The Chicago Cubs finished up the 2019 MLB Draft with 40 picks over three days. Now the hard work begins. The front office has to sign these players. The coaching staff has to mold these players into major leaguers. And the players themselves have to put in the hours necessary to succeed at this terribly difficult sport.
The Cubs selected 22 pitchers of the 40 picks, which certainly indicates a plan by the front office to develop more pitching through the minor league system. Of those 22 pitchers, there were 18 right-handers and four left-handers.
Of the 18 position players taken, there were three catchers, eight infielders and seven outfielders.
The Cubs continued to focus their efforts on college players, taking 28 college players (24 from four-year schools, four junior college players) and only 12 high school players. The Cubs only selected six high school players in the first 32 rounds, so close to all the top talent is coming from the college ranks. This is pretty similar to what the Cubs’ front office did last season and in previous years. The only high school player this administration has ever taken in the first round in Albert Almora Jr., who was their very first pick back in 2012. (High school pitcher Paul Blackburn was also taken in the supplemental first round that same season.)
If you want to see some of these players before they become Cubs, four college players will be competing in this weekend’s NCAA Super Regional games which are televised on the ESPN family of channels and online streaming. Second-round pick Chase Strumpf of UCLA, third-round pick Michael McAvene of Louisville, 19th-round pick Adam Laskey of Duke and 29th-round pick Jake Washer of East Carolina still have games to play in their amatuer career.
1. Ryan Jensen. RHP. Fresno State. DOB: 11/23/97. 6’0”, 180.
The more I think about the Jensen pick, the more I like it. Jensen was someone I had seen pitch coming into the draft and I was very impressed. He’s got a fastball in the 95-98 mph range with good movement. Even better, he was throwing that hard in the seventh and eighth inning, which speaks against a move to the bullpen that everyone is predicting. Several sites have said that Jensen has the best fastball among all college pitchers in the draft.
Jensen’s slider has been terrific when I’ve seen it, although I’ve read that the command on it comes and goes. He’s got a decent changeup as well, so he has all the tools to start. I really wanted the Cubs to take Jensen before the draft, although I looked at those pre-draft rankings as well and had him pegged as a second-rounder. (I should have kept looking. Keith Law of ESPN ranked him at 32 and Fangraphs said he was going to go between picks 25 and 40.)
I keep coming back to the fact that he’s a short right-hander and thinking that’s the only reason he wasn’t ranked as a Top 30 prospect by everyone. The scouting prejudice against short righties isn’t totally baseless, but you can get too caught up in a player’s size and miss his talent. I remember what the Cubs’ scout wrote about Greg Maddux back in 1984: “I really believe that this boy would possibly be the number 1 player taken in the country if only he looked a bit more physical.”
Jensen certainly isn’t Maddux and he’s not going to have that kind of a career, but both players faced the same biases as amateurs. If Jensen stays healthy (big “if,” I know), I think at worst he’s a terrific setup man out of the pen, which any team would take any time out of the 27th pick in the draft. He’s got a chance to be quite a bit better than that. A mid-rotation starter would be his upside.
2. Chase Strumpf. 2B. UCLA. DOB: 3/9/98. 6’1”, 191.
Strumpf became famous because he was in the on-deck circle for UCLA when the Cubs drafted him and when he got to the plate, he hit a big home run for the Bruins. Strumpf’s dad ran into the dugout after he had rounded the bases to tell him he’d been drafted. Strumpf’s reaction was “Cool, great, like I’ve still got a game to play. This is the worst timing ever.’” This is a guy we want in the Cubs’ organization.
Strumpf was considered a first-round pick after his sophomore season, but his junior year wasn’t quite as good, although .285/.422/.489 with nine home runs isn’t bad at all. (He hit .363 with 12 home runs as a sophomore.)
Strumpf sounds a lot like Nico Hoerner, the Cubs’ first-round pick from Stanford in 2018. They both have terrific bat-to-ball skills and can drive the ball hard to all fields although neither will hit a ton of home runs on the next level. Both players have excellent plate discipline. Hoerner is the better defender with a chance to stick at short whereas Strumpf is likely to be a bat-first second baseman. His glove won’t likely be a liability, it’s just not going to be a big plus either.
3. Michael McAvene. RHP. Louisville. DOB: 8/24/97. 6’3”, 210.
It’s a good thing that McAvene’s Louisville team made the Super Regionals, because otherwise his NCAA career would have ended when he was ejected after he said “That’s horrible” to the home plate umpire. That carried an automatic four-game suspension. In fairness to McAvene, it was a horrible call.
