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A Brief History of the Cubs and the MLB Draft: 3 stories on how fate affected the Cubs pick

A Brief History of the Cubs and the MLB Draft: 3 stories on how fate affected the Cubs pick
Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson

This is an odd year in the draft in that the Cubs are in the 4th position.  Odd because many feel this is a 3 player draft with all 3 players being potential top of the rotation starters.  However, some doubt has been cast on that of late, perhaps because of the obvious risk in investing so much on a pitcher, but also because both Alex Jackson and Nick Gordon have climbed quickly in the last few weeks.

There are a lot of scenarios that can play out which could leave the Cubs with any number of players: Carlos Rodon, Tyler Kolek, Alex Jackson, Nick Gordon, Aaron Nola, or something way off the board.

No matter what happens, the "what if" stories will abound once this draft shakes out, but hopefully things will work out as well as last season, when many believe the Cubs had Mark Appel first on their board and Kris Bryant second.  The Astros took Appel to make the decision easy for the Cubs, but it has been Bryant who has emerged as the top player in the draft, though Jon Gray may have something to say about that in the years to come.

The debate may continue as the years go on, but it's hard to be unhappy with how it turned out for the Cubs.  That hasn't always been the case.

Chris Crawford of ESPN writes about the top prospects in the last 10 years of the MLB Draft  (without the benefit of hindsight) and ranks Josh Vitters #15 overall while like Mike Trout is noticeably absent.  On the other end of the spectrum is Kris Bryant, who comes in at #24.  My guess is that no player this year would crack that list.

Anyway, I am reminded of the draft stories I'd heard and have alluded to in the comments section over the years, so I thought it would be fun to share them now where more people might read about it.   Here are 3 stories that show you how fickle the draft can be and how circumstance can affect which player falls to you in the draft.

1. The 2007 Draft

Part 1

The Cubs did like Josh Vitters very much in this draft and, in fact, were crossing their fingers that the Kansas City Royals would pass on him. Up until the day of the draft, it appeared that the Royals were all but set to take Vitters at #2. At the last minute, however, they got enough assurances to take the player they really liked, a then SS named Mike Moustakas. Moustakas was represented by Scott Boras and so the Royals were wary of not being able to sign him.

Had the Royals taken Vitters, the Cubs were set to take Indiana prep RHP Jarrod Parker, who is 25-16 with a 3.68 ERA over his two seasons before requiring TJ surgery this season.

But digging even a little deeper, the Cubs did not have Josh Vitters at the top of their draft board. That distinction went to C Matt Wieters, who was also represented by Boras and, at the time, the team was funneling money toward the MLB team with an eye toward raising value and selling down the road. Wieters went 5th overall to the Orioles.

Part II

But it doesn't end there.  The Cubs also very much liked a prep LHP out of Florida named Matt Moore and had debated taking him in the mid-rounds, but they gambled that he would be available in the 8th round.

He wasn't.  Moore is hurt now but emerged as one of the very top pitching prospects in the game with the Tampa Bay Rays.   He went 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 2013 but recently had successful TJ Surgery and will miss the rest of this season.

As for who the Cubs decided to take and hope Moore would still be available in the next round?  OF Ty Wright.  Wright had a nice career as a minor leaguer but was never able to reach the big leagues.   With Moore gone in the 8th round, the Cubs took 3B Marquez Smith, who developed as a fringe level, sleeper type prospect but topped out in AAA as well.  He is currently with the Reds organization.

2. The 2009 Draft

Two years later, the Cubs absolutely fell in love with a toolsy prep outfielder from New Jersey, a talented player whom some feared would be behind from a developmental standpoint because he came from a cold weather state, meaning he wasn't able to play year round like other prospects.

If you haven't guessed by now. that outfielder was Mike Trout and the Cubs were heartbroken when the Angels took the risk with their 2nd pick of the first round, #25 overall.

Even when the Cubs win, they lose, they had won 97 games the year before and picked last in the draft, a pick they used to select Brett Jackson, a similar player athletically but one who had questions about his swing and ability to make contact.

3. The 2001 Draft

One more story while we're at it...

