As of today, only three players drafted in the last four drafts by the Cubs have made it to Chicago – Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber. There are more who could be added to that list later this year in Pierce Johnson and Ryan Williams. The fact that it takes 5-7 years to develop most draft picks means that we should start seeing more and more prospects closer to reaching the majors.
A year ago, I graded out each of the draft classes in the Theo Epstein era. I thought about doing another similar series leading up to the draft next month, but I chose to do something a little different this year. Rather than list every player and where they are in the system, I am just going to talk about a few potential prospects from each year.
Prospects Left in the System: 11
Previous Grade: B+/A-
This class looked much stronger last year. In the last year, the players have not really done much to impress me when it comes to them making it to the majors other than Albert Almora, Paul Blackburn, and Rashad Crawford. In fact, most of the class has not improved in that same time. Some of the other players still left include Pierce Johnson, Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, Josh Conway, Ryan McNeil, Stephen Bruno, Rashad Crawford, and Bijan Rademacher. It looks like many of them are still far away and struggling to make it either to, or through, AA Tennessee. Looking at this class a year ago I said, “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 think as time goes on, this draft might only produce 3-4 major leaguers, which is actually quite good. But when you think about what this class was supposed to do, it succeeded in restocking a system bereft of talent. However, only Almora has made it to Chicago.
Four Year Grade: B
Prospects Left in the System: 11
Previous Grade: A
Already, this draft class produced a Rookie of the Year in Kris Bryant. Just for that one pick, this class gets an A. Then again, only a few picks have even made it to AA where they are stalling out or spinning their wheels. Trevor Clifton is a promising arm and he is having his best year as a Cub in Myrtle Beach while Tyler Alamo is hitting for a high average at South Bend and starting to show some power. It’s a bit incomplete outside of Bryant.
Three Year Grade: A
Prospects Left in the System: 22
It is hard to judge a class in which most of the players were high school kids. While Schwarber was the linchpin of the draft, so were a selection of high school arms in Sands, Cease, and Steele who are now just beginning their first year at a full season affiliate. 10th round pick Ryan Williams is close to going to Chicago. I think this class is best in the Theo era. While it may be pitching heavy it also broke big on day three of the draft with Chesny Young, Zach Hedges, Jeremy Null, Jason Vosler, and Brad Markey. Third round pick Mark Zagunis got off to a rough start at AA this year but had an excellent May and is pushing for a promotion to AAA Iowa as you read.
Two Year Grade: A
Right now, three is not heartwarming. On the other hand, by 2018, the Cubs could have a wave of players ready to make it to the majors from these draft classes.
The draft, at times, seems to be an antiquated way to acquire talent. Then again, what the Cubs have done is use the draft as just one of many tools, along with free agency, international free agency, trades, the Rule V draft, and waiver claims, to acquire talent. Looking at the Cubs position players, Bryant, Baez, Szczur, and Schwarber were all drafted by the Cubs. Rizzo, Russell, Fowler, Montero, and La Stella were acquired by trades, while Heyward, Ross, and Zobrist were free agents. Jorge Soler, he was an international free agent. That’s a myriad of ways to acquire players.
I think in the years to come, especially 2018-2020, the Cubs will be a self sustaining system when it comes to position players. The pitching, that might take some work, but with Dylan Cease and Bryan Hudson on the horizon, that future looks good, too, eventually.
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