2017 MLB Draft Grades: Chicago Cubs
Best Pure Hitter: Lefthanded-swinging 1B Austin Upshaw (13) has a pretty swing and a track record of hitting for average, and played to the scouting report in his debut, batting .292/.337/.407, mostly in low Class A South Bend. The 6-foot, 195-pounder can pay second and third base in addition to his primary position, which would help as he lacks profile first-base power.
Best Power: The Cubs hired ex-big leaguer Edwards Guzman to scout Puerto Rico in recent years to help dig deeper on the island, so they were ready when OF Nelson Velazquez (5) came on late in the spring, especially with an explosive, toolsy performance in the Excellence Games. Velazquez puts on a show in batting practice, with easy plus raw power. He hit eight homers in just 110 at-bats in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Fastest Runner: Velazquez has plus raw speed and an explosive burst. OF Chris Singleton (19) lacks the burst but is close to a 70 runner underway, most evident in center field or when going first to third.
Best Defensive Player: SS Luis Vazquez (14), another Puerto Rico find, impressed the club’s coaches with his flexibility, body control and soft hands. His plus arm also shined during instructional league.
Best Athlete: Velazquez needs reps to polish his skills, but his raw tools are undeniable.
Best Fastball: LHP Brendon Little (1), the club’s first pick, reaches 96 mph and sits 93-94 mph at his best, though he wasn’t there consistently after signing. RHP Erich Uelmen (4) was more consistent after the draft, pitching at 92-93 mph and touching 95 with plus life.
Best Secondary Pitch: RHP Alex Lange (1), taken three spots after Little after a 30-9, 2.91 career at LSU, has more track record and a curveball that has earned 70 grades at its best. When he lands his curveball, it opens up his entire arsenal.
Best Pro Debut: 3B Austin Filiere (8), the first player from M.I.T. drafted since 2000, has power that played even at short-season Eugene, batting .261/.392/.443 with six homers. RHP Ben Hecht (12) struck out 30 in 20 innings while posting a 2.70 ERA.
Most Intriguing Background: Singleton’s mother Sharonda was murdered in the Charleston church shooting in 2015, and his father died in the spring as well. His toughness and grace inspire, and the Cubs like his tools as well, though he’s raw for a college position player.
Cubs Find Value In College Bat Austin Upshaw
The Cubs found a potential draft steal in 13th-round Kennesaw State first baseman Austin Upshaw.
Closest To The Majors: Southeastern Conference RHPs Lange and Keegan Thompson (3) are the main challengers. Thompson threw a lot of breaking balls in college, like Lange, and his curve is plus, but he has a bit more feel for pitching and a true four-pitch mix.
Best Late-Round Pick: Vazquez has room to grow with the bat but his glove could be special. RHP Jake Steffens (29), a fifth-year senior out of Santa Clara, has good sink on his 93 mph fastball.