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The 2010 Cubs Draft: The Beginning Of An Obsession, Part 1

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I've talked a number of times about the 2010 draft, and now I dedicate two articles to it. In Part 1, an overview and a look at the first five rounds.

Matt Szczur, the Cubs' fifth-round pick in 2010, could be a valuable bench player going forward
Matt Szczur, the Cubs' fifth-round pick in 2010, could be a valuable bench player going forward
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Until the 2010 MLB Draft, I was a niche contributor here. For better or worse, that June's draft was a crossroads for my fandom. I had followed the minor league prospects in addition to the Cubs games until that point -- third-hand, like a normal person. However, after being, I'll use the term "blindsided" by the Hayden Simpson selection, I had to reconnoiter. If I were to know things about the minors, and the draft, I had to make some changes. The minors and the draft had to be the thing I was following.

Once I bought into my thought-process on that, everything since has made sense. Al does a very good job of covering the parent club, watching home games from the bleachers and the rest on TV. The rest of you, and the bulk of the rest of the Cubs universe (more than a nation, I should think), took care of anything that falls through the cracks. To add anything of real value, I had to focus on something I had long believed in, but had just recently had any ability to follow: the Cubs minor-league system.

I will admit I often come off as antagonistic. I'm not as dismissive of the parent club as I seem. Like a local beat writer at a paper has to attend local events to do their job, I have a role to fulfill as well. To be of value to the Cubs fan-base, many of whom probably read Bleed Cubbie Blue without posting or admitting to it ever, I needed my micro-niche. Keyed by the 2010 Cubs draft, and some soul-searching, I had my said micro-niche.

This assessment will come off as a bit of a "Why or why not?" version of that draft. After things happen, they can't un-happen. To expect that a certain player would have developed exactly the same or better in the Cubs system, or worse for that matter, is a fool's errand. I do have a bit of a chip on my shoulder (that is your shocked look, I'm guessing) when it comes to player development, which will show through some. However, my conclusion is one I'm good with.

Round One

Many in baseball will long talk of how good the 2010 draft was. At the top, it was very good. To some, the MLB draft will always be a crapshoot. I'm more of an "inexact science" guy, as if it were a crapshoot, Bryce Harper could have gone in the 23rd round, and Chris Sale in the 35th. The better talent went toward the top. Sale slipped on many people thinking his arm-slot and delivery would lead to early injuries. That largely hasn't happened -- yet. Most of the early selections made sense.

When it reached the Cubs, much of the low-hanging fruit was gone. The Cubs really wanted Hayden Simpson, and feared the Angels would take him before their next pick. At the time, I wanted Josh Sale (he would have been a terrible pick, as he has a checkered past, and sounds like a disrespectful person. I'll leave it there). Beyond that, Kaleb Cowart would have been my pick, but he would have cost too much. Also, he has disappointed.

People will explode again at the Simpson pick, but the best remaining in that draft round to date has been Christian Yelich. The Cubs brass liked Simpson, and by the time he was ready to throw a pitch, he had had his last healthy day as a professional pitcher. What he was in Peoria, Mesa, and Boise was not what he was in college. He just wasn't. Raging on the Simpson pick gets you nowhere, and is missing the big problems with the draft.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts was very tight with bonuses for this draft. I'm always saddened when an owner or a front office of a team I cheer for doesn't invest to the hilt in the draft. They can do the same thing with veterans in free agency. I'm not opposed to that (despite my reputation), but wisely investing in young players has been a long-standing trait of good baseball teams. Most quality teams have numerous players they signed as youngsters and brought along. (See the 2014 Kansas City Royals for a current example.) This draft was not a good moment. Fortunately, Ricketts learned early from his mistake, following the 2010 folly with a solid 2011 draft spending class.

Round Two

Here's where it started to go sideways. The Cubs had a middling system in 2010. A bit lower, probably, but the expert rankings are always a bit trailing. About this time, the Cardinals had one of the worst systems, according to those in the know. Those prospects often turned out really well, however.

