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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs 2015 MLB Draft Picks 

OF Ian Happ (9) was a great pick. That is all. For more, here’s past-me…

A switch-hitting Michael Brantley with the chance to stick in the dirt. That’s one of the ways JR OF/2B Ian Happ was described to me recently. I like it. Happ is a really well-rounded player with no tool worse than average who is quick, strong, and athletic. He controls the strike zone well (career 79 BB/67 K), swipes bags at a high success rate (44 SB at 81% success), and has exposure to a variety of different positions on the diamond. That last point is a little bit of a spin job by me, but I think he’s a talented enough player to figure things out defensively at whatever spot his pro teams wishes to play him. That’s the biggest — only? — question surrounding Happ’s game. A guy with the upside to hit .280+ with strong on-base skills, pop to hit double-digit homers regularly (20ish as a ceiling?), and the speed to swipe 25+ bases every season through his prime strikes me as a very valuable offensive player at any position on the diamond. I’d trot him out at second base for as long as possible because I think he’s got the hands, instincts, and athleticism to stay up the middle. If that doesn’t work, my next stop for him would be center. Others think he could work at third, an outfield corner (why there and not center doesn’t make sense to me, but what do I know), or even shortstop if given enough reps. That kind of positional versatility (or uncertainty if you’re the negative sort) brings to mind a fairly obvious comp: Ben Zobrist. Zobrist’s unusual place in today’s game — players capable of playing well at so many different defensive spots are a rarity, plus he’s a really late-bloomer who has exceeded even the loftiest expectations scouts may have once had for him — make him a hard player to comp anybody to, but here we are. Feel free to stick with Brantley as a possible outcome if you find Zobrist objectionable.

I made a pre-draft statistical comparison between Happ and former Bearcat Josh Harrison that I’ve updated below.

.338/.463/.552 – 128 BB/116 K – 56/74 SB – 718 PA
.358/.439/.533 – 80 BB/56 K – 63/74 SB – 831 PA

Top is Happ and the bottom Harrison’s career numbers while at Cincinnati. I chalk the similarities here up more to coincidence than anything (if you like coincidences consider that Harrison was drafted by, you guessed it, the Cubs), but you have to admit the similarities are striking. Happ is bigger, stronger, faster, and more disciplined as a hitter. His offensive upside is still considerably more impressive than Harrison’s, outstanding 2014 season (which may or may not be an outlier when it’s all said and done) notwithstanding. Defensively, the comparison might have some merit has Harrison has defied the expectations of many by working himself into a solid second/third baseman and a passable corner outfielder. That’s clearly something for the athletic and capable Happ to aspire towards. Brantley, Zobrist, or a better Harrison?

Rizzo, Bryant, Russell, Schwarber, Soler, Baez, Alcantara, McKinney, Vogelbach, Almora, Torres, Jimenez, Zagunis, Happ, AND Dewees? That’s just unfair. I mean, we knew the Cubs would have a crack at a top bat with the ninth overall pick (it was bat or Allard at that point), but getting a mid-first round talent like OF Donnie Dewees (15) in the second is just unfair. Dewees has gotten off to a slow start as a pro, but that’s little cause for concern for the young outfielder who mashed his way to a .422/.483/.749 (30 BB/16 K) junior season. He’s going to hit and he’s going to hit some more, so the only real question on him is whether or not he’ll eventually wind up in center or left. I believe in the offensive profile so much that I think the difference would be star (CF) or above-average regular (LF).

OF DJ Wilson (189) is a fascinating prospect to play the comp game with. Perfect Game mentioned Brett Gardner. Baseball America said Adam Eaton. I had personally heard Dave Roberts. Something about that trio of players intrigues the hell out of me. Besides the Roberts comp, the most interesting thing I heard about Wilson — and I heard plenty because of some familial ties to the area — was how where he’d be drafted would trump when he’d be drafted. In other words, his success in pro ball will have a lot to do with the kind of instruction he receives at the earliest stages of his career. It’s easy to see how his speed, CF range, and sneaky pop could add up to a future impact leadoff type not unlike Gardner, Eaton, or Roberts, but it’s more molding clay than final form at this point. That’s not unusual for any high school prospect, but there are elements of Wilson’s game that really can go either way in pro ball. If he learns how to embrace his strengths as a player and worry less about being something he’s not, he’ll wind up a really good one. All of this may sound very obvious, but there it is. If nothing else, he’s landed in the right place to learn and grow. Now it’s up to him and the baseball deities.

