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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Chicago Cubs

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Chicago in 2016

102 – Bailey Clark
104 – Thomas Hatch
158 – Michael Rucker
236 – Tyson Miller
326 – Duncan Robinson
332 – Chad Hockin
374 – Dakota Mekkes
415 – Delvin Zinn
435 – Zack Short
448 – Michael Cruz

Complete List of 2016 Chicago Cubs Draftees

3.104 – RHP Thomas Hatch

That check from Chicago should be coming in the mail any day now as the Cubs first overall pick, Thomas Hatch (104), was selected in the exact same spot one clever, handsome internet draft writer ranked him on his final board. Good work, Cubs. Took me a while, but now I get why you’re the National League Champions. Needless to say, I like this pick. Hatch is a live arm (88-94 FB, 96 peak) with an effective 78-82 circle-change that drops like a splitter, and a pair of above-average sliders (a cut-slider in the mid- to upper-80s and a truer slider anywhere from 77-85).

His college coach has compared him to Tim Hudson; I’ve heard another former name with Oakland ties evoked in Bob Welch, a pitcher who came and went before my baseball watching time. Hearing that name caused me to dig out the old Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, a task once as simple as going to a nearby bookshelf but, after moving over the summer, now a twenty minute odyssey deep into the three giant storage bins filled with books now in my basement. Worth it. Welch is listed as having thrown a fastball, cutter, curve, change, and a forkball. Most modern pitching coaches will flat out refuse to teach a young arm a forkball these days, but Hatch’s funky circle-change/splitter hybrid is as close a proxy as we’re likely to find in this draft class. The genesis for that comp is realized. I feel better now.

The Cubs would have to be thrilled with getting a Hudson or a Welch or even just a best-case Thomas Hatch out of their third round pick. If his elbow stays intact, Hatch has a bright future on the mound. Even if he does need surgery sooner rather than later, I like the gamble here. Getting an extreme ground ball pitcher like Hatch* to play on one of the few teams that properly values defense (in practice, not just in theory) seems like as good a marriage as any pick to player in this draft.

* I went and did the math on Hatch’s ground ball ways while a Cowboy. The OK State ace had more ground ball outs than fly ball outs in 17 of his 19 starts this past season. Add it all up and his GB% was a robust 68.3%. Ground ball suspicions confirmed.

4.134 – RHP Tyson Miller

Tyson Miller (236) confuses me. His stuff is wholly impressive — 87-94 FB, 96 peak; above-average 77-84 SL; usable 82-86 CU — but his performance (7.74 K/9) at the Division II level didn’t quite match the arm talent. That may seem unduly harsh for a righthander with supposed ground ball stuff and impressive control (1.93 BB/9) coming off a 2.27 ERA stretch in 107.0 IP, but, hey, the bar is high for prospects taken in the draft’s top handful of rounds. Miller kept up his confusing ways in his brief pro debut by striking out only 5.34 batters per nine in his first 28.2 inning as a Cub. That would be far more forgivable if his batted ball data matched the ground ball praise he seems to get in every scouting report, but MLB Farm only had him 43.96% ground balls in his overall batted ball profile. See what I mean by Miller being a confusing prospect? Thankfully, confusing or not, the big righthander’s stuff remains strong and his future projection as a potential back-end starting pitcher remains in reach. I’m less bullish on him than most, but I can see the appeal if he can ever put it all together and become the power sinker/slider ground ball guy that many allege he already is.

5.164 – RHP Bailey Clark

Bailey Clark (102) is what many think Tyson Miller is. The big righthander who misses bats (9.71 K/9 as a junior at Duke), gets ground balls (60.61% in his debut), and flashes elite stuff (90-94 FB, 96 peak; nasty mid-80s cut-slider; hard upper-80s split-change) was the best prospect drafted by the Cubs in 2016. I’ll go bold on Clark and say that if it doesn’t work out as a starter for him, then he has honest to goodness Andrew Miller upside in relief. A righthanded Andrew Miller as the Chicago’s next relief ace? That’s not even fair. A quick timeline on how we got to this point. We’ll start a fully calendar year ago in October 2015…

Poised for a big potential rise in 2016, Clark has the kind of stuff that blows you away on his best days and leaves you wanting more on his not so best days. I think he puts it all together this year and makes this ranking [47th among college prospects] look foolish by June.

And now let’s jump ahead to December 2015…

…and obviously not much has changed in the two months since. Clark pitched really well last year (2.95 ERA in 58 IP), but fell just short in terms of peripherals (7.60 K/9 and 3.26 BB/9) where many of the recent first day college starting pitchers have finished in recent years. That’s a very simplistic, surface-level analysis of his 2015 performance, but it runs parallel with the scouting reports from many who saw him this past spring. Clark is really good, but still leaves you wanting more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — being a finished product at 20-years-old is more of a negative than a positive in the eyes of many in the scouting world — but it speaks to the developmental challenges facing Clark if he wants to jump up into the first round mix. The fastball (88-94, 96 peak) is there, the size (6-5, 210) is there, and the athleticism is there, so it’ll come down to gaining more command and consistency on his mid-80s cut-SL (a knockout pitch when on) and trusting his nascent changeup in game action enough to give scouts an honest opportunity to assess it. Even if little changes with Clark between now and June, we’re still talking a top five round lock with the high-floor possibility of future late-inning reliever. If he makes the expected leap in 2016, then the first round will have to make room for one more college arm.

