The Chicago Cubs entered the final five games of the 2014 season in a tight battle, only it wasn’t the joyous type we witnessed last season. This particular fight was for draft position in the impending Rule 4 draft in June, a late season position the Cubs had found themselves each of the previous five years. The White Sox, Red Sox and Cubs entered the final stretch separated by just three games, with the White Sox leading each team, while the Cubs were one game better than the Red Sox. You’ll remember how it finished, the Sox dumped 4-of-5, while the Red Sox went 3-2. The Cubs finished strong, winning 4-of-5 and finishing ahead of each team. They would have the ninth overall pick in the draft, their fifth consecutive top-10 selection.
You may not think any of this is significant, and you might be right. But for me, it was disappointing as my favorite realistic target for the Cubs—electric Arkansas outfielder Andrew Benintendi—had just became a little less likely to end up in blue. Sure enough, the Red Sox grabbed him with the seventh overall pick. Benintendi has gone on a tear since, raking his way through three levels, before finally finding a challenge in Double-A. Winning games is never a bad thing, but I think about that stretch of five games on a regular basis.
Now, bygones are bygones, and the Cubs still appeared to have a solid draft last year. Despite the slightly lower pick, Cubs management followed a similar plan as previous drafts: grabbing accomplished college bats early and signing them to under slot deals, then using that savings to load up on young pitching later in the draft. With the 2016 draft well underway, let’s review how last year’s crop is progressing, with players that weren’t signed excluded:
Round 1.9: Ian Happ, OF/2B – University of Cincinnati
The weight of expectation on young Mr. Happ is quite unfair. The Cubs’ previous four top-10 first round picks are all currently in the major-leagues enjoying various levels of success, and Cubs’ fans expectations are that Happ will be among the next wave of home-grown contributors. The stoic former Bearcat has responded in kind, quietly wearing down pitchers with a mature approach and quickly earning promotions all of the way to High-A Myrtle Beach. A combo second basemen and outfielder in college, Happ did not play second base at all in his professional debut in 2015. This led many observers to assume the Cubs had drafted him primarily as a bat-first outfielder, and didn’t believe in his ability to play second base in the majors. In an interesting twist, in 2016 he has played all but five games at second base with at least serviceable results, completely changing the narrative as to what he could be in the future. In 125 games, the 21-year-old Happ has smacked 48 extra-base hits, while walking an eye-popping 83 times. He strikes out too much—126 times in those 125 games—but the combination of power and patience has the Cubs (and other teams) salivating at his ceiling of potential production from a second basemen. His advanced approach at the plate has not gone unnoticed, as he has landed in the top five of every Cubs top-10 prospects list, and slotted in nicely at number 67 on BP’s latest top 100. Prepare yourself to hear Happ’s name mentioned on a regular basis as the trade deadline draws near, but don’t expect Theo Epstein to let him go without a fight.
Round 2.47: Donnie Dewees, OF – North Florida University
The only proper way to describe Dewees’ first 18 games in South Bend (.356/.402/.616) is with a collection of fire emojis, but I’ll resist as Wordpress doesn’t make them readily available. The left-handed outfielder hasn’t been able to sustain the success he started with early, but his season line to date of .275/.337/.436 is still quite solid for his first full professional season. The most intriguing part of his 2016 campaign is similar to Happ’s, as he appears to have bought into a patient approach at the plate, having taken 20 walks in 246 plate appearances for a walk rate of 8 percent. He has married the ability to get on base with 21 extra-base (10 triples!) hits, and he’s also striking out at just an 11 percent clip. Each and every stat mentioned is a significant improvement from the marks he registered in Eugene last year, so keep an eye on Donnie to see if he continues making impressive strides as he advances up the organizational ladder.
