The Chicago Cubs find themselves in an unfamiliar position.
For the first time in seven years, they own a top 10 pick in the MLB draft. Sunday’s No. 7 pick marks his best since 2014, when the Cubs took Kyle Schwarber at No. 4. The pick became part of a three-draft streak that also produced All-Stars in Kris Bryant and Ian Happ.
The future success of the Cubs’ rebuild requires them to get their best draft picks right and develop the kind of internal pipeline that perennial postseason contenders rely on. Vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz doesn’t expect the organization overhaul to affect his draft focus during the 20 rounds from Sunday through Tuesday.
“I think at this point, given how long it takes for most of the players that we’re recruiting to get enrolled in the big leagues, I don’t think we can try to time a window like that,” Kantrovitz said this week. “If you start getting into that, then you could end up losing the best available player on the board. It is as imprecise a science as it is. Not really a concern for us.
“If it ends up being a more tooled high school player that we recruit that takes a little more time, we have the infrastructure to handle it. And if he ends up being a college player who is projected to get there a little faster, we’ll be just as happy.”
It’s still too early to fully assess the Cubs’ last five draft classes, but early results herald a mix of production and potential.
Right-hander Alex Lange (No. 30, 2017) has a 3.23 ERA over the past two seasons for the Detroit Tigers after the Cubs traded him in 2019 for Nick Castellanos. Left-hander Brendon Little (No. 30, 2017) has a 5.53 ERA in 19 appearances at Triple-A Iowa. Nico Hoerner (No. 24, 2018) is a star in the making who has thrived in his transition to shortstop and provided the contact hitter profile that the Cubs lineup needed. Right-hander Ryan Jensen (No. 27, 2019) has struggled with his command as he posts a 5.05 ERA in 11 starts at Double-A Tennessee. A serious hip injury that required surgery confuses the future of shortstop Ed Howard (No. 16, 2020). Left-hander Jordan Wicks (No. 21, 2021) just moved up to Double-A, according to Friday’s minor league transaction record, after making 16 starts at High-A South Bend, with whom he posted a 3.65 ERA and 11.6 ERA. strikeouts for nine innings in 16 starts.
The 2022 amateur draft is expected to see high school position players among the top picks. The Cubs have the 10th highest bonus pool ($10,092,700) for the first 10 rounds, while the 7th pick has a slot value of $5,708,000. Teams can spend up to 5% above their pool and pay a tax on the excess, but they won’t lose a future draft pick if they stay below that threshold. It’s a strategy the Cubs have used every year since the bonus system was implemented in 2012.
chicago tribune sports
A daily sports newsletter delivered to your inbox for your morning commute.
Among the players the Cubs could target with their first pick: third baseman Cam Collier (Chipola, Fla., JC), shortstop Termarr Johnson (Mays, Ga., High School), outfielder Elijah Green (IMG Academy ), shortstop Zach Neto (Campbell), shortstop Brooks Lee (Cal Poly) and corner infielder Jacob Berry (LSU).
The MLB draft normally took place in early June. The league pushed it back to mid-July for the first time last year to coincide with All-Star festivities, which hasn’t gone down well with some front-office staff as the trade deadline approaches. However, one benefit of the extra month of drafting is the increased data available to teams. Summer college leagues continue and the Cubs have scouts at games who provide additional information to the organization.
“Historically, that was never the case,” Kantrovitz said. “The draft was in early June and the summer leagues and all the high school showcases, that would happen after the draft and there would be a few days to catch my breath and then I would start working for next year’s scouting evaluations. . But we are still getting data up to the last minute. That’s a big difference from previous years.”
Owning the No. 7 pick didn’t change the Cubs’ scouting and evaluation strategy for the first half of the spring. The goal, Kantrovitz said, was to cast a wide net and make sure each player was thoroughly evaluated given the uncertainty that exists during the spring college and high school seasons.
“Whether it’s players being injured or signing changes or a player being able to decide to go to college at the last minute, we don’t want to lock ourselves in and then be surprised,” Kantrovitz said. “So it’s better to cast a wider net than not to. But certainly by the second half of the spring, we started to really focus on who the top seven might be.”
In his third season at the helm of the Cubs’ draft, Kantrovitz has a better understanding of each scout’s individual style.
“Everyone looks at players differently,” Kantrovitz said. “Some scouts are more conservative than others, some are more aggressive. Some scouts may be better at evaluating pitchers than hitters. That is something that only comes with time. You can read past scout reports, but until you actually work with them and travel with them, you don’t really have an idea of how you can best interpret their assessments.”