With their highest draft pick since 2014, the Chicago Cubs look to land their next franchise player at No. 7

With their highest draft pick since 2014, the Chicago Cubs look to land their next franchise player at No. 7

The Chicago Cubs find themselves in an unfamiliar position.

For the first time in seven years, they own a top-10 pick in the MLB draft. The No. 7 selection Sunday marks their highest since 2014, when the Cubs chose Kyle Schwarber at No. 4. The pick became part of a three-draft stretch that also produced All-Stars in Kris Bryant and Ian Happ.

The future success of the Cubs rebuild needs them to hit on their top draft picks and develop the type of internal pipeline perennial postseason contenders rely on. Vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz does not expect the organization’s overhaul to affect their draft approach over the 20 rounds from Sunday through Tuesday.

“I think at this point, given the time it takes for most of the players we’re drafting to matriculate to the big leagues, I don’t think we can try to time a window like that,” Kantrovitz said this week. “If you start to get into that, then you might end up missing the best player available on the board. It’s such an imprecise science as it is. It’s not really a concern for us.

“If it ends up being a toolsier high school player who we draft that requires a little bit more time, we have the infrastructure to handle it. And if it ends up being a college player that is projected to get there a little quicker, we’ll be equally happy.”

It’s still too early to fully evaluate the Cubs’ last five draft classes, but early results portend a mixed bag of production and potential.

Right-hander Alex Lange (No. 30, 2017) has a 3.23 ERA over the last two seasons for the Detroit Tigers after the Cubs traded him in 2019 for Nick Castellanos. Left-hander Brendon Little (No. 30, 2017) owns a 5.53 ERA in 19 appearances at Triple-A Iowa. Nico Hoerner (No. 24, 2018) is a budding star who has thrived in his transition to shortstop and providing the contact-hitter profile the Cubs lineup has needed. Right-hander Ryan Jensen (No. 27, 2019) has struggled with his command while posting a 5.05 ERA in 11 starts at Double-A Tennessee. A serious hip injury that required surgery muddles the future of shortstop Ed Howard (No. 16, 2020). Left-hander Jordan Wicks (No. 21, 2021) was just promoted to Double A, according to Friday’s minor-league transaction log, after making 16 starts at High-A South Bend, with whom he recorded a 3.65 ERA and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 16 starts.

The 2022 amateur draft is expected to see high school position players taken among the top picks. The Cubs have the 10th-highest bonus pool ($10,092,700) for the first 10 rounds while the No. 7 pick has a slot value of $5,708,000. Teams can spend up to 5% above their pool and pay a tax on the overage but do not lose a future draft pick if they remain below that threshold. It’s a strategy the Cubs have utilized every year since the bonus-pool system was implemented in 2012.

Among the players the Cubs could target with their first pick: third baseman Cam Collier (Chipola, Fla., JC), shortstop Termarr Johnson (Mays, Ga., High School), outfielder Elijah Green (IMG Academy), shortstop Zach Neto (Campbell), shortstop Brooks Lee (Cal Poly) and corner infielder Jacob Berry (LSU).

The MLB draft typically was held in early June. The league pushed it back until mid-July for the first time last year to coincide with All-Star Game festivities, which hasn’t been well-received by some front-office personnel as the trade deadline looms. One benefit, however, to the extra month of draft preparation is the increase of data available to teams. College summer leagues remain ongoing, and the Cubs have scouts at games providing the organization additional information.

“Historically, that was never the case,” Kantrovitz said. “The draft was in early June and the summer leagues and all the high school showcases, that would happen after the draft and there’d be a few days of catching your breath and then you’d hit the ground running for next year’s scouting evaluations. But we’re still getting data up until the very last minute. That’s a pretty big difference from prior years.”

Owning the No. 7 pick didn’t change the Cubs’ scouting and evaluation strategy for the first half of the spring. The goal, Kantrovitz said, was to cast a wide net and ensure they thoroughly evaluated every player because of the uncertainty that exists during the spring collegiate and high school seasons.

“Whether it’s players that might get injured or whether signability changes or whether a player might decide to go to college at the last minute, we don’t want to confine ourselves and then be surprised,” Kantrovitz said. “So it’s better to cast a wider net than not. But certainly, for the second half of the spring, we’ve started to really zero in on who that top seven might be.”

In his third season leading the Cubs’ draft, Kantrovitz has a better understanding of each scout’s individual style.

“Everybody looks at players differently,” Kantrovitz said. “Some scouts are more conservative than others, some are more aggressive. Some scouts might be better at evaluating pitchers than hitters. That’s something that only comes with time. You can read scouts’ prior reports, but until you really work with them and travel with them, you don’t really get a feel for how you can best interpret their evaluations.”


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