Why the Cubs have been WS pretenders and why they are on the cusp of being a WS contender

As this year’s Cubs team comes to another disappointing end, the fans and the organization itself will be looking at what options they have to improve the MLB roster. The historic problem is the Cubs minor league system usually did not offer comfort or solace to fulfilling to reload like in Minnesota, Toronto, Oakland Cincinnati. Colorado or even the Cardinals. Perennial WS contenders like Atlanta, Philadelphia, Minnesota, and St Louis are there more years than not because their minor league system produces year in year out.  On the other hand since 1981, the last draft of Bob Kennedy and the Wrigley organization, Cubs have produced just twelve (12) significant MLB players from their Number One choices, two of which, made the roster this year, 2010, (Tyler Colvin, 2006’s 13th pick and Andrew Cashner, 2008’s 19th pick). In Cubs lore this is a momentous event.

Previous Number Ones’s who became All Stars: 

  1. Joe Carter (1981, 2nd overall) traded for Rick Sutcliffe, he debuted with the Cubs in 1983 but was traded and became a 5-time All Star for the Blue Jays.
  2. Shawon Dunston, (1982 #1 overall) Cubs shortstop for 10 years (1985-1995), 2-time All Star and then became an outfield journeyman until 2002.
  3. Rafael Palmiero, 22nd overall in 1985 as a 1B-OF (1986-2005), traded in 1989, hit 569 HR’s and a 3-time All Star.
  4. Kerry Wood was drafted 4th overall in 1995 W-L (86-68) 2-time All Star and Rookie of the Year, (1998-2010).
  5. Jon Garland drafted 10th overall in 1997, traded to the White Sox in 1998, current W-L (129-110) 1-time All Star still pitching (2000-2010).
  6. Mark Prior drafted 2nd overall in 2001 W-L (42-29), 1-time All Star (2002-2006)

Six other Number One selections that made regular status as a MLB player:

1.      Derrick May, 9th pick in 1986 played with the Cubs 1990-1994 and then 5 other clubs to 1999 as a journeyman platoon OF-1B.

2.      Mike Harkey, (4th pick (W-36 L-36) 104-GS 136-G, (1988, 1990-1997)

3.       Doug Glanville, 12th pick overall in 1991 played on the Cubs 1996-1998 and returned in 2003, but had his best year in 1999 where he led the NL in hits (204), played (1996-2004)

4.      Corey Patterson was drafted 3rd overall in 2000 and debuted in 2000 and became a starter in 2002. He was injured batting .320 in 2003 and became a journeyman OF (2000-2010)

5.      Tyler Colvin, 13th pick overall 2006. Breakthrough in 2010 hitting 20 HR’s.

6.      Andrew Cashner 19th pick overall in 2008. Brought up to MLB level in 2010 as regular set up reliever.


That is it! Six All Stars, two possible HOF’ers playing for someone else, (Carter & Palmiero), two tremendous starting pitchers who got hurt, a solid starting shortstop, and one grinder who had a big year. If twelve who made it that means 16 others did not…Right now the Cubs are looking at 2007’s pick, (3rd  overall), Josh Vitters to take over at 3B, 2008’s pick, (31st overall), Brett Jackson to take over an outfield spot and bat left-handed, and 2010’s pick, 13th overall Hayden Simpson, to step into the starting rotation in the next couple of years. Unlike the past if those three joined Colvin and Cashner it would make five years in a row, unprecedented in Cubs history.

Looking back Number One choices didn’t fair well, some indeed made it to the bigs (5) for a cup of coffee or made AAAA status ping-ponging back and forth from AAA to MLB: Drew Hall LHP (1986-2000) (W-9 L-12), Lance Dickson (1990) W-L (0-3),) Derek Wallace RHP (1999) W-L (0-1)1-GS, Brooks Kieschnick (OF-P) W-L (2-2),  and Luis Montanez SS (2010).  The other nine were outright busts: Mark Pawelek, Ryan Harvey, Bobby Brownlie, Ben Christensen, Todd Noel, Jason Peterson, Earl Cunningham, Ty Griffith and Jackie Davidson. Three others remain to be decided; Vitters, Jackson and this year’s pick, Simpson.  

What does this tell you? Well 6-of-28 picks (Cubs were skipped in 2005), became All Stars (21%) and 6 others developed a career (21%). Trouble was that if you look Dallas Green and Co did pretty well, Frey, Himes and Lynch didn’t. The 1990’s outside of Kerry Wood’s pick and followed by Garland and Patterson really sucked. The 2000’s showed improvement, both depth and recent Number One’s materializing into actual players. If Brett Jackson indeed makes the squad next year it will be three years in a row, not since the 1960’s have the Cubs seen three consecutive number ones make an impact on the Cubs.

Okay there is more to the draft than Number One’s. Rounds 2 through 10 or more where an occasional star or journeyman could be developed into a MLB contributor. Actually the best all time pick by the Cubs was a number 2 in Greg Maddux, chosen 31st overall in 1984. Also that year has to be the all time best for the organization. Indeed Maddux ended up winning 355 games, (8th all time) received 4 consecutive Cy Young awards, 1992-1995, and eight All Star selections, by all accounts a historic pick, but that year the Cubs also drafted LHP Jamie Moyer, whose W-L record is (267-204) and he is a one time All-Star selection, having pitched for 24 seasons. They also picked a starting catcher, Damen Berryhill as well.  Pretty good year even with a Number One Bust Out, like the best ever!

