Forever known as the first draft class of Theo, Jed, and Jason McLeod, the Cubs went pitcher heavy trying to replenish a system bereft of everything. The cupboard was pretty barren and within three years, 12 of the 27 signees are out of the organization and 11 of those 12 are out of baseball. Still, the weird thing about this draft is the top four picks were outstanding selections and the last pick might just surprise you.
|Pierce Johnson||Tennessee DL|
|Paul Blackburn||Myrtle Beach|
|Duane Underwood||Myrtle Beach|
|Ryan McNeil||South Bend|
|Josh Conway||Myrtle Beach|
|Michael Heesch||Myrtle Beach|
|Rashad Crawford||South Bend|
|Justin Amlung||Hagerstown – Low A – Washington Nationals System|
|Corbin Hoffner||South Bend DL|
|David Bote||South Bend|
|Jasvir Rakkar||Myrtle Beach|
|Ben Carhart||Myrtle Beach|
|Jacob Rodgers||Myrtle Beach|
With three years in the system, most of the players should be progressing nicely. That is not the case with this class. I think the Cubs took some risks in the draft. Some paid off nicely, some could pay off in the future, while others clearly did not.
I – Incomplete – None
F – Failing
Saunders, Garsez, Rymel, Orozco, Dorris, Hamann, Escobar, Amlung, Martin, Krist, Lang, and Prieto
Most of these F grades are due to injury or just not being very good. The one that perplexed me most was Justin Amlung. In the first half at Kane County, Amlung, a solid reliever, had an ERA under 2. At Daytona, he was asked to be a starter on a team decimated by injuries. He struggled in that role. I think he was born to be a reliever. The Cubs released him this spring and he quickly signed with the Nationals and is at low A Hagerstown and is surviving fine as a reliever.
D – Poor
Carhart, Bote, Hoffner, and McNeil,
Three years in and these four are bench players and relievers struggling to overcome injuries. To me, when Carhart went into the catcher conversion program, it was a weird decision, but at the time, the Cubs did not have much depth at the position. He was outstanding at low A Kane County last year playing C, 1B, 2B, 3B, and DH. This year, he seems to be lost at the Beach in high A. He sits on the bench and has only played 21 games behind Caratini (who is struggling at the plate, too).
Ryan McNeil is starting to get his first taste of ball after injuries sidelined him for all of 2013. At South Bend this year, he struggled early in adjusting to a bullpen role. The last three outings have been good for him as he has touched 93-94 again. He threw 95 before TJS. I think he is one that could move off this list.
C – Average
Perakslis, Rademacher, Crawford, Conway, Heesch
By the time you get to the third year in the system, there is enough data to make a solid grade on the prospect. For Perakslis, Conway, and Rademacher, 2015 has not been a good year. For Crawford, he has just reached low A ball, and Heesch, as a reliever, is on his second year of high A ball. He has had some success but not enough to get him to Tennessee. I think they all can up one more level if they make adjustments this year, but beyond that, I think that could be it for all of them.
For Josh Conway, he spent the better part of two years injured before a spectacular 2014 in Boise where he was limited to 3 innings a start. This year, he is transitioning to a relief role after skipping South Bend and is struggling. The road does end for most minor leaguers, and whether we like these prospects as human beings, it will be tough to see some of them released in the coming year(s).
B – Good
Rodgers, Rakkar, Bruno, and Blackburn
I like Jacob Rodgers a lot. He is a good baseball player but he will not set the world on fire with his tools. He does have some power, but he is a prospect who is going to take several years to develop. Luckily for him, the Cubs are not in need of a first baseman. He is a quality leader and comes up with big hits in the later innings. He was the MVP in the Midwest League Playoffs last fall. For the 40th round, I don’t think anyone expected him to make it this far.
Stephen Bruno hits. Despite missing most of 2013 with TJS, the young 2B hit like a man on fire last year at Tennessee. Surprisingly, he did not get a promotion to Iowa to begin the year. He hit .299 in April, but has cooled off. He is currently at .264 after hitting .200 in May. Still, if you can hit, the Cubs will find a place for him.
Jasvir Rakkar has really turned it on since last August when he arrived in Kane County and helped to win a Midwest League Championship. He hasn’t stopped since. In 2015 he already advanced from South Bend to Myrtle Beach. With a 1.50 ERA and 7 saves in 13 appearances, he is one prospect on the rise.
Blackburn has struggled at times this year jumping up to high A ball. His last 2 starts have been good though, posting a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings in them. It is an adjustment going from a six man rotation at low A to a 5 man at High A. Blackburn is starting to make it.
A – Excellent
Underwood, Johnson, Almora
I struggled with putting all three of these prospects in the A grade. Underwood was an easy one to deem excellent, but Johnson and Almora not as much. I think I put them here more for potential. Johnson has yet to pitch above 120 innings but will be in Tennessee next week and likely will be Theo’s first drafted pitcher to make it to the majors.
As for Almora, defensively, he is at an A+. At the plate, he has had his moments. With his swing and approach rebuilt last year, he is still adjusting to it this year. He is hitting .276 with a paltry .313 on base percentage. He still has to learn that just because he can hit a pitch, doesn’t mean he should. It’s OK to take a pitch and then a walk.
Overall grade – B+/A-
When it is all said and done, there could be 3 quality starting pitchers (that’s amazing for just one draft) and maybe 2-3 relievers along with Bruno and Almora making it to the majors.
As I see this draft in hindsight after three years, the Cubs took chances to rebuild the pitching by making those picks in large chunks. It was a big risk and it succeeded at the top of the draft. The thing that as a fan that you have to understand is that it takes 5-7 years to develop a pitcher, especially a high school pitcher. This draft could be an A+ in due time if all that pitching develops.