Power early, upside late: Analyzing the Cubs' '23 Draft approach

July 12th, 2023

CHICAGO -- After the Cubs selected Stanford third baseman Drew Bowser in the 20th round of the MLB Draft on Tuesday, that applied the period to the newest class of prospects for the ballclub. Chicago dipped deep into the collegiate pool this year and came away with a fairly balanced mix of position players and arms.

“We're really happy with the way it unfolded,” said Dan Kantrovitz, the Cubs’ vice president of scouting. “For the most part, I think when you look at it as a whole, I wouldn't expect the signing process to be too eventful, in a positive way.”

The signing deadline for this year’s MLB Draft class is July 25, and the Cubs have 17 collegiate players and three prep stars to convince to put pen to paper. Chicago’s class is headed by Maryland shortstop Matt Shaw, who was selected with the 13th overall pick in the first round on Sunday night.

Overall, Chicago grabbed 11 position players and nine pitchers, focusing on the batter’s box in the first 10 rounds and the mound for the second half of the Draft. Here are three takeaways from how the Cubs tackled the 2023 Draft over the past few days.

1. Cubs stocked up on position players, power early
Led by the picks of Shaw (Pipeline’s No. 16-ranked Draft prospect) and Florida shortstop Josh Rivera (No. 87), the Cubs grabbed seven position players within their first 10 selections this year.

Both Shaw and Rivera are versatile defenders with speed and all-around offense that includes some eye-popping power for their position. The Cubs also added collegiate players with big power potential in the first half of the Draft between Davidson catcher Michael Carico and Long Beach State first baseman Jonathon Long.

“When we're looking at hitters,” Kantrovitz said, “some of the pillars that we look for that intrigue us and that get us excited, is the ability to hit for some damage, which gets to the power aspect. And if there's a player that has that, as well as maybe the ability to make consistent contact and to make good decisions, then it looks like a pretty good package.”

The Cubs then utilized six of their final 10 picks on Day 3 to add pitching -- all from the college ranks -- one year after using 16 of 20 selections overall on arms.

2. Prep portion big on 'toolsy' players
During the MLB Draft broadcast, Pipeline expert Jim Callis described the Cubs’ sixth-round pick, P27 Academy standout Alfonsin Rosario, as a “showcase monster” due to his big power, arm and speed. That was a bit of a theme for the three high schoolers selected by Chicago.

Working with the 19th-ranked bonus pool ($8,962,000) this year, the Cubs understandably centered their attention on college players. When they did grab a prep star, there was definitely an emphasis on projectable tools.

Seventh-rounder Yahil Melendez (B You Academy in Puerto Rico) has the potential to stick at shortstop, and he showed off consistent hard contact on the showcase circuit. Eleventh-rounder Zyhir Hope (Colonial Forge HS in Stafford, Va.) was a power-speed monster for his school this year.

“We always viewed it as a positive to be able to fall back on those tools,” Kantrovitz said. “Sometimes, if it's not a toolsy guy, it becomes tough to sort of get out of [a slump in pro ball], and it can go downhill quick. So I think the toolsier a player, the more options, the more pathways they probably have to succeed.”

3. Cubs willing to take on risky upside picks
The Cubs took a big swing with the 68th overall pick on Day 1, selecting Arkansas righty Jaxon Wiggins even after he missed this past season due to Tommy John surgery. Kantrovitz said Wiggins’ reputation as a “deluxe athlete,” plus his projectable frame and pitch package, made it worth the gamble.

Kantrovitz’s team took another calculated roll of the dice in the 16th round on Day 3, grabbing Campbell University lefty Daniel Brown for his “top-of-the-charts raw tools.” The Cubs’ VP of scouting said he expected the pick would “raise some eyebrows” from those following the Draft.

Here’s why: the 20-year-old Brown’s stat line across the 2022-23 seasons included 13 walks, 10 runs allowed, nine wild pitches, three strikeouts and two hit batsmen in a total of one inning pitched (six appearances). That said, Brown is a 6-foot-3 lefty with a huge fastball (clocked up to 102 mph), a nasty slider and a developing changeup. It’s a project the Cubs want to take on.

“He had a little difficulty finding the zone,” Kantrovitz said. “But to be fair to him, he probably didn't really get the chance that a guy with that kind of arm strength probably, in our estimation, deserved. And we want to give him that chance. To be able to touch triple digits from the left side, be able to spin the ball the way he does and just have the athleticism that he does, we're excited to work with him.”