The Chicago Cubs 2014 MLB Draft
Since part one of my day one write-up, Chicago Cubs fans immediately bombarded me with criticism of my criticism of the team’s handling of the draft. “Kyle Schwarber wasn’t a reach.” “Schwarber can play left field.” “Schwarber was an underslot so the Cubs so they could get great pitching in later rounds.” Denial is the first step of grief, so I understand the complaints against my Cubs day one analysis. Let me try and present some positives of the pick that everyone can agree on. Kyle Schwarber presents massive power, easy plus power. On the negative side, it is not quite unanimous that he is the best power bat in the draft with names like Alex Jackson, Casey Gillaspie, and AJ Reed also in contention for that title. If one were to argue that Schwarber had a better power tool than the others, then that’s fine, we’re splitting hairs. Schwarber’s time at Indiana University also showed that he has an invaluable asset in his plate patience. While not at Joey Votto’s elite level of plate patience, he can draw more walks than he strikes out in a fairly tough college conference.
Both the power and plate patience are fairly encouraging just looking at those alone. This isn’t the American League, let alone the home run derby. Realistically, one must consider everything about a player or prospect to make a judgment. That is partially why I always fall in love with five tool players. While they may not pan out, the alluring of having drafting Carlos Beltran is too strong. Schwarber is the furthest thing from that, which is in part why I dislike the selection. Schwarber has below average speed, below average defense at catcher, and an average arm. Where does that leave him? I know the Cubs organization company line is he will be a left fielder, but the guy is 6’0”, 240lbs at twenty-one years of age. His overall athleticism is poor to say the least, as that 240lbs is not muscle. Why people are so adamant about him sticking to left field is something I cannot explain. If I were to just list the qualities, blocking out the name or draft position, maybe people would come to the proper conclusion that this guy is first base or designated hitter material.
Another thing everyone can agree on is Kyle Schwarber is an underslot at pick four. As of press time, Schwarber has yet to sign, but was rumored to be close at a $3 Million deal, well under the slot value of $4,621,200. One may lay out that the roughly $1.6 Million saved will be used to overslot high school talent later on in the draft and that is partially correct. The Cubs however did not pick up a polished high school arm in the second round like Jack Flaherty, who would require an overslot and shows tremendous potential despite being a prep arm, but used their second pick on another certain underslot in Jake Stinnett. Stinnett’s spot, pick 45, is slotted at $1,250,400. Considering he is a senior at Maryland, he does not have many other options, so the slot could be anywhere from $600K-$800k, if not lower. The Cubs did not snag an overslot player in Virginia Tech catcher Mark Zagunis, who signed for $615,000, nearly $100K less than the slot value of $714,900. I would hate to call the first three rounds wasted, but Schwarber was a big reach, especially for a team that has a young first baseman and no designated hitter. Stinnett is a back of the rotation starter, if not a bullpen arm, at best. Zagunis is a bat first catcher who has some power and has his defensive struggles behind the plate, not to mention arm strength concerns, although many expect him to be given the opportunity to remain behind the plate unlike Schwarber. His stock fell quite a bit over the past year after his power surge and woes behind the plate. Zagunis is fine at the slot, but certainly not the blockbuster overslot Cubs fans were hoping for. The three are not quite the talents that people who fall in love with prospects even spill an ounce of drool over.
The Cubs selections in rounds four, five, and six are supposed to be the blockbuster selections for the Chicago team in this draft. Left-handed prep pitcher Carson Sands was selected by the Cubs with pick 109, a slot with an accompanied value of $480,600. Sands, a commit to Florida State, is without question going to be an overslot for the Cubs if he signs, which by press time indications, he will but has yet to do. While one of the top twenty prep arms, if not higher, in this draft, the major concern with Carson Sands was signability, which led to him falling to 109. His fastball can touch 95. Sands possesses a potential average 12-6 curve and potential average changeup. He has advanced command at the high school level, which is significantly beneficial for a player his age. Scouts seem to indicate there is not much projection left in his arm, akin to Grant Holmes. I am not sure if he is giant overslot material like the Chicago Cubs think he is. Reports indicate that it will take about double slot to sign Sands, so approximately $961,200.
Pick 139, which the Cubs used on prep arm Justin Steele, is accompanied with a slot value of $359,900, which is certainly less than what Steele will require. A deal has yet to be made, but it is more likely than not that Steele signs with the Cubs even with his Southern Mississippi commitment. When someone mentions Sands, Steele, and Cease in the same breath I laugh. Steele’s fastball tops out at 92 and projects to be potentially above average. His secondary stuff, namely his slider and changeup, need major work and project to be league average at best. Steele has command issues, in part due to his closed hips during his delivery. The best case scenario for Justin Steele is a number five starter, but his height (6’1”), in addition to his stuff, shows he’s more likely to end up as a bullpen arm if he ever reaches the majors.