OF Michael Foster was a pretty nifty pick in the 16th round. He’s made steady progress as a hitter, flashes big league speed and pop, and has the arm and athleticism that you’d expect out of a former two-way prospect capable of hitting the low-90s off the mound. I’m not sure if there’s enough bat to make it as a corner outfielder — I would have pushed him at second or on the mound, but there’s a reason nobody pays me big bucks to do this — so we’ll see how far he goes from here. I like him more than OF Daniel Spingola, the above-average running, defending, and throwing former Georgia Tech center fielder who I’m not sure has enough pop to keep pro pitching honest.

The Cubs couldn’t agree to terms with C Domenic DeRenzo (off to Oklahoma), but did get a deal done with one of my FAVORITE catchers in all of amateur baseball, Houston C Ian Rice (230). Much has been written about Rice here already, so the short version will have to suffice for now: he’s really good. Expectations will be low based on his draft position (29th round, 863rd overall pick), but Rice’s scouting profile reminds me quite a bit of Andrew Knapp’s from a few years ago. Rice doesn’t step up the plate without a plan and has the raw power to make pitchers pay when said plan results in a 2-0 or 3-1 count. He’ll never be an upper-echelon defensive player, but the physical ability and want-to should make him average (or slightly below-average) with continued practice. There’s enough to wonder about his in-game power — hope it’s not the case, but he might be the poster boy for big raw maybe not meaning actual extra base production — and his defense being slower to progress than a pro team can afford to wait to push his most likely outcome from “regular with above-average upside” (as I once thought) to “up-and-down third catcher,” but I remain bullish on the player I claimed to be “sky high” on (how corny was that?) before the college season began.

3B Matt Rose (127) is up there with Rice as favorite pick outside of the top ten rounds, not only with Chicago but perhaps even across the entire league. He’s not a perfect player, but I hope he gets a fair chance to show off his defensive abilities at third (so far, not the case) and big raw power (getting it done) in pro ball. The fact that he’s young for his class is just the cherry on top for me. How real his 2015 collegiate gains in approach are remains to be seen, but getting a guy this talented this late is worth taking the time to find out. As a pre-draft favorite it should come as no surprise that plenty was written about him before, so here we go…

In no way is this a direct comp by any stretch, but something about Rose’s profile reminds me former Washington star and current weirdly underrated Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb. I liked Lamb a lot in his draft year (“above-average big league starter upside”) and I don’t see how anybody can objectively look at Rose and come up with too different a conclusion about his future (above-average big league starter upside). The tools are big league quality: above-average to plus raw power, really promising defensive gifts, and enough arm strength to throw 90-94 MPH fastballs off the mound. What I might like most about Rose is the persistent claim that from those who have seen him closest that he’ll be a really good big league hitter. I can’t tell you how often I heard how his approach at the plate is beyond his years. Fair and balanced to the scouting reports and statistics to the every end, I’d then look at his BB/K numbers over the years (13/37 last year, for example) and wonder what they were seeing that I never did (literally never did, by the way: I’m no scout so it might not matter, but, full disclosure, I have not yet seen Rose play at Georgia State). Well, though it may be early, Rose’s .306/.420/.722 line through 72 AB (13 BB/11 K) is a pretty nice start for those that have been on Rose since the start. He was always one of those players that seemed like he’d be better professionally – in part because he’d be away from the mound – than he looked in college, which ties us back to something frequently said about Lamb back in 2012. I’ve underrated Rose too long in the past, but no more.

(I have to point out that there are some really smart people who prefer Rose as a pitcher. That just makes him an even cooler prospect in my book. I get the appeal, too: he’s 90-94 with his fastball, shows two offspeed pitches with promise already, and has premium size (6-4, 200) and athleticism. Stretching him out as a starting pitcher in the pros would be really tempting to me if I wasn’t so confident that he’d hit (and hit with power) at third base.)

3B Blake Headley isn’t on Rose’s level for me, but he can swing it a little bit and is a steady defender at both third and first. I wish I had more to say about him, but I don’t. Good luck in pro ball, Blake.

There are a lot of places to find reliable information on draft signings. Some are good, others less so. You’d think that MLB.com, only the website owned and operated by the actual league that these players are accepting contracts with, would be 100% accurate with their reporting, but that’s apparently not the case. 2B PJ Higgins has gotten over 50 professional plate appearances as of this writing. He is still listed as “unsigned” on MLB.com. Maybe somebody should double-check that stuff. As for the player in question, I like Higgins as a versatile chess piece (he’s played 2B, 3B, and SS already as a pro and he could also get work in the OF or even as a catcher before long) with a patient approach as a hitter and quick hands at the plate. SS Angelo Amendolare is another interesting plug-and-play minor league infielder who has seen time at second, third, and the outfield already.