Round 3.82: Bryan Hudson, LHP – Alton, IL High School
The Cubs’ third round pick was about projection, and the 6’8″ Hudson offers it in buckets. An excellent two-sport athlete in high school, Cubs’ brass was first impressed by Hudson as they watched him play basketball, as he exhibited surprising mobility for his lanky frame. His curveball has long been touted as his best pitch, but reports from extended spring training say that his fastball has accelerated to 91-93, a big jump from the high-80’s he registered in high school. Further, the reports indicate that he is working to add a changeup to his arsenal, which would theoretically give him the precious third pitch needed to succeed as a starter at the big-league level. There are murmurs of Hudson skipping Eugene and being assigned directly to South Bend, but my money is on the newly minted 19-year-old heading to play short-season ball in Oregon first. No matter where he initially lands, the Cubs’ third-round pick offers increasing velocity, an “out” pitch, a frame capable of adding lean mass, athleticism and a mature approach. Yes, please!
Round 4.113: D.J. Wilson, LHP – Canton South, OH High School
Speaking of athleticism, Darryl “D.J.” Wilson is full of it. Described as a “Ben Revere-type player“, we’ll likely never see Wilson leading the league in home runs. However, the Cubs thought highly enough of him to give him a $1.3 million signing bonus, a figure well above slot for a fourth rounder. The Cubs have yet to assign him to a minor-league team, but the early results from extended spring training have been relatively promising. Another point of intrigue in Wilson’s favor, Baseball America thought highly enough of him to name him the 16th best prospect in the Cubs’ loaded system. Not bad for a player that has yet to see any real action.
Round 5.143: Ryan Kellogg, LHP – Arizona State University
The Canadian-born Kellogg bears similarities to third round pick Hudson, standing 6’6″ and offering plenty of projectable goodness. John Sickels of minorleagueball.com lobbed some heavy praise of Kellogg post-draft, calling him “one of my favorite prospects.” Kellogg has seen his K/9 rate leap to 7.4 this season at South Bend, a big jump from the 5.8 mark he established last season in Eugene. He offers an intriguing four-pitch mix, using a fastball, curve, slider and change. Each of the off-speed offerings comes with a bit of praise from scouts, but it’s the fastball that really could put him over the top as a prospect. Sitting around 88 mph in college, Sickels’ notes that he expected to see an uptick in velocity as Kellogg matured. While that hasn’t happened—he is sitting between 89-90 mph—time has not run out on the 22-year-old lefty. If he can find an extra tick or two of velocity, things could still turn out GREEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAT for the Cubs’ fifth rounder.
Round 6.173: David Berg, RHP – UCLA
The submarining reliever enjoyed four dominant years in UCLA’s bullpen, before being tagged as a sixth round selection by the Cubs. He carried this success into an excellent 2015 professional debut, allowing just three earned runs in 19 innings across two levels. Berg has been knocked around a bit since his promotion to Tennessee this season, having allowed 20 hits in 11 innings, en route to a 6.17 ERA. He is a bit atypical for a submariner, as he’s never been an elite strikeout guy. He relies on limiting walks and inducing soft contact, traits that should get him into a major-league bullpen at some point in his career.
Round 7.203: Craig Brooks, RHP – Catawba College
As a college senior pitching in relative obscurity in Division II, Brooks lacked any negotiating leverage and signed with the Cubs for just $5,000. He’s the opposite of Berg, as he mows down hitters with excellent swing-and-miss stuff, but too often falls victim to allowing free passes. Brooks is an outstanding athlete, as evidenced by his tremendous ability at the plate in college, to go along with his success on the mound. Despite unpleasant 6.4 BB/9 and 1.50 WHIP marks in South Bend this season, he has only allowed five earned runs in 24 innings, mostly thanks to an obscene 11.6 K/9 rate. Keep an eye on Brooks, if he can learn to harness his stuff, the former Division II player of the year has a chance to make a major-league roster down the line.
Round 8.233: Preston Morrison, RHP – Texas Christian University
The Cubs’ run on drafting college pitchers without negotiating leverage continued, with Morrison fitting the bill perfectly. The righty dominated hitters while starting in his four years at TCU, achieving a minuscule 1.85 career ERA. Interestingly, he never struck out more than 6.7 batters per nine innings in college, but his professional stops in Eugene and South Bend have seen that rate jump to 9.3. It’s been a positive start for Morrison’s career, with a 2.71 ERA in 19 games thus far. It remains to be seen whether he’ll continue as a starter long term, but so far, so good.
