To look forward at the upcoming draft, a look back at recent drafts is often in-line. Traditional protocol tends to be to wait until a draft is seven years complete, look at highest wins above, and grumble or giggle. To become more conversant on the topic stresses different brain waves. What were the basics behind eight draft choices in 2017?
In general, early in a draft, a reasonably confident reporter with enough sources can get most choices to a few names. While players in the choice 18 to choice 50 basket are similar, a consensus is possible. Certain players are heavily scouted, and are likely earlier selections. Others are expected to be taken later.
Teams have their own draft boards, and preferences to create them. However, certain names are expected in a general order. Nico Hoerner wasn't necessarily who was expected from the Cubs, but he was supposed to be chosen in that range, so he wasn't a massive surprise. (I would have been more comfortable with either Jackson Kowar or Shane McClanahan, but I could see the wisdom in Hoerner at the time.)
For the 2017 selection run, I begin at 25, two spots before the Cubs. The Nationals at 25 selected left-handed pitcher Seth Romero. Talented on the mound, he'd been suspeended from his college team in successive seasons. I wanted nothing to do with him. In spring training of 2018, he was sent home from spring training. He pitched in only seven games in 2018. The Nats were after talent over character. Romero was a rated prospect last off-season by Baseball Prospectus (#76).
The next choice saw Texas select a prep outfielder in Bubba Thompson. As hard as it is to assess how a college veteran will do against MLB level breaking stuff, it's tougher with preps. A team should draft college and high school hitters. I prefer to wait until the second round to begin with high school talent, usually. Especially if I'm comfortable with the college names available. Thompson played well in the South Atlantic League (akin to the Midwest League) in 2018.
At 27, the Cubs selected left-handed pitcher Brendon Little. I considered him a wishful stab at Andrew Miller. If the stars align, and he figures out command/control, that could possibly happen. Or, he could muddle along for a few years, eventually do well in the Arizona Fall League after a few hot months, and force a roster decision. Or, far less. So far, he represented a "one good start followed by a bad one" type in South Bend.
Nate Pearson went next, to the Blue Jays. As with Little, Pearson was a junior college choice. His star was rising as the draft approached. Remember that the important draft information is what should be known on draft day. By a month or so after, Pearson was throwing in triple digits. He wasn't on draft day. Pearson had become the steal of the draft. In 2018, he retired five hitters in an May game before being shut down for the season with an injury.
Pick 29 belonged to the Rangers, again. Going high school, again, they grabbed defensive whiz Chris Seise, who played well for his age in the Northwest League after the draft. He missed all of 2018, after having shoulder surgery. I'm not sure if the Cubs were in on either Rangers selection, but I somewhat doubt it. The Cubs were mainlining pitchers that draft. Prep bats left more college arms on the board.
The Cubs took Alex Lange next, at 30. Lange was a Friday night guy in the SEC all three years. Grabbing those types of players are as safe as pitchers can be. That doesn't mean they'll be successful MLB arms. Too much has to be developed to assume that. However, the basic skills are there for success. As the compensation selection for Dexter Fowler, he allowed less than a hit per inning in Advanced-A Myrtle Beach over 120⅓ innings, fanning 101.
The next choice at 31 was Drew Rasmussen to the Rays. A right-handed pitcher from Oregon State, Rasmussen didn't sign, and returned to the Beavers for 2018. While he didn’t pitch the entirety of the 2018 season, the Brewers selected him in the sixth round for a signing bonus of $135,000. I’m guessing Tampa had offered more.
At 32, the Cincinnati Reds selected high school infielder Jeter Downs. He played well in the Midwest League in 2018. In a few years, when he’s very possibly getting time in MLB, people will be chuckling over his name. He’s a good player, and will probably get his chance, eventually. He wasn’t a likely Cubs selection, as they had prioritized pitching.
In a number of years, someone will claim the Cubs botched these two picks. Here’s how I see it breaking down, though. Over eight picks, the Cubs had two selections. At the time, they were chiefly interested in college arms. Three of the “in the range” selections were high school bats they weren’t especially seeking. This left five pitchers, all from the college ranks. Four would sign. Of those four, only two would pitch for most of the 2018 minor league season. Those are the two players the Cubs selected.
I still remain a Little skeptic. The next two college pitchers that were selected in that draft were Spencer Howard (Cal State-San Luis Obispo), who I’m not much familiar with, and UCLA’s Griffin Canning, who I would have liked at the time, as a three or four pitch guy from the Pac 12. Canning has reached Triple-A, already. I would be intrigued why the Cubs preferred Little over Canning, but a bunch of other sides took “other,” as well.
By having a degree of knowledge in a selection process, you can form preferences. This is a large component of the affiliated baseball process people seem to actively seek ignorance, regarding. I prefer awareness and discourse. Especially as it can sway team success, rather wildly.