The 2016 MLB First Year Player Draft is just weeks away, so it's only fitting we travel back to 2012 and take a look at Cubs president Theo Epstein's first draft with the organization. The Cubs selected a total of 42 players in 2012 including two first-round supplemental picks (RHPs Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn) as a result of the Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena deals. While many of these picks have produced very little in the way of results (per usual in the major league draft), Epstein's inaugural draft class as a Cubs executive contains a handful of prospects who still have a chance to make an impact in the bigs. Here are some of the prizes from four years ago.
HOME RUN - Albert Almora (Round 1)
The 22-year-old centerfielder is without a doubt the Cubs' crown jewel of the 2012 draft class. Drafted out of high school with the sixth overall pick, Almora has been bashing Triple-A pitching in 2016, slashing .318/.335/.458 with three homers and 26 RBIs in 201 at-bats this season with the Iowa Cubs. A potential Gold Glove outfielder at the major league level, Almora has always taken the defensive side of the game seriously, a trait both Maddon and Epstein will love once he reaches the bigs (and a big reason the team signed Jason Heyward to a $184 million contract this offseason). While he's struggled offensively at various points throughout his minor league career in addition to a handful of nagging injuries, Almora has proven to be able to adjust his mechanics and his approach, as his K/BB ratio, contact rate and total strikeout and walk numbers will dictate. If he continues his hot start, there's no doubt he will make the 40-man roster at season's end, and there's a chance we could see him at Wrigley Field in September.
TRIPLE - Duane Underwood, Jr. (Round 2), Pierce Johnson (Round 1 supplemental)
Despite recent injury woes and a rough start at Double-A Tennessee, Underwood Jr. projects as the Cubs' top pitching prospect and No. 4 overall prospect due to his high ceiling and athletic frame. The 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pound right hander touts a fastball ranging from 92-96 mph with late life, with his changeup and curveball showing signs of becoming plus pitches as his development continues. The 21-year-old went 6-3 at High-A Myrtle Beach in 2015 with a 2.58 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and .202 opponent batting average in 73.1 innings pitched last season. Fans should keep their eye on the young righty as the 2016 season progresses.
Both Johnson and Blackburn were selected as supplemental picks in 2012, but both pitchers have been more than supplementary. Johnson has, with the exception of a few nagging injuries, cruised through the Cubs's farm system and has finally arrived at Triple-A Iowa, where he is currently on the disabled list with his second lat strain in as many seasons.
DOUBLES - Paul Blackburn (Round 1 supplemental), Bijan Rademacher (Round 13)
Blackburn, on the other hand, is still at the Double-A level, but the 22-year-old boasts a 1.62 ERA and 0.97 WHIP through 10 starts this season with 32 strikeouts and 14 walks in 61 innings pitched. Don't be surprised if Blackburn reaches Iowa by the end of the summer.
Rademacher rose to the scene with a hot start in 2016, posting a .296/.453/.500 slash line with five homers and 20 RBIs in 98 at-bats for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. While the priority place upon fellow outfield prospect Billy McKinney has taken playing time away from Rademacher, the 24-year-old has logged over 450 at-bats at the Double-A level and could be headed to Iowa soon.
SINGLES - Rashad Crawford (Round 11), Ryan McNeil (Round 3), Josh Conway (Round 4), Stephen Bruno (Round 7)
Crawford has put up rather pedestrian hitting numbers at High-A Myrtle Beach, but with plus speed and extra base power the 22-year-old has a chance to reach the Double-A level by 2017. He hit 15 doubles and five triples in 2015 in addition to 20 stolen bases, and he already has eight stolen bases in 2016.
Like Crawford, McNeil had a solid 2015 season at Middle-A South Bend, going 3-3 with a 2.80 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched. The former third-round pick missed all of 2013, but has enjoyed modest success as a relief pitcher.
Conway has struggled mightily in 2016, but was successful enough in his first two minor league seasons to warrant the faith of Cubs fans and scouts. He was moved to a relief role after 2014, and after posting a 2.92 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 52.1 innings at High-A Myrtle Beach, he's gone 0-5 with a 5.50 ERA and 20 walks in 18 innings at Double-A Tennessee.
Bruno won't wow any fans or scouts with his numbers, but the middle infielder has returned from injury and looks to continue a respectable stretch of baseball in his fifth minor league season. The 25-year-old excelled in his first two years with the organization, but has since cooled down.