Who will Cubs take at No. 16 in the Draft?
CHICAGO -- The Cubs were planning on being deep into their reorganized player development process by this point. Over the offseason, the team overhauled its infrastructure and added new voices, including looking outside for new leadership for the MLB Draft.
The global coronavirus pandemic ground the sport to a halt in mid-March, forcing every club to adjust its player development and scouting strategies on the fly. That included Dan Kantrovitz, the Cubs' new vice president of scouting, who was brought on board in November to oversee the Cubs' Draft process and execution.
“The reality is everybody's just had to be a little bit more creative,” Kantrovitz said. “The Draft is always a situation where you're making decisions based on imperfect information, and I think that's particularly true this year.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to allow MLB to shorten the annual Draft to as few as five rounds, which MLB elected to do. Day 1 of the 2020 Draft airs tonight on MLB Network and ESPN at 7 p.m. ET, and includes the first 37 picks. Day 2 begins at 4 p.m. CT on Thursday on MLB Network and ESPN2, and spans the remainder of the 160 picks.
Comprehensive coverage will be available on MLB.com and MLB Pipeline, which will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast. Go to MLB.com/Draft to see when teams pick, the Top 200 Prospects list, mock drafts from analysts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, scouting video and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter to see what Draft hopefuls, clubs and experts are saying and to get each pick as it’s made.
The limited number of spring games creates a situation in which all 30 teams are working with much less information than in previous years. There is more of a reliance on video scouting or interviews conducted remotely. The goal then becomes finding ways -- perhaps based on past Draft picks made with minimal info or data -- to potentially unearth an advantage.
During the first couple weeks after baseball shut down across the professional and amateur levels, Kantrovitz and his team discussed strategies. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer suggested reaching out to NFL teams, which held their draft in late April.
“Their Draft was obviously before ours,” Kantrovitz said, “but they also had a little more experience in terms of interviewing players through Zoom. That was more a normal part of their repertoire, if you will, than it was ours. And I was a little skeptical, frankly, as far as how much overlap there would be between our Drafts.
“It really ended up being a pretty invaluable channel of communication.”
One takeaway for Kantrovitz was that the Cubs could use the teleconference calls not only for general questions with possible draftees, but to highlight Chicago’s player development process. Members of the Cubs’ scouting, player development and research and development departments joined the calls. Director of hitting Justin Stone and director of pitching Craig Breslow also took part.
It was a chance for the Cubs to break down video with the players, dig into thought processes and mechanics and to give an inside look into the data analysis and tech that the team utilizes under its revamped staff. In a way, the Cubs treated the calls not only as scouting, but recruiting.
“They're going to be getting the same questions from [the other] 29 teams,” Kantrovitz said. “You have to think a little differently in order to get them to engage with you. So what we decided to do was utilize video to a greater extent than I think we other would've thought.”
The level of communication “exceeded” Kantrovitz’s expectations, and he said it has left him feeling as prepared, or maybe even more prepared, for the upcoming Draft in certain areas than he had in previous years with his former organizations.
Here's how the Draft is shaping up for the Cubs, whose first selection is the 16th overall pick:
State of the system
The Cubs have four Top 100 prospects per MLB Pipeline (infielder Nico Hoerner at No. 51, lefty Brailyn Marquez at No. 68, outfielder Brennen Davis at No. 78 and catcher Miguel Amaya at No. 95), but the organization has struggled to shake the storyline of not being able to develop impact homegrown pitching.
What they’re saying
“In terms of the challenges of a Draft, I think some are obvious and some are less so as it relates to sort of navigating through the pandemic right now. For starters, I think we've all gotten pretty adept at using Zoom and every other remote conferencing tool. But I guess, on a serious note, I will say that this is a time of year where we typically don't have access to players. We're normally going to watch them play games. They're preparing for their playoffs [and] their postseason runs if they're college players.
“But this year in particular, we've had a unique level of access to them for two-plus months. And we've been able to get to know these players on a level that we otherwise wouldn't have. So I think from that standpoint, there have been some positives to take out of it.” -- Kantrovitz
Who might they take?
Outfielder Austin Hendrick of West Allegheny High School (Imperial, Pa.) has been linked to the Cubs in multiple publications, including in MLB.com's mock Drafts. MLB Pipeline's Jonathan Mayo said Hendrick "has as much bat speed and raw power as any prep hitter in the class." Another player who has been tied to the Cubs by multiple outlets is UCLA outfielder Garrett Mitchell, who has "the best overall set of tools in this class," according to Mayo.
A local product, shortstop Ed Howard out of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, has been mentioned, and is "the best true shortstop" in the class, per MLB.com's Jim Callis.
Other names tied to the Cubs in mock Drafts have included catcher Tyler Soderstrom out of Turlock (Calif.) High School, outfielder Robert Hassell of Independence High School (Thompson's Station, Tenn.), University of Tennessee lefty Garrett Crochet and righty Mick Abel out of Jesuit High School (Portland, Ore.), among others.
Each team gets an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of its selections in the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. This year, with a five-round Draft, all signing bonuses of drafted players will apply toward the bonus pool total.
For 2020, there is a $20,000 limit on bonuses for non-drafted free agents. There is no limit to the number of undrafted players teams may sign, but they cannot go over $20,000 per player. These bonuses do not count toward the pool total.
The Cubs have a pool of $6,721,600 to spend, including $3,745,500 to spend on their first selection.
The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay knocking on the door of the Major League rotation, and Marquez -- with his 100 mph heater -- seemingly coming soon, but continuing to gather arms remains a priority. That said, Chicago must also balance the reality of "building the next great Cubs team," as Epstein put it at the end of the 2019 campaign. Some of the team's core group could hit the open market after the '21 and '22 campaigns, so continuing to build up potential impact depth on the farm on the position-player side will be important in the next few Drafts.
When Hoerner was called up to the Majors last September, he became the first player from the 2018 Draft class (all teams) to reach The Show. It was the latest example of the Cubs' success at selecting polished college bats in the Draft. That was how Epstein's front office built the foundation of the '16 World Series core, and it has continued to be a strength for the club.
Last year, the Cubs focused on pitching in the first five rounds, picking four collegiate arms in that span. The team altered its approach on the pitching side, too, focusing more on stuff and upside. Overall, Chicago took 28 college players compared to 12 prep stars. That said, with only five rounds this year, and Kantrovitz now at the helm, past trends may not be good predictors.
The recent top picks
2019: RHP Ryan Jensen
2018: SS Nico Hoerner
2017: LHP Brendon Little
2016: RHP Thomas Hatch (third round; now in the Blue Jays' organization)
2015: OF Ian Happ