Major League Baseball

Cubs, Kantrovitz draft history suggests college arm in first round

Very little of the Chicago Cubs’ organizational structure remained the same after a disappointing 84-78 season. A third place finish behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers and no seat at the postseason table for the first time since 2014 warranted those changes.

David Ross is the Cubs’ new manager and Andy Green has been tabbed as the bench coach, meaning those two will be the new on-field faces of the North Side when the 2020 season inevitably gets underway. Behind the scenes, however, just as much shaking up has taken place.

Former Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod was promoted to senior Vice President of Player Personnel, leaving Dan Kantrovitz to take over the role of directing the Cubs’ draft day efforts.

Kantrovitz, who takes a demotion of sorts after serving as the Oakland Athletics Assistant General Manager for the last handful of seasons, is no stranger sitting at his club’s table on the day of the draft. In his role with the A’s, Kantrovitz’s job was to dig into the numbers of potential draftees in an attempt to better identify possible targets, a role he held for five years.

In his time with Oakland, the A’s drafted four college products in the first round with the lone except being North Davidson High School outfielder Austin Beck with the sixth overall pick in the 2017 draft. Prior to that, Kantrovitz was part of the group that selected back-to-back players out of the University of Florida in Richie Martin and A.J. Puk in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

More recently, the A’s spent a first round pick on an Oklahoma outfielder by the name of Kyler Murray before selecting Clemson shortstop Logan Davidson with the 29th overall pick in the 2019 draft.

As the Cardinals’ Director of Scouting from 2012-2014, Kantrovitz oversaw a department that took college pitchers in the first round each year while the Cubs were drafting the likes of Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber with top-ten picks.

While first round selections like Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, Marco Gonzales and Jack Flaherty are in the midst of productive major league careers after being drafted by Kantrovitz, the Cubs won a World Series title thanks, in part, to the numbers tossed up by Bryant during the regular season and Schwarber in his heroic postseason comeback from a knee injury.

In the drafts since 2014, the Cubs have went the route of taking collegiate pitchers with their first selections, with Stanford shortstop Nico Hoerner being the exception in 2018. For a team that stocked up on position player talent in the early years of Theo Epstein ‘s tenure, a shift back to taking pitchers with top picks only makes sense.

Even with that renewed focus on taking collegiate pitching in the draft, the Cubs have yet to reap of the fruits of that labor. International signees Brailyn Marquez and Adbert Alzolay are the top pitchers in the Cubs’ farm system, according to mlb.com, while 2018 sixth rounder Kohl Franklin is the highest rated pitching prospect Chicago has drafted that still appears on the top-30 list.

While Alzolay broke into the majors for a short stint in 2019, the Cubs are lacking in starting pitching depth at the top of their system. Marquez finished the season at Advanced-A while Franklin, Ryan Jensen, Cory Abbott, Riley Thompson, Keegan Thompson, Jack Patterson and Brendon Little all find themselves on the wrong side of Double-A and at least a year or more away from Chicago.

The 2020 draft is perfect for a team like the Cubs who need a pitcher that will be a quick riser through their system. Limited to just five rounds due to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s draft is stacked with collegiate talent, so much so that Baseball America is predicting the top seven picks will be from the college ranks.

Top pitching prospects like Asa Lacy, Emerson Hancock, Max Meyer and Reid Detmers will likely be off the board by the time Kantrovitz gets to make his first selection with the Cubs at 16th overall. Nevertheless, a deep pool of collegiate arms still figures to be available.

While Baseball America’s mock draft has the Cubs taking a prep catcher by the name of Tyler Soderstrom, Kantrovitz will likely have a hard time overlooking some established collegiate arms that could still be on the board for Chicago.

On Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects list, Nos. 22 through 26 are all right-handed pitchers from some of the NCAA’s most accomplished programs like Oklahoma, Georgia and South Carolina.

Only one, however, has been seen working out with the aforementioned Franklin, a former Oklahoma commit himself before he was drafted by the Cubs. Cade Cavalli is that man and has the make up to be a future ace.

Standing 6’4″, Baseball America’s scouting report gives Cavalli’s fastball 70-grade velocity as he often runs it up into the mid- to upper-90s. He pairs that with a slider that might be his best offering as well as a changeup and curveball that are average to slightly above average.

As the scouting reports suggests, Cavalli has battled injuries during his high school and collegiate careers. He has also had issues limiting hits, having allowed 96 across 101.1 innings at Oklahoma, but struck out 37 batters versus just five walks in 23.2 innings before the 2020 season was cut short.

Names like JT Ginn and Cole Wilcox could also intrigue the Cubs. Ginn is a former first round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018 and is a draft-eligible sophomore out of Mississippi State. After striking out 105 batters across 86.1 innings and posting a 3.13 ERA as a freshman, Ginn blew out his elbow in his first start of 2020 and was slated to miss the remainder of the season before it was canceled.

Wilcox is the biggest physically of the trio mentioned, standing at 6’5″ and clocking in at 232 pounds. As a sophomore, the right-hander was Georgia’s Saturday starter, making four starts before the campaign was halted. In 23 innings, however, Wilcox posted a 1.57 ERA and struck out 32 batters versus just two walks.

While Wilcox’s fastball has touched 100 MPH during his reliving days as a freshman, it sat more in the mid-90s range this year. He pairs that with a plus slider, according to Baseball America, and a changeup that has begun developing into an above average pitch of the righty.

For the Cubs, and every other major league franchise for that matter, a plethora of first round collegiate talent exists. In a year where scouts and talent evaluators have received only an abbreviated look at potential draft picks, there is an expectation many clubs will place increased stock in the track records of college players.

As a team that generally likes to take college talent in the first round, that should play right into the Cubs’ hands, as should the amount of pitching prospects available to them in the middle of the first round should they choose that path in June.

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