I don’t typically throw stats at you in these draft reviews — I figure they are easily searchable on the site, so why clutter up another page with them — but look at what SS Vimael Machin (297) did at Virginia Commonwealth over his four years there (stats are park/schedule adjusted when applicable)…

2012: .309/.364/.408 – 21 BB/29 K – 1/3 SB – 223 AB
2013: .287/.389/.419 – 22 BB/31 K – 2/3 SB – 167 AB
2014: .307/.421/.417 – 30 BB/21 K – 2/2 SB – 199 AB
2015: .336/.393/.444 – 24 BB/24 K – 6/13 SB – 232 AB

It’s hard to be more consistent through the years than that. With Machin you’re getting a reliable defender with a playable bat that could work his way into quality utility infielder status before long. I’m a fan. There’s been some buzz that he’ll be tried behind the plate in instructional league this fall, so stay tuned for that. The likelihood of SS Sutton Whiting reaching a similar upside isn’t quite as high, but he’s a nice get in the 24th round as a senior sign who can run, throw, and play an effective “little man” offensive game. There’s always been too much swing-and-miss in his game for me, but I can understand the appeal. Here’s some relevant pre-draft stuff on him…

I’ve got nothing but love for SR 2B/SS Sutton Whiting, one of college ball’s foremost examples of how good things can happen if you keep grinding and play within yourself. Whiting can run, throw (though his arm is more accurate than strong), and spoil pitchers’ pitches. Ignore what you’re about to read about Zach Lucas (I really should plan these things better and stop skipping around…) because Whiting is the far better example of a senior sign that you can draft and develop with a clearly designed path to get him to (at least) the upper-minors. He’s a ready-made potential utility player right out of the box with almost all of the standard pluses (speed, patience, glove, arm accuracy) and minuses (power, requisite strikeouts that come with working deep counts, raw arm strength) that you’d expect. I can dig it.

Between Higgins, Machin, and Sutton, the Cubs have positioned themselves well to at least get one cheap, homegrown big league backup out of their double-digit round picks. Not bad.

I feel a bit of a kindred bond between myself and the Cubs — not because I’m also a lovable loser — since we both seem to love hitting and ignore pitching. The Cubs obviously don’t exactly ignore pitching — pretty sure that would be against the rules — but I think their emphasis on collecting position player prospects, less volatile than their pitching counterparts, is clear. That said, of the many pitchers drafted by the Cubs this year, the guy who would excite me most if I was a fan would be LHP Kyle Twomey (137). Here’s the pre-draft dirt…

On the other end of the spectrum (kind of) is USC JR LHP Kyle Twomey. Twomey has long been a favorite thanks to a fastball/changeup combination (just two pitches, gasp!) good enough to get big league swings and misses within the year. His fastball doesn’t have premium velocity (87-92, 94 peak), but the heaps of movement he gets on it make it a consistent above-average to plus offering. His change does a lot of the same things from the same arm speed, making the 78-82 MPH pitch above-average with plus upside. Those two pitches and room to grow on a 6-3, 170 pound frame make him a very appealing prospect. There are some issues that will need ironing out at the pro level – deciding on whether to further refine his cutter/slider hybrid or tightening up his soft curve, plus improving his overall control and offspeed command – but the pieces are there for him to make it as a big league starting pitcher.

Despite his disappointing draft season (strikeouts down, walks up), I’m still on board with Twomey as a future potential starter. It’s a longer shot now, I’ll admit, but arm talent is arm talent. The dip in velocity (85-90) is noteworthy; if it’s due to injury or a correctable mechanical flaw, then Twomey in the 13th round represents crazy value. If it’s the physical manifestation of his stalled prospect status (i.e., he peaked younger than most and will never fill out his lanky frame or improve his command or sharpen his breaking stuff), then that’s not quite as fun, though even in the upper-80s there’s enough there to give him a shot at making it as a lefty reliever with some funk.

The book on LHP Bryan Hudson (290) is pretty straightforward: 88-92 FB, 93 peak; good 77-82 CB; underdeveloped CU. That’s all well and good for a generic young righthander, but it becomes something much more for a 6-8, 220 pound athletic lefthander. Fellow LHP Ryan Kellogg (234) has a slightly more confusing profile as another big (6-5, 220) lefty with similar fastball velocity (85-90 FB, 92-93 peak) and more advanced offspeed stuff (CB, SL, and CU all could be average pitches) who hasn’t missed the kind of bats at the amateur level that one might expect. That’s the kind of arm that should be carving up jumpy teenage underclassmen. Still, Kellogg does enough well including impeccable control on those four aforementioned average pitches that he feels like a safe bet to log some back of the rotation innings as a starting pitcher in the big leagues. A comparison that didn’t occur to me during his college days that just hit me now: Matt Imhof.

