.
They could spread that around a number of picks today and tomorrow, or they could try to go really big with someone who fell yesterday. By my math, they can probably offer an early pick today upwards of $2 million if they REALLY saved elsewhere (slot for their third rounder is about $735,000, so you’d need about $1.3M in overage available), but then you’re consolidating a whole lot of your draft into just three prospects.
I tend to think it’s more likely we see the Cubs use that overage across multiple picks – maybe one over slot guy in round three through five, another less over slot in the seven to ten range, and then another couple slightly over slot tomorrow (anything above $125,000 counts as “above slot” for pool purposes on day three).
I’ll update below the Cubs’ picks as they happen live, working in as much instant info as I can gather between picks.
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Round 3 (86) – Christopher Paciolla, SS (California, High School): The Cubs draft their first bat, who was ranked 166 by MLB Pipeline: “There are a number of intriguing high school infielders from California who, while not in the upper tier of the Draft conversations, are getting serious looks for the top four or five rounds. That group includes names like Jacob Reimer, Cutter Coffey and Paciolla, an athletic shortstop from Temecula Valley High School, a program that has produced 10 draftees, but only one big leaguer (Brooks Pounders), with Paciolla having the chance to be the first player selected from the school since 2014. Paciolla has the chance to be a very good hitter from the right side of the plate. He has a knack for making contact and does not swing and miss very often, using a very comfortable and relaxed setup in the box. He’s capable of driving the ball, with quick hands and bat speed pointing to a future ability to have good extra-base pop. While he is athletic, running isn’t really a big part of his game. That lack of speed could mean he doesn’t stay at shortstop long-term, though he has good hands and footwork. Paciolla has a solid arm, can make all the throws and likely would play well should he move to the hot corner, the spot most scouts see him playing at the next level. Should the Draft not go his way, it’s easy to see him getting the chance to stick at short at UCLA in the coming years.”
Paciolla was 93rd at FanGraphs: “An ultra-loose rotational athlete with plus bat speed, Paciolla has at least average barrel accuracy despite how whippy his swing is. He has plus defensive hands and feet, and while his range probably isn’t enough for shortstop, he projects as plus third base defender. Paciolla has less track record versus top-tier arms than others in the class, though SoCal varsity pitching is a meaningful test. There’s a chance for big spring helium here.”
As a high schooler with a commitment to UCLA, I suspect he might be using up some of any surplus funds the Cubs have right now.
The Baseball America write-up (128) notes that Paciolla was something of an unknown coming into the spring, which makes it sound like the Cubs are trying for a scouting win here – something they did when they signed Brennen Davis out of a college commitment (with a much larger bonus than many were expecting).
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Round 4 (113) – Nazier Mule, RHP (New Jersey, High School): Another likely over-slot type for the Cubs, and he’s got tools to the moon. Get this: he can touch triple digits as a HIGH SCHOOLER, and he also can RAKE! Pipeline had him ranked 93rd: “All summer long, Mule, showed off power — at the plate and on the mound — at showcase events from Major League Baseball’s All-American Game to the Perfect Game All-American Classic. The New Jersey high school product seemed like a legitimate two-way threat, though he came out hot on the mound in front of a lot of decision-makers this spring, with the industry mostly talking about his pitching future. Big and physical, the 6-foot-3 right-handed hitter has a ton of raw power at the plate and has, at times, gotten to it, posting some high exit velocities, with solid defensive actions at shortstop. But strides he made as a pitcher have put his position player skills on the back burner. He made waves over the summer by touching triple-digits with his fastball, but has shown better pitchability this spring with his fastball in the 93-96 mph range. The slider can flash plus and has been more consistent and he continues to show some feel for a changeup, even if he doesn’t use it much. He has shown below-average command in the past when he was hitting 100 mph, more of a thrower than a pitcher, and while his control has been a bit up and down, he’s found the strike zone more reliably this spring. Committed to go to Miami, Mule may tempt a team to send him out as a position player and see if he can tap into that power, but teams are really preferring him as a pitcher at the moment.”