Here was an update from March 2016…

On the other end of the spectrum is a guy like Bailey Clark. Clark has dynamite stuff: 90-96 FB (98 peak), mid-80s cut-SL that flashes plus, and an extra firm 87-90 split-CU with some promise. The fastball alone is a serious weapon capable of getting big league hitters out thanks the combination of velocity and natural movement. What continues to hold Clark back is pedestrian command: having great stuff is key, but falling behind every hitter undercuts that advantage. Questions about his delivery — I personally don’t stress about that so much, but it’s worth noting — and that inconsistent command could force him into the bullpen sooner rather than later. He’d be a knockout reliever if that winds up being the case, but the prospect of pro development keeping him as a starter is too tantalizing to give up on just yet.

The final breakdown from April 2016…

Bailey Clark could keep starting, but most of the smarter folk I talk to seem to think he’ll fit best as a closer in the pros. At his best his stuff rivals the best Jones has to offer, but the Virginia righthander’s command edge and less stressful delivery make him the better bet to remain in the rotation. I personally wouldn’t rule out Clark having a long and fruitful career as a starting pitcher, but I’ll concede that the thought of him unleashing his plus to plus-plus fastball (90-96, 98 peak and impossible to square up consistently) over and over again in shorter outings is mighty appealing.

You can see the pretty clear “maybe he can start, but, damn, he’d be something special in relief” narrative play out as the year went on. In either role, Clark is an exciting talent with some of the best raw stuff of any college pitcher in this class. I’ll close with thinking relief is the most likely option. Any one of his issues — iffy command, questionable mechanics, and the lack of a necessary soft pitch to keep hitters consistently off the hard stuff — could be sorted out independently if that was all he had to worry about as he made his transition to pro ball, but when you combine all three…relief just feels like the safest projection. It bears repeating that Clark in the bullpen would not be seen as a negative outcome here; as a reliever, he has a chance to flat out dominate in a way not too many pitchers in baseball can. I’m all-in on Clark.

6.194 – RHP Chad Hockin

It took four picks to get a dummy like me to see it, but we’ve officially got a Cubs draft trend going here. Chad Hockin (332) makes it four straight college righthanded pitchers lauded for power sinkers and ground ball tendencies. Specifically, Hockin can crank in anywhere from 92-97 in relief with an above-average mid-80s cut-slider (83-87) that flashes plus. Depending on how aggressive the Cubs want to be with him, Hockin could be ready to see some big league action by next September. That’s what you get when you take one of college ball’s nastiest relievers. Of course, Chicago could surprise us all and opt to give Hockin a shot as a starter. I mentioned this possibility back in March…

Then there’s Hockin, the Fullerton arm who really is deserving of all the attention he’s gotten so far this spring. The sturdy righthander was seen by some I talked to back in day as having an impressive enough overall repertoire to get consideration as a starting pitching conversion project in the pros. While that talk has died down – maybe he could pull it off, but Hockin’s stuff plays way up in short bursts – the fact that it was mentioned to me in the first place speaks to his well-rounded offspeed arsenal and craftiness on the mound. Hockin leans on his mid-90s fastball (87-93 in longer outings turned into 94-96 with every pitch as a reliever) and a power 83-87 cut-slider that frequently comes in above-average. Those two pitchers alone make him a legitimate late-inning prospect, but the promise he once displayed with both a low-80s change and an upper-70s curve could give him that softer little something extra. I’ve heard he’s ditched both during games, but still toys with them in practice. It bears repeating that he’s a fine prospect pumping fastballs and sliders all day, but knowing he could mix in a third pitch in time is a nice perk.

It wouldn’t be crazy to give it a go — wild postseason aside, starters > relievers — but Hockin has demonstratively shown a major uptick in stuff while in relief already. The starters > relievers math changes a bit when it moves towards fifth starter/swingman vs late-inning, high-leverage reliever. The latter is what you hope Hockin will be when you take him in the sixth round.

7.224 – C Michael Cruz

I thought I liked Michael Cruz (448), but turns out the Cubs really liked him. I obviously get the appeal: Cruz is crazy young for his class (not 21-years-old until January), has flashed some defensive upside (still a long way to go, to be fair), and was once called a “certified hitting machine” by one draft writer (me). What’s not to like here? The Cubs went very light on position player talent in the 2016 MLB Draft — far too light, in my view, even understanding the relative strengths and weaknesses in their organization — but they at least get my stamp of approval with their first 2016 foray into the offensive side of the diamond. The lefthanded hitting Cruz could make a fine backup and complementary player to righthanded hitting Willson Contreras one day.

