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A recap of the 2022 Cubs draft

There are 20 new Cubs at the moment. Who are they and why did the front office take them?

Cade Horton, the Cubs’ 2022 No. 1 draft pick
Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The MLB Draft is now over and we can all welcome 20 new members of the Cubs Family.

These players are:

  1. Cade Horton. RHP. University of Oklahoma. DOB: 8/20/01. 6’1”, 211.
  2. Jackson Ferris. LHP. IMG Academy (FL). DOB: 1/15/04. 6’4”, 195.
  3. Christopher Paciolla. SS. Temecula Valley HS (CA). DOB: 3/16/04. 6’2”, 185. T:R, B:R.
  4. Nazier Mulé. RHP. Passiac Tech HS (NJ). DOB: 6’3”, 210.
  5. Branden Birdsell. RHP. Texas Tech. DOB: 3/23/00. 6’2”, 240.
  6. Will Frisch. RHP. Oregon State. DOB: 7/14/00. 6’0”, 222.
  7. Nick Hull. RHP. Grand Canyon U. (AZ). DOB: 8/21/99. 6’0”, 205.
  8. Mason McGwire. RHP. Capistrano Valley HS (CA). DOB: 1/05/04. 6’4”, 190.
  9. Connor Noland. RHP. Arkansas. 7/20/99. DOB: 6’2”, 215.
  10. Brody McCullough. RHP. Wingate University (NC). DOB: 6/30/00. 6’4”, 205.
  11. Branden Noriega. LHP. No school. DOB: 7/9/01. 6’2”, 180.
  12. Mathew Peters. RHP. Ivy Tech Fort Wayne (IN). DOB: 12/28/00. 6’4”, 215.
  13. Luis Rujano. RHP. Sunshine State Elite Academy (FL). DOB: 4/22/03. 6’4”, 200.
  14. Shane Marshall. RHP. University of Georgia. DOB: 3/15/00. 6’4”, 210.
  15. Haydn McGeary. C. Colorado Mesa University. DOB: 10/9/99. 6’5”, 235. T:R, B:R.
  16. JonPaul Wheat. RHP. Next Level Academy (AL). DOB: 8/3/02. 6’5”, 185.
  17. Andy Garriola. OF. Old Dominion. DOB: 12/15/99. 6’5”, 235. B:R, T:R.
  18. Garrett Brown. RHP. University of Georgia. DOB: 11/6/9. 6’7”, 218.
  19. Brock Blatter. RHP. Billings Central Catholic (MT). DOB: 7/10/04. 6’6”, 215.
  20. KeShun Collier. OF. Meridian Community College (MS). DOB: 12/21/00. 5’8, 160. B:L, T:R.

I left off the handedness of how the pitchers bat, since I can’t see how that matters anymore. If you think Mulé is going to be a two-way player, he bats right-handed as well.

I wrote up something about Horton and Ferris on Sunday night and on the Day 2 picks (rounds 3 through 10) on Tuesday.

I hadn’t previously written up anything on seventh-round pick Hull and tenth-round pick McCullough, so here goes. Hull is a fifth-year senior at Grand Canyon and probably the thing that recommends him the most is the spin-rate on all of his pitches. (The Cubs have valued that this year as I mentioned in the welcome note to Cade Horton, who also has impressive spin rates.) Hull’s fastball is clocked around 90-to-93 miles per hour and his slider is his second-best pitch. He also has a curve and a change.

McCullough moved into the rotation at Wingate this year and struck out 42.1 percent of the hitters he faced while walking just 9.2 percent. He was also impressive in the Cape Cod League against tougher competition. He struck out 38.5 percent there while walking 10.2 percent. He’s a big guy with a low-90s fastball, a mid-80s change and a low-80s slider.

I don’t have as much to say about the Day 3 picks. Thirteenth-round pick Rujano has already indicated that he plans to sign. Rujano is a hard thrower, originally from Venezuela, who has lots of potential but is still pretty raw.

Fifteenth-round pick McGeary, only the second position player the Cubs drafted, showed massive power at Division II Colorado Mesa. Sure, take the elevation and level of competition into account, but 35 home runs in 57 games is impressive in any league.

