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2016 MLB Draft Prep In An Information Age

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Just how do you boil down all the information about potential draft picks?

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Grab a sheet of paper. Using a ruler or not, make a 10x10 grid. As we look forward to the upcoming draft, I'll tell you how I think drafting is done in an information age. Scouts are sent everywhere. Protected tweets are sent. Video vines are sent. Information is sorted. And prioritizing of players wins titles more than you might think.

"So, how should the prioritizing be done?"

Money needed to sign is one axis. Health history, commitment to success, being a good team mate, and other traits matter as well. The tools of the game are also incorporated. It, realistically, isn't one thing. In a computer age, the team needs a computer program to sort and prioritize.

"But, that would be hard to do."

Of course it would be. However, if they are getting better production out of the draft than you are, you lose the draft. You just do. And then, your owner goes on tilt on local talk radio.

Among the methods I see happening is the 10x10 grid.

As neither of us are paid scouts, here's how I'd guess it goes. Take a draft-eligible player, any one of them. Maybe he's a Pac-12 starting pitcher or a slugging outfielder from the SEC. Maybe he's a mid-major middle-infielder. A prep with a strong arm, or the ability to crush 78 mile per hour fastballs. What a scout has to be able to do is see into the future. Except, kind of like an insect with many segmented eye lenses.

Given hundreds of lenses, the panorama we're familiar with becomes... different.

The pitcher who throws at 96 in high school could do amazingly well. His arm could blow out. His secondaries could fail. He could be a punk, not interested in working out after he signs his initial deal. A scout has to see all the possibilities. It helps if he can (somewhat) accurately assess the likelihoods.

You get the kid throwing 96. Two or three times out of 100, he might become a pitching stud. In well over a third of the cases, he provides almost no benefit at all. In the ten-by-ten grid, a team ought to have a solid idea on the likelihood of the likely options, and how much value they will provide.

Notice, I didn't go with wins-above replacement. That's, obviously, a large component. However, a player that never reaches MLB, but is included as a key trade piece, is far more valuable than a guy that never escapes short-season ball.

How well will this player help our system?

Ride that question for 40 rounds each year, and beyond.

The Cubs' draft efficiency will be pushed this season. The other pipelines will have the chance to summon much more talent than the Cubs this draft. And, hopefully, others will have a draft advantage for years to come, as well.

No, I'm not going to tell you who the Cubs scouts ought to be "all over" in the draft. What I will tell you is that the homework for each selection will be significant.

***

I had a pleasant "a-ha" moment recently. (No, not the Norwegian band with the music video that pushed the envelope in the 1980's.) While perusing MLB Trade Rumors, I noticed an article talking about Ross Atkins referring to "Role 4" players. These are the types, according to Atkins, that aren't regulars, but contribute along the way. Perhaps a Dan Vogelbach or a Carl Edwards Jr.

And a light went on.

If types like Vogelbach and Edwards are Role 4 type players, Willson Contreras is a Role 5. And Chesny Young is a Role 3, as is Trevor Clifton. PJ Higgins and Carson Sands are Role 2 players. And, guys that never escape the Northwest League are Role 1 types.

One of my forever windmills has been the dismissive "organizational guy" term. Torn somewhere between lack of respect and micro-aggression, it fails to respect that... well...

Who is an "organizational guy?" Is it anyone in Role 3 or below? To the person who doesn't mind the minors, sometimes anyone Role 3 or below is undeserving of attention, anyway. Like I say, lack of respect and micro-aggression.

If someone absolutely insists that a guy who tops out his career as a reserve in the Northwest or Eugene as a back-up is an "organizational guy," I won't argue too much. A problem for me is that, for many baseball fans, the Role 3 and Role 1 types are entirely interchangeable. Yeah, there's a difference, in ability and contribution to the pipeline.

"Nice rant, but what does that have to do with the draft?"

More than you think. As you look at your 10X10 grid.

The guys who are career Role 1 types barely move the needle at all, regardless your method. Many highly drafted players end here. Many from Cubs lore.

"But, I don't care about Myrtle Beach. I want the Cubs to draft an ACE."

Riddle me this. How is a guy going to be better than Kyle Hendricks or Jason Hammel, much less John Lackey, if they can't get out hitters in the Midwest or South Atlantic League?

People who don't mind the minors tend to assume it's easy to advance. It isn't. To draft well, a system has to be in place to get Role 1 and 2 players to Roles 3 and 4. In pitching, and in hitting. Thus far, the Cubs haven't been particularly effective at running pitchers from Role 2 to Role 5. Much less from the entry level to being a post-season starter.

Is that a failure? Is it a lack of emphasis?

If you decide you want to push for the Cubs to draft "an ACE", the burden of proof is on you to show how a player available at 104 will progress better than Mark Appel or Tyler Kolek, who were both drafted top three.

It doesn't happen very often where a player blasts through at the major league level (as a pitcher or a hitter) without being competent at lower levels. (See Matt Carpenter.) If the Cubs do draft a "future ace" from high school in 2016, they have a protocol. He won't reach full-season ball until 2018. He won't reach Tennessee (Double-A) until 2020.

If you think "grabbing an ace" is cheating time, you haven't been paying much attention to the Cubs development practices.

***

Talent will be available. The Cubs scouting glut will have evaluated and documented on film hundreds of options by June 9. While other teams will grab "better talent", the Cubs better practices (than most teams) will lead to plenty of surprises.

At some point, they should stop being surprises.

The Cubs know the types of players they develop well. They'll continue to develop them well.

On draft day, experts who know the players will wonder how the Cubs rounded up so much talent from the bottom of the draft. Actually, that's probably not true. The experts probably know how smart and efficient the Cubs front office is.

While overly-aggressive and foolish teams place too much stock in "risky" selections (disregarding injury and character flaws), the Cubs will load up on 26 or so guys who are really good at playing baseball. Most will be Role 1 types.

However, if you look in a few years, some of them will be much better than their draft position indicates.

I won't be surprised at all. Because the Cubs are good at drafting and developing pro baseball players. As a linked set, that's what the June draft is about. And the Cubs are better at it at many teams.

Probably, even from the back of the draft.

If the pitcher you're interested in hasn't displayed the ability to get good hitters out using different pitches, yeah. The Cubs will probably pass on him. Instead, they'll load up on a dozen or 14 pitchers that have regularly gotten out good hitters at the college level. Perhaps not with 96 mile per hour gas.

Then, they'll sprinkle in a few preps willing to sign for under a million. But are willing to out-work other prospects.

However, with a to-die-for weight room, and coaches who want them to succeed more than the pitcher does, they'll figure things out in their own time. And develop far better than the hard-thrower without a feel for pitching. In the process, some will add 3-5 miles on their fastball. And, if they stay relatively healthy, some team that didn't consider them on draft day might send the Cubs a key piece for him in a few Julys.

Or, maybe just maybe, he'll figure out how to pitch well enough so that he gets the ball for the Cubs in the playoffs.

But, it will take awhile. Because the baseball draft pretty much demands patience. And, for those without the patience, the Cubs play really soon. And, because they're organization is so solid, their major league team is okay, also.

Largely, because the Cubs scouts look at a panorama of potential results. Not just "ceilings" and "floors".

If you need more draft coverage, look me up @tim815 on Twitter. The hashtags #Cubs104 (for the first pick) and #CubsDraft2016 (for general questions.

And don't forget to compare the Cubs hitting selections walks and strikeouts. And realize it's nowhere near over.

As Bachman-Turner Overdrive put it, "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet".