By the time the, say, the 14th round of the 2022 MLB Draft rolled around, it was clear that the Chicago Cubs had a specific plan in place to go excessively heavy on pitching in this year’s draft.
After Day Two, even when the Cubs had drafted nine pitchers in ten picks, I wasn’t ready to concede the Cubs were focusing on pitchers. After all, the first two picks are generally about top talent (that they happened to be pitchers wasn’t necessarily a signal), and many of the picks in the 5 to 10 range in a draft are under-slot types for pool purposes, where the Cubs have always gone pitcher-heavy.
But, like I said, by the time the Cubs reached the 14th round, and had used another four of their bigger swings on pitchers, it was clear. It was nice to see a mashing position player taken in the 15th, sure, but another three of the final five picks were pitchers, too. In total, the Cubs used just four picks on position players, and only two in the top 16 rounds.
Clearly, this was not an artifact of the ways the picks happened to fall this time around. This was a plan.
It turns out, while there is of course always an element of best-player-available and sometimes that’s a pitcher repeatedly, when it came to Day Three, there was also a consideration about developmental playing time.
“You want to be careful when you’re drafting a player, especially on Day 3, that there’s going to be somewhere for him to play and get at-bats,” Cubs VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz said, per NBC. “We’ve got a lot of young position players coming up that are going to need those the rest of the summer. And unless we felt like we were drafting somebody that was better than one of them, we didn’t want to take away at-bats from an existing prospect.”
In hindsight, it’s a pretty simple thing in the new era of much smaller farm systems: if you have extreme depth of legitimate prospects like the Cubs do, particularly on the positional side, there’s not much point in using a draft pick on someone who isn’t ‘t actually going to play anywhere. It’s a lot easier to break off a stray inning here or there to get a pitcher some work than it is to give a position player half a game’s at bats at the expense of another guy.
Consider how frequently we keep talking about this position player or that position player looking ready for a promotion … but the position at the next level ahead of him is also very crowded with legitimate prospects who need those at bats. I can understand why the Cubs wouldn’t necessarily want to add a lot of additional college bats to that group. And since it’s a lot harder to get Day Three position player prospects to actually sign, using just three of the Day Three picks on college position players starts to make a lot more sense. Heck, now I wonder if we’ll even see many non-drafted free agent position players for the Cubs.
Also, if I could do some reading into Kantrovitz’s phrasing on “got a lot of young position players coming up” … is he by chance talking about Complex League players who could wind up promoted to Low-A Myrtle Beach? And, pushing others from Myrtle Beach to High-A South Bend? That’s really the only areas where you could plausibly see positional draft picks arrive on a full-season club in their professional debut, so I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to extrapolate. I suspect we’ll see some ACL promotions to Myrtle Beach soon. I won’t speculate on specific names for now…
As for the pitching side of things, there’s also the good old fashioned “you can never have too much pitching.” Injuries and long rest periods seem to be more frequent, and you’ll also see some guys hitting innings limits in the coming weeks and months. So, again, there could be more room to bring in developmental arms that need innings. It seems like the Cubs took a lot of low-mileage arms this year, too, so I wonder if we’ll see more immediate assignments than usual.
One last thought on the volume of pitching drafted, and the nature of the approach, in my Twitter thread from yesterday if you missed it: