By Todd Johnson
It is that time of the year where I get ready for the draft by looking back and grading the last few drafts by the Cubs. For the past three years, I have only looked at the selections made by Theo Epstein and Jason McLeod. This year, I’m throwing a curveball into the evaluation process by examining the 2011 draft, the final one of Jim Hendry’s tenure. In addition, with two weeks to go to the 2017 draft, I will be evaluating the 2016 draft class for the first time.
Previous Grade – None
Right before he left his job as general manager, Jim Hendry oversaw a massive financial investment with players the Cubs selected in the 2011 draft. There are 5 players left in the organization in Javy Baez, James Pugliese, Trey Martin, Dillon Maples, and John Andreoli. This was also the draft that saw the Cubs take Dan Vogelbach who was later traded to Seattle for Mike Montgomery. Baez and Montgomery were both outstanding in the Cubs pennant and World Series runs.
2017 Grade: B
Previous Grades – B+, A-, B
There are only seven out of 27 signed players left. Albert Almora heads the list followed by Duane Underwood, Pierce Johnson, Ryan McNeil, Stephen Bruno, Bijan Radmacher, David Bote, and Steve Perakslis. They are all at AA and above with Almora in Chicago. I don’t think things went as planned for this group. For most of the early years of Theo’s tenure, this group was at the top of the prospect list. Now it looks as though very few of them will make it to the majors. And if they do, it will be in a minor role. Two more years would be about the top end of their tenure as most will be 27 or 28 years old by then.
2017 Grade: B-
Previous Grades – A, A, A+
9 Left out of 23 – Kris Bryant, Trevor Clifton, Charcer Burks, Tyler Alamo, Rob Zastryzny, Jake Hannemann, David Garner, Will Remillard, and Cael Brockmeyer all remain. You already have an MVP/Rookie of the Year in Kris Bryant. Two of the players were on the roster that just won the World Series is it. There are two players currently at AA in Burks and Clifton who are having the best years as prospects. They could reach Chicago in the next two years. To be honest, everything after Bryant is gravy.
2017 Grade: A+ (see Bryant)
Previous Grades – A-, A
With Kyle Schwarber selected at the top of the draft, the Cubs were able to use their large signing pool to ink 27 players that year. 18 of them still remain including selections in the 10s like Chesny Young and the 20s like Zach Hedges. Even though second round pick Jake Stinnett has not worked out as planned, third round pick Mark Zagunis should be available shortly along with Young. Don’t get me started on Dylan Cease’s potential. I think this is the best draft class as a unit and I didn’t even bring up a resurgent Justin Steele.
2017 Grade: A
Previous Grades – B
Ian Happ is the clear draw out of this draft. There are currently 19 of the 27 signees still in the organization. Catcher Ian Rice has been a nice surprise the past two summers, while others just have not put it together yet. There are some players who are beginning to stand out a bit more like reliever Craig Brooks and catcher PJ Higgins. High school picks Bryan Hudson and DJ Wilson just reached low A. It is probably going to be the class that takes the longest to develop.
2017 Grade: B
Previous Grades – None
Out of all the drafts this decade, this one has the most flux in it. The grade could sway easily because the lack of position players and healthy starting pitchers. However, the saving grace, so far, is the relief corps assembled. With Dakota Mekkes, Wyatt Short, Michael Rucker, Chad Hockin, Marc Huberman, Duncan Robinson, and Matt Swarmer, the relievers are deep and powerful. Mekkes should be at Tennessee by year’s end. He is that talented. He just has to cut down on his walks. Rucker and Huberman have already advanced to Myrtle Beach with Rucker standing out.
When it comes to starting pitchers, there are a lot of “what have yous,” and “if everything works out alrights.” Thomas Hatch, the Cubs first pick in the third round has been shelled (ERA of 6+) at Myrtle Beach although I think he has shown very good stuff. He is just working on his command. Tyson Miller has been brilliant and bad in the same week. Stephen Ridings and Bailey Clark have yet to debut in 2017. For me, though, the most intriguing arm is that of Duncan Robinson. He was very good as a piggyback starter and was outstanding starting last week going 7 innings, giving up 0 runs, and striking out 5. Last Tuesday the 16th, he threw four scoreless and struck out 5. This week, he went 6 and only allowed one run.
Position players Michael Cruz and Delvin Zinn are both very projectable players yet the Cubs are not forcing them along the way. Cruz debuted last week in South Bend. Shortstop Zack Short has been outstanding at South Bend as a leader and lead off man.
For now, I would give them a B-. If things go right, that could easily be a B or it could go the other way and be a C or C-. I just don’t know how it’s going to go. And that’s OK for now. Give them some time.
A Few Stats
Players Remaining in the System since 2011 – 81
Players who have made it to Chicago – 7
Current 25 Man Roster – 5
Current 40 Man Roster – 9