We all know the Cubs, like all teams at the time, were giddy about Mark Prior in 2001 but they picked 2nd overall, behind the Minnesota Twins.  The Twins, however, were strapped for cash and Prior was said to be demanding a record bonus.  The Twins instead turned to local product Joe Mauer, a catcher.  We know what happened from there.  Prior looked great, lead the Cubs to their near World Series run in 2003, then broke down physically shortly after and was never the same.  Mauer, meanwhile, has gone on to make 6 all-star teams and won an MVP in 2009.

So the hindsight analysis bemoaned how the Cubs should have taken Joe Mauer but the truth is he would not have been their pick if the Twins had taken Prior.  The Cubs would have taken slugging Georgia Tech 3B Mark Texeira, who went 5th to the Rangers.

Epilogue: The 2014 Draft

We have yet to see how this draft will unfold but once again, there are quite a few scenarios that could play out.  Will fate favor the Cubs for the second year in a row?

Stay tuned.

 

Filed under: 2014 MLB Draft

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    Even if the Cubs drafted Mike Trout, you know he would have wallowed in the development hell of the Hendry farm system.

  • In reply to JimL:

    Ha! Possibly. We never know what could have happened if any of these players came to Chicago, they may have ruined them all ;)

  • In reply to JimL:

    Some guys are too talented for even that developmental black hole to ruin.

  • In reply to JimL:

    The Angles don't exactly have a great track record for developing talent and he turned out fine there.

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    In reply to KC Cubs Fan:

    The Angels have a great track record. They just trade their prospects before they're called up.

  • Interesting article, John, thnx. Seems most columnist pick Jackson for the Cubs @ 1.4, but I think the FO will go with the college pitcher, Beede, who has been coming on of late. They've need quality arms in the feeding system to keep pace with the bats that will soon[1-2yrs] be at Wrigley.

  • In reply to TobaccopouchinIvy:

    Thanks. I've actually heard Beede is out, so unless people are blowing smoke then I think they will pass on him.

  • I remember at the beginning of 2001 Texeira appeared to be the consensus top player and a guy that seemed to perfect for the Cubs as a switch hitting 3B that would finally solve that position for a decade. I remember being crushed that having the second pick meant we probably wouldn't have a shot at him. But then Texeira broke his foot(?) and missed a big chunk of the season and Prior took off to have maybe the greatest season ever for a college pitcher and in hte lead up to the draft I was again crushed because it meant we would miss out on Prior. I consoled myself with Tex as a consolation. I knew it was a time when small market teams were stupidly reluctant to spend in the draft, but I never once in a million years thought a team would pass on the best college pitching prospect ever just because of a few million.

    Even with hindsight, Prior was still the right choice in that draft. He was the best player on the best Cubs team I've ever seen. If it wasn't for an Alex Gonzalez error, I would have seen a Cubs WS in my lifetime, and Prior would have been reason #1 (or at least 1B with Sosa).

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    In reply to mjvz:

    We can't really kick ourselves on Prior. He was the right choice, and the best pitcher heading into the draft this century, except maybe Strasburg, but Prior was uber-hyped.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I agree. It was the right pick, just wanted to mention the Cubs had no intention of taking Mauer.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    At least Prior blew his arm out BEFORE signing a big contract. And he still logged nearly 16 WAR in a Cubs uniform.

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    The Prior-Teixeira story is why I managed to convince myself pretty fast after the fact that we were better off taking Bryant over Appel -- it just had the feel of 2001 all over again. Hoping that the hot pitcher would drop to #2 and having to settle on the 3B prospect who might end up being a 1B only if we didn't get our pitcher.

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    Well, that's a painful walk down memory lane! Thanks John :)

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Haha!

  • It might be a while before the Cubs deaft someone again who dominates league after league as Bryant has so far.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Yeah, that doesn't happen often -- with any team really.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Strasburg, Harper..

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    The top two rated amateur players in at least the last 10 years. Like I said, it happens but it's rare, and those guys aren't you're everyday prospects. They're once in a generation type prospects.

  • A lot of stuff I didn't know about, awesome. I never really followed the draft until Theo came here.
    Jon Heyman reported that Jackson and Gordon are rising on draft boards. Maybe the Marlins take Jackson, even though I'm a fan. I think I'd rather draft Jackson and Gordon then Kolek, although that could just be me.

