As a draft fanatic, I’ve told my wife that my favorite day of the year is the first day of the major league draft. That’s not a particularly popular sentiment around the holidays, but for me, it’s true. The MLB draft is hope springing anew. When the team you root for is a struggle to watch at the major league level, there is always the MLB draft providing hope that the next superstar is waiting to join your organization. Though it’s commonly thought that it takes approximately five years to properly evaluate a draft, I feel that there’s rare situations where you can examine early successes and give credit where it’s due. The Chicago Cubs draft class in 2018 fits that bill. The early returns are promising and it may go down as one of the more successful draft classes by the franchise in the last 20 years.
The peak Cubs years of 2015-2018 were driven, in part, by the successes of first round draft selections. Kris Bryant (2013, 2nd overall) was a rookie of the year, MVP, and multiple all-star. Kyle Schwarber (2014, 4th overall) powered his way through the minor leagues and mashed his way to be tied for the franchise lead in post season home runs. Schwarber’s “phoenix like” rise from the ashes in coming back for the World Series from a severe leg injury in April 2016 provided a an emotional lift and a powerful bat for the curse-breaking Chicago Cubs. Ian Happ (2015, 9th overall) experienced a similar quick rise through the minor leagues and produced an .842 OPS while popping 24 home runs in only 115 games. Even Albert Almora Jr. (2012, 6th overall) produced a wRC+ above 100 in 2016 and 2017. The player with the most career WAR drafted by the Cubs outside of the first round since 2012? David Bote with 2.9 career WAR (according to Fangraphs). For sustained success, an organization has to do a better job of hitting on draft picks.
The 2018 Chicago Cubs draft class appears to be different than prior years. It is still led by a successful first round pick, but unlike previous classes, there are significant prospects taken throughout the draft. Several of these prospects are on track to be key contributors at the major league level sooner than later.
Draft in Review
The Top Two Rounds
1st Round (24th overall)
Fans were shocked with Nico’s selection in the draft, but he quickly proved he was up to the task. Hoerner flew through the minors to become the first player from the 2018 class to make his MLB debut. Last season was a mixed bag at best, but there are encouraging signs that a bounce back could be in store in 2021.
2nd Round (62nd overall)
The progress Brennen Davis has made in transforming himself from raw multi-sport athlete to potential force to be reckoned with in a little over two years is astounding. Davis boasts some of the most impressive skills in the entire system and looks ready to start 2021 in AA. He’s a potential force to be reckoned with in he near future.
2nd Round compensation (77th overall)
Sweet-swinging Cole Roederer was getting comps to Andrew Benintendi on draft-day, but he’s been delayed in his development with an up-and-down 2019 in South Bend and the 2020 shutdown. But we’ve reached the point where people may be sleeping on Cole. He’ll still be 21 all of next season with a good opportunity to play at high A. A strong season with an improved plan at the plate could shout him back up rankings and into the 2022-2023 plans for the Cubs.
Paul Richan (Traded to Detroit)
2nd Round Compensation (78th overall)
Richan had a solid post-draft debut in Eugene and was holding his own in High A in 2019, Myrtle Beach, before he was dealt to Detroit along with Alex Lange for Nick Castellanos. Richan is a “sequencing” focused pitcher similar to 2017 draftee, Cory Abbott (though Abbott is a far better prospect). Best of luck to Paul in Detroit!
Other Top Prospects (Top 30 for Ivy Futures)
5th Round (158th overall)
Andy Weber is criminally underrated though he is starting to get more publicity. Weber has such a smooth, balanced swing that is geared for hit over power from the left-hand side. His hitting mechanics are quiet and calm, which helps him provide a high contact bat that sprays doubles all over the field. He’s a more than capable shortstop, but will likely find a home moving around the diamond.
6th Round (188th overall)
Kohl Franklin is someone “with as much upside as anyone in [the Cubs’] system” according to VP of Player Development, Matt Dorey. You can see why as this ultra-projectable pitcher has added good weight to his frame along with significant mph to his fastball. He was already armed with one of the best changeups in the Cubs minor leagues and an improving curveball that flashes plus, but his fastball with natural movement now sits mid 90s. Franklin looks like at least a mid-rotation arm in the future.
11th Round (338th overall)
Thompson may be 24 to start the year (likely in AA), but he has some seriously impressive pitches. Riley got a recent shoutout from Cubs VP, Matt Dorey, as a likely breakout candidate in 2021. Thompson is armed with a low to mid 90s fastball (can touch upper 90s) and an average changeup, but the high spin rate curveball is his bread and butter. Dorey offered praise for Thompson’s work to craft his pitches during the shutdown so don’t be surprised if there’s an extra tick on the fastball or even improved spin rate/efficiency.
32nd Round (968th overall)
Jack Patterson is more than just a great story. He has a very real chance of contributing big league innings as early as this season. Patterson missed extensive time during college after he was struck in the head by a ball. He took the Cubs minor leagues by storm in 2019 by starting at extended spring training, then dominating South Bend and Myrtle Beach, before ending the year in AA. The Cubs thought enough of Jack that they gave him a coveted 60-man spot in South Bend last season. Receiving any impact from a 32nd round pick is enormous for an organization. Whether starting or in relief, Patterson should soon have the opportunity to fulfill his dream.
A few more to talk about
|Name||Draft Position: Round (overall)||Notes|
|Ethan Roberts||4th round (128)||A spin-rate darling, Roberts is an intriguing reliever who may begin 2021 in AA.|
|D.J. Artis||7th round (218)||High walks with a moderate K%. The Jon Jay comp feels lazy, but accurate for this LF/CF.|
|Cam Sanders||12th round (368)||A guy who may surprise likely in the pen. He keeps making adjustments (that curve could be something special) as he climbs the ladder.|
|Ezequiel Pagan||13th round (398)||It’s rare to see a HS player taken later in the draft that isn’t a high bonus signee, but the Cubs have had some success finding opportunities like this out of Puerto Rico. He’s a raw player, but shows some OBP chops.|