Having three to five minor league games to choose between most nights April through September makes my summer. Check the game times. Check the pitching match-ups. Select the one that's most compelling. Or something like that. Bleed Cubbie Blue fills me in on what I missed at the parent club level, and I attempt to share knowledge of what I learned in my day. Since 2009 or 2010, that's what I've been doing.
As I haven't gotten around to re-watching last year's minor league games yet, it seems about time to look back at some recent drafts. Reviewing something, even as arcane as a team's June draft, can be whatever the reviewer makes it. I can walk in wanting to be scathing, hiding the positive results. Or, I can presume a draft was better than it was. I can check who should have been taken.
In short, I can make these each a 2000 word essay, or an 800 word trifle. If I wanted, I could opt for a 4000-word manifesto. I enjoy the topic, and in October, there isn't much else going on. For the 2010 draft, I'll take it as how I think the team considered the draft -- as a necessary expense.
This is the last draft the Cubs took less-than-seriously. Tom Ricketts had recently taken over as owner. He was relying on baseball people, some of whom would be gone within 18 months. The scouts working for the Cubs likely were dedicated at their craft. The brass at the time were doing their job as best as they knew how. Looking back, though, the system was very flawed.
Not enough money had been spent on hiring scouts, or the right ones, or keeping them on a path toward future league success. The technology wasn't there. Possibly worst of all, once signed, the on-the-job-training might have been outdated. While this wasn't the low-ebb, this was (hopefully) the Cubs' last below-average draft for a long while.
The budget wasn't there. To be honest, the pool of talent wasn't that much either. That said, a team that knows what they're looking for can find it, even if the talent level is below average. How did the Cubs do?
Round 1, P Hayden Simpson
I'll be honest. The way you assess this pick says more about you the fan, the talent evaluator, the sports fan tact you have, than any pick I can remember. Simpson was the type of talent that many GMs love. He was a late riser in the draft run-up. Unheralded, he dominated a lower class of college ball. He was a nice kid, wanted to succeed, had a mid-90s fastball, and flashed some off-speed stuff.
The Cubs wanted him, and thought if they waited until round two, the Angels would beat them to the punch. It wasn't a bad pick. It simply failed to work out. Simpson contracted mononucleosis around the time of drafting and being signed, and missed out on some very important development time.
Why is that time so important?
Assume in June 2014, the Cubs draft a pitcher in the top five rounds. He's healthy. He's somewhat rested, though he's pitched quite a few innings in the spring. They fly him to Arizona. He throws some bullpen sessions. He gets in five or six games. He has four good ones, and gets pounded once. And, he goes home for the winter.
He has video now. What does his wind-up look like? How is he out of a stretch? How does he field his position? Does he hold runners on well? No matter how many times the brass or scouts watch a kid in college, there's nothing like real video of a young draftee working out in the bullpen, or a game, in the Cubs pipeline. The camera angles are where the Cubs want them. Video guy/bunt specialist Nate Halm and crew break down what he is doing well, and what he needs to work on. Coaches review from these tapes.
If the kid developed some bad habits over the winter, the possibility exists of a quick modification, without wasting time on bad mechanics. Simpson missed all of this. Every single frame. When he finally did arrive, there is no telling how 'not healthy' he was. His delivery was based on muscle memory. Coaches had no idea what he was when proper. There was no 'before' frame, just an 'after'.
Simpson didn't want to steal money. He wanted to work. He wanted to get better. He pitched through pain, and injured himself in a pitching sense. He was never right. The pitcher that scouts saw in college was never the guy Cubs fans saw. Now out of baseball, Simpson would love to have "it" back. To be able to show you, and me, he was better than we saw. That won't happen.
TANG, or there are no guarantees, is a term bandied about around here, regardless the side, regardless the argument. With baseball players, especially pitchers, TANG applies. Simpson was an unfortunate case of an athlete never being able to be at his physical best as a professional. Use whatever term you feel appropriate, as it will reflect on you far more than on Simpson. To me, he wasn't a bust, a washout, or a bad selection.
He was a draft pick that was his healthiest and best as an amateur, and due to many factors, was never that good again as a professional.
Round 2, OF, Reggie Golden
When a team selects a high-school player, there aren't very high expectations the first season. Get the film work done. Learn what pro ball is about. Read the manual. Get in a few summer league games. Go home, and come back the next season.
