On January 26th, baseball practice began for many NCAA Division I schools. In just two weeks, play will begin. Then, in just a little over four months, Major League Baseball will hold its annual amateur draft. The Cubs will have their first-round selection at number 24 and they will likely have two compensation picks between the second and third round giving them four picks in the top 75, and five in the top 100. As a result, this could be a transformative draft for the future of the organization.
While it is a little too early to get into full-fledged scouting reports, it is worth noting the following 10 things about what is going to take place the next four months.
The 2018 first year player draft is going to be one of the deepest drafts in terms of talent since 2014. Heading into the NCAA season, it looks as though a pick in the late 30s would be close in talent to a pick in the teens. This lack of differentiation would allow the Cubs to pick any type of player that they want and to get someone who they think is an ascending prospect they can develop into an everyday player in the majors.
2. Bat vs. Arm
The last two drafts have seen the Cubs go all in on pitching, selecting over 50 arms that now flood the system from Eugene on up to Double-A. From 2012 to 2015, the modus operandi of Director of Scouting Jason McLeod was to always take the best player available, usually a college bat. Last year, the Cubs first two selections were pitchers Brendon Little and Alex Lange. There is not going to be a top of the rotation college arm available at the number 24 slot. On the other hand, there are plenty of high school arms who could develop into one. As a result, the Cubs could revert back to their standard operating procedure of taking the best player available.
3. Seth Beer
How the mighty have fallen. A little over a year ago, Clemson’s Seth Beer was projected to be the draft’s number one pick. Beer’s struggles with wooden bats in USA baseball last summer, along with a lack of defensive skills, have sent Beer tumbling out of the first round in most mocks. Along with TCU’s Luken Baker, they appear to be two huge bats that only appear, for now, as DH options in an American League format. Still, Beer could be available at number 24. If the Cubs feel like he is athletic enough to improve defensively, the Cubs could take a gamble, but that’s a lot of money to invest in a current descending player. On the other hand, Beer could redeem himself with a great spring.
4. High School Talent
The hardest part about taking a high school player is that they can take a long time to develop. McLeod has consistently selected college bats rather than arms at the top of the draft. However, this year, there are plenty of four-tool high school athletes who could be available to be the Cubs’ first high school first rounder since Albert Almora in 2012.
5. Four Picks in the Top 75
In most farm system rankings, the Cubs can usually be found in the low- to mid-20s. The trades of the past two summers have taken away most of their elite talent, while some of that talent graduated to the majors. With four picks in the top 75, this draft could go along way to repairing a farm system in need of high-end players.
6. Inroads to Puerto Rico
I would expect to see the Cubs draft more players from Puerto Rico this summer as they have increased their scouting presence on the island. 2017 draft picks Luis Vasquez and Nelson Velasquez might just be the first two prospects in a wave of players from the island.
7. Wichita State
The team that I’m going to try and watch most often this year is going to be Wichita State. Outfielder Greyson Jenista (a left-handed hitter) and third baseman Alec Bohm (a right-handed hitter) are two of the most potent bats in Division I baseball. Both of them could be around when the Cubs pick at number 24. While they both have some defensive issues, there is no denying that the Shockers’ lefty-righty combination is going to be tough to pitch to this spring.
8. Rising and Falling
Do not get hung up on mock drafts in January. There is going to be a lot of movement as the spring plays out. There will be injuries, poor performances, players coming out of nowhere, and what has been the most common trend in recent years, the late ascension of high school players from the Northeast in May and early June as the weather warms.
9. Wooden Bat Experience
Two common traits have emerged in the profiles of the Cubs’ draft picks the past few years. One has been the success of players in wooden bat leagues in the summer. Whether it’s the Cape Cod League or the Northwoods League, it doesn’t matter. Being able to hit and pitch in those environments gives those prospects a leg up. Add in USA baseball experience and one could narrow down the prospects the Cubs might focus in on first.
The end of the 2021 regular season is four baseball years away. At the end of that campaign, the Cubs only have a handful of major league players under contract or team control. In fact, the entire current infield could all become free agents at the same time. That should be the year most of this year’s draft picks should or could be ready. Most of the players that make it to the major leagues tend to come from the first five rounds.
There may not seem like there is any sense of urgency to this year’s draft considering the Cubs have been to three straight NLCS. However, the Cubs might not pay the current infield what it would be worth on the open market. As a result, the Cubs 2018 draft could be the first of four drafts that look toward that end date in trying to reassemble talent. Those picks could be a huge part of a new core that McLeod needs to build.
Lead photo courtesy Knoxville News Sentinel