CHICAGO -- Teams can reel in star players via free-agent contracts or swing blockbuster trades, but the backbone of building a roster begins with the MLB Draft.
The Cubs' Draft history began in 1965 (highlighted by the selection of lefty Ken Holtzman) and there have been plenty of boons and busts over the decades. There have been hyped players who faded away, others who seemingly came out of nowhere and draftees who found their way to the Hall of Fame.
Here are our picks for the best homegrown Draft picks in Cubs history:
1. Mark Grace
Drafted: 24th round in 1985
Grace is not in the Hall of Fame and the Cubs were unable to taste World Series glory in his decade-plus on the North Side, but the first baseman tops our list for a few reasons.
For starters, talk about unearthing a gem in the later rounds of the MLB Draft. Grace did not boast the power of other first basemen in his era, but he had a keen eye in the batter's box and a smooth left-handed swing that helped churn out hits at a rapid rate. Toss in the elite defense and Grace was one of the greats at his position during his career.
Grace was the runner-up for the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1988 and went on to lead all MLB hitters in both hits (1,754) and doubles (364) in the 1990s. He made three All-Star teams and won four Gold Glove Awards with the Cubs, and ranks first in hits, runs, doubles, walks and RBIs among all the franchise's first basemen in the Modern Era (since 1900).
Grace's offensive performance opposite Will Clark in the 1989 NL Championship Series against the Giants was the stuff of legend (.647 average and 1.799 OPS in 22 plate appearances). And in his final season with Chicago in 2000, all the 36-year-old Grace did was draw 95 walks compared to only 28 strikeouts in 621 PAs.
Over the course of his Cubs career, Grace compiled 44.2 WAR (Baseball Reference), marking the most among any position player drafted by the ballclub.
2. Greg Maddux
Drafted: Second round in 1984
As one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, Maddux could easily have topped this list. That said, the bulk of his career success came during the 11 years he spent with Atlanta after beginning on his Hall of Fame trajectory with the Cubs.
In parts of 10 seasons with Chicago, Maddux won 133 games with a 3.61 ERA in 302 games, which included 47 complete games, 14 shutouts and 1,305 strikeouts. The righty made his first All-Star team in 1988, finished as a contender for the NL Cy Young Award by 1989 and took home his first Cy with a stellar 1992 season.
Maddux won 20 games and turned in a tidy 2.18 ERA in 268 innings to capture the 1992 Cy Young Award, which was his first of four straight. The other three trophies came with Atlanta, where Maddux was part of an historic rotation after he and the Cubs could not agree on a free-agent contract.
Maddux did return to the Cubs prior to the 2004 campaign and the right-hander won six of his 18 career Gold Glove Awards after seasons spent with Chicago. In his return to the Cubs, Maddux notched career milestones with his 300th win (achieved in 2004) and 3,000th strikeout (2005).
3. Kris Bryant
Drafted: First round in 2013
Bryant climbs this high on this particular list not only for his on-field achievements, but also due to how important his ascension to the Majors was for Chicago's franchise timeline.
The rebuild that the Cubs undertook ahead of the 2013 MLB Draft put the team in position to select the much-hyped Bryant with the second overall pick. After winning the Golden Spikes Award as a collegiate star in 2013, Bryant was the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner by 2015 and the NL MVP Award recipient by 2016.
Bryant also gloved the grounder that led to the final out of the 2016 World Series triumph over Cleveland, ending the Cubs' 108-year championship drought.
Through parts of six seasons with the Cubs, Bryant has hit .280 with 142 homers, 414 RBIs and an .889 OPS in 740 games. He broke Ernie Banks' club record for most homers in the first five seasons with the team and has made three All-Star teams to date.
4. Lee Smith
Drafted: Second round in 1975
Smith spent the first eight years of his 18-year career with the Cubs, establishing himself as one of the game's elite relief stoppers. The big righty notched 180 of his 478 career saves with Chicago, setting a club record that still stands and retiring as MLB's all-time saves leader at the time.
Over 458 career games with the Cubs, Smith logged a 2.92 ERA and finished 342 contests. He was particularly brilliant in 1983, when the closer posted a 1.65 ERA in 103 1/3 innings (66 games). Smith, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2019, made two of his seven career All-Star teams with the Cubs.
5. Kerry Wood
Drafted: First round in 1995
Just five games into Wood's career, the right-hander struck out 20 batters in a May 6 game against Houston that will forever be one of the great performances in baseball history. Wood went on to win the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year Award (his 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings that summer remain a single-season club record).
Wood topped 200 strikeouts for the Cubs in four seasons, including piling up 266 in 2003. In the Modern Era, only Fergie Jenkins has fanned more in one year for the Cubs. Injury issues plagued Wood's career and he eventually reinvented himself as a closer, making the 2008 All-Star team in a 34-save season for Chicago.
A few more notable homegrown Draft picks
• 2001 (11th round): Geovany Soto -- The catcher developed into an All-Star in 2008, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award that summer. Had 77 homers and a .342 on-base percentage in eight years with the team.
• 2001 (first round): Mark Prior -- The talented righty lived up to the hype in 2003, when he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and finished third in NL Cy Young Award voting. From there, injury setbacks led to only a five-year career.
• 1982 (first round): Shawon Dunston -- The shortstop spent parts of 12 seasons with the Cubs, spanning from 1985-95 and again in 1997. Dunston made two All-Star teams (1988, '90) as a fixture in Chicago's infield.
• 1965 (fourth round): Ken Holtzman -- The Cubs' first-ever Draft produced the left-handed Holtzman, who won 80 games over parts of nine years (1965-71, '78-79), authoring two no-hitters. He was also part of a trade tree that led to the Cubs netting Ryne Sandberg.