Round 9.263: Tyler Peitzmeier, LHP – Cal State Fullerton University
Another selection, another dominant four-year college pitcher added to the stable. Peitzmeier is of the relieving variety, and his 2.07 career ERA out of the bullpen suggest he does that job quite well. His professional results have been mixed thus far, with a healthy 8.7 K/9, but a not so healthy 5.60 ERA. Look for Peitzmeier to return to Eugene when their season starts up.
Round 10.293: Vimael Machin, SS – Virginia Commonwealth University
Finally breaking free of drafting pitchers, the Cubs selected Machin—a standout shortstop at VCU—in the tenth round. The Puerto Rican had an excellent approach in college, which translated to a career .387 on-base percentage. Unfortunately for him, his time in South Bend last season did not go well, as he stumbled to a .484 OPS. He has yet to be assigned to a team this year, and will likely land back in Eugene to start the year.
Round 11.323: Matt Rose, 3B – Georgia State University
Rose—notable not only for his play, but for his likeness in appearance to Kris Bryant—put together an excellent debut in 2015, notching a .357 OBP and .308 batting average after being promoted to South Bend. Unfortunately for Rose, this season has been a struggle, as 38 games in South Bend have netted an OPS of just .555. Thankfully for Rose, if baseball doesn’t work out, perhaps he can find a second career as a body double for Mr. Bryant in next spring’s Express catalog.
Round 12.353: P.J. Higgins, 3B/2B/SS – Old Dominion University
The versatile Higgins played three seasons at Old Dominion, highlighted by an ability to put the ball in play and draw walks. Those skills have translated to his professional career, as he’s walked nearly as many times (44) as he’s struck out (51). This has been especially true this season in South Bend, where he has drawn 34 walks against just 25 strikeouts. The catch for Higgins will be finding more power, as his ISO of .073 leaves plenty to be desired. Don’t forget about him, as his defensive versatility and ability to get on base gives him a better shot to make the majors than most 12th rounders.
Round 13.383: Kyle Twomey, LHP – USC
The lefty from Southern California pitched three seasons for USC, enjoying a breakout campaign in his junior year. This success led the Cubs to take him in the 13th round, and Twomey decided to forego his senior season to start his professional career. He started with reasonable success in Eugene (8.6 K/9, 5.1 BB/9, 2.35 ERA), but needed to show he could cut down on the walks this season in South Bend. He’s done that (3.5 BB/9) to some degree, but the higher caliber of hitters have begun to hit him, as the 25 earned runs he’s allowed in 51 innings needs to be improved. He’ll likely continue to start for South Bend all season, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can make any progress.
Round 15.443: Scott Effross, RHP – Indiana University
In 14 innings in Eugene last season, the player I am dubbing ‘Rachel’s anger’ blitzed opposing hitters to the tune of a 1.26 ERA. This performance earned him a promotion to South Bend this season, where his success has continued with a stellar 10.4 K/9 and 3.33 ERA in 24 innings of relief. Keep a watchful eye on Effross, as his cup of coffee may come from somewhere other than Central Perk.
Round 16.473: Michael Foster, OF – Northeastern University
Foster was a four-year star at Northeastern, hitting .343 his senior season. He struggled his way to a .630 OPS in Rookie ball last year, and has yet to be assigned to a team this season.
Round 17.503: Casey Bloomquist, RHP – California Polytechnic State University
Bloomquist has had an excellent start to his professional career, collecting a 2.60 ERA across three levels in both starting and relief roles. He signed with the Cubs after his solid junior season, capitalizing on back-to-back successful college campaigns. He’s found success in the pros by limiting walks (0.9 BB/9) and home runs (one home run allowed in 62 innings). Should the 22-year-old continue to dominate Low-A in South Bend, he could be in line for a midseason promotion to Myrtle Beach.