The Cubs sixth round selection, pick number 169, was Dylan Cease, a Vanderbilt commit. The Vanderbilt commitment probably played a large role in falling to this spot, as it is generally seen as a strong commitment. The slot money for pick 169 is $269,500, so it is without question that the Cubs will have to go overslot on Cease just to try and sign him. Cubs VP of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod seems to believe that the Cubs will sway Cease enough to sign, but there has no real indications coming out of the Cease camp that he will sign. Cease honestly is not a bad pick, especially at this spot, but he fell to selection 169 due to a partially torn UCL as a senior in high school. I am bigger on reclamation projects than most, especially after seeing someone like Lucas Giolito fall in the draft and return to form. That same thing could happen to Cease, but Cease is different in that he did not get Tommy John surgery, instead trying Platelet-Rich Therapy, which has medical doubts about the impact it plays on healing. If he would have opted for the Tommy John surgery instead, I would feel significantly better, since it has proven to prolong the careers of athletes, something Platlet-Rich Therapy has yet to do, but that is a completely different article. There is concern that he may need to get Tommy John surgery in the near future. Fastball touches 97, sitting 92-95, plus fastball. Changeup could become above league average, but now is average. Curveball needs work, but he’s a prep arm, so that should be expected. Cease’s biggest issue is his command, which needs to make leaps and bounds in improvement in order to get in a big league rotation. My prediction is that the Cubs are going to go well above double slot in order to get Dylan Cease to sign. Even at that he’s a 3/4 starter ideally, but possibly a bullpen arm if his curveball does not develop in the future. Many Cubs fans are touting him as the next big thing and I am not quite sure why. He could turn out to be a rotation guy, but it really is just too soon. He is not in the class of Brady Aiken or Tyler Kolek. He is not even in the class of Touki Toussaint and Sean Reid-Foley.
Those three high school arms are the touted gems in addition to the first three selections of this draft and it is hard to workup excitement about the picks if you watch them and read enough about them. I know it is easier to pick out the negatives in a prospect as opposed to highlighting the positive and it is a tendency I, among others, continue to do. Even when we look at the positives we have a position-blocked first basemen, a 4/5 starter at best in Stinnett, a potential starting catcher, but more likely a backup catcher, and three high school arms of varying degrees, none of which are potential 1/2 starters, and all of which are several years away from joining the major leagues. That is not the type of top of the draft I would be happy with if I were a Cubs fan.
Beyond the top six picks, there are plenty of potential talents, so I will go through many of them for the sake of being comprehensive and fair, even though rarely do we see a franchise player drafted in the seventh round and beyond. The Cubs used their seventh round selection, pick 199, on right-handed college pitcher James Norwood. Norwood has touched 97 on his plus fastball. His changeup is about league average, if not a tick below, and his other secondary stuff is just in development, although I would not panic as bad since he is a young college junior at only twenty years of age. His best case scenario is probably back of the rotation starter (notice a pattern?), likely ending up in the bullpen if his secondary stuff doesn’t further develop. Although no deal has been made yet, I expect the Cubs to slightly go over slot here, which is $201,900, but as to how much only one may speculate. Pick 229, which is accompanied by a $161,800 recommended slot value, was used on left-handed pitcher Tommy Thorpe. His fastball only hits 90, but his best pitch, his curve is described as already plus. He will be likely underslotted, as he is likely to be a bullpen arm. Picks 259 and 289 in the ninth and tenth rounds were used on right-hander James Farris and right-hander Ryan Williams, both individuals who were not ranked on Baseball America’s top 500 prospects board. Both are easy signs and likely underslots, but their ceiling appears to fifth starter, but more likely bullpen if they make it the major leagues.
In the eleventh round, pick 319 was used on Jordan Brink who is a lock for a bullpen arm, as he’s only 5’11”, but he throws a plus fastball and plus curveball, which is relatively encouraging for the eleventh round. Twelfth round selection Tanner Griggs is a lottery ticket as he is a prep arm that has shown flashes of potential, but his command has major concerns. When you get this late into the draft, you can only hope these prospects pan out and wipe any expectations from your mind. As far as the signability of the remainder of the day three selections, the high school players are much more likely to not sign if they are selected on day three and opt to go to college instead. Of those high schoolers that remain, one of the few to make waves towards signing is 31st round pick Brad Deppermann. He is an all potential guy who is a certainly going to be an overslot if he decides to sign with the Chicago Cubs. Round 28 selection Jacob Niggemeyer has said he would consider signing with the Cubs, but if he does it will be with a significant overslot. Niggemeyer shows a ton of projectability, already standing 6’5”, shows great potential, already possessing a plus slider. It would be a great selection if he signs, but I certainly would not count on it quite yet.
Quite a few people have discussed Cubs 22nd round selection third baseman Joey Martarano as an interesting pick, albeit still a lottery ticket type. Martarano is in the interesting situation of having played football, not baseball, at Boise State last year. Due to Boise State not having a baseball program, he was allowed to be included in this year’s draft as a college freshman. He has gained some traction in certain draft outlets after one scout said he had “the most natural power he had ever seen.” He was selected in the 13th round last year by the Phillies as a high school senior, but turned down the offer to go to Boise State for football. He showed plate patience as a high school senior, which is not the norm for someone that age. I am not trying to portray him as a future superstar or anything of the sort, but he has the potential to be a big league starter with power. He also could end up as a guy stuck in AAA. The uncertainty is just the nature of prospects.
If I am Cubs fan, I cannot be too happy about this draft, especially when the team had a high pick and teams far below the Cubs (ie. Blue Jays and Indians) had a much better draft. The Cubs drafted no 1/2 starter, let alone a 2/3 starter. They drafted no immediate impact player like Aaron Nola or Kyle Freeland. They drafted nobody who would be a top five prospect in the system, despite having the fourth overall pick in an average or better draft. Many shout depth, “the Cubs got a bunch of good young pitchers,” in which they are referring to Sands, Steele, and Cease. Some individuals may see these three as quality, but I see them more as quantity in that they’re just more 3/4/5 starters down the road, which really should not be the focus of the Chicago Cubs. I have made my points about Schwarber, so there is not much left to say in regards to him at pick four. The later round picks are lottery tickets if they sign, so that is nothing to get excited about. How do you work up enthusiasm after a draft like this and a poor season like the Chicago Cubs have been having so far?
http://ccdt.webs.com/ for tracking Chicago Cubs draft picks signing status.