8.254 – RHP Stephen Ridings

Haverford College is about thirty minutes from my old apartment. Haverford College is also about a fifteen minute walk from Tired Hands Brewery. Coincidentally, I really, really like it when Haverford College has a prospect worth checking out. I was limited with what I could say about Stephen Ridings, the second straight eighth round pick out of baseball hotbed Haverford after Tommy Bergjans was selected by the Dodgers last year, this past spring for, you know, #reasons, but my quick scouting report on him is fair game now. Really, it’s simple: huge arm (low-90s typically, with 96’s, 97’s, and even a 98 at his peak), inconsistent secondary stuff (CB, SL, CU), and a delivery that managed to somehow come across as both rushed and too deliberate that pretty clearly hindered both his command and control. So we’ve got the good (velocity!), the bad (my amateur eye didn’t see an offspeed pitch good enough to get pro hitters out just yet, especially with his two breaking balls running into each other as often as they did), and the uncertain (mechanics). That uncertain is what intrigues me the most about Ridings. My “not a scout” observations saw his wonky mechanics as workable in the pros; in all honesty, his mechanics weren’t particularly “bad” but more the kind of inconsistent slightly awkward kind of mechanics that appeared to be the byproduct of what happens when a young pitcher attempts to figure out his growing body on the fly. That’s something I think time and quality coaching can improve, but we’ll have to wait and see. I didn’t expect Ridings to go off the board when he did, but I probably should have guessed: after all, you can’t teach 98 and 6-8, 220.

Spencer Sohmer and Justin Herring are my Haverford guys to watch next year, BTW.

9.284 – RHP Duncan Robinson

Back to back players I’ve seen multiple times. OK, Cubs. I see you. I really like Duncan Robinson (326). Let’s go back and see how much. We can start in March 2015…

Dartmouth JR RHP Duncan Robinson isn’t just a good pitching prospect for the Ivy League; he’s a good pitching prospect full stop. Guys with his size (6-6, 220 pounds), fastball (consistently low-90s), and breaking ball (have it listed as an in-between pitch in my notes; I’d call it a slider, but think folks at Dartmouth call it a curve) are easy to get excited about. The mechanics and control both check out for me, so his chance at crashing the draft’s top tier of pitching prospects will largely come down to the development of a softer offspeed pitch that will keep hitters off his fastball/breaking ball combo and enable him to start as a pro.

And jump a year into the future to March 2016…

Forget the Ivy League, Duncan Robinson is one of the best senior-sign pitchers in all of college ball. He’s a power righthander with size (6-6, 220) capable of beating you with a low-90s fastball and average or better slider. As his changeup develops he’ll become an even more attractive prospect, what with the standard starter ceiling that typically comes with three usable pitches, size, clean mechanics, and a good track record of amateur success. If the change lags, then he’s still got the solid middle relief starter pack to fall back on.

Finally, the pre-draft one line summary…

I’m 100% all-in on Duncan Robinson. He’s a big-time talent who seems to get better with every start. Definitely one of this class’s top senior-signs.

Love this pick. I think Duncan Robinson can pitch in the big leagues. I think he can even pitch in the big leagues as a starter. I won’t go the super obvious Kyle Hendricks (same school, one round off, both Cubs eventually) comparison here (in part because I used it already on Oakland sixth rounder Mitchell Jordan), but…I mean it’s sitting right there.

10.314 – RHP Dakota Mekkes

Dakota Mekkes (374) is the truth. Striking out 15.16 batters per nine as a redshirt-sophomore was only beginning for the 6-7, 250 pound righthander. His first 20 pro innings: 12.15 K/9 and 1.80 BB/9. How does he do? I have no idea! Or, more honestly, I can only make guesses on what I’ve seen, heard, and read. Mekkes’s stuff is what you’ll see out of literally dozens of mid-round college relievers (88-92 FB, 94 peak; average 82-84 SL), but the results point very strongly to their being more to the story. That’s where we start to see what separates Mekkes from the rest. Before we get to that, some earlier praise beginning with this from March 2016…

If you read this site and/or follow college ball closely, this might be the first pick to surprise in some way, shape, or form. Mekkes wasn’t a pitcher mentioned in many 2016 draft preview pieces before the start of the season, but the 6-7, 250 pound righty has opened plenty of eyes in getting off to a dominant (16.36 K/9) albeit wild (7.16 BB/9) start to 2016. His stuff backs it up (FB up to 94, interesting SL, deceptive delivery), so he’s more than just a large college man mowing down overmatched amateurs. He’s a top ten round possibility now.

Hey, he went in the tenth round! Neat. We got a little bit bolder by April 2016…

Any pre-draft list of “fastest moving” potential draftees that doesn’t include Dakota Mekkes is one I’ll look at with a suspicious eye. Mekkes may not be one of the biggest names in college relief, but he’s one of the best. I’ll go closer upside with him while acknowledging his most likely outcome could be a long career of very effective, very well-compensated middle relief. Either way, I think he’s as close to a lock to be a useful big league pitcher as any reliever in this class.

With Mekkes, it’s really about how how he maximizes his size and delivery to create all kinds of extension and deception. As he continues to figure out how to repeat that delivery, his command will only keep getting better. I think Mekkes can pitch in a big league bullpen in 2017 if that’s how the Cubs decide that’s what’s best for his development. I stand by that “as close to a lock to be a useful big league pitcher as any reliever in this class” comment.

11.344 – RHP Michael Rucker

On Michael Rucker (158) in March 2016…

Michael Rucker checks two of our three boxes pretty easily: he’s 88-94 (96 peak) with his fastball while commanding three offspeed pitches (low-80s SL, low- to mid-80s CU, mid-70s CB) with a veteran’s mindset on the mound. He’s not particularly big (6-1, 185) nor does he have that plus offspeed pitch (slider comes closest), but it’s still a potential big league starter skill set.

