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2019 MLB Draft Prep: The draft and ‘reaching’

How do you define a “reach” in the draft? The answer is likely different for different teams.

Cole Roederer
Cole Roederer
South Bend Cubs

The NFL Draft was over the weekend. One of the fun things to check on as a sports fan that has little invested in the NFL is finding out when teams “reach” for a draft choice. It happens, every year, and draws chuckles when it does. That a punter went in the fourth round (Mitch Wishnowski) was considered a “reach” by many. When it comes to the Cubs drafting pattern, where player character is highly-valued, do the Cubs tend to reach?

Teams have different draft boards. The Pirates’ 30th option might be the Phillies’ 53rd. Quite a few players are very similar from a talent standpoint. However, a look at a draft board could, on occasion, see if a team is taking “the consensus best” or “assessing talent differently from most teams.” If a team with a counter-intuitive method is reaching, but gets good or better results, they may be forcing an adjustment.

One thing that is underplayed enough that it needs a mention when this exercise gets played is that “post-draft” news shouldn’t be assessed in evaluating a draft. For instance, if a recently selected player crushes four homers the weekend after the draft, teams that went a different direction shouldn’t be blamed for what they couldn’t have known. Or, if a 95 MPH fastball suddenly jumps to 99 a week after the draft, that’s life.

Among my basics is looking at the Fangraphs list. They regularly edit on the fly, and retain their lists into the future. As such, I can look to their 2018 list to see if the Cubs reached for their first four selections. The Cubs drafted 24th, and selected Nico Hoerner. Knowing what is known now, Hoerner might have been selected in the top 20. On “the board,” Hoerner sat at 37. Yeah, really. Before him was Grayson Rodriguez (prep pitcher), who popped 11th. Mike Siani (prep outfielder) went 109th. Three after Siani was Jeremy Eierman (Missouri State infielder) who went 70th.

To decide anything final off of one selection would be a... errrrrrrrr... reach. The Cubs second 2018 choice was Brennen Davis, a prep outfielder. A Miami commit, Davis was 81st on the Fangraphs board, but the Cubs pegged him at 62. On either side of Davis on Fangraphs board were players selected 65th and 83rd. Again, a mild reach.

Cole Roederer (drafted 77th) and Paul Richan (drafted 78th) were both listed outside Fangraphs Top 130, and they had quite a few players rated similarly in that range. Cubs fans have yet to complain much about any of the Cubs top four selections. Either way, it appears to me the Cubs lend precious little concern to anyone else’s consensus.

Is that a clear indicator that the Cubs prioritize “character players” over tools? Naaaaaah. It’s a bit of a tell that the Cubs are looking at talent differently than other teams. Does that means theirs is a better way of deciding than a board consensus? Not with less than a year of results on the four players in question. It does appear, though, that large portions of prospect lists are being entirely dismissed for whatever reason. Is that over-“reaching” for players who are considered high-quality people, as well as good players? The threshold for proof is up to you.