A few years back, around draft time, a reader asked a baseball prospect-nik about two pitchers, each likely to go in the top half of the draft. The response was something like this. "(Player A) is more likely to get 100 wins, but (Player B) is more likely to get 200 wins." The use of wins evaluating a starting pitcher is somewhat dated, but I thought the statement got the point across very well. While one player has a better chance to be a long-term star, the other is more likely to be a good player. You can prefer whichever player you prefer freely, but in many instances, one player has a higher risk factor than another, while the other is more likely to be a regular through his arbitration years. With that example from the past noted, here's a look back at the Cubs 2014 draft.
In the run-up to the draft, local and national bloggers alike noted the Cubs "dream scenario" of getting Carlos Rodon at 1.4. While his slider was the best pitch on display in the draft class, Rodon had questions. He isn't a great athlete. He has delivered a large number of pitches the last couple of seasons. his fastball command has been spotty. His mechanics on the mound can be frightful. He is represented by Scott Boras.
Nonetheless, with those acknowledgements, Rodon is the most likely in the recently completed draft to hit 25 WAR, I'm guessing. If a team gets 25 WAR out of its top pick, the draft was a rousing success. As you well know by now, that scenario didn't come to pass. The Cubs didn't have the chance to draft Rodon, as the White Sox took him one pick earlier. The Cubs were off in a different direction. And if the front office's statement are to be believed, they were going in that direction anyway.
Kyle Schwarber was not the player everyone wanted. He wasn't the player I wanted. His game seems a bit too heavily reliant upon his bat, and there are valid questions about his defensive value. That said, this front office seems to know a bit about hitting. They opted for Kris Bryant over Jon Gray last June, and Bryant has used the Southern League pitching staffs like a pitching machine this spring. Not only has Bryant displayed power, but patience, drawing walks with a degree of regularity.
If Schwarber hits in the Northwest and Midwest Leagues with anything approaching the levels of Bryant (even minus some of the power), Schwarber could start logging his way to Wrigley. I think a valid argument could be made that Rodon has a better chance at a 25 WAR career, but Schwarber has a better chance at a 15 WAR career.
Which is where price points come into play. Teams are tightly limited on how much they can spend on draft bonuses. Represented by Boras, Rodon will exact a premium price tag from the White Sox. If he hits the 25 WAR mark, my White Sox fan friends will be downright giddy with the constant dividends. As they should be. However, the prospect of Rodon missing major future paydays due to any of a various number of reasons exist. Not the least of which would be generic pitcher injuries. Will the Cubs end up being fortunate to not have had the option to draft Rodon?
I almost expected an announcement on Schwarber's signing before I finished this article. He was in Chicago recently, with the expectation that he was taking a physical and inking a pact with the team. The short-season Boise season starts this Friday, and Schwarber might want to be in the opening night lineup. The contract Schwarber signs will be for far less than the one Rodon signs.
Which means, the Cubs had some wiggle room to use on Friday and Saturday, especially after drafting a senior signing in the second round, in Maryland pitcher Jake Stinnett. After selecting Virginia Tech catcher Mark Zagunis, the Cubs had created a different "dream scenario." They had selected three legitimate prospects (all were highly rated on Baseball America's list, with Schwarber coming in 17th, Stinnett 67th, and Zagunis 111th). However, if that were the extent of the aggressiveness, the draft would have been a cold shower.
Starting in round 4, the Cubs decided to start using their slot leftovers to their advantage. Most teams had either gone for 'best available', with applicable big ticket bonus expectations, or didn't really have that much in cap room to spend anyway. After two years of drafting Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, the Cubs were using the other end of the planning book this year. They modified the Astros' 2012 choices.
In that year, the Astros eschewed some bigger name talent, instead grabbing Carlos Correa at a discount, leaving Byron Buxton on the board. The Cubs, however, didn't have a Buxton to select. Instead, there were Aaron Nola, Nick Gordon, Alex Jackson, and a number of other players with validly perceived shortcomings in their game. So they took Schwarber, and probably saved money against the cap, and then took Stinnett, and likely saved money against the cap. Zagunis saved money against the cap. Starting in round 4, they started spending their savings, just about the time other teams were looking for safer signings to preserve the likelihood of keeping the guys they wanted.
Prep lefty pitcher Carson Sands was ranked 53rd, and has reportedly already signed, though the numbers aren't public yet. Fellow prep lefty Justin Steele was ranked 121st, and prep righty Dylan Cease was ranked 77th. By that time, I had given up my draft board, but had I not, in the seventh round, St. Louis University pitcher James Norwood (79) would have been near the top. Through seven selections, by downgrading a touch early, the Cubs had selected seven of Baseball America's top 121 prospects. Most, if not all, will sign.
With 30 teams in the league, and the Cubs not receiving any compensation picks, it's difficult to draw up a "dream scenario" when the Cubs get more than four or five of the top 121 prospects. they had seven, and they had just entered the senior-signing portion of the program. Of their three supposed throwaway picks in rounds eighth through 10, they still managed to add a guy at 357 in James Farris, an Arizona Wildcats pitcher.
With day three's huddle finished, on Saturday, they kept plugging away at adding value to the class. Fresno State junior Jordan Brink was rated 164, and went in round 11. Tanner Griggs (425) and Jeremy Null (441) in round 14 appear to be easy signs, and they were sandwiching Missouri prep third baseman Kevonte Mitchell. Mitchell sounds like he will sign, and could be a legitimate third-base option in a few years.
Mitchell and 22nd-rounder Joey Martarano (also a third baseman) are an example of the importance of scouting. To some, baseball scouts are frustrated baseball players who flock to watch Bryce Harper hit wood bat homers in junior college, despite their team having no shot at getting him in the draft. To them, the needed attributes to be a pro scout are to point and shoot the radar gun at the pitcher, and scribble some numbers on a pad on the 20/80 scale. To be a good pro scout, you have to be able to do more than that.
A good pro scout has to read a player, and his family, on a number of criteria. Obviously, baseball ability matters. Quite a bit. However, the likelihood a player can be trusted to give a good 24/7 effort is also important. Is he a good kid? Is he interested in joining the team you represent? (Many teams were throwing out fliers on players in as early as the 12th round on players who weren't likely to go pro.) If your scouts have no other serious and valid options, then throwaway picks are fine. Everyone does them, as did the Cubs.
However, by drafting Mitchell, the Cubs scouts must have gotten the player interested in the team. He sounds interested in joining the Cubs, and may be an outright steal if his game progresses enough. Martarano was one of those throwaway picks last season by Philadelphia, who loved drafting high-end prep types (until this year, when they decided to re-load with a batch of college options). For whatever reason, and to the surprise of baseball draft experts, the Cubs drafted Martarano, who is a linebacker for Boise State.
Apparently, he wants to play both sports, and the Cubs likely used their football people, their people in Boise, and probably the cap largesse to grab an option with upside. Drafting in baseball isn't a crapshoot. It's busting your fanny to as many applicable ballgames as possible, making your team a desired location, and getting players who otherwise might not be interested, willing to sign on the dotted line. It isn't a crapshoot. It's out-thinking and out-working the other 29 teams in an inexact science.
While the Cubs likely wasted a pick on Bobby Bonilla-comped Isiah Gilliam (132) in the 23rd round, the information gained talking with him may pay dividends in the future. The Cubs weren't done grabbing ranked prospects, though. Along with grabbing college vets to fill roster spots, the Cubs grabbed preps Michael Cantu (catcher-161), Brad Depperman (pitcher-192), DJ Peters (outfielder-196), and Riley Adams (catcher-154). It sounds like Depperman may be interested in signing soon, which would be a complete win. The other three will likely be going to school.
My thought was, coming into the draft, I would have liked to have added three prep pitchers. Yeah, they are risky in that there are numerous ways for them to fail to reach the majors. However, if you have three that you slowly progress through your system, one of them may pay off. The Cubs, with Sands, Steele, Cease, and Depperman, could have four players signed from Baseball America's list of Top 200 prospects. Those four, if signed, when combined with some college pitching, some creative third-base plays, and the best bat in the draft, represent a stunningly strong addition to an ever-improving farm system.
The slogan I heard was "Crush Pitching." And it sounds like they took some steps in the direction of seeing to it that Kane County's quality staff this year will be followed by others in the future. I didn't like the Cubs draft on Thursday night. By Saturday, I was a convert. (Honestly, when I heard them snag Dylan Cease in round 6, I was sold. The piece after were icing on the cake. And yummy icing.)
No, these gents will not be playing in Wrigley this year or the next. it is possible that none of them produce much at the big league level. However, after seeing the results of any number of recent amateur signings, I do get the hunch that, in about five or so years, the system will be routinely adding pieces that help the parent club by trade and by call-up. Will it take that long? I doubt it. But I'm a patient person when proper practices are being followed.
Whether the team has an early pick or a later pick in the June 2015 draft, I plan on writing some articles for you next year. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.
I see the opening Boise roster has been announced. Gotta go.