  • In reply to Javier Bryant:

    Part of me is thinking they may end up with Kolek.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Hmmmmm, taking a big high school righty out of Texas who touches triple digits with the #4 overall pick.

    I know that sound's familiar...

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It depends on whether the Sox want to test Reinsdorf's new CBA and take a Boras client. After all, Boras is the reason for the CBA.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Oh, I knew exactly where you were going with that. I just couldn't resist the reference to a franchise altering draft pick in an article about franchise altering draft picks.

    Not even for the sole benefit of the Cubs, I hope the Sox pass on the Boras client this time and that starts a backlash that deals the death blow to this stupid CBA.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree. I still find it hard to believe the Sox will take Rodon or Alex Jackson for that matter. Hopefully it goes Aiken, Jackson, Kolek and Rodon is there for us at 4

  • In reply to Javier Bryant:

    Or Rodon, Jackson, Kolek so we get Aiken.

  • In reply to springs:

    Yes. I'm a big Aiken fan but I doubt he gets to us. If the Marlins don't take him, the White Sox will. I'm still preparing myself for Gordon or Jackson though

  • Great Article John.

    It good looking back and hearing the behind the scenes info.

  • In reply to SouthsideB:

    Thanks.

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    Great post as always John! I had no idea the Cubs were in on Wieters and Tiexiera.

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    Here's a convoluted story about the Cubs that begins with the first ever draft and ends with a legend...(of course, with the educated crowd on this board, I doubt I'm telling anyone anything they didn't already know)

    In 1965, the Kansas City A's selected Arizona State outfielder Rick Monday with the first overall pick in history. (They also selected his ASU teammate Reggie Jackson the following year.)
    Monday later moved with the team to Oakland before being dealt to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for left-handed pitcher Kenny Holtzman.
    Despite quickly becoming a favorite among Cub fans, Monday was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers (with pitcher Mike Garman) following his career best 1976 season in which he slugged 32 HR's. The Cubs received OF/1B Bill Buckner and a young shortstop with huge thighs by the name of Ivan Dejesus.
    Both players enjoyed a nice run in Chicago, but prior to the 1982 season, Dejesus was sent to Philadelphia for another veteran shortstop, Larry Bowa, and a young infielder named Ryne Sandberg.
    Now in the Hall of Fame, Sandberg himself seems to have come full circle, as he is currently the manager of the same club he broke in with, the Philadelphia Phillies.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Now that is a long term draft plan to get a Hall of Fame player.

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    Great stuff John!

    2007 and 2009-I'd say plenty of time for Vitters and Jackson to develop. Yr 3 of the new regime for them-not newbies.

    May I never defend either one of them again!

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    Thanks Dale. It is getting close to the end for those two. At best they may end up being late bloomers, but it almost certainly won't be with the Cubs.

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    Another interesting story you could relate about 2007 draft John. The Cubs 1st round pick that year was Josh Donaldson from Auburn University. Who Hendry packaged with Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, and Sean Gallagher to get Rich Hardin and Chad Gaudin. One of the few times Hendry hits on a draft pick and he gets traded for a deeply flawed pitcher with an extensive injury history. Kinda depressing to think about.

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    In reply to Sean Holland:

    Sean, if I remember correctly, Donaldson was a defensively challenged catcher in the mold of Jake Fox. Glad to see he's found a position and a home, but it did take him a while as well...I liked Murton (although Dusty apparently didn't) and he went on to break Ichiro's single season Japanese record for hits in a season.

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    In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    See and I didn't know that. Again it's one of those hindsight things. As much as I liked Murton I didn't shed many tears over him leaving. Or Patterson or Gallager. Donaldson I knew nothing about at the time.

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    In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Also another case of: hard to see him developing in the Cubs' system into what he is now.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    I actually don't blame them on that one. They had a chance to win that year (2008) and Harden was a key pitcher down the stretch. He was worth 2 wins in 2 months -- that is a hugely successful deadline deal. The Cubs were the best team in the regular season that year. Donaldson's been good, but I would make that deal again.