RHP David Berg (496) and RHP Preston Morrison going to the same team is a beautiful thing. The two are both all-time greats as collegiate players who excelled through unconventional means. Berg did it with a low-80s heater with plenty of sink; in fact, his fastball was just one of three pitches (mid-70s slider, changeup) with consistent above-average or better downward movement. That movement could make him a potential righthanded specialist that is called upon to roll some of his bowling balls and get a ground ball out or two when needed. I called Morrison “college baseball’s weirdest pitcher” a few months ago, and the season he had only makes him weirder in my mind. The stuff ticked up across the board (from mid-80s to upper-80s with his fastball) and his changeup improved enough to use it more frequently with confidence. He still has the two weird breaking balls — I have it as a 72-74 CB and a 69-74 SL — so technically there’s enough in his repertoire to remain a starter as a professional. His path to the big leagues, however, has been and will always be through the bullpen. It’s not impossible to imagine a future where Berg is a righty specialist and Morrison is the long man in a Chicago pen somewhere down the line.

The Cubs went with back-to-back Hoosiers in rounds 14 and 15. RHP Jake Kelzer will go back to Bloomington to try to jump his draft stock ten rounds or so over the next ten months, but he’ll do it without old pal RHP Scott Effross (383). The first thing that jumps out about Effross’s time in Indiana is the slow and steady improvement made over the years: 5.03 K/9 to 6.55 K/9 to 7.55 K/9, all while keeping his walks down (just 1.45 BB/9 in 2015) and runs off the board. Despite being used as a reliever for most of his adult life, I think he’s got the three pitches (87-92 fastball with sink that’s been up to 94; average or better upper-70s breaking ball; really impressive change) and command to give starting a shot. There’s some fifth starter upside here if it works with middle relief probably a more realistic fallback option.

This was written about LHP Tyler Peitzmeier earlier in the year: “Cal State Fullerton SR LHP Tyler Peitzmeier is one of the country’s best relievers with the stuff (87-90 FB, plus CU) and deception to keep missing bats as a pro.” That’s not a thrilling profile, but it’s enough for a ninth round pick. The Cubs stayed in California (Cal Poly in this case) to grab RHP Casey Bloomquist, a sinker/slider pinpoint command guy who I think fits best in the bullpen long-term. I like RHP Kyle Miller quite a bit from a scouting standpoint. He’s never had the big year you’d like to see (6.99 K/9 in his best year), but he can run the fastball up to the mid-90s and he’s a much better athlete than most pitchers out there. RHP Jared Cheek is more of your standard 88-92 (93 peak) fastball and slider reliever. I only know about RHP Craig Brooks what you could also find through a quick Google search. If you happen to do that, you’ll see he sounds pretty promising as a future reliever. Nice mid-90s fastball, good athlete, crazy results as an amateur…it’s a fun lottery ticket and a real bargain at just $5,000.

LHP John Williamson was off my radar as a pitcher, so I full support giving his signing scout a nice raise for getting him on board. I had him as an outfielder only in my notes (plus speed, patient hitter, needs reps), so hearing him go off as a lefthanded pitcher was a pleasant surprise. We know he’s got a fresh arm and plenty of athleticism, so why not? RHP MT Minacci is another good deep dive find. Like Williamson he’s a relatively fresh arm, good athlete, and a hard thrower (low-90s FB in the case of Minacci). If things would have worked out for him at either Florida State or Chipola along the way, there’s no way he would have lasted to the 33rd round like this.

I don’t typically ding teams for guys that don’t sign and I’ll stick to that here, but I think 2B/OF Alonzo Jones is going to be a STAR at Vanderbilt and a first round pick in three years. Nobody was going to sign him at a certain point, so it’s not a knock on the Cubs for not getting a deal done. Even without Jones (or DeRenzo or Kelzer or John Cresto or Jared Padgett or John Kilichowski), I like what the Cubs did this year. Happ alone makes this a good draft. Dewees could make it a very good one. One or more of Rose, Twomey, Wilson, Rice, Kellogg, or Hudson doing things in the big leagues would make it great.

Top 500 Prospects drafted by Chicago per me…

9 – Ian Happ
15 – Donnie Dewees
127 – Matt Rose
137 – Kyle Twomey
189 – DJ Wilson
230 – Ian Rice
234 – Ryan Kellogg
290 – Bryan Hudson
297 – Vimael Machin
383 – Scott Effross
496 – David Berg

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