Launch, launch and more launch.
That sums up the Chicago Cubs’ three-day, 20-round MLB draft. When the draft ended Tuesday afternoon, 16 of the Cubs’ 20 picks were pitchers along with two outfielders, a shortstop and a catcher.
Vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz said afterward that he would be surprised if the Cubs signed all 20 players, but he anticipates making deals with 18 or 19 of them, a number he would be “really happy” with.
“The way the draft is structured, you have to set out different plans for various scenarios that may play out during the signing process,” Kantrovitz said Tuesday during a post-draft video call.
Like all major league teams, the Cubs hope to come away with some shocking talent in this draft class, a group that includes high school right-hander Mason McGwire, son of former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, whom they took in the eighth round.
The Cubs’ top two picks on Sunday, right-hander Cade Horton (No. 7) and left-hander Jackson Ferris (No. 47), started the pitching trend. Although they selected high school shortstop Christopher Paciolla in the third round, the next 11 picks were all pitchers.
the Getting into the Cubs philosophy the project focused on taking the best players available on your board. However, Kantrovitz explained that the organization was also aware, especially heading into the final day, of its minor league depth and where there would be opportunities for recruits to rack up innings or at-bats.
“Pitching is a necessity for every major league baseball team,” Kantrovitz said, “and right now, when we looked at our depth charts, there were a lot more places where pitchers could get innings than there were where hitters could get to. . bats. You want to make sure you’re careful when you’re drafting a player, especially on Day 3, that there will be a place for him to play and get at-bats.”
The Cubs have a lot of young position players who need as many at-bats as possible during the last two months of the minor league season. And unless the Cubs believed they were drafting someone better than one of those players, Kantrovitz said, they didn’t want to take at-bats away from a prospect already in their system.
“It’s hard to have too much pitching,” he said. “And if you don’t draft it, then you have to sign it after the draft. So from the point of view of where we end up, it ends up being something of a balance in terms of players coming into our system and getting AB and having tickets. We probably don’t need to do too much after the draft on this one.”
Did the Cubs draft baseball’s next two-way player?
That’s probably overkill, but it looks like fourth-round pick Nazier Mule will get a chance to show he can play both ways. The Cubs “thoroughly” evaluated the 17-year-old as a hitter and pitcher, according to Kantrovitz. Mule’s two-way ability was one of the reasons the Cubs drafted him.
“We have some scouts who are really excited about him on offense,” Kantrovtiz said. “He is simply a dynamic and exceptional athlete.
“We’re going to be open-minded to someone who can do both … but we certainly don’t want to close any doors there.”
Mule projects as a better pitcher, capable of hitting triple digits with his fastball, though he’s more consistent with the pitch when he throws it a little slower. He also possesses impressive raw power, making the 6-foot-3 shortstop an intriguing right-handed hitter. Perfect Game rated him as the top two-way prospect entering the draft.
Mule, a commitment from the University of Miami, was announced as a pitcher when the Cubs drafted him Monday, and Kantrovitz hopes the organization will evaluate him from the mound first. Kantrovitz didn’t rule out that Mule could play as a position player.
“Just because we’re going to start with evaluation in one way doesn’t mean we’re going to pigeonhole him into that role,” Kantrovitz said. “It’s dynamic on both sides.”
And while 14th-round pick Shane Marshall spent most of his college career as a catcher, the Cubs will make him a pitcher. Marshall pitched just 1⅔ innings at the University of Georgia. He pitched twice in relief in 2022, recording one out in each appearance. Despite the limited appearances, Cubs scouts saw some “pretty special” fastballs from the 6-foot-4 righty’s mid-’90s.
“There are no plans for Shane to do anything other than pitch once he comes into the organization,” Kantrovitz said. “When you get a few different data points, even if it’s not too many releases, if it’s potentially a special release, that’s something that we want to make sure we have the opportunity to build on and we’re excited about it.”
The Cubs didn’t shy away from pitchers with arm injuries.
Kantrovitz indicated before the draft that injury history would not prevent them from considering a player. The Cubs ultimately drafted three players with notable injury histories.