Round 19.563: Kyle Miller, RHP – Florida Atlantic University
Much like Bloomquist, Miller is another college starting pitcher that signed after his junior season and is enjoying success in South Bend’s bullpen. Through 27 innings, he has allowed just five earned runs for an ERA of 2.00. If you haven’t gotten the gist yet, South Bend is absolutely stacked with intriguing young arms.
Round 20.593: Blake Headley, 3B – University of Nebraska
The Cubs 20th-round selection struggled to an OPS of .595 in his debut with Eugene last season. He is currently listed as retired, so it remains to be seen where he’ll go next. He offers defensive versatility and the ability to put the ball in play, so he could probably hang around pro ball a few more years, if he chooses to do so.
Round 21.623: Jared Cheek, RHP – University of Georgia
Cheek enjoyed success out of the bullpen for the Bulldogs, but took it on the chin against hitters in the Northwest League last year. With a 6.1 BB/9 at 23-years-old, he’ll need to find something special soon, or he’ll find himself out of baseball.
Round 22.653: Alex Bautista, OF – Lindsey Wilson College
Bautista finds himself in the same camp as Cheek, struggling to keep up with the professional challenges of the Northwest league. A .666 OPS is an ominous sign for the 22-year-old, in more ways than one.
Round 23.683: John Williamson, LHP – Rice University
Williamson was promoted to South Bend this season, less because of success in Eugene (13.50 ERA), and more because of an urgency to find out quickly whether he has the goods to get professional hitters out. He hasn’t been awful in South Bend—3.66 ERA—but he needs to quickly improve his control, as his 5.0 BB/9 rate threatens to derail his career.
Round 24.713: Sutton Whiting, SS – University of Louisville
The diminutive Whiting doesn’t hit much, but he’s certainly had a whirlwind tour of the Cubs’ minor-league system, stopping at every single team in the process. He’s already 24—so it’ll be tough for him to find himself in the majors at any point—but he offers defensive versatility and gets on base (.341 career OBP) at a decent clip, so don’t count him out just yet.
Round 25.743: Marcus Mastrobuoni, C – California State University Stanislaus
The bad news: he had an OPS of .451 in Rookie ball last year. The good news: reports are he’ll finally get a library card this year.
Round 27.803: Angelo Amendolare, 2B – Jacksonville University
In extremely rare fashion, Amendolare started his career at Triple-A Iowa, amidst a rash of injuries to the roster. Despite decent production once being sent back to South Bend, Amendolare is no longer with the organization, but he landed in the Angels farm system and is seeing regular game action.
Round 29.863: Ian Rice, C – University of Houston
This, my friends, is why you don’t stop paying attention after the first few rounds of the draft. The Cubs selected Rice—as one of several late-round catchers—to little fanfare. Rice had an excellent junior season at Houston, posting an OBP of .427, aided by taking 46 walks in 55 games. He started innocuously enough in Eugene last year (.715 OPS in 47 games), but has exploded onto the scene in South Bend. In just 28 games this season, he has walked 20 times while striking out only 18. He’s mashed five homers and six doubles, en route to an OPS of 1.020. Yes, the 22-year-old is a bit on the old side for the league, but it appears the Cubs may have just found a late-round gem on their hands. Don’t forget about Rice around the trade deadline this season, as it wouldn’t shock me to see a team request his inclusion to get a deal over the line.
Round 30.893: Tyler Payne, C – West Virginia State University
Not the same story as Rice here, as Payne slugged just .212 in Rookie ball last year. He has yet to be assigned to a team this season.
Round 31.923: Daniel Spingola, OF – Georgia Tech University
Spingola showed enough in Rookie ball (1.571 OPS) to earn a promotion to Eugene and then South Bend last season, and then started in South Bend this year. He’s walked 12 times and has seven extra-base hits, while sporting a respectable .756 OPS. It’s a very, very long road from here, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the young man to climb the ladder.
Round 33.983: M.T. Minacci, OF – Chipola College
He may have had a 7.94 ERA last season in Rookie ball, but he still has an 80-grade name.
Round 37.1103: Donnie Cimino, 2B – Wesleyan University
The final signee of the Cubs’ 2015 draft, Cimino slugged .233 in Rookie ball, before being released by the club.