In contrast to other years, we haven't said a lot here at BCB about the 2016 MLB Draft, which starts later tonight at 6 p.m. CT, live on MLB Network and at MLB.com. I want to correct that now by telling you who the Cubs will select with their three picks on Day 1:
- Jason Heyward
- Dexter Fowler
- John Lackey
Thrilling. You likely already know how this works, but the Cubs lost their first and second round picks this season because the Cardinals made a qualifying offer to both Heyward and Lackey. The Cubs were expected to get a first round supplemental pick back because they had made a qualifying offer to Fowler, but they lost that when Fowler re-signed with the Cubs.
I'm pretty sure none of you would trade those players to get those draft picks back.
That means that the Cubs don't pick until the third round and the 104th overall pick on Friday. While we certainly have hopes for recent third-round picks such as Mark Zagunis or Bryan Hudson, the reality of the situation is that the Cubs haven't had a third-round pick make the major leagues since Chris Carpenter, who was drafted in 2008. They haven't had a third-round pick post a net-positive career WAR since Ryan Theriot was picked in 2001.
There isn't a lot of talent left after the first two rounds.
Complicating these matters is that on top of not picking until the third round, as a result of that, the Cubs also have the smallest bonus pool of any team in the draft. In the past, the Cubs could take a fifth-round risk on Jeff Samardzija (because there were no bonus pools back then) or Dylan Cease (because the Cubs had saved enough bonus pool money on earlier picks). This time, there isn't going to be any extra bonus money to splurge on a player who has fallen because of injuries or contract demands.
So mostly, the Cubs are going to be taking the "best player available" and filling in holes starting on Friday. I'm sure they are going to take some players that they hope could blossom into a star (the Cubs took Josh Harrison in the sixth round in 2008), but the reality is that they are mostly going to be looking for good teammates for the prospects they currently have.
So here are the current "needs" of the Cubs system that Jason McLeod and the rest of the Cubs front office will be trying to fill this week.
Starting Pitching: This is obvious to anyone who has been following the minor leagues this season. The top two starting pitchers in the system, Dylan Cease and Oscar De La Cruz, have yet to throw a pitch this season. (De La Cruz is dealing with arm issues. Cease is a year removed from Tommy John surgery and the Cubs are intentionally limiting his innings. He'll likely join Eugene soon.) Pierce Johnson, another top starting pitching prospect, has been limited by injuries to 15.2 innings this season. Duane Underwood Jr. has shown great stuff but poor command.
Yes, there have been some nice surprises this season as Rob Zastryzny and Trevor Clifton have taken steps forward. But even there, those two currently project to be back-of-the-rotation arms in the majors.
So I expect the Cubs to be taking a lot of starting pitching in this draft. The bad news is that there aren't going to be any top-flight arms available after the second round, at least not ones willing to sign for the bonuses that the Cubs will be able to offer. But the good news is that there will be guys out there like Clifton or Brad Markey who can help the organization.
I also expect the Cubs will take some players who project out to be relievers as well, but it's not as big an area of need as starting pitching is.
Catching: Why is catching an area of need in the Cubs system? Don't they have Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini in the top two farm clubs? Isn't Ian Rice having a breakout season in South Bend and P.J. Higgins making a successful transition to behind the plate?
Yes. And you can never have too much catching. Contreras is going to be in the majors next season (if not sooner) and teams are going to be asking for catching in any mid-season deals that the Cubs might make. On top of that, catchers get hurt.
Again, you can never have too much catching. And the Cubs certainly don't. If they did, they could always move one to a corner infield spot.
Speaking of that...
Corner Infielders: The Cubs system took a blow when third baseman Christian Villanueva broke his ankle in Spring Training. Jeimer Candelario got off to a slow start in Double-A Tennessee, but he's improved lately. Jason Vosler has been called an "under-the-radar" prospect so often it's become cliché. Jesse Hodges (who was undrafted, by the way) is having a great season and has made the Midwest League All-Star Game.
On the first base side, there's the legendary Dan Vogelbach, who is having the best season of his career. The Pelicans' Yasiel Balaguert offers impressive power but little else.
So the cupboard here isn't bare, but Candelario and, of course, Vogelbach are trade candidates, as is Villanueva once he gets healthy.
The Cubs tend to fill these positions with their overflow outfielders and second basemen rather than guys who are born corner infielders. But the good news here is that guys who can hit but are limited in other ways are exactly the type of players that drop to the third round and beyond. The Cubs picked Justin Bour in the 25th round in 2009 and while they made a mistake in releasing him, the Marlins did prove that they Cubs did find something late in the draft.
This might just be the year where the Cubs can take a lemon (not having draft picks and bonus pool money) and make lemonade by taking defensively-limited bats.
So those are the areas that I expect the Cubs to concentrate on filling in during the draft. So where are they strong?
Outfielders: One of the reasons the Cubs don't normally draft first basemen is because they can always move an outfielder there. But if you look at the rosters of the Cubs minor league system, there is almost an embarrassment of riches. Beyond the recently-promoted Albert Almora Jr., there is depth and upside in the outfield throughout the system. South Bend has one of the best Midwest League outfields I've ever seen with Eloy Jimenez, Donnie Dewees and Eddy Martinez. Tennessee has Zagunis (promoted yesterday to Iowa), Jake Hannemann, Billy McKinney and Bijan Rademacher. Myrtle Beach field Rashad Crawford, Jeffrey Baez and Charcer Burks. All ten of those players have the talent to make it to the majors. They won't all make it and most won't be stars, but that's really an impressive collection. They even have a good balance of left- and right-handed hitters.
I assume the Cubs will pick some outfielders because you can always move one to first base and someone has to play in Eugene and in Mesa. But it's not an area of need.
Middle Infielders: The Cubs will take some shortstops because if you can play shortstop, you can play anywhere on the diamond. They won't take many second basemen because major league second basemen are mostly failed shortstops. Amateur second basemen usually turn out to be major league left fielders or first baseman. But between Gleyber Torres, Ian Happ (who looks good at second base), Carlos Penalver (great glove) and Chesny Young (Tommy La Stella with a better glove), there is a lot of good talent at middle infield. Even Arismendy Alcantara still has some promise.
I'm sure the Cubs will draft several shortstops because amateur teams generally stick their best athletes at shortstop. But it's not a position of real need.
We'll have an open thread tonight at 5pm Central for you draft heads tonight who want to discuss all the players the other teams pick. And we'll have an open thread for Friday and Saturday's draft days when the Cubs will actually select some players.