Horton missed his entire freshman season at Oklahoma in 2021 after Tommy John surgery, which limited his college career to 14 games (11 starts) in 2022.
Fifth-round pick Brandon Birdsell missed his junior season in high school due to Tommy John surgery, and a rotator cuff strain ended his 2021 season at Texas Tech in April. Birdsell avoided rotator cuff surgery, and his right hand recovered to become the Big 12 pitcher of the year.
Oregon State right-hander Will Frisch, their sixth-round pick, underwent Tommy John surgery in March. The Cubs scouted him two years ago and met him at the MLB combine last month at Petco Park in San Diego. At the combined meeting, Kantrovitz said they went over Frisch’s rehab and where the pitcher was in Frisch’s progression, mindset and goals.
Kantrovitz recalled talking to the Oregon State coaches in the lead up to the draft and hearing them rave about Frisch’s work ethic and strength. Kantrovitz praised Frisch’s pitcher’s build and intelligence.
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“Even though he didn’t really come out this year, he’s someone that we have to trust in the story and then get really comfortable with Will as a person, which we ended up doing,” Kantrovitz said. “And he’s someone who once he’s healthy could become a pretty exciting power arm.
“We’re very confident that he’s going to put these things together.”
Before the draft, the Cubs held four workouts. Three were general workouts at separate facilities: in Texas, at his complex in Mesa, Arizona, and at his High-A South Bend ballpark, as well as some individual workouts at Wrigley Field.
Kantrovitz estimated that five or six players they drafted attended one of the pre-draft workouts. One was 15th-round pick Haydn McGeary, a wide receiver out of Colorado Mesa University. He worked out of the Cubs’ Mesa complex, where the organization got to know the 22-year-old on a different level beyond McGeary’s jaw-dropping numbers.
In 57 games this year, McGeary hit .481 with a .579 on-base percentage, 35 home runs, 17 doubles, 79 RBIs, 86 runs scored and a 1.061 slugging percentage. (No, that’s not a typo.) Consecutive Division II Player of the Year, McGeary hit 55 home runs the past two seasons, averaging one home run every 8.7 plate appearances.
The 6-foot-5 McGeary will get a chance to stay at catcher, though Kantrovitz anticipates moving him and playing him at first base.
Said Kantrovitz: “He’s racked up some off-the-wall, Nintendo-type numbers, but that’s also backed up by some context-neutral data points when it comes to launch (velocity) and the way the ball just came off.” he flies off his bat. We got to the point where we feel really comfortable and have the potential to have a power bat.”
- Round 1 (No. 7): RHP Cade Horton, Oklahoma
- Round 2 (No. 47): LHP Jackson Ferris, IMG Academy (Fla.)
- Round 3 (No. 86): SS Christopher Paciolla, Temecula Valley HS (California)
- Round 4 (No. 113): RHP Nazier Mule, Passaic County (NJ) Technical Institute
- Round 5 (No. 143): RHP Brandon Birdsell, Texas Tech
- Round 6 (No. 173): RHP Will Frisch, Oregon State
- Round 7 (No. 203): RHP Nick Hull, Grand Canyon
- Round 8 (No. 233): RHP Mason McGwire, Capistrano Valley HS (California)
- Round 9 (No. 263): RHP Connor Noland, Arkansas
- Round 10 (No. 293): RHP Brody McCullough, Wingate
- Round 11 (No. 323): LHP Branden Noriega, MLB Draft League
- Round 12 (No. 353): RHP Mathew Peters, Ivy Tech CC (Ind.)
- Round 13 (No. 383): RHP Luis Rujano, Sunshine State Elite Academy (Fla.)
- Round 14 (No. 413): RHP Shane Marshall, Georgia
- Round 15 (No. 443): C Haydn McGeary, Colorado Mesa
- Round 16 (No. 473): RHP JP Wheat, Next Level Academy (Ala.)
- Round 17 (No. 503): OF Andy Garriola, Old Dominion
- Round 18 (No. 533): RHP Garrett Brown, Georgia
- Round 19 (No. 563): RHP Brock Blatter, Billings Central Catholic HS (Mont.)
- Round 20 (No. 593): OF Ke’Shun Collier, Meridian CC (Mississippi)