Back in 2012, the Cubs needing pitching help (this narrative hasn’t changed) and their fan base was all set for Theo Epstein to come to town and transform the Cubs into a World Series champ with his first draft. Well, at least the ones that didn’t listen to a word of “the plan” and from what I remember, that was most of them. After all, one Chicago newspaper ran a feature on Epstein with a picture of the Cubs president walking on water.
Despite being the first player selected by the new regime, outfielder Albert Almora has gone relatively unnoticed since being drafted. Javier Baez took the minors by storm and then Kris Bryant grabbed the headlines. With Kyle Schwarber on everyone’s radar, Almora and the rest of the 2012 class has been able to hone their skills and take advantage of the Cubs’ minor league infrastructure and their development plans.
In an age where fans have a tendency to compare everything, the baseball draft is like no other sport. The first-pick more than likely doesn’t have a spot in the opening day line-up and sometimes may be four years away from the big league club. Instead of drafting two or seven players, baseball has 40 rounds—many don’t sign, a bunch that do never make it past A ball.
But no professional sport offers more opportunity than baseball. The Cubs have eight minor league affiliates in three countries, and on any given day, over 200 players head to the ball park for a game. The draft isn’t the only pipeline for the organization—July 2 international free agents, trades, free agents from MLB and around the world are all ways to add talent.
Here's a look at the 2012 draft:
2012 Draft—42 picks—29 signed—16 still in organization
Albert Almora became Team Theo’s first-pick ever as the Cubs used the 6th overall slot to nab the Florida prep after a stellar amateur career. You could point out they should have drafted Addison Russell (A’s 11th overall) but they acquired him in a trade to make that argument moot. Lucas Giolito (Nast-15th overall), Corey Seager (Dodgers-18), Michael Wacha (Cards-19) and Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays-22) were all selected after Almora for the second guessers to chew on. A broken hamate bone slowed his development but the 21-year-old defensive wizard could be in AAA by the end of the year and may be knocking on Wrigley’s door next season.
The Cubs have only had two compensation picks during the Epstein era and both came in 2012, taking Pierce Johnson with the 43rd pick and adding Paul Blackburn with pick # 56. A college arm from Missouri State, Johnson’s career has been slowed by injuries the past two seasons while Blackburn, a California prep, shined at Kane County last year and is part of Myrtle Beach’s rotation this season. Johnson is expected to return to action in June and should be added to the Cubs 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft.
The Cubs added what may be their best pitching prospect in the minors in the second-round, selecting Georgia prep Duane Underwood with the 67th overall pick. Underwood has the ability to command his fastball in the mid-90s and has impressed Cubs brass with his work ethic after a shaky start to his pro career.
The Cubs went pitching heavy the rest of the draft but only one of those arms—Stephen Perakslis (21st round) has reached AA. Ryan McNeil (3rd round) and Josh Conway (4th round) have required surgery while Anthony Prieto (5th round) and Trey Lang (6th round) have been released. McNeil and Conway are both still in A ball.
They signed nine more pitchers but only Michael Heesch (8th round-Myrtle Beach), Corbin Hoffner (14th round-extended spring training), and Jasvir Rakkar (26th round-Myrtle Beach) remain. They’ve cut ties with Chad Martin (10th round), Justin Amlung (12th round), Michael Hamann (16th round), Nathan Dorris (17th round), and Eddie Orozco (22nd round) while trading Tyler Bremer (27th round) to the Marlins in the Jacob Turner deal.
With Johnson, Blackburn, and Underwood all in the discussion as the Cubs top pitching prospects, the rest of the draft pitching class could be considered a disappointment but that all depends on your expectations for players taken after the top two rounds and why the Cubs continued to pile up arms in the draft. Its also the last time they went in heavy on preps as five of their first seven picks were from the high school ranks. They only inked three high school players in 2013.
Stephen Bruno (7th round-AA Tennessee) won the batting title in his first year at short-season Boise but Tommy John surgery abruptly ended the 2013 season. His bat may earn him a major league roster spot but he needs to strengthen his defense and prove he can hit upper level pitching. Bijan Rademacher (13th round-Tennessee) has been a pleasant surprise, improving his defensive skills as well as showing some power last year in Daytona with 11 homer. A pitcher in college, the 23-year-old has the arm to play either corner outfield position.
Other position players still wearing Cubs patches include OF Rashad Crawford (11th round-South Bend), IF David Bote (18th round-South Bend), C Benjamin Carhart (35th round-Myrtle Beach) and1B Jacob Rogers (40th round-Myrtle Beach). Crawford has made the slow progression to the Midwest League after getting drafted out of high school. The Cubs have used Bote, a utility infielder, all over the organization, including four games in AAA last year. Carhart made a position switch to catcher and Rogers was a key member of Kane County’s success last year, with the glove, the bat, and his leadership.
While no player from this class has yet to reach AAA , its hard to argue with their top four picks as all are rated among the Cubs top 20 prospect lists and show ability to help at the big league level.