That sounds about right to me. Rucker is on that fifth starter/middle reliever line that could still go either way for him. If he can get one of those offspeed pitches to creep to average or slightly above-average, then he might have the all-around package (adding in his fastball, command, and control) to keep starting. His pre-draft ranking feels a little rich in hindsight, though that’s far less about Rucker than it is about the realization that there are A LOT of pitchers like him in this class.

13.404 – LHP Wyatt Short

To the WABAC machine to talk about Wyatt Short from January 2015…

I’m particularly looking forward to talking more about the aptly named Short, as any discussion about a 5-8, 160 pound lefthander capable of hitting the low- to mid-90s is all right in my book.

As it turned out, we never really got around to talking more about Short. Life just got in the way, I guess. We got older, got jobs, met that special someone, and next thing we knew we woke up one morning with a serious lack of Wyatt Short in our lives. It’s a pity, really. Thankfully, the show went on for Short, who followed up his good freshman season with a great sophomore season (10.15 K/9 and 1.38 ERA in 39.0 IP) before coming back to earth some in his junior season. The Cubs still thought enough of the diminutive lefty to pop him in the thirteenth round. Can’t argue with that based on his overall body of work, 88-94 MPH fastball, and low-80s slider he can both consistently get over and use as a chase pitch.

15.464 – RHP Jed Carter

I’ll hide my lack of Jed Carter knowledge by pointing out his crazy debut stats instead. In 9.2 innings of work, Carter struck out 17 batters. That’s great. He also walked 6 guys and threw 3 wild pitches. That’s less great. 60% ground balls, too. That’s so Cubs.

16.494 – RHP Holden Cammack

I like taking a shot on a catcher turned reliever type in Holden Cammack here. What he lacks in refinement he makes up for with arm strength.

17.524 – SS Zack Short

On Zack Short (435) from February 2016…

Short should be on any short list (no pun intended) of best college shortstop prospects in this class. He’s really, really good. Offensively he’s a high-contact hitter with an above-average blend of patience and pop. As a defender, he’s capable of making all the plays at short with range that should have him stick at the spot for years to come. There simply aren’t many two-way shortstops as good as him in this class. He’s an easy top ten round player for me with the chance to rise as high as around the fifth round (reminiscent of Blake Allemand last year) and a realistic draft floor of where Dylan Bosheers (round fifteen) eventually fell.

Short didn’t quite land in that five to fifteen round range, but the seventeenth isn’t that far off. I love this pick. Everything from February stands today, even after Short’s down junior season forced me to swallow hard and drop him lower on my final draft list than I would have liked. I think he’s a future big league player. My one note of caution with Short comes from the name drop of Dylan Bosheers in the pre-season paragraph above. Short and Bosheers aren’t the same guy and the disappointing pro career of the latter shouldn’t be put on the former, but the two players are cut from a similar prospect cloth. Something to consider. If Short busts, it’ll be time for me to reconsider how much I personally value these types of players. Hope it doesn’t come to that.

18.554 – LHP Marc Huberman

Marc Huberman was described to me as the perfect guy to watch if you want to see a “good command, bad control” pitcher in action. Huberman can spot his solid for a lefthander stuff (86-92 FB, 94 peak; good 76-82 CU; usable 75-78 CB) in the zone to keep hitters guessing, but can’t consistently find the strike zone enough to keep from issuing hitters who would struggle squaring him up otherwise off base via the free pass. In other words, many of Huberman’s strikes are quality strikes, but he just doesn’t throw enough of them right now to be considered anything other than effectively wild, for better or worse.

19.584 – RHP Matt Swarmer

You can’t say that Matt Swarmer didn’t get results in his career at Kutztown. His senior year K/9: 13.12. His career K/9: 11.79. Good numbers, good size, and a good enough head on his shoulders to bank a fine education to fall back on just in case — my mom has literally never read this site, but I’ll still shout out her alma mater — make him a worthy pick here.

20.614 – LHP Colton Freeman

If deep cuts are your thing, then hop on the Colton Freeman bandwagon while you can. The 6-1, 200 pound lefthander has a good fastball (up to 93), above-average slider, and impressive athleticism. He also pitched just 9.2 innings at Alabama in 2016. In those 9.2 innings, Freeman struck out 18 batters (16.88 K/9) while walking only 3 (2.81 BB/9) and keeping the opposition entirely off the board (0.00 ERA). Fun guy to follow professionally if you’re into the deepest of draft sleepers. Or if you’re just a generally obsessed baseball fan. Know anybody like that? Me neither.

21.644 – C Sam Tidaback

Sam Tidaback is a lifelong Cubs fan who grew up an hour from Wrigley Field. That’s enough to get you drafted by Chicago these days. And in the twenty-first round, no less.

25.764 – 2B Trent Giambrone

Trent Giambrone was off my radar in June, but looks like a nice value pick at this point in the draft. My only pre-draft notes on him were “good but not earth shattering numbers” and first-hand source who told me flatly that Giambrone “can’t play shortstop except in a pinch, but good anywhere else you stick him.” Those two things more or less disqualified him from any additional research (time and energy are finite, after all), but his intriguing pro debut at the plate has me feeling some regret. Cubs could have something with Giambrone. If it all keeps working, maybe you’ve turned a twenty-fifth round pick into a bat-first utility guy.

