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Cubs draft retrospective: A look at the 2017 class, rounds 11-21

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Sometimes mid-round guys produce more than expected.

Four Winds Field
Melqui Rodriguez/South Bend Cubs

In my constant effort to make sure you have no idea what article will be coming next, I look at the middle rounds of the 2017 draft. It won’t take long for you to realize this ignored portion of a draft from the back-end of the pool has already revealed a gusher. As usual, I split the drafts 1-10/11-21/22-finish. Today, I take a look at the Cubs 2017 draft, from round 11 through 21.

Here is a look at the entire 2017 Cubs draft. As usual, my look at any draft is getting smooshed into a formula. You may or may not dig the formula, but it’s a starting point. My “formula” is to credit the Cubs with “wins above” for each player who earns the team any. An “and one” is assigned for any player from the draft that is traded away.

For instance, Kris Bryant has been worth 21 on his own. As such, the Cubs 2013 draft will be looked back on favorably. However, Rob Zastryzny (recently designated for assignment) was in that draft, as well. As such, the Cubs get his WAR as well. (Career results below replacement level are ignored. After all, a player that reaches MLB is a positive, not a negative.) By trading Jacob Hannemann and Zack Godley, the Cubs 2013 draft assessment incorporates all four. If Zastryzny is traded, instead of being claimed on waivers, the “and-one” for the draft jumps to three. Or (Bryant WAR plus Zastryzny WAR) +3. If Zastryzny is claimed, the formula remains at (Number +2).

On to the 2017 class assessment, here is a look at selections from the 11th through 21st rounds.

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Round 11: Rollie Lacy, right-handed pitcher (now in Rangers organization)

When the Cubs drafted Lacy out of Creighton University, no trumpets sounded. As this was the Cubs second successive string of ignoring hitters, the general response was likely “Another pitcher?” That’s what I said.

In a 29-inning cameo in 2017 after the draft, Lacy struggled in the Northwest League. Sometimes, people try to make too much out of any one specific stop. This applies extra in a pitcher’s first season. If he has a bad night, on a night when the bullpen is a bit too slow to replace him, his numbers are ruined.

Lacy’s on-field highlight in 2018 was pitching the first seven innings of a nine-inning no-hitter for South Bend. Split no-hitters in the minor leagues are a more-likely occurrence than complete game gems. By getting familiar with the premise, I’m even more willing to use the bullpen at the top level when “history” hangs in the balance. His off-field highlight was being sent as the principal piece in the Cole Hamels trade to Texas.

Lacy has pitched rather well in his stint with the Rangers pipeline, as a member of the Down East Wood Ducks. Lacy defines the possible upside of an early-third day college selection. With Lacy being traded, the current value of the 2017 draft is 0 WAR + 2 (7th-round selection Ricky Tyler Thomas was traded for Jesse Chavez).

Round 12: Ben Hecht, right-handed pitcher (Midwest League/South Bend)

Hecht pitched the last two innings of the no-hitter noted above. Coming from college (Wichita State), Hecht was prone to walks and strikeouts. That hasn’t changed much as a professional. He should reach Advanced-A next season.

Some players blossom and bloom. If Hecht doesn’t advance effectively to and through Advanced-A Ball, he becomes a bit of a baseline. If a 12th-rounder reaches the Carolina League level, but no further, that’s about standard. You’d prefer more, and might get it. However, players selected much earlier in the draft will have much less notable careers than pitching the back-end of a no-hitter.

Round 13: Austin Upshaw, infielder (South Bend)

Upshaw was expected to be a steady bat in the Carolina League. That hasn’t worked thus far. The Kennesaw State (Kennesaw, Georgia) selection was very good in 2017 for South Bend. This time around, the Carolina League and the Midwest League have been better than Upshaw. It happens.

Round 14: Luis Vazquez, infielder (Northwest League/Eugene)

BBref lists Vazquez as being unsigned. He was signed, and has advanced to the Northwest League level. In neither season has the bat developed, yet. Vazquez, from Puerto Rico, turns 19 in October. He has time to develop, especially if the bat comes along.

Round 15: Jared Young, infielder (Carolina League/Myrtle Beach)

Young (Old Dominion) is a bit the inverse of Upshaw. Upshaw had a sensational debut campaign, then struggled in his first full season. Young was caught up in Eugene in 2017, and wasn’t shredding there. This season, Young rolled the figurative 18 on the 20-sided development die. He’s been better than South Bend. He looks Tennessee (Double-A) ready for 2019. Baseball is funny that way.