McAvene underwent Tommy John surgery as freshman and has been pitching out of the bullpen ever since. He has a good fastball that sits 94-95 but he can reach 97 at times. Or, as in this game, he can hit 100 for the final strike of the game. There’s some thought that he can go back to starting and the Cubs might try that as he gets further away from his surgery. Or they could just groom him as a fireballing reliever.
4. Chris Clarke. RHP. Southern California. DOB: 5/13/99. 6’7” 213.
Clarke is another TJ survivor, having had the surgery in high school. He’s got a 92-95 mph fastball and a curveball that’s already good and potentially plus-plus. He’s been the closer for USC and is almost certain to stay in the pen in the pros.
5. Josh Burgmann. RHP. Washington. DOB: 1/27/98. 6’0”, 205.
Three straight picks of Tommy John veterans as Burgmann had the the operation his freshman year. His pure stuff is just average, but his strength is his command and control. He’s from British Columbia and is looking forward to pitching for Eugene on the road in Vancouver this summer. His upside is a back-of-the-rotation starter.
6. Ethan Hearn. C. Mobile Christian HS (AL). DOB: 8/31/00. 6’0”, 200.
Hearn was considered the top high school catching prospect in the draft and many think the Cubs got a steal with Hearn in the sixth-round. David Kaplan reports that the Cubs have already come to terms with Hearn.
Hearn projects to be a power-hitting left-handed catcher who may struggle to hit for average. He’s got a strong arm and great tools behind the plate although like all high school catchers, he’s a little raw. He earns praise for his work ethic, which may be the number one requirement for a catcher. The track record of high school catchers isn’t great, but Hearn may have more upside than anyone the Cubs took in this year’s draft.
7. Brad Deppermann. RHP. North Florida. DOB: 5/15/96. 6’0, 190.
A fifth-year senior, Deppermann is probably a cost-saving pick to sign Hearn. He was, however, the Atlantic Sun Pitcher of the Year. His control is his best asset. The Cubs previously drafted Deppermann out of high school in the 31st round in 2014.
8. D.J. Herz. LHP. Terry Sanford HS (NC). DOB: 01/04/01. 6’2”. 175.
Herz has a funky, crossfire delivery that allows him to throw 95 mph with good movement, but it costs him control and it also leaves some to worry about his long-term health. Committed to North Carolina, he may be a tough sign but I’m confident the Cubs would not have drafted him here if they didn’t think they’d be able to sign him.
9. Tyler Schlaffer. RHP. Homewood Flossmoor HS (IL). DOB: 5/24/01. 6’1”, 180.
A local kid and a lifelong Cubs fan who is in heaven right now. He’s said he’s likely to sign.
10. Wyatt Hendrie. C. Antelope Valley College (CA). DOB: 2/08/99. 5’11”, 195.
A recent convert to catching, Hendrie was maybe the best junior college catching prospect. Hendrie has a strong arm and is an above-average runner, rare for a catcher. (We’ll see if he’s still an above-average runner after a few more years crouching behind the plate.) He’s considered a strong hitter for average, although his power potential is limited.
The website Baseball Census really loves Hendrie. They love his athleticism for a catcher and think he’s “smooth” behind the plate for someone who only recently took up the position.
11. Mack Simpson. SS. Seminole State (OK). DOB: 8/10/99. 5’11”, 170.
The switch-hitter was the first drafted player from Oklahoma in a down year for the usually productive state. Simpson says he intends to sign.
12. Hunter Bigge. RHP. Harvard. DOB: 6/12/98. 6’0”, 205.
A two-way player at Harvard, the Cubs will make a full-time pitcher out of him. He’s got a big mid-90s fastball, but he needs more experience to improve his control and to get some more movement on it. Baseball America thought he had the most upside of any player the Cubs took on Day 3.
He also probably tells everyone he went to school in Boston.
13. Porter Hodge. RHP. Cottonwood HS (UT). DOB: 2/21/01. 6’4”, 230.
14. Ryan Reynolds. 3B. Texas. DOB: 7/17/97. 6’2”, 215.
Reynolds is the son of former Astros pitcher Shane Reynolds, who pitched at Wrigley Field in this game on May 6, 1998. A switch-hitter, Reynolds was a three-year starter for the Longhorns.
We are so nicknaming him “Deadpool.”
