Editor’s Note: We’ll have a more detailed rundown of quite a few more Cubs picks coming later this week, but for now, please enjoy this taster by Jared Wyllys.
Probably more so than in any other professional sport, drafting players as a part of building a successful baseball team is a process that, as researched and careful as it might be, is never foolproof, or even all that close to it. To some extent, Cubs fans have been spoiled by the rampant success of the last few years of top draft picks because of the success of players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber so quickly after being picked. This has not always been so in Chicago. In fact, for many of the decades preceding the 2010s, the Cubs were known for quite the opposite tendency. Instead of a pipeline of top tier talent, it was the lack of homegrown impact players which defined the player development and draft strategy of previous iterations of the Cubs front office.
That’s changed, however. And dramatically. In fact, a shift in focus took its first turn over the weekend. After a few years of drafting within the first few overall picks and a focus on offensive impact, offseason acquisitions and the success of the team in 2015 have changed the look of the Cubs’ draft.
Unlike previous years, the 2016 draft went into the third round before the Cubs made their first selection, with the 104th overall pick. The Cubs were this deep into the draft before their first selection because they had surrendered their first round picks because of the John Lackey, Jason Heyward, and Dexter Fowler acquisitions during the winter.
As mentioned earlier, they also deviated from focusing on bats like they have in previous seasons, so in many ways this year’s draft was quite a bit different from what Cubs fans had probably become somewhat accustomed to. Through the first twenty picks of this draft, the front office had taken just two position players. Recently, Jason McLeod had given some hint that this would be the case, so not surprisingly, the Cubs have taken an army of college pitchers in this draft, using 27 of their 38 total picks on pitching.
Here, we’ll focus on the first three picks that they made on Friday:
Tom Hatch – RHP Oklahoma State University (video)
Hatch is a junior at Oklahoma State, and is the midst of the college super regional against South Carolina. Hatch pitched on Saturday and threw seven scoreless innings.
Rival college coaches have described him as “your No. 1 type guy. He’s a Friday guy. He can beat anybody.” Hatch sat out the 2015 season after experiencing soreness in his right elbow with a strained UCL. He first noticed it in July 2014 while pitching in the Cape Cod League (interesting story on that here). He missed all of the 2015 season, but in the two years he’s pitched for Oklahoma State, he posted a 1.21 WHIP in 158 total innings. His numbers from his freshman year to this season are notably improved, as his K/BB ratio went from 1.89 to 3.64.
He is quick to the plate and keeps his arm slot pretty low (video here), but can get his fastball up to 96, though he usually sits a couple miles per hour slower. Otherwise, he throws a slider as his secondary pitch.
Tyson Miller – RHP California Baptist University (video)
Miller is a big (6 foot 5 inches, 200 pounds) right-hander who, like Hatch, can get his fastball up to 96 or so, but usually sits lower than that, in the lower 90s instead, and, again like Hatch, Miller has a sharp breaking ball as his secondary pitch (video of that here).
Also a junior in college, Miller is coming off of a rather impressive season for Division II California Baptist, throwing 107 innings and posting 92 strikeouts and a 1.05 WHIP.
Bailey Clark – RHP Duke University (video)
With their third pick, the Cubs went again to a big right hander. Clark is listed at 6’4″ 220, and as a college junior, still has some room to grow. His career numbers at Duke are less impressive than those of Hatch and Miller, but there’s certainly plenty of raw talent here. In his three seasons, Clark has 120 strikeouts in 121 innings.
Like Hatch and Miller, Clark has easy velocity, hitting as high as 96 on his fastball, but typically throwing in the 92-95 range. His primary pitch otherwise is a changeup, and he’s used a slider somewhat as well. Baseball America has good video of his stuff from last fall, and from very early in the 2016 collegiate season as well.
In an article on CSN on Saturday, Patrick Mooney described the draft process this year as “trying to address a big organizational weakness and find contributors (not superstars).” Additionally, because of not having a pick through the first 103 of the draft, they had to cast “a wider net,” as Jason McLeod put it:
“Especially when you’re picking up high like we have been, you want to make sure you feel great about that first pick,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “You’re going to go back and see that same player a couple times. (With) not picking until 104, we were able to cast a wider net in those areas of the draft.
“I saw Duncan Robinson, an Ivy League kid. I saw Tyson Miller, who’s a Division II guy. I was at schools that I maybe normally wouldn’t have been at – or haven’t been able to go to as much – because I would have been focused so much on the top round, top-two rounds. And that allowed our staff to do that as a whole this year.”
With these first three picks in particular, there was a clear emphasis on not just pitching, but on power arms that have the potential to eventually contribute to a starting rotation. For now, gone are the days of drafting within the first few picks and seeing a near immediate result at the major league level, but with the picks they had this year, the front office addressed an organizational need, though the impact of these picks might not be felt for some time.
Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports.