Last night, the Chicago Cubs surprised the baseball world by beating Oklahoma right-hander Cade Horton with a first-round pick for seventh overall. The talk was mostly about his late breakout as he fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, but the pick was also pretty clear suggestive of a strategy that could involve trying to get “first round” talent that moved on to their second round pick.
Due to the nature of bonus pools, in order to sign such a player in the second round, you would need to have an extra seat in the bonus pool, which can be obtained by signing a guy like Horton under the slot. This is one of the unique and sometimes frustrating aspects of the MLB draft: Getting the most talent out of your draft can often be the result of a well-thought-out relationship strategy between your picks.
When the Cubs used their second-round pick against left-hander Jackson Ferris, one of the high school’s top picks in the draft and a guy who could easily get through in the first round, it was confirmed that their choice of Horton was indeed part of a larger strategy.
And that’s what the Cubs said after the first night of the draft.
Just a word of caution: after the fact, you should always treat this kind of comment with a modest amount of skepticism. There is no way to disprove this, and the organization has an incentive to point out to select players (and fans) that it was always the guys we wanted, we did great.
However, considering who was still on the board when the Chicago Cubs selected Cade Horton with the first pick, I think this could be pretty close to the truth (Markey):
“This morning when we sat down with Jed [Hoyer] and Carter [Hawkins] and sort of mapped out what in our minds would be the perfect roadmap for how the draft would unfold, first round, Cade was our main target,” said Cubs vice president of scouting Dan Kantrowitz. “Then in the second round it’s hard to get visibility so you don’t really put too much weight on it, but Jackson was also the #1 target thinking we potentially have some money to spread. In the end, it came true.”
The Cubs had the option of taking chalky top players like Kevin Parada, Brooks Lee, Cam Collier or Zach Neto, but instead chose Horton to get Ferris later on. In other words, their actions suggest that this was the (realistic) path they always wanted to take.
There were rumors yesterday that the Cubs were probing options under slots at seven, which I suspect was probably due to their confirmation that Thermarr Johnson wasn’t going to get to them. It was always unlikely, but once it became apparent, then the Cubs must have decided that Horton was their best option in seven, and someone like Ferris is hopefully still there in the second. In other words, this doesn’t mean that Horton was 1.1 on their board, just that he was their perfect target. if everything goes as expected.
I love that they used the savings on Horton to make the biggest jump possible in the second round, getting two “first round” talents. It’s the baseball draft equivalent of a down trade, and if they weren’t enamored with the available bats (obviously they weren’t), this could be the best way to maximize talent in the draft.
Of course you must be Correctly about choice, or none of the smart strategy is irrelevant. Will they prove their case in these elections in time? Obviously, this part will take a long time to figure out how Horton and Ferris are progressing, as well as guys like Parada, Lee, Collier and Neto.
Keep one thing in mind: The Cubs think they now know how to really help develop a hitting serve, and some of the undercover data from the last two years shows they are right about that. These two pitchers are clearly the guys the Cubs really want to work with. Part of drafting is knowing what you CAN do with a particular player in YOUR system – you’re trying to pick the best future player, not the best current player. And that best future player may look different in different organizations.
As Kantrowitz puts it, “I think when you have two hands like that — a high-ceilinged left-hander, a high school student who already has probably 3-4 working fields, and someone with an electric heater and a cleaning slider, like Cade, these are attributes that our pitch development infrastructure can’t wait to get their hands on.”
It matters as much or even more than the choice itself. The development work must be exceptional when you take such high risk and highly developed hands. I wouldn’t say I believe 100% in the Cubs minor league pitch development infrastructure, but I will say I believe a ton more than I did a few years ago.
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