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Just because the Cubs haven’t been in this position in a while, that doesn’t mean they’ll dramatically change how they approach the upcoming MLB Draft.
At least, not while Dan Kantrovitz is in charge of things.
When the first round of the 2022 draft begins at 6 p.m. CT on Sunday, the Cubs won’t have to wait too long before they’re on the clock. After “earning” the No. 7 overall pick thanks to their 71-91 record in the 2021 season, the Cubs will be picking as early as they have since taking Kyle Schwarber fourth overall in 2014 and will have their first top-10 selection since taking Ian Happ at No. 9 the year after. The competitive window that saw the Cubs pick no earlier than 16th from 2017-21 has closed, and it would be very easy for Kantrovitz, who was hired to be the vice president of scouting in 2019, to look more closely at players who could be ready to help the Cubs when that window might open again (2024, maybe?).
But that’s not how Kantrovitz wants to approach the first draft of the current rebuild.
“Are you going to try to select the demographic based on a competitive window?” Kantrovitz said during a media scrum at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. “It’s too imprecise to try to time the selection of a draft pick with a team’s competitive window. If it ends up being a toolsier high school player that we draft that requires a little bit more time, we have the infrastructure to handle it. If it ends up being a college player that is projected to get there a little quicker, then I think we’d be equally happy.”
Certainly, though, their position on the draft board has an effect on their draft strategy.
The Cubs are picking 14 spots higher than when Kantrovitz and his team took Jordan Wicks at No. 21 in 2021 and nine higher than when they selected Ed Howard 16th overall the year prior. Kantrovitz said that really didn’t matter when college and high school baseball seasons began in the spring, because his group wanted to “cast a wide net” and get good evaluations for as many potential draftees as possible. As the draft has gotten closer, though, they’ve focused on trimming down the list to players who might be there when it’s finally the Cubs’ turn to pick.
“You start to really zero in on who that group might be — in our case, the top seven,” Kantrovitz said. “Whether it’s players that might get injured or whether signability changes or whether a player might decide to go to college at the last minute, we don’t want to just sort of confine ourselves and then be surprised. So it’s better to cast a wider net than not, but certainly, I think for the second half of this spring, we’ve started to really zero in on who that top seven might be.”
So who exactly is on that big board for the Cubs? Some of the enticing high school bats who are often talked about? Some of the college position prospects? A certain 17-year-old JUCO product?
“I think it’s probably most appropriate to not comment on individual players right now,” Kantrovitz said. “They’re free agents that every team is out there evaluating. I think it probably best serves us, both from a competitive standpoint as well as just to kind of maintain the integrity of the draft, to keep the individual evaluations (private).”
Either way, remember, Kantrovitz said he isn’t letting a potential competitive window in the future dictate how he’s approaching the draft, and he didn’t specify any type of player the Cubs would be explicitly targeting. With how high they pick in the draft and with the talent that could still be there, the Cubs could probably afford to wait and see how things shake out before taking the best player left on the board.
That aligns with the vision that others in the front office share in terms of picking a player who they believe will help the Cubs win, regardless of how quickly that could come.
“The draft is a complicated beast in so many ways, a lot of moving parts,” general manager Carter Hawkins recently told CHGO. “I think the old saying is, ‘Take the best player available,’ and I think that’s probably the easiest way to consolidate a draft strategy. We want to take great players that help us win in Chicago, whether it’s sooner or later, but that all comes into play. The timeline of the player, the position of the player, our fit. That helps define who the best player is for the Cubs, and that’s the process we’re working for.”
The Cubs have the 10th-highest bonus pool allotment of the 30 teams at $10, 092,700, with their first-round slot being valued at $5,708,000 (per MLB.com). But obviously, that’s not where things end.
Kantrovitz and his team will be drafting in all 20 rounds (not including competitive-balance picks), which means there will be 20 new players — assuming the Cubs are able to sign them all — who will be joining the farm system. No, it’s not likely that all 20 end up impacting the major league club in some way, but Kantrovitz wants to make sure he’s drafting 20 players he thinks have at least a shot (however small it is) at impacting the Cubs — while also staying in the confines of the bonus-pool rules.
“My first year as a scouting director in 2012 (with the Cardinals) was the first year that Major League Baseball had the pools, and that’s when teams really had to navigate how much they were going to spend on each player,” Kantrovitz said. “Prior to that, there wasn’t a cap, really, and so now, we have to try to figure out how to optimize our entire draft. That plays into the calculus of each pick — who we’re going to pick, how much we’re going to pay them, and then, at the end of the day, we want to have the best draft we can based on, hopefully, having signed 20 players.
“But that has to be in the context of the overall pool. This year, we have a pool that’s in the top third of Major League Baseball, and that’s exciting. That’s something that gives us some ammunition to go out there and, hopefully, get some of the better players.”
To nobody’s surprise, Kantrovitz wouldn’t provide a deep-dive into the Cubs’ draft strategy. But the draft is only a few days away, which means it won’t be long until fans get the full view of how the Cubs plan to move forward from 2022.
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