Evaluating a draft is a tricky thing in a rearview mirror. Pulling a random draft from a long-since ignored page of baseball-reference.com will give you a list of many obscure names. Some made a dent in the system. Many didn't. A reactionary fan can get very crass, and say a draft (insert salty comment here) due to the lack of top-end talent. While a flip comment may (I say may) be accurate, to have any interpretive value, some assessment ought to be done early. Some a bit later. And some, later still.
Two batches of information ought to be assessed, the earlier the better. One would be the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the player. The other is a batch of reasonable expectations. For ease of understanding, I'll use the stoplight method. If a player is good at something, give them a green light. A red light is a weakness. Yellows are the key, as they signify uncertainties.
Similarly, a C- and B+ baseline are helpful for three to four years down the line. Combining the yellow lights and advancement toward expectations seems to give a look into how the player, and the draft as a larger part of the whole, has been developed. I'll start with a few recent Cubs examples.
Brett Jackson was considered a good athlete (green) with some power (green-ish), but some contact issues to be sorted out (yellow). Josh Vitters had a nice swing (green), but had plate-discipline uncertainties (yellow) as well as defensive concerns (yellow). Andrew Cashner threw hard (green), but his big yellow was whether he would stick as a starter.
Three data points, especially when cherry-picked, don't tell a full story. That said, it appears strike zone management, and upper-level hitting prowess have tended to be Cubs prospect bugaboos for awhile. You get the idea of the rules now, though.
Kris Bryant, as you know, is the Cubs' top pick this year. His power is green, and he should draw walks, but I will call walks, the hit tool, and defense as his yellows. (While not slow, his speed will possibly be a red, as it won't likely be a selling point in eight years or so.) If Bryant can play third well, the pick is a coup. If he is a fifth hitter (on a normal team) instead of a seventh hitter, that also sways things. If he is drawing on the 100 side of 80 walks, over the 60 side, that helps as well.
Obviously, one player, or three years won't tell an entire story. However, as Bryant develops, or fails to, the draft/development department will come into focus.
Jacob Hannemann was the third-round pick of the Cubs this year. A curious 22-year-old somewhat new to the sport, Hannemann's development will go a way toward determining this year's draft value as well. As a cornerback in football, his speed and quickness are green. His hitting and power are the main yellows. If he is hitting well in Double-A or Triple-A in three years, he should be in the B+ range. I imagine he will be more of a lead-off/second hitter type, but by choice, hopefully, not default. If Hannemann can't hit Double-A pitching, this was probably a bad pick.
I have to include a pitcher of course. Since this list is very west-y (San Diego and BYU), I'll use Scott Frazier, who recently signed for slot value as a sixth-round pick. Without help, I couldn't pick Frazier out of a line-up. Going off his Pepperdine stats, he looks to be a bit hard to hit (88 innings, 75 hits) with a good strikeout pitch (83), but more walks than preferred (40). As a sixth-rounder, I don't feel compelled to give him any green lights. His control and strikeout numbers will tell much of the tale. From Pepperdine, he's played against quality opponents. Despite his ERA, he should succeed at the Low-A level. If he succeeds at the Double-A level, he's a B+ for me. The sixth round is what it is.
Should you wish to plug in yellows for recently-drafted Cubs, have at it. The goal isn't to canonize, nor cannonize, the draft today. It's to set reasonable expectations. If Frazier gets run through Camp Derek Johnson and comes out a strike thrower, that's a point for scouting/coaching. If he is a disaster in the Midwest League for Kane County, then not so much.
Evaluating baseball talent honestly is rather difficult. This is part of why people who are really good at it are so valuable. Guessing Kris Bryant might hit a few homers isn't difficult. Projecting Jacob Hannemann's offense in a reasonably accurate fashion is kind of tough. Not all prospects will hit. Most will disappear from memory due to lack of health or top-shelf ability. However, if you want to decide if the Cubs' front office is doing their job well, you have to get started early.
Or, you could rely on someone else's memories. But where's the sport in that? Your opinions/assessments on these or other picks are strongly encouraged.
Three Up/Three Down
Juan Francisco, P, Arizona League Cubs
While you may get frightened away by Francisco's age (born in July of 1990) or his inflated ERA (108), you have to be impressed by his K/9 ratio. He averages 54 strikeouts per nine innings. (He's no relation to the Brewers first baseman of the same name.
Cesar Romero, P, Venezuelan Summer League
A 19 year old reliever for the VSL Cubs, there is no word if Romero has a mustache under his make-up. He has allowed two baserunners in his one pro inning so far.
Marco Hernandez, SS, Kane County Cougars
In his last seven games, Hernandez has mustered only three hits and a walk over 27 at bats.
Boise's Catchers (Short Season)
While Lance Rymel is hitting a respectable .250, Justin Marra, Cael Brockmeyer, and Rony Rodriguez are all hitting below .215, combining to go 7-for-36 with two walks and ten strikeouts. It is early, though.
Alberto Cabrera, P, Tennessee Smokies
Converted from a reliever back to a starter this season, Cabrera has been one of the system's bright spots on the mound. If his last three starts are a sign of the future, the aforementioned Derek Johnson school of pitching seems to be doing well. While nobody is sure if Cabrera's future will be in the pen or the rotation, he is certainly looking like a more reliable option the next few years, as compared to last season.
Matt Szczur, OF, Tennessee Smokies
The Smokies are off to a fast start in the second half, and Szczur is part of the reason. He's 14-for-37 since June 17, and has scored in five straight games. Szczur will probably get some major league looks next season, and may be a key bench piece in 2015, with the opportunity contribute as a starter in match-up type situations.
Casey Coleman, P, Iowa Cubs
Coleman has probably earned another call-up once the inevitable trades start happening. While few will expect him to be a major contributor in future seasons, if he looks good in the pen in Wrigley from July through September, he will represent another possible answer in the bullpen in 2014. If not, he makes for an easy DFA option in October.
James Pugliese, P, Boise Hawks
While nobody holds their breath on W/L percentage for pitchers anymore, Pugliese is 2-0 in three Northwest League starts this season. He has fanned 15 in 15 innings, has a WHIP of 1, and is holding hitters below a .200 average.
Paul Blackburn, P, Boise Hawks
In his three starts, Blackburn has given up eight hits and two walks over 15 frames. His BB/K ratio is 2/20, which is solid at any level. Blackburn was compensation for the Cubs not re-signing Carlos Pena.