Nineteenth-round pick Blatter became the first Montana high school player to get drafted since 2014. They don’t actually play high school baseball in Montana, so scouts have only seen him on the showcase circuit. He’s huge and throws hard, but as you can imagine, he’s really raw. It would be a coup if the Cubs could sign him. He’s committed to Alabama.

A big deal was made by me and others about the Cubs drafting Mark McGwire’s son Mason McGwire in the eighth round. For those of you who were wondering, Mason and Mark are both thrilled that the Cubs drafted him and Mark has made it clear that he’ll be wearing Cubs gear to cheer on his son.

But let’s be clear: the Cubs did not draft Mason McGwire because he’s Mark’s son. They drafted him because they really think his splitter has a lot of promise, in addition to his other pitches. If you want to know why so many kids of major leaguers get drafted, it’s not just because of genetics or because they grew up around the game. (Mark had been retired for three years when Mason was born — although of course, he did coach after his playing days ended.) But from this article by Jordan Bastian where Mark talks about wearing Cubs gear, Mason reveals that he learned how to throw that splitter from Rollie Fingers, whom Mason met when his dad was being inducted into the A’s Hall of Fame. That kind of instruction just isn’t available to any kid off the street.

As far as which players are going to sign with the Cubs, assume that all of the top 10 draft picks will sign. Because teams lose the bonus pool money associated with a pick if a player in the top 10 rounds doesn’t sign, teams are always very sure that they know what bonus figure a player wants before they draft him. Sure, it’s possible something unforeseen comes up, but it’s very unlikely to happen.

As far as the second 10 goes, Rujano has already indicated he’s signing. VP of scouting Dan Kantrovitz (the guy in charge of the draft) thinks the Cubs will sign 18 or 19 of the 20 players.

Here I want to offer my thoughts on the Cubs draft and, if you’ll permit me, engage in a little speculation as to why things went down the way they did.

The overriding theme of this year’s Cubs’ draft is “upside.” Before the draft, I was saying that it was unlikely that the Cubs would take a pitcher because all the pitchers worthy of a pick in the top 10 had question marks around them, mostly health concerns. I didn’t think the Cubs wanted to take that risk, especially with the seventh pick in the draft.

Well, the Cubs’ front office looked into the face of danger and laughed. Three of the top six picks, Horton, Birdsell and Frisch, are pitchers with serious questions about their health. Horton is coming off Tommy John surgery, Frisch is still recovering from TJ and Birdsell missed most of the 2021 season with shoulder issues. Two other players taken in the top ten, Mulé and McGwire, are high school right-handers. That’s one of the riskiest demographics for draft picks. (Only high school catchers seem riskier.)

There’s a saying that you win championships with stars and not with ordinary good players. (To which I always respond “True, but you can lose a championship because you don’t have those solid starters,” but that’s neither here nor there.) But the Cubs appear to have enough faith in their new Pitch Lab and new approach to developing pitching that they seem to think they can be more successful getting these “pitchers with question marks” to reach their potential than they can with safer position players. The Cubs brought in Carter Hawkins as general manager in large part because of the Guardians’ success in developing pitching as well.

First-round pick Cade Horton is an instructive example. Please note that I’m engaging in speculation here. I’ve heard what the Cubs have said about why they drafted him and while I definitely don’t think they’re lying, I also don’t think they’re giving out their entire draft strategy either. So I’m going to try to guess what was going through the minds of Jed Hoyer, Hawkins and Kantrovitz when they decided to pick Horton.

First, although we won’t know for sure for many years, this was probably a below-average draft in terms of talent. Pitching was generally considered to be very weak because of health concerns. Despite the overall weaknesses, there were seven to 10 position players that everyone considered to be good, solid top ten picks. Many of them had star potential, although none of them could be considered “sure things.” Anyway, I concentrated on those position players when I wrote up my draft preview profiles.

When it came time for the Cubs to draft, there were three of those players still on the board: Chipola College third baseman Cam Collier, Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada and Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee. I expected the Cubs to take one of those three players and be happy.

But the Cubs didn’t want to be “happy.” They wanted to hit a home run. And if that meant increasing their chance of striking out, that was a risk that they were willing to take.