23.704 – SS Delvin Zinn

Few players from the entire 2016 MLB Draft class intrigue me quite as much as Delvin Zinn (415). I have no idea what to make of him. He’s as good an athlete as you’ll now find in pro ball with a big arm and enough range to hang at short (he split his time at SS and 2B evenly in his debut) for the foreseeable future. He’s also a smart hitter who makes a ton of contact with enough patience to put himself into favorable counts more often than not. His current issues are about the kind of contact he makes and what he does when he’s up in the count. At present, Zinn has true 20 power. He could grow into some as he puts on some good weight and tweaks his swing, but he’s currently a long way from being an extra base threat in the professional ranks. Thankfully, he has a long way before he’ll have to be a finished product. The 19-year-old infielder has enough positives on his side that he should get plenty of opportunities over the next few years to sink or swim in pro ball. A player with that kind of unpredictable but intriguing future is exactly who you should target when still available in the twenty-third round.

27.824 – OF Connor Myers

Connor Myers is way more talented than your typical twenty-seventh round senior-sign. His approach at the plate needs a good bit of tightening up if he wants to advance past AA, but his physical gifts (speed, arm, athleticism) are enough to keep him employed long enough to potentially figure things out as a hitter.

29.884 – RHP Tyler Peyton

Tyler Peyton has long frustrated me as a pitcher with the kind of stuff (88-94 FB, intriguing SL, average CU that flashes better) to be a true impact college performer who never quite got there. That doesn’t give me a ton of hope he’ll suddenly start missing more bats in the pros (his junior year 7.01 K/9 was a college career high), but you never know with two-way players like him. Maybe complete dedication to pitching will help him unlock the secret to getting more whiffs. It’s worth a twenty-ninth round pick to find out.

32.974 – OF Zach Davis

I don’t know what to make of the Zach Davis pick. I’m not one to toot my own horn, but if you’re stumping me with a power conference D1 prospect then you’re really digging deep for a player. Chicago must have seen more out of his 30 AB in 2014, 98 AB in 2015, and 39 AB in 2016 than most.

33.1004 – RHP Nathan Sweeney

A six-figure bonus ($100,000) for a low-90s (92-93 in my notes) righthander with size (6-4, 185) out of a state with an unusually high success rate (same HS as Brad Lidge!) of producing successful amateur pitchers? I’m in on Nathan Sweeney. Nice pick by Chicago here.

38.1154 – OF Tolly Filotei

The Cubs drafted and signed a player coming off a .268/.373/.338 season (71 AB) at Faulkner State. Could there possibly be more to the story than that? Probably not. In totally unrelated news, Tolly is the son of Cubs regional crosschecker Bobby Filotei. In fairness, Filotei was drafted out of high school by Colorado in 2014. I don’t believe that Bobby was employed by Colorado at that time (or ever), so, at least there’s that.

All in all, the Cubs drafted 38 guys. Only 11 were hitters. Of that 11, only 8 signed. Their college hitters came from these schools: Chipola, Delta State, North Georgia, Bethune-Cookman, Faulkner State, Texas Tech, Old Dominion, Itawamba, and Sacred Heart. Throw out North Georgia and Texas Tech, and I’d put the “guess what state the school is in” over/under for the casual fan at 1.5. Drafting players from all over isn’t a bad thing. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to draft.

Still, something seems off to me about Chicago’s draft. I don’t think they drafted well just because they are the Cubs and can do no wrong. I also don’t think they drafted poorly because I have different opinions about the players they selected. They clearly went all-in on pitching, but did so with a hyper-focused attention to pitchers with ground ball statistics and/or stuff. I don’t hate that one bit, especially when you see how all the ground ball pitching fits with their emphasis on building an outstanding defensive infield. One thing I didn’t like about their draft was the lack of offense. I know the big league team is loaded with young hitting. I know the strength of the system tilts overwhelmingly towards bats. An important draft rule, however, is that you don’t just draft for yourself but rather for each of the twenty-nine other teams in baseball. Mixing in a few quality bats with the bushel of relatively high-floor pitchers would have at least given Chicago a chance to replenish the (admittedly still stacked) lower-levels with potential easier to identify and develop trade assets. Or maybe the Cubs just had more confidence in their ability to identify and develop pitching than I do.

Either way, I went from not understanding this draft at all, to understanding it and not particularly liking it, to understanding it and talking myself into it. I still don’t love it, but if you can get one or two of Hatch, Miller, Robinson, or Rucker to stay in the rotation (either in Chicago or elsewhere if dealt) and then get valuable quick-moving bullpen pieces like Clark, Hockin, and Mekkes up for a team very much in win-now mode, you’re on to something. It was too conservative an approach for a team with as good a present and future as the Cubs seem to have — swing for the fences at least once, Cubbies! What do you have to lose? — but it was an approach and that matters. I mean, say what you want about the conservative approach the Cubs took, Dude, at least it’s an ethos. Or maybe a logos? I don’t know. This wasn’t my best work.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Reynaldo Rivera (Chipola), Montana Parsons (Baylor), Austin Jones (Wisconsin-Whitewater), Rian Bassett (?), Parker Dunshee (Wake Forest), Trey Cobb (Oklahoma State), Ryan Kreidler (UCLA), Jake Slaughter (LSU), DJ Roberts (South Florida), Davis Moore (Fresno State), AJ Block (Washington State), Davis Daniel (Auburn), Brenden Heiss (Arkansas), Dante Biasi (Penn State)

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

Chicago Cubs 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Chicago Cubs 2011 Draft Selections

Despite some tense moments on deadline day the Cubs managed to knock out a deal with Arlington County Day HS (FL) SS Javier Baez (25th ranked draft prospect). It was a bit of a surprise to see him selected in the top ten, but Tim Wilkin and his staff couldn’t pass up the change of a dreamy potential Starlin Castro/Javier Baez left side of the infield. Still loving that Michael Young comp, but, as with any comp, your mileage might vary.