  • Tiexiera was the player the Cubs were leaning towards in 2001. Prior wasn't mentioned a lot in regards to the Cubs until the week prior to the actual draft. It's a crime Priors career was so brief, so much wasted talent.

  • In reply to Northside Neuman:

    No, Cubs were on Prior all the way. The only thing that changed late was that the Twins made it clear they weren't going to take him.

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    Hopefully we have better luck this year drafting back to back with the White Sox than we had in the late '80s. 1987 Draft: Cubs pick #4 Mike Harkey, Sox pick #5 Jack McDowell. 1988 Draft: Cubs pick #9 Ty Griffin, Sox pick #10 Robin Ventura. 1989 Draft: Sox pick #7 Frank Thomas, Cubs pick #8 Earl Cunningham. Add CWS drafting Alex Fernandez with their first rounder in '90 and signing Magglio Ordonez as an IFA in '91 and you have about as good a five year stretch of adding amateur talent as any team could hope for.

  • In reply to Voisie Winters:

    I remember the debates I used to have with my White Sox friend back then. Didn't take us long to figure out who won those rounds.

    Voise Winters...remember him as a big time scorer in the Chicago Public League (Gage Park, was it?) and then went to Bradley (which is where I eventually went for undergrad). Dude could score.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Good memory, Gage Park it was. He was the big CPS star when I was a kid in the early '80s, scored 40 ppg. Went on to a good career at Bradley and is likely still in their top 10 career scoring leaders.

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    In reply to Voisie Winters:

    Voisie, good post but I think injuries aside, most GM's would draft Harkey over McDowell any and every day of the week. It's a shame Harkey, who had some serious upside, was bitten so viciously by the injury bug. Of course, some of it was his own doing, like the time he injured himself doing a cartwheel.
    Of course, taking Griffin over Ventura was just plain silly. Ty bounced around from 2B to 3B to the OF, much like Lou Montanez, another failed 1st rd pick. At least Montanez saw some MLB time as a reserve OF with the Cubs and O's, while the only MLB action Ty saw was on his television.

  • Wow, nice article. I mean really nice. Love the hind sight type stories of what could have been.
    But in the end, draft picks are like cards. You can't control what hand your dealt. Don't let on to what you know and make the best of what your dealt. After its over, learn what you can and move on.

  • In reply to couch:

    Thanks -- and that is a very good analogy.

  • Way off topic but kind of a nice article for the cubs sake. Castro is among league leaders in hard hit ball rate. And olt is tied for the worst luck in baseball for soft hit balls. Maybe there is some hope his average could creap up closer to .250 while maintaining his great power rate so far. He is 1 for 35 on soft hit balls.

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    It shows you how much luck is involved in the draft, though player development has really held the Cubs back as well in my opinion.

  • 2010 also had fate intervene in the Cubs pick. They were really in on a small-school lefty who they were confident would fall out of the top 10, that lefty being Chris Sale. The White Sox grabbed him at #13 overall, and at #16, the Cubs panic-picked Hayden Simpson, who appeared in three games in the independent Frontier League (which feels like about the equivalent of short-season A), posting an ERA just a hair under 16 before being released.

  • I'd be curious to know the sources on this. I remember all 3 of these drafts and the Cubs pretty much took who Baseball America projected them to take. It was Vitters or Jarrod Parker, though some thought that was too high for Parker. It was going to be between Jackson and A.J. Pollock from Notre Dame. Angels were all over Trout so he wasn't going to get past them. Pretty much foregone conclusion Twins were taking Maurer and Cubs would jump on Prior. At the time, there was nothing wrong with any of these picks. Vitters was considered top HS hitter, Jackson one of top college outfielders and Prior was best prospect in draft. I don't believe for a minute Appel was at top of their draft board last year. They passed on him year before and word was they liked Jonathon Gray better. Instead of rehashing these 3 picks, bigger problem lies in picks like Tyler Colvin and Hayden Simpson, neither who was considered a first rounder!

  • In reply to dave8105:

    I'm not going to reveal sources, but they are about as good as you can have for these kinds of stories.

    Your info is pretty much what the press had publicly available late in the process, which by then is more fermented than a good Belgian beer.

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