Cubs had the draft experts scratching their heads and questioning the pick when they took Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall selection last June. Then, 24 hours later, they were “really smart” when then grabbed three top prep arms. Schwarber was earning player of the week honors in Boise before most picks inked their deals, and high school standouts Carson Sands, Justin Steele and Dylan Cease all agreed to pro contracts before the deadline.
And that’s how Cubs fans learned about slot values, not paying attention to the draft experts, and actually gained some faith in the people running the organization. Some haven’t come around regrading Schwarber’s role as a big league catcher, but that too will pass if the Cubs get their way.
The one thing I’ve learned is each team spends countless hours of work and interviews learning all they can about these players, and most of that information never finds its way on the internet. Leading the league in ‘prospect fact finding’ is a good thing. Not only do the Cubs want individuals that can become big league players, they also want young men with high character, good baseball IQ, and ability to represent the organization in a professional manner. For some very talented ball players, their chances of becoming a Cub ends with their twitter account and a few questions around town.
Teams realize a majority of high school kids aren’t ready to begin a career in professional baseball and the Cubs continue to identify players that check off all the boxes—signing over 80 percent from the college ranks the last three years.
One of the downsides of taking college players is they are smart enough to realize they could be making a lot more money putting their college education to use than embarking on nine-hour bus rides. With the majority of the picks going to more advanced college players, its opened up a spot for the Cubs international talent. Currently at extended spring training, the rosters for Mesa and Boise are around 70 percent foreign-born players. That number will drop after the draft but it reflects the low number of preps the Cubs have signed, only 14 the last three years. The Cubs have made 122 picks since Epstein took over, signed 80 of those, and 58 remain in the orgaination.
Here's a look at the 2014 draft
2014 Draft—40 picks—27 signed—25 still in organization
Lots of questions when Chicago took Kyle Schwarber last June but the Cubs and their fans are getting the last laugh now. Many still doubt Schwarber’s ability to become a big league catcher but the Cubs grow more confident every day as the Ohio native has the work ethic and tools to be an everyday fixture behind the plate at Wrigley. The 22-year-old is honing his defensive skills at Tennessee and has been quite impressive with the bat in his pro career.
Cubs nabbed Maryland pitcher Jake Stinnett with their second pick and he’s impressed the organization with his arm but hasn’t been tearing up the Midwest League like his two draft classmates—Ryan Williams (10th round) and Jeremy Null (15th round), the organizations pitchers of the month for April and May. Williams, who was promoted to AA on June 3 and won his debut, is at the top of the MWL leader board in ERA and WHIP while Null has been just as impressive.
Third-round pick Mark Zagunis was a catcher at Virginia Tech but the Cubs have moved him to the outfield and he’s excelled. A good contact hitter with great plate discipline, Zagunis is hitting over .300 for Myrtle Beach and leads the league in walks in his first full season. Another bat drawing attention, is infielder Chesny Young (14th round) who hit his way out of South Bend and is still squaring up baseballs in the High A Carolina League.
With Schwarber signing under slot, the Cubs were able to add three prep arms with the fourth (Carson Sands), fifth (Justin Steele) and sixth (Dylan Cease) picks and keep them from heading to college. Cease had Tommy John surgery and is already back to throwing in the high 90s while Sands and Steele were both impressive in the Arizona Rookie League after the draft.
College arms James Norwood (7th round), Tommy Thorpe (8th round) James Farris (9th round), Brad Markey (19th round), Zach Hedges (26th round) and Jordan Minch (35th round) have all worn a South Bend uniform this spring while Jordan Brink (11th round), Tanner Griggs (12th round) and Michael Knighton (17th round) started the season at extended spring training. They also signed California prep Austyn Willis in the 18th round and he’s drawing some attention this spring in Mesa.
A pair of college infielders, Jason Vosler (16th round) and Andrew Ely (32nd round) have worked their way onto the South Bend roster and C Tyler Pearson was recently promoted to AA Tennessee. Joe Martarano (22nd round) is not only spending his summers with the Cubs, he’s also a linebacker for the Boise State football team. There’s been a lot of hype about OF Kevonte Mitchell (13th round) after a solid season in Mesa after the draft, but he stayed in Arizona when teams broke camp. College outfielder Calvin Graves (27th round) spent his first pro season between Mesa and Boise.
There’s a lot to like about this class but its still early to judge one way or another. If Schwarber continues to develop behind the plate and a few of the young arms reach their potential, this group could rival and even surpass the 2013 draft with Kris Bryant.