From watching Baez a good bit this spring, scouts are pretty confident that can run, throw, and hit for power. Much of his projection revolves around his defensive upside. Considering many think he has the requisite footwork and quick release to catch and perhaps the agility and range for shortstop, I have to believe he’ll be just fine at third base as a pro. A pretty cool outside the box comp I’ve heard on Baez is current Rangers infielder Michael Young.

Baez might someday be found chucking throws across the diamond at Wrigley to Bishop Verot HS (FL) 1B Dan Vogelbach (60th ranked draft prospect). Care of a scouting report on Vogelbach? How about this: power…and lots of it. Original, I know.

The popular comparison for Dan Vogelbach these days seems to be Prince Fielder. Now I’m as big a fan as comps as you’ll find and I think I get the basic idea behind this particular one – both guys showed plus to plus-plus power and minus to minus-minus (I just made that up…clever, right?) body types as prep stars – but the only way I could get behind comparing Vogelbach to Fielder would be if we specified that it is a “very poor man’s Fielder” comp. Maybe my hesitation to use Fielder as a comp for anybody has to do with using him as a point of reference for what I thought Bryce Harper can and will do as a pro. As a jumping off point for conversation, however, the Fielder comp is very interesting. Vogelbach does have tremendous raw power. He also has a distressingly large body that does not fit what most teams look for in a high school draft pick. Some (but not all) concerns about his body have been put to rest by a combination of his major weight loss in the past year (he’s no longer pushing three bills, so that’s a plus) and his outstanding makeup that has some teams believing he’ll do anything it takes (i.e. continue to work on reshaping his body) to succeed in pro ball. It is easy to envision Vogelbach as a 1B/DH capable of hitting 30 homers if everything goes to plan, but the risk factor here is high.

Miami OF Zeke DeVoss (127th ranked draft prospect) is one of my absolute favorite players in his draft class, so I’m pretty thrilled to see him drafted even higher than my generous (or so I thought) pre-draft ranking. Speedy defensive center fielders with pop and patience often find their way to the big leagues.

Miami SO OF Zeke DeVoss: plus to plus-plus speed; plus range; average at best arm; very raw with bat; 5-9, 170

I’m biased against college relievers, but even I can admit Louisville RHP Tony Zych (164th ranked draft prospect) is a good one. Though I tend to side with those who think of him more as a setup man than a closer, it is pretty undeniable Zych has the two plus pitches needed to get big league hitters out when on.

Louisville JR RHP Tony Zych: heavy 90-93 FB with sink, 95-98 peak; velocity up and sitting 93-96 now; plus 84-87 SL; violent delivery; good athlete; 6-3, 190

Notre Dame Prep (AZ) RHP Tayler Scott (214th ranked draft prospect) is the quintessential lottery ticket. Relatively new to baseball: check. Crazy athletic: check. Blessed with an arm that sits comfortably in the low-90s with limited coaching: check. There are issues here, to be sure, but the upside makes Scott’s lack of a consistent quality secondary offering worth it.

RHP Tayler Scott (Notre Dame Prep, Arizona): 90-92 FB; flashes plus CB but below-average on balance; very raw; plus athlete; 6-2

Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (PR) C Neftali Rosario was a fast rising prospect this spring who, stop me if you’ve heard this before, has shown impressive arm strength and raw power. He wasn’t a favorite for me in what turned out to be a good year for prep catching depth.  Fellow fast rising prospect Oaks Christian HS (CA) 1B Trevor Gretzky deserved better than the way the national media treated him this spring. I understand being the son of an all-time great athlete can bring undeserved media attention (and, thus, backlash) in the name of making a big story out of a lesser talent, but the onslaught of coverage cuts both ways. Gretzky was seen by too many as a novelty prospect destined to college and disappear after a few disappointing seasons. The kid can play, as his amateur career and lofty draft standing show. He’s not the next Great One or anything, and I actually think three years at San Diego State would have helped, but he’s still as worthy a gamble as any outside of the top few rounds.

I feel like this ranking might catch some heat because so many have completely written off Gretzky as a prospect propped up solely due to his famous father. I think there is something there with the bat, and his athleticism, second only to Wallace Gonzalez’s in this group, will really help in the transition to pro ball. The backlash he’s received in some scouting circles makes me think he’d be a better ballplayer to some if only his name was Trevor Smith.

Alabama OF Taylor Dugas (76th ranked draft prospect) is really good at playing baseball. Most scouts won’t put a plus grade on any of Dugas’ tools, but I’m confident that his quick hands, sweet swing, and outstanding approach add up to plus. The biggest issue with Dugas’ future is his eventual position; he’s a classic tweener who might not quite have the speed for center (though his instincts and first step quickness could make it work), the arm for right, or the power for left. As much as I like him, I’m not sure how he’ll get himself picked before round eight next year.