From all reports, the Cubs were attached to Collier for a long time heading into the draft. Why the Cubs didn’t draft him at No. 7, I couldn’t tell you for sure, but I strongly believe it was because Collier was unwilling to cut an under-slot bonus deal. The evidence for this is that Collier, who many predicted would go in the top five, slid all the way down to the Reds at number 18. The Reds had two picks in the first round and the extra bonus money that goes with it. They took a clear underslot player with their second first-round pick.

The Cubs, on the other hand, wanted to draft Ferris or some other high school player—they probably had a list of three or four—who would likely slide to the second-round but wanted first-round money to forgo college. The Cubs couldn’t take Ferris if they gave the full bonus money to their first-round pick. As Horton was predicted to go between pick 10 and 15, he could agree to a bonus that was more than he’d get in those slots but still provide enough savings for the Cubs to go with a higher bonus in round two.

You can’t trade picks in MLB (with a few exceptions), but what the Cubs essentially did was trade down five picks in the first round to move up their second-round pick 15 spots and into the late first round. The Rangers were working on the same principle when they took Kumar Rocker with the third pick and then got Brock Porter in the fourth round.

I made it clear when the pick was made that I would have taken Parada. But I also don’t know what Parada’s bonus demands were (he went to the Mets at pick 11) and I also don’t know what the Cubs think about his ability to stick behind the plate. I think Parada has a special bat, but it’s less special if he’s not a catcher.

The other option was Lee, who went with the very next pick to the Twins. As I wrote in my preview of Lee and the draft, it seems hard to envision many scenarios where Lee doesn’t become a quality major league ballplayer. But it also isn’t easy to see a lot of ways that Lee becomes a superstar. If Cade Horton blows out his elbow and undergoes a second Tommy John surgery, then the Cubs might regret not taking Lee. (Although Lee has his own injury history to worry about.) But as I said, the Cubs were all about the upside this year and not about playing things safe.

Horton missed all of 2021 with Tommy John surgery and only slowly played his way back into pitching for the Sooners this season. He was inconsistent and struggled at times, but the promise of earlier seasons and his general athleticism made him a good bet for a second- or third-round pick.

But as the season went on, Horton began to throw more innings and look better. Then came the College World Series where he absolutely dominated some of the best hitters in college baseball, as I noted earlier. Now if you just think that Horton just got the adrenaline flowing for the playoffs and got hot at the right time, then the Cubs probably made a mistake in drafting Horton. But if you think, as the Cubs do, that Horton’s late-season improvement was the result of his Tommy John surgery and it being farther in the rear-view mirror, then Horton could be a real prize.

No one rose farther in the draft over the past two months than Horton. If you’ve seen rankings that had him ranked low, they were probably out-of-date. The day of the draft, Baseball America wrote there was a chance that Horton could “sneak in” to the top 10 picks. I don’t know if going seventh overall counts as sneaking in, but the rumors were right.

And throughout the draft, the Cubs took mostly big, athletic pitchers who either had a high velocity or an impressive spin rate. (Or both.) These are the pitchers they have the confidence to mold into major leaguers. And if only one of these pitchers turns into a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, the draft is a success even if every other pitcher doesn’t make the majors.

By the way, I’m not buying Kantrovitz’s explanation that he took 16 pitchers because he didn’t think he could find enough at-bats for position players because the Cubs already have so many quality position players in the minors. It’s true the Cubs system right now is stronger in position players than in pitchers, but you’re telling me that drafting three or four more position players would create a logjam? Brennen Davis, Reggie Preciado and Ed Howard are all out injured, but the Cubs had no problems finding at-bats for everyone before they got hurt. Maybe it played a role in the margins, but it doesn’t make sense as a major factor. Maybe I’ll believe it if the Cubs only ask for pitching prospects in trade talks over the next 10 days.

So to summarize the point of all this, I feel the Cubs took Cade Horton in the first round because it gave them the best chance to get a star out of this draft — even if that star isn’t Horton. They also did it even if it meant an increased chance of a busted draft that produces little or nothing of value. I guess we’ll find out in five years.