The draft is the biggest news event for the Cubs organization this June. With the fourth overall selection, the Cubs have a chance to select a player with far greater odds of being a difference maker, particularly if Carlos Rodon does fall that far. The focus on the draft inspires derision from many Cubs fans, but it is something that I've paid attention to since the drafting of Mark Prior thirteen years ago.
The 2011 draft was an exciting one for the Cubs as well. Instead of passing on players due to signability of issues (read: taking Josh Vitters instead of Matt Weiters or Hayden Simpson over anyone not named Hayden Simpson) the Cubs spent like drunken sailors for really the first time in their history. There was a lot of excitement about the aggressive overslot bonuses given to players like Dillon Maples in particular.
However, three years later, it's another draft class from 2011 that rates as among the best. According to MLB insiders polled by Peter Gammons, the Boston Red Sox' 2011 draft earned that honor, along with the 2009 drafts by the Angels and Cardinals. So is the luster gone from the "overslot" draft?
1. 1st Round Pick (9th overall):Javier Baez - $2.625 million
The way this draft will be viewed is largely going to be determined by the outcome of Javier Baez's career. 1st round draft picks are far more likely to be impact players, and top-10 1st rounders even more likely. Javier Baez might be the last great scouting win for Jim Hendry's tenure with the Chicago Cubs organization. The current brain trust admits that they weren't in on Baez, and would have passed had he been available to the Padres picking at tenth.
Baez has, of course, emerged as a top-10 prospect in all of baseball, and not much time needs to be spent rehashing where he is in terms of development. He has a chance to provide more value for the Cubs than any other draft pick in the past twenty years, and possibly more value than several drafts in Cubs history combined. The final outcome for Baez is what will make or break this draft.
2. 14th round (429th overall):Dillon Maples - $2.5 million
This signing was the great hope for a draft with multiple impact players. Dillon Maples was considered to be like a second first-round selection for the Cubs. The signing bonus indicates as much, as he was paid just $125,000 less than Javier Baez. However, there is a reason that a first round talent slips all the way to the 14th round, and it goes beyond just his signing bonus demands.
His mechanics needed work and he has suffered several injuries, which has limited his professional pitching career to just 87 innings. Maples suffered a rib injury that has prevented him from throwing a single inning this season, but in 2013 he struggled greatly at Kane County before being sent back to Boise. He put up a solid 2.14 ERA but high walk rates continued while pitching in short-season ball. At 22, there is still time to put the pieces together for Maples, and the upside remains immense. The odds of reaching that ceiling seem to be dropping as each year has gone by for Maples.
3. 2nd Round (68th overall):Dan Vogelbach - $1.6 million
I will start this section with an embarrassing admission. At the time of the draft, I was more excited about the Cubs' selection of Vogelbach than I was about Javier Baez. The reason for that was the complete lack of power hitters in the Cubs system at the time. How bad was it heading into the 2011 draft? Brett Jackson was rated the best power hitter in the Cubs system by Baseball America, and fans were discussing Justin Bour like a legitimate prospect.
Vogelbach was the first of many overslot players signed by the Cubs in the draft. He performed well in his first two years in the minor leagues, but the Florida State League has proved to be a bit of a speed bump. Vogelbach's current slash line sits at .259/.337/.384, which is worrisome for a bat-only prospect who has questions about being able to handle 1B.
Vogelbach is one of the youngest players in an extreme pitchers league, and has heated up in his last ten games, hitting .333/.421/.667. Looking on the bright side, the worry many Cubs fans had about what to do with Anthony Rizzo and Dan Vogelbach has rightfully been shelved for a while.
4. 11th round (339th overall)-Shawon Dunston Jr. - $1.2 million
The Dunston signing shared a number of characteristics with the Maples pick; Dunston was an extremely athletic high schooler that was also extremely raw. Dunston had a strong commitment to college that required a signing bonus of over $1 million to pull him into the Cubs system. The results so far have been less than stellar.
