Cubs manager David Ross remembers how much fun he had on his first day of draft preparation meetings when he was a special assistant in baseball operations.
“I loved hearing the scouts and all the front-office guys and the [research and development department] dissecting these guys and what they could and couldn’t do and start organizing the names,” Ross said Thursday. “And then the first day ended, and we had three days left. And I was like, ‘We’ve got three more days of that? No, thanks.’ ”
Dan Kantrovitz, the Cubs’ vice president of scouting, and his team are in the midst of that process now. For the second straight year, Major League Baseball will hold its amateur draft during All-Star week. Rounds 1 and 2 are scheduled for Sunday, Rounds 3 through 10 on Monday and Rounds 11-20 on Tuesday.
“I think it’s been widely publicized that the quote-unquote ‘strength’ of the draft class is there’s a lot of high school hitters that are projected to go high,” Kantrovitz said. “Whether or not that comes to fruition, time will tell.
“As it’s unfolded, there’s probably been more pitchers that have percolated to the top of teams’ draft boards. But I think it probably ends up reverting back to where we started this spring, which was, there’s a lot of high school hitters that are projected to go pretty high.”
The Cubs — routed 8-0 by the Mets on Thursday night at Wrigley Field — are set to pick seventh, their highest draft position since 2014, when they selected Kyle Schwarber with the No. 4 pick. It’s their first top-10 pick since 2015, when they took outfielder Ian Happ, an All-Star this season, at ninth overall.
“For the first half of the spring, [having a high pick] doesn’t really change our strategy,” Kantrovitz said. “We still have to cast a wide net and make sure we’re thoroughly evaluating every player out there, because you don’t know who ends up sliding for whatever reason. There’s a lot of things that can happen throughout the spring that are uncertain.
“The reality becomes that, as you get closer to draft day, you start to really zero in on who that group might be — in our case, the top seven.”
Other than affecting their draft position, how the Cubs progress in their rebuild cycle doesn’t change their approach to the draft, Kantrovitz said.
“Given the time it takes for most of the players we’re drafting to matriculate to the big leagues, I don’t think we can try to time a window like that,” he said. “If you start to get into that, then you might end up missing the best player available on the board. It’s such an imprecise science as it is.”
In baseball, unlike basketball or football, newly drafted players don’t make an immediate impact. But as the Cubs lean on player development to help them move out of this rebuild phase and ideally keep their next championship window open longer, the long-term effects of the draft are plain to see.
Ross remembers the draft-room discussions about Nico Hoerner in 2018. The Cubs selected him 24th overall. Now he’s their every-day shortstop in the midst of a breakout year. He entered Thursday with a .304 batting average, seventh-highest in the National League. And he was striking out once every 9.48 plate appearances, the best mark among qualified NL hitters.
“What I remember was the high contact, the high baseball IQ, the maturity, some of the characteristics that stood out — that stuff carried on,” Ross said of Hoerner’s draft evaluation. “But what also stands out is how he’s growing daily at this level.”