FanGraphs ranked Mule right in the same range, but I’m loving this description: “One of the most electric athletes in the entire draft, Mule is a two-way prospect with hit tool question marks partially generated by his swing’s bizarre look. It’s toned down a bit since his showcase summer, but his swing was extremely stiff and his head would kick back like a shotgun on contact. He is a capable defensive shortstop with a 70 arm, and his strapping frame is poised to grow into huge power, but Mule’s hit tool is scary enough that I have him projected as a pitcher only. Elite arm speed generates upper-90s velo (he was more in the mid-90s late in his draft spring), but very little feel for location and an extremely inconsistent slider. A young-for-the-class developmental project with elite arm strength and body projection, pro dev has their work cut out for them if Mule is going to start. If he develops one plus secondary pitch, then he could easily be a late-inning reliever.”
Mule is also really young for the draft, as he doesn’t turn 18 until October. Could be a lot of development work required – especially if there’s even a remote interest in preserving some two-way ability – but the upside appears to be substantial.
Dude was still 16 in this video:
From Baseball America, which ranked Mule 96th: “Mule has been famous from an early age, standing out for his athleticism at shortstop, raw power and outstanding arm strength. As he enters his draft year, Mule has the talent to play both ways in college at Miami, but his professional future looks brighter on the mound. He has reached 100 mph, even more remarkable given that he will be 17 until October. This spring, Mule pitched more in the 92-96 mph range, then after an April start in which he threw more than 100 pitches, he felt soreness in his arm and hasn’t pitched since, though he has still been hitting and playing first base at times. When Mule was pitching, multiple scouts noted he was often pitching backwards, throwing more breaking balls than fastballs. Over the summer, Mule’s slider was often fringy to below-average, but some scouts who saw him this spring said he snapped off some better sliders and was showing more feel for his changeup. Some of them also thought that, while he wasn’t throwing as hard as they had seen in the past, he was showing more pitchability than he had before when he was more of a thrower than a pitcher, though others noted times where he lost his control. Mule’s youth, athleticism and raw arm strength will appeal to some teams, while others view him as a high-risk prep arm.”
Through two picks here on day two, the Cubs are suggesting to me that they definitely saved some pool space yesterday and might also be planning to go with some senior-sign picks as soon as the middle rounds of today. These are some big swings. Man. Four picks so far, and all four are high-risk, high-reward.
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Round 5 (143) – Brandon Birdsell, RHP (Texas Tech): A senior who was the Big 12 pitcher of the year (2.75 ERA over 85.0 innings, 106 K against just 29 BB), Birdsell could be a nice under slot pick for the Cubs in this spot, because he’s actually a legit prospect (ranked 101 by Pipeline), but there’s been some injury issues, and there’s reliever risk.
From Pipeline: “Birdsell first put himself on scouting radars when he reached the low 90s as a Willis High (Texas) freshman in 2015, but he blew out his elbow as a sophomore and missed his junior season following Tommy John surgery. After turning down the Astros as a 39th-round pick in 2018, he pitched just 71 1/3 innings at three different colleges over the next three years: seven as a little-used reliever at Texas A&M, 29 before the pandemic ended his 2020 season at San Jacinto JC (Texas) and 35 1/3 last year before straining his rotator cuff in April. He avoided surgery, spurned the Twins as an 11th-rounder and won Big 12 Conference pitcher of the year honors this spring with the Red Raiders. Birdsell’s fastball sits at 94-96 mph and peaks at 99, though its velocity stands out more than its armside run and gets hit when he catches too much of the plate. He misses more bats with his slider, which features good depth in the mid-80s and more cutter action when he throws it in the upper 80s. He doesn’t use his hard upper-80s changeup very often but it’s an effective third offering with significant fade when it’s on. Though Birdsell doesn’t have a smooth delivery, he repeats it easily and throws strikes. His stuff is worthy of the top three rounds, but his medical history concerns clubs and he has yet to prove he’s durable enough to hold up in the rotation over a longer pro season. He has the upside of a No. 3 or 4 starter and could become a setup man if he winds up in the bullpen.”