Dunston has suffered from some injury issues, but has reached Kane County, though his line so far (.245/.276/.364) hasn't impressed. More concerning has been Dunston's lack of playing time in Kane County. He has played in only 33 games so far due to the squeeze in Kane County, with Jacob Hannemann, Trey Martin and Yasiel Baluguert all receiving far more playing time in the outfield. Dunston is still young, but it appears like this high risk/reward pick is going to come up short before even reaching AA.
5. 3rd Round (98th overall):Zeke DeVoss - $500,000
Zeke DeVoss was also a draft pick that I really liked at the time and his play early on did little to persuade me against it. DeVoss's combination of batting eye and speed was something so anti-Hendry. His career walk rate remains an astounding 14.8%, but his hit tool and power never developed. He struggled badly in AA and was sent back down to Daytona.
Like the others, there is still time for him to develop, but he is the first of the bunch drafted out of college. The ceiling seems relatively low for DeVoss, especially since it seems that he has been moved off of 2B permanently, which only would have helped his ability to make the big leagues in a utility role.
6. 4th Round (129th overall): Tony Zych - $400,000
There was a time when it appeared as if Tony Zych would be the first of the 2011 draft class to make it to the big leagues. Zych, however, has yet to make it past AA. His ERA was solid last year, but he experienced a huge drop in strikeouts that saw his K/BB ratio drop from over 15% in 2012 to under 8% in 2013 and now to under 5%.
Zych was once the fireballing prospect that was going to be the high-leverage reliever the Cubs needed, but unless he takes a major step forward in regaining his strikeouts, he appears to be off the map as a top prospect. His FIP does suggest that his ERA has been a bit unlucky, but it seems like a long shot that he is going to be added to the 40-man roster this year or offseason.
The Rest of the Draft
The rest of the big money spent was on Trevor Gretzky and Daniel Lockhart. Gretzky was traded fairly recently for Mike Scioscia's kid, who was promptly released. Gretzky, on the other hand, has barely played this year in the Angels system. Lockhart is struggling in Kane County as well, but might still make it as a utility player eventually. Taiwan Easterling was another athletic late-round pick; he was released earlier this year.
The best prospect in terms of results, outside of Baez of course, might be catcher Rafael Lopez, who was just promoted to AAA. At 26, Lopez is the oldest of the 2011 draftees and most peg his ceiling as a backup catcher. Catchers do take longer to develop, and Lopez has done nothing but hit since joining the Cubs organization.
John Andreoli is another player that I've liked for a while; he has struggled after beginning at AA where he finished last season. Andreoli has been identified in a few places as a sleeper, given his profile as not being good enough to cover CF, but without the power to play in a corner spot. He has had a great eye and has been a very good base-stealer in his career, but the upside is probably limited to a second-division starter at best.
Three years is really not enough time to rate a draft; only 33 members of the 1530 players drafted have played in the majors at this point. While none of those 33 players were drafted by the Cubs, that still tells us very little. We can tell that the draft was not the success many, including myself, thought it might be three years ago though.
Dillon Maples, Zeke DeVoss, and Tony Zych all needed to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect them from the rule 5 draft, but I am not certain that any of those players will remain there. In fact, I am not certain that any member of the 2011 draft will be added to the 40-man roster this offseason. Rafael Lopez has the best shot at this point, but since Javier Baez and Dan Vogelbach do not need to be protected until next offseason, the rest of this class might be exposed.
It is telling that the Cubs did not land any Mookie Betts-type players (5th round draft pick) in their overslots. There is still time for these players still in their early 20's to reach their ceilings, but the odds of that happening in the Cubs organization is becoming slimmer with each passing year. The 2011 draft did at least provide the Cubs with one of the best names in Rock Shoulders, but the "overslot draft" is most likely going to be remembered simply as the "Javier Baez draft" when it is all said and done.
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