 The following year the Cubs not only did the Cubs choose Rafael Palmeiro (567 HR’s) they also picked Mark Grace (622nd overall), who himself was a three time All-Star with a career .303 average. The next year (1986) the Cubs chose catcher Joe Girardi in the 5th round, (166th overall) who also became an All Star in 2000, but also another catcher in Rick Wilkins 23rd round, (582nd overall) but also Jerome Walton  who received the Rookie of the Year in 1989 and also pitcher Shawn Boskie. Those three years. 1984-1986 the draft infused young talent that was instrumental in the 1989 division champion run.

Dallas Green’s draft was still effective in 1987 but not with the big impact players where he took two good contributors; Alex Arias (SS) and Frank Castillo RHP (W-84  L-104). Then the Cubs draft went in hibernation until 1991 when GM Jim Frey picked Terry Adams in the 4th round (112th  overall), Ozzie Timmons in the 5th round (138th  overall) and Steve Trachsel in the 8th round (216th overall), W-L 143-159. By the way it is rumored that the 8th round took twice as long as any other round in history.

Then the Cubs draft produced such notables like Brant Brown (81st overall in ’92), Kyle Farnsworth (1290th overall in 1994) and Kyle Lohse (862nd overall in 1996). It was not until 1997 that the Cubs got two starters out of the lower rounds with Scott Downs (94th) and Mike Wuertz (334th). Then things improved where the organization got Will Ohman (226th overall) and Eric Hinske (496th) in 1998.

Then 2000 came and the Cubs draft started going from producing a lucky event or occasional but a small stable of journeymen to a stable of players like Bobby Hill (43rd), Todd Wellemeyer (103rd), Dontrelle Willis (223nd) and Jon Leicaster (313th). The following year, 2001, the Cubs not only got Mark Prior but also Ryan Theriot (78th), Ricky Nolasco (108th), Branden Harris (138th) and Sergio Mitre (198th) Wow, two solid to great drafts!  It didn’t end as in 2002 Cubs produced Rich Hill (123rd), Micah Hoffpauir (393rd) and Randy Wells (1143rd), not great but productive. Not stopping with three good years, the Cubs in 2003 they drafted Jake Fox (73rd), Sean Marshall (163rd) and Casey McGehee (283rd). In 2004 Cubs drafted Mitch Atkins (216th), Eric Patterson (246th), Sam Fuld (306th), and Sean Gallagher (366th), journeymen who could be traded for value but not a bust out. Too bad the good drafts ended in 2005, but that stopped as in 2006 the Cubs picked Darwin Barney (127th) and James Russell (427th) both who are now contributing. And already in 2009 Cubs have developed two players, first rounder Andrew Cashner but also Casey Coleman (461st).

Okay what I am trying to tell you with all this information. Cubs are not the organization of the 1990’s and Hendry has now rivaled the draft production of the Dallas Green’s era, although without the Maddux,  Palmiero, or Grace’s, at least for now. If the Cubs bring up a few more pitchers like Samardzija, Carpenter, Jackson, McNutt or Simpson where their production actually becomes significant the drafts will write a new era of unprecedented capability. If Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Flaherty, Clevenger, LaMathieu, Guyer, make it will be begin the rival the youth movements of organizations like Toronto, Atlanta, Minnesota or Oakland. 

Now the other source of Cubs talent besides trading or signing high priced experienced MLB free agents are the signing foreign-born, amateur free agents. At the top of the list Carlos Zambrano leads this class of Cubs discovered and developed talents by the Cubs this decade. Previously, Cubs also developed Juan Cruz, Felix Pie and Carlos Beltran. Not big contributors but a peak into the future as to what real development of talent could yield, like Geovany Soto, (Rookie of the Year), Carlos Marmol, (current closer and All Star), current phenom, Starlin Castro. Remember the former productive reliever Angel Guzman? Cubs now have Marcos Mateo, and future catcher Wellington Castillo, on the cusp of making contributions, all from the Caribbean and South America scouts. From Asia they developed Hee Soip Choi.  On the horizon from this class of players are Rafael Dolis, Robinson Chirinos, Junior Lake, Su-Min Jung, and Hak Ju-Lee.

I think looking through this three decade history it answers the ultimate Cubs question as to why Cubs have not been a serious World Series contender outside a one hit wonder. It is not because of “day baseball” but because the Cubs have stunk drafting, developing and retaining talent until now, MAYBE.

The relevancy cannot be overlooked as the Cubs interviewed Sandberg yesterday or develop a 2011, 2012-2013 and 2011-2016 plan for the MLB roster. Is this a historical game changer for the organization? Has Hendry actually set the club up for a different approach than horse trading and signing big name free agents and trying to capture another lightening in the bottle? You betcha!

Final comment. The Number One Draft choices where less than half even pan out to and make it to the Major Leagues, is putrid.  Nine out of 28 who are total BUST OUTS is ridiculous! Add in those five mostly cups of coffee and you see how ineffective the previous Cubs scouting and development was---atrocious, making them perennial pretenders for the WS.  The occasional hits really hurt the organization

But now you can see the organization beginning to benefit with better production. Will the Cubs have another three or four years in a row developing draft choices and minor league free agent talent bringing up three or four players a year? Hard to say but if they do they will become contenders not pretenders. This could be something special. A young team of talented players mostly made up of Cubs picks developed by organization is a stronger team than one slapped together every winter by a wheeling dealing GM.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of SB Nation or Al Yellon, managing editor (unless it's a FanPost posted by Al). FanPost opinions are valued expressions of opinion by passionate and knowledgeable baseball fans.

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