Pitcher-Heavy 2016 Draft Could Pay Off
The Cubs selected 13 college pitchers among their first 14 picks in the 2016 draft, and while that class cannot be fairly evaluated, the early returns are positive for the Theo Epstein regime and its pursuit of their first homegrown pitcher.
Back in 2016, the Cubs felt like they needed to get creative and be more open-minded in their evaluations. With their first pick near the bottom of the third round they chose Thomas Hatch, an Oklahoma State righthander who missed the 2015 season while dealing with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament.
Hatch blossomed into the Big 12 Conference pitcher of the year in 2016 and has now made 52 starts as a professional after spending 2018 at Double-A Tennessee.
"We were probably a little more conservative back in the day,” senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod said. "As we thought about pitching, we tried to fit everyone neatly into a box. 'Do these mechanics lead to what we think is going to be long-term health? And has he thrown enough strikes that we think the prior performance is going to equal this type of performance going forward?’
"We put so many checks on guys, I feel that we probably walked by some guys who didn’t meet certain criteria at the time.”
The Cubs drafted Dartmouth righthander Duncan Robinson in the ninth round, and he advanced to Triple-A Iowa last year and figures to be in the conversation if the Cubs need a spot starter at Wrigley Field.
Dakota Mekkes, a 10th-round pick out of Michigan State, is emerging as an intriguing option for the 2019 bullpen with his 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame, funky righthanded angle and lights-out numbers. He recorded a 1.17 ERA in 41 appearances last season between Double-A and Triple-A while striking out 11.9 per nine innings.
The Cubs even found the organization’s 2018 minor league pitcher of the year—righthander Matt Swarmer—in the 19th round out of Division II Kutztown (Pa.).
When it comes to pitchers, there are no guarantees that this wave of prospects will help create future flexibility for the Cubs, whose payroll will easily top $200 million this year. But the other part of the equation is that the Cubs have decided to challenge their pitching prospects and not be quite as scripted with their individual player plans and protocols in player development.
"We’re going to push these guys now,” McLeod said.
—The Cubs clearly see leadership potential in the Farrell brothers, Jeremy and Shane, who are the sons of former Red Sox manager John Farrell. Jeremy, 32, got promoted to minor league field coordinator, a next step after working in the organization as a hitting coach and an infield coordinator. Shane, 29, started as an assistant in the amateur scouting department and is now preparing for his second draft as a West Coast regional crosschecker. Their brother Luke pitched in the Cubs organization in 2018.
—Looking for any kind of an edge while trying to develop bigger, stronger, faster players, the Cubs turned to the NFL for two outside-the-box hires. Director of high performance Adam Beard—an Australian with a varied background that includes working with the Welsh Rugby Union and Great Britain’s athletes during the 2004 Summer Olympics—spent the last four years with the Cleveland Browns. Shane Wallen left the San Francisco 49ers to become a major league strength and conditioning coach in Chicago.
Patrick Mooney is a senior writer for The Athletic Chicago