Normally, I look at the draft from the Cubs perspective. Which makes sense, on a Cubs blog. However, to start with, I’ll look “across the street” to the recently swept Brewers, before getting back to the Cubs.
In the recently completed four-game set, the Brewers offense wasn’t very impressive. Cold and wind played roles, as did the Brewers defense. However, as I was paying attention, the Brewers have two glaring holes: Catcher and shortstop.
Manny Pina and Jett Bandy don’t seem like valid MLB options behind the plate. They need Stephen Vogt to return and be useful. Either way, Vogt is a bit old, and isn’t especially reliable.
Their shortstop situation isn’t very settled, either. Oswaldo Arcia was a touted prospect. He isn’t hitting very well, at all. Eric Sogard has turned into a pumpkin, both at the plate and in the field.
While the Brewers have two at each position in their Top 30 prospect list, their top ranked and furthest along of the four is shortstop Mauricio Dubon. He has one walk and 16 strikeouts in Triple-A. The only other in full-season ball is catcher KJ Harrison, who has an OPS of .570 in the Midwest League.
While a team shouldn’t draft in June based on need, the Brewers could use a ready fix at either up-the-middle position in need. However, those are two positions that get picked over rather early in the baseball entry draft.
If the Brewers do opt to cover either weakness, the player selected will be a few years before he’s ready for prime time, anyway.
With their top prospect, Keston Hiura, a hitter who might need Tommy John surgery, their draft selection might not be anywhere near “best available.”
On the other hand, the Cubs seem to be getting reasonably good pitching in the pipeline. While Iowa’s rotation hasn’t been particularly effective, Alex Lange, Tom Hatch, and Trevor Clifton have started the season fairly well.
With the rotation and bullpen looking fairly well set through next November, the Cubs don’t have any pressing depth issues that seem apparent.
As such, best available seems a reasonably decent option.
Which it usually is.
The Cubs seem allergic to drafting preps early. By consistently leaning on college players early, the whiff rate for Cubs early round draft choices has been “less than average.” I don’t see much of a reason to veer away from that, now.
It’s a poorly guarded secret that I’d like the Cubs to start restocking the hitting in their pipeline. Not to the point of ignoring pitching, by any stretch. Or avoiding preps, entirely.
However, Trevor Larnach is at 24 on the list, and he’d make perfect sense for the Cubs. A usable right fielder, Larnach barrels the ball either way. I’m not a swing guru, but this cut doesn’t seem to need much tinkering:
He’s willing to take a walk, as his 27 walk/33 strikeout line hints at this season. His defense isn’t considered a strength, but his arm might play in right field at the top level.
However, it isn’t just Larnach, or a handful of others at 1.24. The Cubs get four of the top 80, and five of the top 100, due to compensation for losing Wade Davis and Jake Arrieta.
This draft seems deep enough to pay off handsomely at the 62, 77, 78, and 98 spots, as well.
While “best available” should be the calling card the first few rounds, retooling the hitting in general ought to be a bit of a priority.
Which is a better situation than “catcher and shortstop are glaring weaknesses.”
Here’s something to keep in mind as June approaches. This is as good of a place to roll with it as any.
Last year, the Cubs drafted two players from Puerto Rico. Nelson Velazquez went in round five, and Luis Vazquez was selected in round 14. Neither was drafted from a big Dominican Academy.
As you likely remember, Puerto Rico was hammered by hurricanes last year. The country is still recovering. Baseball fields haven’t been the primary focus of recovery efforts.
That said, Puerto Ricans are still good at playing baseball. However, for teams that aren’t accustomed to traveling “inland” to find the hidden talent, this draft might not bear much fruit.
However, with Vazquez and Velazquez looking like starters in Eugene this season (which is a rather quick jump for both), the scouts who unearthed them may well be “better at locating Puerto Rican talent” than some other teams.
“What you did last year. Do it again.” might be a good basis for mining the Puerto Rico for talent again.
It’s very possible that some from the island will be very willing to take a $125,000 bonus, or less, to play for one of the Cubs two teams in the Arizona League this summer. As such, the Cubs might ride the Puerto Rican option a bit more than some years come June.
The draft is about prioritizing. Be it on the field or off, numerous college or high school players could be doing well in the upper-minors or MLB in four or five years. The draft is about prioritizing preferences and assessing possibilities.
If it were up to you, would you lean to the player with higher velocity numbers (94 or 96) that has been battling “forearm stiffness,” or would you prefer the player with less velocity (90-92) who has been healthy and getting all his pitches over, generally?
Most teams will likely shop both aisles, but where would you throw your first dart?
One final note on the way out the door.
Teams often draft preps in the dozens, only expecting to sign three or four of them. The hope is two-fold. Get to know the player for three years down the road. Also, to hope that they can be convinced to skip going to college.
Rarely do they.
Minor league roster limits usually prevent teams from signing more than 28 of their 40 selections, anyway. As such, some draft calls usually are burned on unlikely-to-sign preps.
I’d guess the Cubs try this venture less this year than most years.
That perfectly useful player that hits in the middle of the order on a good college team at any level? They might fit perfectly well on a Cubs affiliate in Arizona this year.
Similarly, this probably would be a rather poor year for a player in Extended Spring Training to be advancing at a slower pace than expected. Almost any college game I watch has a few guys that appear “Arizona Summer League-good” or better. And many look like they could play in South Bend with a reasonably short timeline.
Fewer at shortstop and catcher than other spots, though.
Think for yourself. Ask questions. Be nice to others.