Alabama JR OF Taylor Dugas: advanced idea of strike zone; above-average speed; good athlete; gap power; good friends with Mikie Mahtook; by no means a tools guy, but ultimate grinder; plus hit tool for me; 5-7, 165 pounds

As a future pro left fielder, Waterloo HS (IL) OF Garrett Schlecht didn’t show enough this spring to warrant much consideration as an early round pick for me. I was equally unimpressed with Hebron Christian Academy (GA) SS Daniel Lockhart, a curious pick to net close to $400,000 in bonus money as the son of current Cubs scout Keith Lockhart. These iffy picks aren’t that big of a deal for two reasons. First, the obvious: I could very well be wrong on either or both players. It has happened before, believe it or not. The other, better reason: the Cubs opened up their wallets in a big way for some young talent later in the draft. Do I smell a segue?

The signings of Valley Christian HS (CA) OF Shawon Dunston Jr. (Round 11 and my 206th ranked draft prospect) and Pinecrest HS (NC) RHP Dillon Maples (Round 14 and my 65th ranked draft prospect) go a long way in making this one of the league’s stronger drafts. The signing of overslot high school talent goes such a long way with me that I’ll just look past the fact the both Dunston and Maples are flawed prospects. Both are talented young men, but Dunston’s below-average hit tool and Maples’ spotty command and inability to hold his velocity are major red flags. Considering the two prospects signed for a combined total of less than 4 million bucks (roughly less than one year of John Grabow), neither player needs to hit their ceiling to be a worthwhile investment. If Dunston winds up an athletic defensive whiz of a backup outfielder in the mold of, say, Endy Chavez, and Maples shows himself capable of “only” handling a relief role, then you’ve still worked the system and received a pretty nice, cost-controlled return. I think Dunston would be fortunate to hit that ceiling, and wish, for purely selfish reasons, he enrolled at Vanderbilt instead of signing. Maples, on the other hand, has many of the things you want to see in a young pitcher: flashes of a plus fastball/plus curveball combo, great athleticism, good size, and a well-earned reputation as a bat breaker. Outside of the Cubs first two picks, he’s the guy with the most upside and not nearly as much of a lock to relieve as many might lead you to believe. Any talk about messing with his throwing motion scare me, but I’ve long been a proponent of the old “if it feels good, do it” chestnut. Find the kid a consistent release point and let him fire away.

OF Shawon Dunston (Valley Christian HS, California): plus athlete; plus speed; plus range; iffy arm; limited power, but has shown more pop to gaps this spring; super raw

RHP Dillon Maples (Pinecrest HS, North Carolina): 90-93 FB, peak 94-96; velocity will sometimes dip to upper-80s; potential plus 77-82 CB that is already above-average pitch; 80-81 SL; iffy command; emerging CU that still needs work; bat breaker; good athlete: latest: great athlete; spotty FB command; 6-3, 195

The Cubs also landed State JC of Florida (FL) 1B Rock Shoulders (Round 25), a player considered my many a difficult sign. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cubs plan on divvying up playing time between Shoulders and Vogelbach as they advance through the minors together in the coming years.

I wonder if Franklin HS (TX) RHP Ricky Jacquez (Round 39 and my 193rd ranked draft prospect) was selected as an insurance policy in case a deal couldn’t get worked out with Maples. There are some similarities between the two prospects – most notably the big FB/CB pairing – but Jacquez’ size, or lack thereof, was a deterrent for many clubs. I’ve mentioned many times that I have no qualms showing some love to a short righthander and Jacquez is no exception. He reminds me a great deal of current Duke closer and 2012 draft early round prospect Marcus Stroman.

RHP Ricky Jacquez (Franklin HS, Texas): 90-93 FB, 95-97 peak; potential plus 78 CB that is already very effective pitch; promising CU; great athlete; 5-9, 160

From Seminoles to Cubs, Florida State C Rafael Lopez (Round 16) and Florida State OF Taiwan Easterling (Round 27) won’t have to go through that pesky adjustment period of playing on separate teams after college. Lopez’ big senior year with the bat has upgraded him from ceiling of backup catcher to ceiling of damn good backup catcher, if he gets the proper organizational breaks in pro ball. Easterling got six figures after reportedly turning down top five round money last year; as a 27th rounder, he makes a lot more sense than he would have in the top five. Good to see the Cubs realized that toolsy outfielders can be found later in the draft almost as easily as they can at the onset.

Lopez is a really good defender with a strong throwing arm, but little projection with the bat makes his best case scenario that of a backup catcher. 

JR OF Taiwan Easterling reportedly scared off a team interested in drafting him in the fourth last year because of his extravagant bonus demands. If that story is true, one can only imagine what kind of attention the super toolsy former football player could draw with a big spring on the diamond. As is, the plus runner is almost a complete tools gamble. 

I didn’t go in to the year expecting to be impressed with Connecticut OF John Andreoli (Round 17), but a few weekend series later and I was won over. A potential backup outfielder (some speed, good defense, strong arm, solid approach) is good value in the 17th round.

He’s no speed demon on the basepaths, he won’t approach double digit homers as a pro, and he’s not build like a prototypical professional outfielder, but, boy, JR OF John Andreoli can swing the bat. The way he controls the bat through the zone is a sight to behold. Some of the guy’s hits couldn’t have been rolled by hand into holes any better than he hits them. Beyond the pure hit tool, I asked around about certain players before the game, and almost to a man I was told to watch out for Andreoli’s bunting. One gorgeous second inning push bunt for a single might not be stone cold proof of anything, but it gave the pregame prognostication a little extra weight. He’s a well above-average defender in a corner that might be stretched some in center, though I’m not so sure his 55ish speed wouldn’t also work up the middle. Andreoli is probably nothing more than a late round organizational player at this point, but he could make for an interesting senior sign in 2012.

