With the draft upcoming in early June, a few people seem to be over-inflating its importance, while others prefer ignoring it. This is going to be a look at some second round possibilities, and what can or should be expected from those selections.
The Cubs get their standard second-round selection at pick 62, and have compensation picks at 77 as well as 78, for losing Wade Davis and Jake Arrieta via free agency. The “rosy scenario” types are claiming these choices, as well as the one at 98, will suddenly “fix” the Cubs prospect concerns. However, that doesn’t especially align with reality.
Initially, I’ll look at a few names in the range of pick 62. While it’s fun to guess about how a player will do, based on scattered articles or 20/80 rankings, a better assessment of what the Cubs will likely get as far as production is a look at the historical returns on selection 62.
For instance, if the average choice at 62 provides a 10.3 WAR value, you can assess from there. However, few ever shine with historical reference. Many want to hear about tools or upsides, assuming players will usually blossom under Cubs coaching. While I lean toward buying on the Cubs scouts and coaches, a historic look is a bit chilling.
Through the years, teams have assessed players for over 50 years in the draft. Looking at the historic 62s in the draft, three recent names jump off the board. None are especially similar. Andre Ethier was an outfielder from Arizona State. Jeff Weaver was a pitcher from Fresno State. Jose DeLeon was drafted from high school in New Jersey.
As such, there is no “traditional” success pattern at 62. Well over half haven’t played major-league ball, at all. As such, if you get any realistic sort of WAR value from a pick at 62, you should be reasonably happy. There’s no reason to expect that any of the players available at 62 will immediately sprint into national Top 100 prospect discussion.
The logical way to approach the four early Cubs picks (24, 62, 77, and 78) is to attempt to get a degree of balance from the four, while minding the finances. Many of the mocks that run as deep as the Top 100 have the Cubs selecting three or four preps early, which seems a bit foolish. First off, preps have about no experience facing players as experienced as the standard college junior. Secondly, preps have far more leverage.
The lack of predictability leads to selecting players who, while talented, have a much greater whiff likelihood. Regardless what a prospect’s 20/80 scores look like, if he hasn’t faced a three-day weekend of facing college pitchers from quality pitching programs, everything becomes a cloudy guess.
For instance, Joe Gray Jr. is an outfielder listed at 58. Getting a Torii Hunter comp, his arm is the draw. The 6-3 prep from Hattiesburg, Mississippi represents power and speed above projected average. However, he’s never faced a three-game set against major college pitching. Perhaps he’s ready to play against top-end prospect talent, or not.
Since teams are limited in their spending, if the Cubs select Gray (which I wouldn’t object to), they’re likely in line for college players for the rest of their top five choices. Gray would expect to get a reasonable signing bonus, which would limit the Cubs ability to get many other preps early.
If someone from the prep ranks at 62 “jumps off the board,” then take him. However, that likely limits the later choices in the round to being college-only.
I mentioned balance. Yes, I expect an early prep choice. However, getting one prep of the top four seems likely. College options Tim Cate (curve ball specialist), Konnor Pilkington (repertoire lefty), Jake McCarthy (mashing outfielder), and Zach Watson (sophomore-eligible center fielder) seem a bit more likely. All could be ready for full-season ball by April, or even August.
Which jumps me to the back-to-back picks at 77 and 78. My expectation is that the Cubs will have taken two college players to this point, with at least one being a hitter. The 77th pick has, historically, been rather useless. One player has been drafted with the 77 pick and had a career WAR of over 2.0. Somewhat ironically, Alex Wilson had previously been a Cubs draft selection.
If you’re expecting this player to be a vital cog in a string of pennant runs, you have no history to prove it. About a third have had a major-league debut, and few have been significant. Pick 78 has been aided by Freddie Freeman, and has been much better. Therefore, if you’re expecting these two choices to greatly upgrade the Cubs pipeline, you might be expecting too much.
With successive picks, the Cubs’ draft room will be hyper-frantic leading up to these two selections. They’ll be checking in with agents to float signing numbers regarding their clients. My hunch is the Cubs will take a prep and a college player here. The college player might be anyone on the MLB board’s range for the area.
Jake Wong is a favorite of mine in this range. He has a mid-90s fast ball. He’s a legitimate college starter with a usable slider and change. Both would need extensive tinkering in the minors. If either doesn’t develop, Wong becomes a possible leverage reliever type, which is entirely acceptable at 77 or 78.
Cadyn Grenier kicked presumed top-ten pick Nick Madrigal to second base at Oregon State. Grenier could play at short well up the pipeline, and his glove wouldn’t be a question. His bat in school has been improving. Having too many options at short is rarely a concern, especially since when those options mature, they can be traded if playing well.
Other names that intrigues in the college range here are slugging outfielder Brett Kinnemann, offensively-capable catcher Grant Koch, and repertoire right-handed pitcher Adam Hill. All three come from name schools.
Which leads to the other pick. It could be the 77th or 78th choice, but the Cubs will have plenty of telephone time with successive choices. Half of the calls will be to representatives of the college options. Half will be for high school options.
Perhaps, the preps will be “in that range”, as well. Or, perhaps, they will have “slipped over signing concerns”. With these two selections, it would make sense for the Cubs to “balance out their draft” and retain “financial flexibility.”
My hunch is as follows.
As the successive picks approach, the Cubs will have assessed the primary college and prep options on the board. The primary goals? Finding the players most likely to have 5 WAR or better MLB careers. Whoever those are. Whatever their positions.
The prep list might fluctuate a bit more. A kid that is college committed? Pass on him. Put together a list of the five preps and college players most likely at those spots, and quickly research their sign-ability.
To use the names above as options as possibilities (It won’t be those five I can almost guarantee.), the Cubs should assess likelihood to have a 5 WAR or better career (Yes, they’d better have that sort of program developed.), and run financials by the representatives.
With the college players, the numbers should be rather similar. The slotted amount is somewhere near $775,000 for both choices. If the “best guy” is willing to sign for that range, select him. Unless someone slightly below is willing to sign at a marked discount. Unless the variation on expected return is severe (It probably shouldn’t be.), sign the best player willing to sign for the amount allowed for the pick.
The tougher part is the prep. If offered only high-six figures, many high school players might prefer the safety of college. “Betting on yourself” is the in vogue term. However, if one of the top five or six preps on the Cubs board at that point is willing to sign for $1.1 or $1,2 million, that amount can still be scrounged if the other picks have been college players.
The draft is the most important three days of the early season. Even if second-round picks don’t play big-league ball, they can be dealt for players who might. Getting the right players from the raw mass of players signed from the June draft nourish a team’s pipeline. Which should be the starting point of the process.
Players are drafted from “where they are” to “what they might become”. Reversing the process to “We need an ace” or “Draft a lead-off hitter” is the tail wagging the dog. Get the best talent that fits into the permitted finances. Develop the talent from there. Always with an eye on the realities of what is a realistic historic expectation from the choices under consideration.
It’s entirely fair to “lean bats” or “prioritize pitching”. However, the names available on the board at the time are far more important than most considerations. What’s more important? Having a full dossier of information on all of them. Other teams will “get well” on draft day. The Cubs are benefited if they do “as well or better” than their division rivals. Which is a difficult task from later in the round.
June won’t fix the Cubs prospect weakness. Five or six of the newly minted options might vault into the team’s Top 30 prospects. None figure to be major finds compared to national listings. Nonetheless, the June draft will likely have more historical relevance than the Cubs games played on those days.