Cubs outline plans after an 'epic' 2020 Draft

June 12th, 2020

CHICAGO -- It was a unique MLB Draft for all of baseball, given that the global coronavirus pandemic led to truncating the process to five rounds. It was a challenging Draft for Cubs vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz, who was hired over the offseason to take the reins for the crucial event.

In the end, Kantrovitz felt his team overcame those obstacles and came away with five impact athletes who can help the future core.

“Internally, we feel like it was a pretty epic Draft,” Kantrovitz said. “We went in with the goal of trying to acquire some impact players -- a combination of some power arms and some power bats -- and I feel like we accomplished that goal.”

The Cubs had one of the Draft’s feel-good stories on Day 1 by picking Chicago’s own Ed Howard – considered the top prep shortstop in the 2020 class – out of Mount Carmel High School. The club followed that with the selections of lefty relievers Burl Carraway (second round) and Luke Little (fourth), a powerful outfielder in Jordan Nwogu (third) and prep starter Koen Moreno (fifth).

Here is a primer of where the Cubs go from here in the wake of the Draft.

Now what?
The signing deadline this year is Aug. 1. The Cubs’ bonus pool for this class is $6,721,600 overall, broken down by:

$3,745,500 (No. 16)
$1,436,900 (No. 51)
$678,600 (No. 88)
$492,700 (No. 117)
$367,900 (No. 147)

If a club exceeds its assigned pool, it faces a penalty. Teams that outspend their allotment by 0-5 percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. At higher thresholds, clubs lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75 percent tax for surpassing their pool by more than 5 and up to 10 percent; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100 percent tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and two first-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 15 percent.

In eight years with these rules, teams have exceeded their allotments a total of 149 times but never by more than 5 percent. Twenty-one of the 30 teams outspent their pools last year.

The Cubs are confident that they can sign all five of their picks, including Howard (committed to Oklahoma), Little (South Carolina, as a junior college transfer) and Moreno (East Carolina).

“[We] are optimistic that we're going to get everybody signed in the near future,” Kantrovitz said, “and [we] are just excited with the results.”

Trend wrap
The Cubs accomplished two goals in this Draft. First, the team varied its selections as much as possible in an abbreviated five-round process, taking two relievers, one shortstop, one outfielder and one starter. Next, Chicago really stuck with a theme of power. Carraway and Little have two of the top fastballs in the 2020 class, and Nwogu offers elite power potential at the plate. The Cubs also showed a willingness to take some risks, grabbing two high schoolers, one junior college player and two draftees from four-year universities.

First-round fact
It’s been well-documented that Howard was the star shortstop for the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago that reached the Little League World Series finals in 2014. Did you know, however, that he picked up the save in the U.S. title game? Howard started a game-ending, 1-6-3 double play to send his team to the finals.

At a celebratory rally in Chicago in 2014, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told the team, “Keep playing the game of baseball. Keep grinding. Keep working in school. Go to college. Do your thing, and we’ll see you in the Draft in about 2023.”

Howard’s stock rose quickly enough for the Cubs to take him three years earlier than Epstein’s prediction.

Day 2 name to watch
Carraway and Little catch the eye because of their high-octane fastballs and potential as late-inning leverage weapons. One rival MLB evaluator noted that Nwogu’s exit velocity was third-highest in the 2020 Draft class behind only Spencer Torkelson (No. 1 overall to the Tigers) and Aaron Sabato (No. 27 to the Twins).

Less attention was paid to the Cubs’ fifth-round pick of Moreno, who could be a sleeper selection for the franchise as a starting pitching prospect. It marks the earliest Chicago has picked a high school right-hander since 2012, when the team took three (Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood Jr. and Ryan McNeil) within the first three rounds.

“Koen's a pretty interesting and unique situation,” Kantrovitz said. “Despite being a high school right-handed pitcher -- sort of the demographic that you least associate with analytics, if you will -- he's somebody that we've identified some really special traits in.”

Non-drafted free agent strategy
The cancellation of spring baseball seasons across the amateur landscape was a devastating blow to players. For MLB teams, it also forced a shift from in-person scouting and meetings to remote conversations. The Cubs explored ways to make the most of Zoom interviews, even consulting some NFL teams about their draft processes.

In all, Kantrovitz estimated that he took part in around 150 Zoom calls with players, and the Cubs treated those calls not only as scouting assessments but recruiting opportunities. By going over at-bats or pitch sequences with players, Chicago was able to give a glimpse into the vast resources the team’s player development and analytics departments have to offer.

“It’s a lot of fun getting on a Zoom call,” Carraway said, “and maybe being able to go through different things that’s not just an interview process, where you’re getting asked questions and then whenever they’re done, you hang up. It felt like a solid conversation and they were going through things that have been key to my game and my improvement as a player.”

The Cubs are hoping there are non-drafted free agents who agree with Carraway’s take and might sign with the team for the $20,000 bonus. Teams can begin that process on Sunday. Kantrovitz knows that a lot of prospects will be opting to stay in school for another season or go through with college commitments, but he said there is still a chance to grab a “diamond in the rough.”

“I feel like it's been incredibly helpful and invaluable to put the time that we have into it,” Kantrovitz said of the remote interview sessions. “At the end of the day, if you get one big leaguer from the post-Draft process, I think it's a resounding success. That's our goal and I think that it's the same goal you have if you would've been drafting in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th round.”

The last word
“I'm extremely proud of all of our scouts and to be part of this group. It certainly was not the ideal conditions to be sort of joining a scouting department for your first year, where you're trying to get to know everybody, while at the same time, you're operating remotely. So there were absolutely some challenges that we had to work through, but we made the most of it and I think really banded together during this time. It's just been a phenomenal experience.” -- Kantrovitz