The 2016 Cubs draft class has to be the hardest class of the Theo Epstein era to evaluate. First, they didn’t have a first round pick. Second, it’s only been a year. And third, there are several prospects who have yet to even to play above Rookie Ball in Mesa. I think to get a good grip on any draft class, it takes three to four years to see how things shake down. However, here’s what we do know: Right from the get go, these players put their stamp on the 2016 season.
Most of them saw a little action in Mesa before they were bumped up to short season Eugene. In doing so, they helped the Emeralds win their first title in 31 years. The most significant impact was in the bullpen. Wyatt Short, Dakota Mekkes, and Duncan Robinson turned most games into 6 inning affairs.
Stepping back and looking at it as a whole, it was strange draft. The Cubs selected pitchers with nine of their first ten picks. The top position player drafted, Michael Cruz, only saw action in Rookie Ball. It was in Eugene that two position players anchored the infield and provided grit and leadership that helped lead to the title. Zack Short and Trent Giambrone saw substantial playing time and showed an approach at the plate that emphasized grinding out at-bats.
Pitchers Tyson Miller and Bailey Clark were the only starting pitchers from the draft who played for Eugene and they were limited to 50 pitches and three innings. Clark only made a few appearances before he was shut down for the year. The Cubs’ first overall pick, Thomas Hatch, did not pitch at all because of prior injury concerns.
But now that 2017 is here, we get a fresher look at these prospects.
Zack Short stands above all the hitters so far. He is been an integral part of the South Bend infield, playing third base, shortstop, and second. In addition, his batting average has been in the .270s and .280s, he’s hit four homeruns, and his on base percentage has been above .400 for most of the year.
Meanwhile, Hatch looks like his delivery has changed a little bit from last summer and is struggling at High-A Myrtle Beach with an ERA over six. His arsenal looks good, but Hatch is having some command issues. 4th-rounder Tyson Miller has flashed some very positive elements including a 93-95 mph fastball and a developing curve. Like Hatch, Miller is sometimes susceptible to the “big inning.”
The key stars of this draft after a year are clearly the relievers. Dakota Mekkes, Michael Rucker, Wyatt Short, Matt Swarmer, Chad Hockin, Marc Huberman (who was recently promoted to Myrtle Beach along with Rucker). They were all dominant for Eugene and doing the same thing for South Bend. Mekkes has only given up two runs all season in 2017. Short did not give up any in 2016.
Two players who have yet to debut in games that matter are Tyler Peyton and Stephen Ridings. Both had injuries that prevented them from playing. Peyton is playing in extended spring training now and has reportedly looked good, and Ridings is still rehabbing.
Another pitcher who looked outstanding last year was Bailey Clark. I loved watching him throw 95-97 for Eugene. He has not pitched yet this season because he has been finishing up his degree and will focus on baseball after graduation from Duke this spring.
The steal of the draft might be 6’6” right-hander Duncan Robinson from Dartmouth. The ninth rounder can start, he can relieve, and last week he went seven innings with no runs allowed while striking out five. His current ERA is 1.52, and he has excellent command of his pitches. In 29.2 IP, he has walked only five.
Position Players Grade: C
This could change greatly depending on the season of Michael Cruz. Cruz was recently promoted to South Bend. Delvin Zinn, a player the Cubs selected previously in 2015, was redrafted and signed. Zinn is extremely athletic and has been battling minor injuries this spring.
Starting Pitchers: C –
This grade is the most flexible. Right now there are four to six starting candidates. Clark and Peyton are probably the most advanced in terms of stuff. By the end of the summer, this could be a B easily depending on performance and health.
I think Mekkes could and should move fast this year. He is that good. There are just so many good arms that are dominating at South Bend and Myrtle Beach.
Overall Grade: B –
There are still a lot of ifs about these prospects. Some could break well, others could be gone in a year. However, for now, I am leaning towards it turning into a B by next year. It will take time as some players will develop faster than others.
Lead Photo of Thomas Hatch courtesy Larry Kave—Myrtle Beach Pelicans