15. Zach Bryant. RHP. Jacksonville Univ. DOB: 6/05/98. 6’1”, 210.
16. Johzan Oquendo. RHP. Leadership Christian Academy (PR). DOB: 1/06/01. 6’2”, 180.
17. Tanner Dalton. RHP. Sacramento State. DOB: 8/25/96. 6’2”, 195.
18. Alex Moore. RHP. Lander Univ. (SC). DOB: 10/25/96. 6’2”, 195.
19. Adam Laskey. LHP. Duke. DOB: 3/09/98. 6’3”, 205.
Laskey missed much of his junior season at Duke with injuries, pitching just 12 innings. He was, however, the wooden-bat Cape Cod League Pitcher of the Year this past summer. He’s got a solid three-pitch mix, but he may want to return to Duke for his senior season and see if he can’t stay healthy and improve his draft stock. A good gamble for the Cubs if he signs.
20. Darius Hill. OF. West Virginia. DOB: 8/17/97. 6’1”, 190.
A weak arm limits him to left field, but Hill has a bit of left-handed pop in his bat. As a college senior, he’ll sign.
21. Nelson Maldonado. OF. Florida. DOB: 8/13/96. 5’10”, 195.
A senior, this scouting report was shared with me by one of you Gators fans.
22. Elian Almanzar. RHP. Florence-Darlington Tech (SC). DOB: 2/01/00. 6’4”, 210.
Almanzar has a 94-95 mph fastball and some decent secondary stuff, Almanzar needs to work on his control. He was born in the Dominican Republic and went to high school in Boston.
23. Manny Collier. OF. Westwood HS (AZ). DOB:12/19/00. 5’10. 170.
A terrific athlete with blazing speed, Collier has only recently committed to baseball over football, so his overall skills are pretty raw. A major project, but one with a lot of upside.
24. Grayson Byrd. INF. Clemson. DOB: 6/16/96. 6’3”, 205.
The son of former major league pitcher Paul Byrd, Grayson Byrd is a fifth-year senior who transferred from LSU to Clemson to escape the shadow of his dad. He’s battled injuries in previous seasons at Clemson. but he led the Tigers with a .315 average and 15 home runs this season
25. Zac Taylor. OF. Illinois. DOB: 10/01/95. 6’1”, 185.
Another fifth-year senior, Taylor has an interesting power/speed profile and the skills to play all three outfield positions. Age is clearly working against him, however.
26. Jacob Olson. INF. South Carolina. DOB: 5/21/97. 6’0”, 200.
Another senior. Mostly a third baseman with some right-handed power.
27. Cayne Ueckert. RHP. McNeese State (LA). DOB: 5/28/96. 6’3”, 195.
28. Chris Kachmar. RHP. Lipscomb Univ. (TN). DOB: 9/03/96. 6’3”, 180.
29. Jake Washer. C. East Carolina. DOB: 2/23/96. 6’0”, 220.
30. Bryan King. LHP. McNeese State (LA). DOB: 11/05/96. 6’1”, 184.
31. Shane Combs. RHP. Notre Dame. DOB: 1/14/97. 6’2”, 219.
32. Bryce Windham. 2B. Old Dominion. DOB: 9/25/96. 6’1”, 190.
33. Ryan Ritter. SS. Lincoln Way East (IL). DOB: 11/10/00. 6’1”, 170.
A local kid who has shown a good ability to get on base. He’s committed to Austin Peay.
34. Nolan Letzgus. RHP. Heritage HS (GA), DOB: 12/22/00. 6’0”, 175.
35. Hunter Patterson. LHP. Vero Beach HS (FL). DOB: 4/04/00. 6’4”, 170.
36. Jayson Hoopes. RHP. St. Augustine Prep (NJ). DOB: 3/03/01. 6’3”, 190.
37. Jaylon McLaughlin. CF. Nevada. DOB: 12/10/97. 5’11”, 165.
38. Marc Davis. 3B. Florida SouthWestern State. DOB: 11/11/99. 6’3”, 190.
39. Mason Auer. CF. Kickapoo HS (MO). DOB: 3/01/01. 6’0”, 185.
Has a 95 mph fastball and is committed to Missouri State. Unlikely to sign, but you never know.
40. Mac Bingham. CF. Torrey Pines HS (CA). DOB: 7/01/01. 5’11”, 190.
As far as who is going to sign, you can feel very confident that all of the first ten picks will sign and any senior college player. Most junior-year college players will sign, although one or two might return for their senior season if they don’t get an offer they like. Most of the players in the top 25 rounds are likely to sign as well. High school players taken in the final ten rounds are unlikely to sign and sometimes a team will draft a player just so they can talk to them and make a connection that will result in them being drafted three years later.
Finally, I want to wish a big congratulations to all these players and ask that you welcome all of them to the Cubs family.