The Cubs took a toolsy outfielder from the high school ranks in Reggie Golden. I've never heard a nasty word about Golden as a person, and I've been following the prospects on Twitter for awhile. He was a nice kid with some talent. However, he was never going to be a center fielder. He was a corner outfielder. To draft a prep corner outfielder in the second round, there really ought to be a reason to select him instead of "someone else." None of his tools really advanced.

He had an injury his first year in full-season ball, very early on. When he returned, he wasn't what the other side would consider a threat. He didn't draw many walks, struck out too often at low levels, and was never really a fifth-place or better type hitter in his time in the system. For a second-round pick, more should be expected. His injury wasn't the problem. His talent seemed to be.

The Cubs recent second round picks are: 2014, pitcher Jake Stinnett; 2013, pitcher Rob Zastryzny; 2012, pitcher Duane Underwood and 2011, first baseman/DH Dan Vogelbach. These players have all easily outperformed Golden, who never escaped the Midwest League, or gave any reason to think that he should have. Stinnett was drafted just this past June, so his longevity stats are of little importance.

Among the next players selected in the second round of that draft were Andrelton Simmons and Drew Smyly.

Round Three

Drafting catchers is always a tricky proposition. Selecting them in the top three rounds is a gamble. So much can go wrong with a catcher that taking one that early had better be justified. This one probably wasn't. With catcher as a bit of a hole in the pipeline at the time, the Cubs took experienced college catcher Micah Gibbs here. Sadly, Gibbs never really hit, slugged, threw, or anything else enough to explain the pick. He's still kicking around in Double-A as of 2014, but his pro high-water mark is his .245 in Peoria in 2011. Beyond that his best batting average was his 2014 mark of .217. His Peoria 2011 OPS of .672 (he was good at drawing walks) was 40 points better then his next best OPS. In the low minors, he was throwing out base stealers in the low-to-mid 20 percent range.

Recent Cubs third round selections: 2014, catcher/outfielder Mark Zagunis; 2013, outfielder Jake Hannemann in 2013; 2012, pitcher Ryan McNeil and 2011, infielder/outfielder Zeke DeVoss.

Not much came off the board that you would recognize in that round, but the Rockies grabbed Josh Rutledge, and the Cardinals grabbed Sammy Tuivailala, who is their latest thing out of the bullpen.

Round Four

In the fourth round, the Cubs grabbed a college arm in Hunter Ackerman. He made nine appearances in Boise in 2012, crafting an ERA of 7.66. His WHIP was a touch over 1.7. This was from a college guy, who I never remember hearing any injury news on. He might have been injured in 2012, but with those numbers, he wasn't moving up anyway.

Nowadays, the Cubs will draft a college guy in the fourth round, and he might be in the Midwest League later that season. In this draft, the Cubs fourth selection never made full-season ball. No, I don't expect a fourth-rounder to go to the majors. However, a college arm in that spot should be a usable option helping the system in some fashion.

Two picks later, the Mariners selected James Paxton.

Recent Cubs fourth-round selections: 2014, pitcher Carson Sands; 2013, pitcher Tyler Skulina; 2012, pitcher Josh Conway and 2011, pitcher Tony Zych.

Fifth Round

Matt Szczur was the Cubs fifth-round selection, and a reminder of what second-day picks ought to do. The career Szczur has crafted isn't that obscene for a fifth-rounder, and he has his detractors. However, Szczur was a decent or better player every step of the ladder. His hustle and defensive ability spot him as a valid bench option next year. This is what a fifth-rounder should be.

To say that Szczur "bailed out the draft" is to imply it's acceptable to have a string of players at the top of a draft in baseball where of the top four players, only one gets as high as High-A ball. That should be unacceptable for any team in any era. That only one had any notable injury history makes things worse.

When a modern-day front office looks at talent, they ought to be able to tell fairly easily with college players (three of the first four were selected from the college ranks) if they can play professional baseball. For whatever reason, the Cubs front office did some things rather poorly this draft, and others, in terms of player selection and development. Hopefully this type of failure is gone for a long stretch.

I'll have my thoughts on the rest of the 2010 draft and some conclusions in Part 2, which will post at 8 am CT Saturday.