FanGraphs ranked Birdsell 86th: “Another Tech pitching prospect with huge arm strength and a nasty breaking ball, Birdsell’s delivery is stiff and upright and he looks like a reliever on the surface. He hasn’t walked an excessive number of hitters, though. Repertoire depth may still funnel him to the bullpen, but as ugly as his delivery is, Birdsell’s glove-side fastball/slider control is pretty good, and both pitches are plus.”
Baseball America had Birdsell at 137: “Birdsell has come a long way in his four years of college ball (one year at Texas A&M, one year at San Jacinto (Texas) JC and two years at Texas Tech). A mid-April rotator cuff injury derailed Birdsell’s 2021 season. He was still drafted by the Twins in the 11th round, but he opted to return to Texas Tech to improve his draft standing. He should do better this year after going 9-3, 2.75 with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s completely reworked his delivery and filled out from 210 pounds as a freshman to 245 pounds now. Birdsell once was a flamethrower with no idea of where the ball was going. Birdsell’s delivery now is both simple and unorthodox. He simply breaks his hands and goes home as if he’s playing a game of catch, but with a slight stutter as he hangs over his plant leg, which messes with hitters’ timing. It’s paid off in improved control. Birdsell’s plus four-seam fastball sits at 95-96 mph and has touched 99. He carries that velocity through his starts. His above-average mid-80s slider has more depth than tilt, which allows it to be effective against lefties as well as righties. He throws a fringe-average 86-87 mph changeup almost exclusively to lefties. Birdsell has at least a solid path as a two-pitch reliever, but his control improvements give him a shot of going out in pro ball as a starter. His age (22) will likely hurt him on many teams’ boards.”
Can you still call it high-risk, high-reward if it’s a senior sign? It kinda feels like that is the deal with Birdsell, given his history. There’s clearly starter upside, but also probably not super likely to achieve it. And the injury issues make you think there’s a pretty high flameout risk, too, for a college starter with as much success as he’s had.
I’m gonna count it. That’s five straight high-risk, high-reward types to open the draft for the Cubs. I like the big swings.
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Round 6 (173) – Will Frisch, RHP (Oregon State): Another clear high-risk, high-reward pick for the Cubs, as Frisch is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s a junior, so he doesn’t HAVE to sign, but I would think the Cubs must (1) believe he will sign for a reasonable price tag, and (2) have liked him before the injury.
Baseball America ranked Frisch at 200 in the draft: “Frisch ranked No. 155 in the 2021 draft class a year ago as a draft-eligible sophomore and pitched in several roles for Oregon State to great success. Frisch was expected to move into the starting rotation full-time this spring for the Beavers, but a partially torn UCL and subsequent Tommy John surgery ended his 2022 season before it began—like many pitchers in this injury-ridden class. Frisch entered the year with second-to-fourth round potential, thanks to a solid three-pitch mix including a fastball, slider and changeup. In 2021 as a split starter/reliever, Frisch averaged 94 mph and ran the pitch up to 98, while his upper-80s changeup earned plus grades and generated a 40% whiff rate and his mid-80s slider checked in at average. With a solid or better three-pitch mix and control that took a big step forward from 2020 to 2021, Frisch looked the part of a solid starting pitching prospect with a filled-out 6-foot, 222-pound frame. His injury and lost 2022 season make him more of a question mark.”
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Round 7 (203) – Nick Hull, RHP (Grand Canyon University): The first pick that is entirely off the board (as in, not in the BA Top 500), which is not at all uncommon when you start getting past the 5th round. Hull is a senior and about to turn 23, and coming out of Grand Canyon (where the Cubs have done some scouting recently), I suspect he’s an under slot sign. We’ve been waiting for these to arrive.
