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An early look at the 2018 Cubs draft’s Top 10 rounds

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There have been some solid performances so far.

Cubs No. 1 pick Nico Hoerner turns a DP for Stanford
Karen Ambrose Hickey/Stanford Athletics

Many perfectly good baseball fans disregard the June Draft. Before, during, and after. There are, after all, so many names. Many of them will never crack the line-up at Wrigley. Which is, after all, what is cared about. However, without looking too far back in history (Thursday night, if memory serves.), a player the Cubs have drafted can mildly change the landscape without playing a single inning above the level of the Midwest League. (2017 draft choice Ricky Tyler Thomas was flipped for reliever Jesse Chavez, then.) As such, this is a look (presumably, a bit ongoing) at the 2018 draft class.

Some like to say the only appropriate time to discuss a draft is well into the future. Eight or ten years after, perhaps. “Then, you can properly assess things.” I guess it depends on how much you value having a steady and replenished supply of necessary talent, and knowledge of it. I think it’s useful to learn about a sport I enjoy. Whether it’s books on legendary performers or executives, cutting-edge technology, or incoming talent.

Whatever floats your boat. As I write this, Jon Heyman is catching shade over his ‘tolerance’ of the Josh Hader tweets from years ago. Which leads to discussion, assessment, and education. As I start to look back at draft classes, the goal isn’t to anoint Theo Epstein or character assassinate the players. It’s more about a level-headed assessment of what’s worked. Why, and why not?

Numbers below are through Monday’s games.

Round One — Nico Hoerner. Shortstop. Stanford University.

My Twitter feed was about three days from demanding Hoerner get the call-up to Myrtle Beach, when a presumably minor arm injury finished Hoerner’s season prematurely. It would have been nice if Hoerner could have continued, obviously. However, since he couldn’t, it created chances for other players to represent this summer.

My mindset with a draft class is to come up with general “group project” grades for the entire group. If the group meets the expectations, they did fine. I should be happy. Side-assessments are accepted/encouraged. My general grade scale with this class is as follows, all things considered.

9 Wins Above + 3 trade pieces C+
12 Wins Above + 3 trade pieces B, just short of a B+
15 Wins + 4 trade pieces A

If the Cubs add quality through the draft every season, they push the rest of the division to do the same, as well. Which doesn’t always happen.

The way Hoerner has represented early, he could take care of most of those numbers himself. The questions for April are as follows. Advanced-A Myrtle Beach or Double-A Tennessee? What is his estimated time of arrival? (That takes care of itself.)

Round 2 a — Brennan Davis. Outfield. High School (Arizona)

As usual, when the Cubs draft an outfielder, some center field is alive and well in Davis. Both of his Mesa starts have been in center. He will largely be treated as a ballhawk defensively, until he proves he isn’t one. Davis has been a muted success. Without flashing much extra-base power, his OPS is .674.

Round 2 b — Cole Roederer. Outfield. High School (California)

Added as compensation for Wade Davis, Roederer is better than the Arizona League. In 18 games, Roederer has three homers, six steals (in eight tries), and an .864 OPS.

While those numbers can’t/don’t/won’t reflect how well he will perform against MLB talent in four or five years, each level that he’s better than early is one less that he has to prove better than later. Roederer should be in Eugene sooner than later. However, that steals Northwest League at-bats from someone else.

Round 2 c — Paul Richan. Righthanded pitcher. University of San Diego

Assessing talent off of box scores in minor league ball is a dicey proposition. Which is why having eyes or ears on the subjects is preferable to relying on box scores. Richan seems entirely at home pitching to Northwest League hitters so far. That’s likely as far as he progresses this season, anyway.

College pitchers tend to pool at the Northwest League level from now until early September in the Cubs pipeline. Large roster sizes allow the organization to run out six or seven pitchers, if needed, in a Short-Season League game. Players like Richan can toss two or three innings, then hand off to another, who might do the same.

In 12 innings, Richan has given up eight hits, two walks, and has 14 strikeouts. All the while, mixing his entire repertoire without too much concern on what his baseball card numbers are. Richan has been fine, and the question is, how many innings will he get in before being shut down? All is good so far.

Round Three — Jimmy Herron. Outfielder. Duke University

Unsurprisingly, Herron has played center field almost exclusively. He’s recently been hitting cleanup in South Bend. Which may say more about South Bend’s offense than Herron. However, he’s already reached full-season ball in his first pro season.

Round Four — Ethan Roberts. Righthanded pitcher. Tennessee Tech

Roberts has scuffled some in limited action in Eugene. He was a key “leverage reliever” type for a College Super Regional squad this season. For Roberts, the goal this season is to get some outs, and stay healthy for April. Don’t read much into the specifics of his numbers. He’s a longer-term play that should be better in 2019 than now.

Round Five — Andy Weber. Second Base. University of Virginia

A late signing, Weber has started slowly. That shouldn’t be a concern. He should be fine in 2019, providing roster stability to the South Bend and Myrtle Beach squad. His Arizona League OPS is .672 as of Tuesday morning.

Round Six— Kohl Franklin. Right-handed pitcher. High School (Oklahoma)

Franklin has pitched in two games as a professional. His ERA is a hefty 33.75. No worries.

Round Seven — DJ Artis. Outfield. Liberty University

Hit by pitch in his first at-bat of his second game, Artis hasn’t returned to the lineup. One of the reasons I prefer Appalachian League games to Arizona League games is that if Artis had been plunked at a higher level, we’d know what happened. We don’t.

Round Eight — Zach Mort. Right-handed pitcher. George Mason University

In the Northwest League, Mort has ten innings, ten hits, one walk, and 15 strikeouts. He started at GMU as a sophomore and junior, and should do the same in South Bend in 2019. If he does well, he looks a trade piece. If he does really well, he ceases to look like a trade piece.

Round Nine — Derek Casey. Right-handed pitcher. University of Virginia

He’s pitched less than many of the 2018 selections. I doubt there’s anything much to read into that. Like Mort, he should serve as a starting pitcher in South Bend or Myrtle Beach next season, backing up the pitching depth in the pipeline. Which is how it’s supposed to work.

Round Ten — Luke Reynolds. Third base. Southern Mississippi

Already to Eugene, he had hits in his first three games “off the compound.” He’s been better at the tougher level. His power has been doubles, so far as a professional. He’ll be better in 2019 after a proper spring training. He should hit quite well in South Bend in 2019, though he may get there next month. I heard him hit a rope on one hop to the first baseman. He’ll be fine.

***

Those are the players from the first two days of the draft. Two injuries, but the class looks rather good, so far. Some of the really fun stories are further down. While baseball fans focus on the tip of the iceberg, much of the action is going on in a bit more submerged fashion.

I’ll take questions on anyone in the 2018 draft. These players will represent the system quite well for years to come. The next time I choose to write on a draft, it might be any of the last few years, at the top or toward the bottom. Success on draft day, and developing that talent into the future, is an underrated aspect of an organization’s success. This class should represent rather well.