With Golden, one of the problems was how he came back the next season. He was a bit bigger. At 5-10, he came back a bit bigger than he had went home. There weren't many delusions that he would break camp in full season ball, but his off-season conditioning was noted in Arizona. He was behind the curve early.
He had a decent year in 2011 in Boise (OPS of .752), but was injured early in 2012, missing almost the whole season. After a late start, he posted pedestrian numbers in Kane County last season. Golden has done himself few favors, and has been passed up by quite a few better players.
You can phrase Golden's career in whichever term you wish, as well. His career is far from over, but if he is going to play at the top level, he has some catching up to do.
Round 3, C Micah Gibbs
Drafting catchers is almost as tricky as drafting pitchers. So much of catching is off the stats page. How do you call a game? How will you throw in three years? Can you hit pro pitching?
Gibbs came from a college powerhouse at LSU. He handled pitchers well as a pro. He never hit, and struggled throwing runners out. His offensive high-water mark was in Low-A Peoria in 2011. He OPS'd .672, and didn't approach that before or since. He reached the High-A level the next two years, but never represented belonging in Double-A. After being released last season, he spent time in the Royals system, and in Indy ball.
A third round pick probably should reach Double-A. This was a need pick, as the Cubs needed a catcher. It didn't work. Need picks rarely do.
Round 4, P Hunter Ackerman
The hits keep coming. A fourth rounder out of college needs to show something. Ackerman's high-water mark was in 2012. In short-season Boise. He had a WHIP over 1.7. That would be bad for a high-school fourth rounder. Picks like this are why changes had to be made. Be it scouting, development, or all of the above.
Ackerman might have been a nice guy, but if you're selecting a college arm in the fourth round, some success at full-season ball is a must, unless there are injuries. I remember no comments on him ever being hurt.
Round 5, OF Matt Szczur
Szczur's story of being a two-sport star at Villanova and bone marrow donor are now fairly well known. He has advanced to Double-A, and played well there. (OPS aside. league announcers respected the guy on the field. That matters.) His defense is solid-to-flashy. He figures to make the parent club next year, and has only one 'option' left. In other words, he won't be able to be sent to Triple-A without clearing waivers in 2015.
Opinions vary on Szczur, but he is the main option from a really weak draft class.
Round 6, OF Ivan DeJesus
Did not sign. (Note: this is not the son of the former Cubs coach; that Ivan De Jesus is still in pro ball, played in the Pirates system in 2013.)
Round 7, P Ben Wells
A championship winner in Daytona last season, Wells continues to make the slow climb up the ladder. After pedestrian campaigns in Boise (2011) and Peoria (2012), he finally got healthy and worth minding in 2013. Drinking the Storm Davis kool-aid, he dropped his WHIP to a trace over 1.2. Wells will be the fifth starter in Tennessee next season, if everyone is healthy, behind Pierce Johnson, C.J. Edwards, Corey Black, and Ivan Pineyro.
The question? Was Wells a good pick? Or is Davis the developer Wells needed? Either way, success from Wells at Double-A helps salvage a weak draft class.
Round 8, P Cameron Greathouse.
Greathouse is a combination of a pitcher that never consistently located his release point, and a player that may have not had the needed drive to be successful at the higher levels. He walked over eight per nine innings at his one season in full-season ball.
Round 9, P Kevin Rhoderick
Rhoderick has spent the last three seasons in Double-A Tennessee. His numbers have gotten steadily less impressive each of those seasons.
Round 10, P Aaron Kurcz
His first full year in pro ball was in Daytona, and Kurcz flashed a WHIP under 1.3. He was sent to Boston as part of the Theo Epstein compensation, and missed 2013 due to injury.
Beyond the 10th round, here are some others of moderate note.
Round 11, P Eric Jokisch pitched fairly well in Double-A Tennessee in 2013.
Round 12, P Austin Reed was a decent reliever with the FSL champs in Daytona in 2013.
Round 23, P Matt Loosen is pitching in the AZ Fall League with Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler.
Round 24, 1B Dustin Geiger hits with average and power, but has to as a 1B. Daytona 2013.
Round 41, P Dallas Beeler is with Loosen on the Mesa Solar Sox.
Synopsis: I'm glad Tom Ricketts opted to spend more money on bonuses after this draft. The Cubs may get two or three big league players from the draft. However, if some of the top 10 selections had been more on target, the club would be in a far better place now. Getting nothing from Hayden Simpson really hurt. Value from Ackerman and Greathouse would have been nice as well.
Next time: the first "modern" Cubs draft: 2011.