As you can see, even with the senior under-slot signings, you’re still trying to win a scouting competition:
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Round 8 (233) – Mason McGwire, RHP (California, High School): Another pitcher for the Cubs, and another high schooler. McGwire does not rate among the top 500 for Baseball America, so that means this is a deep scouting play for the Oklahoma commit. Cubs must be pretty sure they can sign him if they’re taking him here instead of a senior sign.
Ope, well how about that. He really is Mark McGwire’s son:
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Round 9 (263) – Connor Noland, RHP (Arkansas): Listed as a senior pitcher, Noland just snuck into BA’s top 500 at 470: “After not filling a significant role on the 2021 club, Noland stepped up to fill the massive void created when Arkansas’ expected ace Peyton Pallette blew out his elbow. Noland was rarely spectacular, but he was extremely reliable as Arkansas’ Friday starter. He went 8-6, 3.65 in 116 innings and 19 starts. Noland’s 89-91 mph fastball would be a below-average pitch in pro ball, but it does effectively set up his average, mid-80s slider and above-average, mid-80s curveball. He has above-average control. Noland is a fourth-year junior who could opt to return to Arkansas for another season if his late-round draft status doesn’t entice him.”
That last bit there suggests Noland is a senior by years, but that he has another year of draft eligibility, which would mean he may not be a way-below-slot guy. I guess we’ll see. He’s already 23, for what that’s worth.
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Round 10 (293) – Brody McCullough, RHP (Wingate): Another senior righty who just snuck into BA’s top 500: “McCullough made 18 appearances for Wingate during his 2019 freshman season and then transitioned to a starting role during the Covid-shortened 2020 season. In 2021 he split time as a starter and reliever but posted a 2.47 ERA while managing excellent strikeout and walk rates, and this spring as a full-time starter he continued to miss bats and prevent runs. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound righthander posted a 2.40 ERA over 11 starts and 63.2 innings, while striking out 110 batters (42.1 K%) and walking 24 (9.2 BB%). For his career at Wingate, McCullough has struck out 258 batters (32.3 K%), compared to just 72 walks (9.0 BB%). After a strong spring season, McCullough headed to the Cape Cod League, where he posted a 2.70 ERA over five starts and 20 innings for Hyannis, with 30 strikeouts (38.5 K%) and eight walks (10.3 BB%). McCullough throws a fastball in the lower 90s, a slider in the low-to-mid 80s and a mid-80s changeup. His college track record is impressive and his turn on the Cape late in the year before the draft could have teams even more excited.”
Seems a good guess that McCullough is an under slot senior signing, which was expected given the distribution of the other picks so far (not many under slot signings today!). McCullough was the D2 CCA Southeast Region Player and Pitcher of the Year: “Brody McCullough of Wingate University was named Southeast Region Pitcher of the Year, while Player of the Year honors went to Braylin Marine of Newberry College. After making the All-Region Second Team as a reliever last season, McCullough made the move to starter and is 8-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 101 strikeouts over 56 1/3 innings this season. He ranks second in the NCAA in strikeouts per nine innings at 16.14, and allows just 6.23 hits per nine innings, good for 15th in the country.”
Bonkers numbers there, as you can see, albeit in D2.
More roundup thoughts coming on Day Two of the draft, but the short version is the Cubs obviously went very pitching-heavy (7 of 8 picks today, and both yesterday). The distribution doesn’t really concern me, both because the Cubs could still land some interesting hitters tomorrow – a lot of today is about bonus pool-related options – and also because the system is obviously replete with so much positional depth. Not that the pitching is necessarily lacking, but the Cubs have confidence in their new pitching development infrastructure. They probably had a lot of extra scouting targets this year on that front.
Setting that part aside, I love all the high-upside swings, even as they come with a lot of risk. Try to get some truly impactful talent into the system, understanding that there’s a higher-than-usual-risk that the Cubs won’t even get a contributor of any kind from today’s picks. The Cubs already have so much quality, high-floor depth in the system. This draft was a chance to really take some big chances, and maybe not hurt for it.