East Tennessee State 1B Paul Hoilman (Round 19) is a three true outcomes hero who is mashing right now for Boise. The real challenge will come as he moves up, of course, but I like what Chicago did in bringing in three potential big league first basemen (Hoilman, Shoulders, Vogelbach) at three different levels of play (college, junior college, high school). Sometimes it pays to play the odds and overload at one spot with the hopes of finding that one viable keeper. This isn’t a direct comparison, but Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks has given more hope than ever to guys like Hoilman.

Hoilman’s raw power is undeniable, but that’s about all he brings to the table. Over half of his senior year plate appearances ended in either a strikeout, walk, or homer. That’s fun.

Kent State OF Ben Klafczynski (Round 20) has scuffled badly in pro ball thus far, a big surprise for a senior sign expected by many to hit the ground running. I like him a lot as a prospect because of the way he got better as a player every time I saw him play. He’s a good athlete with a patient approach to hitting geared towards finding that one pitch to drive in every at bat. There’s not enough hear to project him as a starter, but he joins fellow draftees Easterling and  Andreoli as potential big league backup outfielders.

Kent State SR OF Ben Klafczynski: big power; really good athlete; really refined approach junior season; more raw talent than most; average speed; good arm

The stories of TCU RHP Steven Maxwell (Round 37) and College of Charleston RHP Casey Lucchese (Round 38) are sad ones, far as I can tell. Both pitchers were senior signs with some big league bullpen upside, but it seems neither will get the chance to show what they can do in pro ball. Hopefully the door isn’t shut forever for either talented guy. If baseball isn’t in the cards, best of luck in the real world. A healthy reliever prospect who did sign is Texas LHP Andrew McKirahan (Round 21). My notes on him after seeing him throw a few times: “LOOGY.” I think specialization will help him a great deal as a professional; it isn’t proof either way, but his pro numbers so far are leaps and bounds ahead of what he did at Texas in the spring.

TCU SR RHP Steven Maxwell (2011): Tommy John surgery survivor; 88-94 FB; above-average power 78-82 CB

College of Charleston SR RHP Casey Lucchese: 88-92 FB, 93 peak; good CB; 6-2, 210; has shrunk since entering school (was once listed as 6-4); never added third pitch to start, reliever all the way

Brookwood HS (GA) OF Trey Martin (Round 13) has the athleticism and center field range to play every day, but much of his development will come down to his currently below-average bat. La Jolla HS (CA) OF Bradley Zimmer (Round 23) is a similarly raw prospect, but will matriculate at South Florida in the fall with the hopes of getting popped early in 2014. I prefer the unsigned Zimmer’s upside (if he adds some strength he could hit in the middle of a lineup) to the signed Martin’s (more of a gap to gap leadoff type of hitter).

I have a really tough time ranking Canadian and Puerto Rican prospects. Power/St. Joseph HS (ON) C Justin Marra (Round 15), a complete pre-draft miss by me who will stick behind the plate and has shown enough of a hit tool to be interesting, is a prime example. If baseball ever moves towards a worldwide draft, I quit. Junior college prospects: another frequent blind spot of mine. The evidence to support this assestion: Hartnell JC (CA) RHP Michael Jensen (Round 26), Lamar CC (CO) RHP Arturo Maltos-Garcia (Round 30), and Des Moines Area CC (IA) RHP Austin Urban (Round 41). Little to nothing was written about these guys prior to the draft, but they all flash big league quality stuff. Jensen and Maltos-Garcia (a recent victim to Tommy John) both feature good bullpen approved fastball/curveball mixes. Urban, who I saw in person during his high school days, is my favorite long-term bet of the bunch and the most likely to remain a starting pitcher in pro ball.

Clemson RHP Scott Weismann (Round 46) and the Cubs had me on the edge of my seat as I waited to see whether or not my pre-season Clemson prediction (“Weismann, Schaus, and Hinson are also locks to get taken.”) would come to fruition or not. I’ve made many bad guesses over the years, including a few in the post that quote was taken from, but I’m happy for both myself and Weismann to have nailed that one. I guess I should talk about the prospect and not myself, huh? Weismann was a good college sinker/slider pitcher who will likely struggle to make it past AA as a pro.

I like to end on a high note when possible, so join me in recognizing Central Florida OF Ronnie Richardson (Round 31 and my 167th ranked draft prospect) as one of the three undersized college outfielders (along with DeVoss and Dugas) taken by the Cubs. The smallish outfielder thing could be part of a larger pattern, or it could have been just how the draft fell. I suppose it would be a little silly to think it part of a trend, especially considering Chicago failed to sign two of their three mighty mini outfielders. I’m a little bit out on an island with my love of Richardson, but I’m always happy to defend a great defensive center fielder with speed and pop. Devoss is probably the better version of Richardson, so you can’t fault the Cubs on leaving Ronnie unsigned. Their loss is Central Florida’s gain.

Central Florida SO OF Ronnie Richardson: plus athlete; plus arm; plus-plus runner; potential for some pop; plus defensive tools; 5-7, 175