June 6, 2013, four years ago today, was the date the Cubs’ fortunes in rebuilding the franchise began to turn.
It was on that day, the first of the 2013 draft, that they selected Kris Bryant with the second overall pick, just after the Astros took Mark Appel with the first overall choice in the draft.
Needless to say, that’s the Cubs’ good fortune for having the Astros pass Bryant by. There were, as I recall, people here who wanted Appel to fall to the Cubs, as he was seen as a can’t-miss pitcher.
Theo Epstein and his management team have stayed away from pitchers in the first round since they took over, and you can see in the Appel pick the reasons. Appel has been both injured and bad in his minor-league career. As you can see if you look at that baseball-reference link, Appel has pitched over 100 innings once in his four full minor-league seasons, and has not pitched well at any level. He’s repeating Triple-A this year, now in the Phillies organization, and has posted a 6.14 ERA, 1.656 WHIP and allowed nine home runs in 51⅓ innings so far in 2017. He’ll turn 26 next month and it seems possible he’ll never pitch in the big leagues at all.
Cubs management’s philosophy of taking hitters (and college hitters instead of high-school hitters) instead of pitchers in the first round likely is what made them pass on Jon Gray, who was selected with the third pick, right after Bryant, by the Rockies. While Gray has had a decent start to his big-league career, Bryant is by far the best player chosen in the 2013 first round. Of the 39 players selected in that round (which includes compensation picks), 18 — fewer than half — have played in the major leagues.
The other 16 besides Bryant and Gray are, in order by selection: Colin Moran, Hunter Dozier, Hunter Renfroe, Braden Shipley, Tim Anderson, Marco Gonzales, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Christian Arroyo, Phil Ervin, Ryne Stanek, Jason Hursh, Aaron Judge, Sean Manaea, Aaron Blair, Michael Lorenzen and Corey Knebel.
Best by bWAR after Bryant (15.6) are Manaea (3.6), Anderson (3.5), Judge (2.9), Gray (2.7), Lorenzen (1.9) and Knebel (1.9). Those are the only players from that first round who have more than 1.0 bWAR in the major leagues.
Drafting, obviously, is an inexact science. There were players remaining after that 2013 first round who have already had positive impact in the major leagues. Cody Bellinger, just up and having a good year with the Dodgers, was chosen in the fourth round. The Orioles snagged Trey Mancini in the eighth round. And the Cubs’ 10th-round pick that year, Zack Godley, is now doing well in the Diamondbacks rotation.
This year, the Cubs will choose 27th and 30th overall in the draft that begins next Monday. If the 2013 first round is any indication, there will still be talented players remaining at that point.