By Todd Johnson
Evaluating a draft class can take several years to see the impact that it had on the organization and, most importantly, the major league club. Jason McLeod, the Cubs Director of Scouting, has overseen the acquisition of talent in the draft since Theo Epstein came to Chicago in the fall of 2011. Four out of five of McLeod’s first round picks are now playing in Chicago. Yet, the Cubs have not produced a pitcher via the draft that is on the current 25-man roster. However, they do have three of them on the 40 man roster.
With just three weeks until the 2018 draft, I thought this would be a good time to take a look back at how the Cubs have done in the draft from 2011 through 2016.
GM Jim Hendry’s Final Draft Class
2011 – Previous Grade – B
I didn’t start grading this class until last year. Currently, there are four players left in the organization. Javy Baez is in Chicago, Dillon Maples is in Iowa, and Trey Martin and James Pugliese are both at AA Tennessee. Still, Javy’s emerging bat and overall game is enough to improve the grade along with the possibility that Maples might make it as a reliever helps. Dan Vogelbach was one pick who was traded to Seattle for reliever Mike Montgomery, who then helped a little bit in game 7. So that worked out well.
2018 Grade: B+
Jason McLeod’s First Class
2012 – Previous Grades – B+, A-, B, B-
There are only 6 out of 27 signed players left. Albert Almora heads the list followed by Duane Underwood, Stephen Bruno, Bijan Radmacher, David Bote, and Ryan McNeil. This was supposed to be the class that rebuilt the system. It did, to some extent, but several of the picks have gone on to make it to the majors with other organizations including Paul Blackburn and Pierce Johnson. However, it’s impact on the major league team has been slight but a few them are at AAA Iowa this year. Bote could be a nice utility player while Underwood is having a great season in Iowa. If those two make it, all of a sudden this class goes to an A.
2018 Grade: B –
The Kris Bryant Class
2013 Draft Class – Previous Grades – A, A, A+, A+
There are 8 players left out of the 23 who signed: Kris Bryant, Trevor Clifton, Charcer Burks, Tyler Alamo, Rob Zastryzny, Jake Hannemann, David Garner, and Will Remillard. To be honest, everything after Bryant is gravy. If you get a MVP and Rookie of the Year in one draft with one player, that is a great draft. Hopefully, more of the remaining prospects get a shot at Chicago including Rob Zastryzny who is having an excellent 2018.
2018 Grade: A+(see Bryant)
2014 Draft Class – Previous Grades – A-, A, A
12 players still remain, but just as many were released within the last year. Kyle Schwarber was taken as the fourth pick in the draft and the Cubs inked 27 players that year. Mark Zagunis is very close to making it while most picks from this class are struggling in some capacity at AA and AAA. I wouldn’t have thought that a year ago. The trade of Dylan Cease stings a bit along with the loss of Carson Sands due to injuries. What a difference a year makes. Justin Steele had TJS last August and will miss all of 2018. Steele was outstanding for Myrtle Beach in 2017. There are still a lot of unknowns with his class.
2018 Grade: B
2015 Draft Class – Previous Grades – B, B
16 players still remain and headlined by Ian Happ, who is the clear draw out of this draft. Catcher Ian Rice has been a nice surprise for a 29th round pick. DJ Wilson, who is still just 21-years-old and now at Myrtle Beach, just has not put it together yet at the plate. Defensively, the young OF is a wizard. But, 2017 was a disappointing season for most of the class and only reliever Scott Effross is doing well this year. Not one player is currently above AA Tennessee except for Happ.
2018 Grade: C
The Year of No First Round Pick
2016 Draft Class – Previous Grades – B-
I said last year that out of all the drafts this decade, this one has the most flux in it. This year, I am beginning to like this class more and more. The plethora of pitching is making its way up through the system, some of them quickly. Thomas Hatch, Duncan Robinson, and Michael Rucker are doing OK at AA. Shortstop Zack Short might be forcing his way to AAA with his hot May and Trent Giambrone has flashed some power at times this year. It is reliever Dakota Mekkes who might be at AAA and Chicago the fastest. Mekkes finally allowed his first earned run of the year yesterday, six weeks into the season. Also, starting pitcher Matt Swarmer has been the breakout pitcher of this year at Myrtle Beach. Right now, this class looks to be the deepest draft the Cubs have had since Theo took over. It’s hard to tell if anyone will be stars, but they will definitely be knocking on the door to Chicago very soon. 19 picks still remain in the system.
2018 Grade – B+ I almost had them at an A, but the class has yet to produce a players for the majors, but that might change by 2019. In two years, this should be McLeod’s best class as a whole.
The 2017 class will get its very first grade next week. The Cubs signed 29 in that class and almost half of them have yet to debut in 2018. It could take a year or two to see how 2017 begins to shake out, especially considering the large amount of pitchers taken and who will start and who will relieve.