Revisiting The Cubs’ 2001 Draft

The 2016 Rule 4 Draft concluded on Saturday, as the Cubs called the names of 38 college and high school players who will now (probably; if they sign) bring new blood into their farm system.

While it’s easy to get excited about these new kids, we need to take a moment to remember that the Draft is a long shot. It takes years, sometimes even decades to see how a draft class truly shaped up. So, instead of providing analysis on Tom Hatch, Tyson Miller, or Chad Hockin, I’ll take a look back at how one of the Cubs’ past draft classes turned out.

Last week, Issac Bennett revisited the 2015 class. Here I’m turning buck the clock a bit further, to 2001.

In the wake of a forgettable 65-97 finish the previous season, the Northsiders had the second overall pick in the 2001 Draft. After the Twins took local high school two-sport star Joe Mauer, the Cubs picked Mark Prior, the University of Southern California ace who would go on to win the Golden Spikes Award that year. Quickly climbing up the minor league ladder, Prior burst onto the big league less than a year later, and made immediate impact, striking out 147 while walking just 38, and posting a 3.32 ERA, 98 cFIP, and 4.3 WARP in 116 2/3 innings in his rookie year.

His career took off even further in 2003, as he emerged as the elite frontline starter pretty much everyone thought he could become. His number were astounding—245 punch outs, 50 free passes, and a 2.43 ERA and 74 cFIP in 211 1/3 innings, all to go with 8.4 (!) WARP, which led all pitchers in the game that year. He finished just third in Cy Young Award voting, behind Eric Gagne and Jason Schmidt, but it seemed highly probable at the time that he’d win the Award multiple times in his career.

We know what happened thereafter. His final big league appearance came a month before he turned 26 and, of course, he never won a Cy Young Award.

While his career is seen as a disappointment and poster child of what-could-have-beens, it wasn’t a total failure. In fact, among all pitchers taken in the 2001 Draft, only two—fellow Cubs draftee Ricky Nolasco and Dan Haren—have accumulated a higher career WARP than Prior. Even if you include position players, he is still one of the most productive players in the class. In other words, if teams had known how his career would turn out in the end at the time of the draft, Prior would still have gone in the first round. Prior’s career was far from bad. It just ended prematurely.

Move on to later rounds. Second rounder Andy Sisco spent three and a half years in the Cubs system before being selected by the Royals in the Rule 5 Draft in the winter of 2004. He lasted only three seasons in the bigs, where he put up an un-Prior-esque 5.18 ERA and a mere 0.6 WARP in 147 2/3  innings.

Third-rounder Ryan Theriot enjoyed a couple of campaigns as a solid regular shortstop for the Cubs, then some more years as a serviceable bench bat for the Dodgers, Giants, and Cardinals. All told, he produced a .281/.341/.350 slash line and 6.8 WARP in his eight years in the show. However, The Riot contributed something more significant to the baseball community than his slash line alone: every once in awhile, he ran into outs on the basepaths in unusually compelling ways, which prompted some fans to create a new stat known as “Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop”, or TOOTBLAN for short, which is commonly used in the baseball world today.

Fourth-rounder Ricky Nolasco, who I mentioned above, established himself as a mid-rotation starter after a trade which sent him south to Miami, along with 2001 classmate Sergio Mitre (seventh-rounder), in exchange for Juan Pierre. Since 2006, his rookie season, Nolasco has pitched to the second-largest positive gap between his FIP and ERA (0.77) in the league, meaning that he has allowed nearly 0.8 more runs per nine innings than his three-true-outcome-based expectations. The California native still hangs around in the majors as a back-end starter for the Twins, having put up a 4.57 ERA, 1289/371 K/BB ratio, 87 cFIP, and 29.7 WARP in his career to date.

Fifth rounder Brendan Harris appeared in three games as a Cub before being shipped to Montreal as part of the infamous quadruple trade that brought Nomar Garciaparra (and Matt Murton) to the North Side. There, he served as a utility infielder for several years, to the tune of a .256/.314/.381 slash line with 1.5 WARP in 1,876 plate appearances in eight years in The Show.

Mitre, for his part, spent a pair of full seasons with the Cubs as a starter/middle reliever prior to the aforementioned swap with the Marlins. He went on to notch another five rows on his Baseball Reference profile page, but the numbers on there were far from impressive. His time in the majors came to an end after the 2011 season, with 265 strikeouts, 151 walks, a 5.21 ERA, a 92 cFIP, and -3.8 WARP in 454 2/3 innings. Essentially, he was a sub-replacement level player throughout his career.

Eighth-rounder Geovany Soto is another smash hit from this year’s Cubs draft. It took him several years to solidify himself as a big-league starter, but it’s not uncommon for a catcher to follow a slow development path. Once he secured regular playing time, the Puerto Rican crushed it right away, hitting .285/.364/.504 in his rookie season with 23 long balls, racking up 3.3 WARP in 563 plate appearances en route to winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2008. After a couple more productive campaigns, Soto started a journey as a backup/platoon catcher, which he is currently in the midst of with the Angels. In his career, the Venezuelan backstop has swatted 104 home runs and put up a .247/.332/.435 slash line with a .269 TAv and 16.0 WARP in 2,809 plate appearances.

None of the other signed picks made it to the majors.

To sum up, the 2001 Cubs draft class produced seven big leaguers among their signees, with three of them compiling more than 10 career WARP. The ones who were dealt, Nolasco, Mitre, and Harris, brought back established regulars. You can call it, with the vantage point of 15 years in front of you, a success.

Lead photo courtesy Kevin Jairaj—USA Today Sports.

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