2014 MLB Draft Week: Reviewing Recent Cubs Drafts

Bijan Rademacher at the plate for the Kane County Cougars during the 2013 season. - USA TODAY Sports

Today's Draft Prep looks back and ahead.

Someone will inevitably ask me the question. They would have even if I hadn't posted it. How did the Cubs do in the draft? I will fight to hold in the laughter. I have no idea, on the face of it. With the Cubs drafting 40 players, and signing about 25 of them, and adding six or so undrafted free agents, I will likely have seen maybe three of them play in a game. Maybe. Projecting a career arc in a baseball career is brutal. I don't claim to be that good. One thing I can do, though, is look back.

To determine the future, sometimes, it is best to know the past. With the current regime, the past is rather easy to follow from a developmental sense. If you want to know how their players are developing, look at the last few draft classes. Part of getting productivity from a draft class is drafting well (or poorly). Part is player development, and the third leg of the stool is player motivation. All three matter, as a lack in either aspect can hinder development. The more miss in the combination of the three leads to more exasperation.

This is the Cubs 2013 draft class, and here is the one from 2012. You will want to talk about the top 10 picks from each year, which is fair enough. Instead, I want to talk about the later picks, as I think a story is brewing. You might already know what it is, but looking at clusters of picks between 11 and 40 might explain my point better than the top-10s.

By clusters, I'm going to note the two most productive players so far in each bunch of five picks, with a special eye toward the second best of each five. Anyone can get lucky in selecting, but if 40 percent of your throwaway picks provide value, that isn't luck.

For 2012, Justin Amlung, Bijan Rademacher and Corbin Hoffner were in the first cluster. Rademacher keeps surprising, and Amlung has been Mark Johnson's security blanket in Kane County, whether as a fireman type, or a starter on occasion. Amlung is better than the Midwest League, and will soon get bumped to High-A Daytona.

The next cluster has three names, and David Bote is among eleven guys that might start any night on the best Midwest League team. Nathan Dorris is now a swingman in High-A Daytona, which means he was better than the Midwest League. I'll go with Bote as the silver medal there.

The next cluster has only one name remaining, as three went to college, and Eddie Orozco was released after a year and change of being a solid Low-A reliever. The next cluster has Lance Rymel as the silver. He's with Daytona now as a catcher, and Tyler Bremer is Kane County's closer for the moment.

The 31-35 cluster has Tim Saunders and Ben Carhart, both who have made their marks at times. The only in the final cluster from 2012 is Jacob Rogers, who is the first-base starter for the best team in the Midwest League this year.

Jumping to 2013, the first cluster has Jordan Hankins (part of the four-headed Kane County catching monster with Carhart), Trevor Clifton (figures to be a starting pitcher in Boise) and Graham (just was called up to Daytona, and earned the win in his first to outings in full-season ball). Michael Wagner will be a starter for Kane County before the season is out. So far, all four are getting it done.

The next cluster houses Cael Brockmeyer and Will Remillard, the final two guys manning the catching spot in Geneva. Remillard is crushing the ball after a slow start. The next cluster houses Tyler Alamo (might catch in Mesa this season) and Ihrig (who was going to be Boise's ace, until injuries and ineffectiveness shot him up three levels to Daytona). The final cluster is Brad Renner (who is an injured pitcher) and Sonogram favorite Zak Hermans, a 30th-round selection who recently won his first full-season game, in relief for Kane County.

What seems to be happening is most of the guys who are signing are at least good enough to produce at the full-season level. Which is what you want from your later-round picks. Nonetheless, I can hear some of you thinking "Who the **** cares about the Kane County rotation? I want guys pitching well in Wrigley." While I have a third reason it matters, I'll get into that Thursday. There are two (I'd consider) valid reasons for today.

One is that, if your lower-end picks aren't producing at the full-season level, why are you bothering to select them? As I go back in time not that far, I see quite a few picks, from rounds far earlier than the teens and twenties, that produced far less than some of the late guys are producing now. Which isn't to say that all decision-makers were foolish or inept then. They weren't.

When research and development isn't considered important, research and development will suffer. For whatever reasons, under the previous regime, Cubs scouts were fewer, less-trained on current statistical basics, and lacked front-end technology at the time. The Cubs were missing on some things, and many other systems were (likely) very good at taking players the Cubs passed on, and turning them into good baseball players. At any number of levels.

Here's another reason: While we want the team to pull those quality selections from the mid-to-late rounds, I have a question. If those "outliers" are going to make it big, how would they do in the lower levels? Likely, rather well. Much like some of the later picks the Cubs have selected in the last few years. So much of baseball is behind the scenes, when success starts happening, we as fans won't necessarily know right away.

***

Getting back to the original concept, how will we know if this is a "good draft" or a "bad draft?" What specifically do you expect to be able to know from this year's draft? Writers and prospectniks will opine, and some will like the Cubs early picks, and some will be unimpressed. The key will be, will the Cubs get proper production, proper value, from the players they sign. If the choices they make out-perform the ones selected near them, we won't complain. If they do, we will.

As most of us don't have time to spend hours comparing Cubs selections to the Twins' choices after and the White Sox' before, we'd be well-off having an accurate way to judge performances. Sadly, baseball metrics have not gotten that far yet. As that is the case, it will take a few years, at least, to judge this year's draft. However, by monitoring how well the class is doing, and realizing why the ones that are unsuccessful miss, you can sway opinions on how Theo Epstein and crew did this June.

As a personal aside, I will be intrigued to see how many late options are signed. Many late picks end up being preps that the team researches, and hopes to get a cheap contract signing from. Failing that, they get a free chance at scouting them for future draft options. However, if the team is planning on adding another short-season/rookie league team, I would expect to see 30 picks signed, not the standard 23-26. I'm good either way, but having another squad gives more players more chances to succeed. Or fail.

Wednesday: 20 options to keep an eye on for rounds 2 through 5.

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