Theo Epstein is arguably the best executive in all of baseball. He played a critical role in ending Boston’s 86-year World Series drought and if the Cubs continue to play the way that they are, he just might end the 107-year curse that looms large over the friendly confines.
The baseball-savant will be put to work when the 2016 MLB draft begins on Thursday. Although the Cubs don’t have a pick in the first or second round of the draft after having to forfeit their top picks due to the signings of John Lackey and Jason Heyward, the Cubs front office will still be plenty busy come draft day.
It’ll be interesting to see what the team’s strategy will be. Since Theo Epstein’s first draft in 2012, the Cubs plan of attack has been to select the best position players available. They have not gone after top arms with early picks — the strategy has been to buy developed pitching via free agency or to trade for it.
This unconventional draft strategy has been quite successful. Top picks Kris Bryant (2nd overall pick, 2013 draft) and Kyle Schwarber (4th overall pick, 2014) have already made their presence felt at the big league level. Maybe you’ve heard of them by now. And the team has done a nice job of paying for pitching too — the acquisitions of Jon Lester and Lackey are already paying off. Not to mention, the team has traded well too. The Jake Arrieta trade, or should it be known as a steal, continues to look like one of the best in recent memory.
Although baseball’s best pitchers are usually taken in the first round and the Cubs have spent those picks on bats rather than arms, the only knock to be made against Theo Epstein’s regime is that they haven’t been successful when selecting young pitching talent. Since 2012, in the first ten rounds of the draft, the Cubs have picked 30 pitchers. 23 of those players are still in the team’s farm system, but none of them have made it to the big league roster. Time will tell if 2014 and 2015 top picks like Jake Stinnett, Carson Sands, Bryan Hudson and others will eventually make the jump to the big league club.
The effects of their poor pitching selections are finally being felt at the minor league level — and in due time, they could be felt at the major league level as well.
Consider the following analogy. What if Ferrari designed and built a beautiful, brand-new sports car. It’s flashy, has a powerful engine, perfect tires and is running flawlessly. But the spare in the trunk is a piece of junk. Wouldn’t that be concerning? Well, Theo Epstein led the design on this metaphorical vehicle, now he’s driving it and everything is running smoothly — and maybe that’s an understatement — but he’s really hoping he doesn’t hit any potholes. A popped tire could be devastating.
Because of the rapid turnaround that the team has experienced, it’s become difficult to justify any criticism towards Epstein. The Chicago media has praised Epstein and his crew from day one, and rightfully so, but it is interesting that the team’s failure to draft top pitching talent has gone unnoticed.
The Cubs-model appears to be built to last. And as good as it’s been so far, the team needs to hit on pitchers in this year’s draft. Though the team doesn’t have a first round draft pick, baseball history would tell us that there’s always a chance to strike gold in the later rounds of the draft. John Smoltz and Andy Pettite were both 22nd round picks.
While it may be difficult to find a Smoltz or Pettite, Epstein really could use a successful 2016 draft class as the team continues to try to revamp their farm system. If Epstein wants to build the ultimate driving machine, he needs to get all parts of it right. Even the spare tire.
Kevin McCarthy, a junior at the University of Illinois, is serving an internship at Scout.com this summer and covering the Cubs for NorthSidersReport. You can follow him at @KevOMcCarthy on Twitter or contact him by e-mail at Kevin.McCarthy00@yahoo.com