With the inversion by Upshaw and Young, I’m seeing a bit of a reason to play the “small stuff” less. If a player has a great season, that’s really useful. However, panning a player over a relatively bad season, or dropping him on a list, seems a bit piling on. Especially when more enjoyable/informative stories exist. Upshaw and Young both figure to have futures in the system.

Round 16: Brandon Hughes, outfielder (South Bend)

“What do the Cubs do different in player selection than other teams do?

When it comes to outfielders, the Cubs draft defense-first. Many teams go offense-first. The Cubs seem to believe an outfielder is of more team value if he is competent on defense. If a draft-eligible has a rather good offensive approach, the offensive basics can be taught. Whereas, a defensive butcher through three years of college will likely remain that.

Hughes was a centerfielder/rightfielder at Michigan State. His offense is lagging his defense at the pro level. However, his glove plays any time the ball is hit in his direction. His defense will help the Cubs pitchers. With that as a starting point, you begin to see why the offenses in the pipeline might lag a bit.

Round 17 Peyton Remy, right-handed pitcher (AZL Cubs)

In his second professional season, Remy pitched, with distinction, for an affiliate that was one game from winning the Arizona League title. Remy’s 2.75 ERA, and 1.013 WHIP, contributed mightily for the AZL Cubs 1 side. His 52⅓ innings ranked second on the team.

Drafted from Central Arizona College (Coolidge, Arizona), which produced big leaguers Doug Jones, Ian Kinsler, and Tom Pagnozzi, look for Remy to have a chance in South Bend next season. That said, the competition for those 12-17 fluctuating spots will be a bit fierce. If Remy does well there, he becomes a viable option to be dealt in July.

Round 18 Casey Ryan, right-handed pitcher (Eugene)

Ryan’s level of participation so far has been as a reliever in Eugene. The Hawaii-Manoa product has been at a hit per inning in the Northwest League this season, with four walks per nine. He’s struck out 28 in 33⅓ innings.

That sounds a bit ordinary, perhaps. However, it used to be that much earlier selections would produce that or less.

Round 19 Chris Singleton, outfielder (South Bend)

It took quite awhile for Singleton to get over the .200 batting mark in 2018. Many might have asked, why an outfielder hitting below .200 into August was still being given a chance. The light goes on at different times for different players.

If Singleton can perform a level higher with any success, he represents a very realistic coach in the system. The reality, though, is that a coach is a coach if he can hit Carolina League pitching at all, or not. It would be cool to have Singleton as a coach in the system, with his background. He may have bigger fish to fry, though.

Round 20 Brendan King, right-handed pitcher (South Bend)

King spent much of 2018 shuttling between the rotation and bullpen in South Bend. He was better in the bullpen, but he could provide innings either way. The amusing thing about King’s performance was when South Bend’s color analyst, also named Brendan King, would have the microphone when King was pitching. Unrelated, they both knew each other from their time in the Cape Cod League, when King would on occasion, announce King’s games.

I’m not entirely sure how much further King will remain in the Cubs system. He kept his hits allowed below his innings pitched, limited his walks, and fanned over a hitter per inning. King was a bit homer-prone. The Cubs have a few players to be named later, pending. King may well be on one of those lists.

Round 21 Sean Barry, right-handed pitcher (Eugene)

The San Diego University selection has become a leverage reliever for Eugene. The 2017 Draft was very pitching-heavy, as you can tell. Barry will be pushing with many of the others listed here for a South Bend bullpen spot in 2019.

That nobody between Rounds 11 and 21 of the 2017 Cubs draft have yet been released should be a tell as to how much depth college baseball has. Each to their own level, all of these performers have been giving the pipeline their best for an unfortunate pittance.

At some point, my hope is that you begin to categorize draft choices, based on their round selected. Perhaps, you can begin to have expectations as to how far along through the ladder a selection from a certain round might progress. I imagine that quite a few people default to “can’t play” when they see (for instance) 16th round. I hope these articles fight that preconceived notion.

Yes, earlier selections often have a better chance at success. That shouldn’t minimize the effort or contribution from players from the draft’s third day — just look at David Bote, an 18th round pick in 2012. They’re really good baseball players, even if they never get MLB service time. That the Cubs tend to get “above round level” contributions from so many makes tracking the pipeline more enjoyable than it would be otherwise.