The Cubs have used 80 draft picks on pitchers since the Theo Epstein administration took over at Clark and Addison, and so far none of those prospects have come close to throwing a single pitch in The Show.
“Believe me, it’s something that keeps us up at night,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development.
Pitching will be the focus when Cubs scouts and executives gather in the underground Wrigley Field clubhouse on Friday, beginning a series of meetings for a draft that won’t have the same sizzle.
The Cubs will be on the sidelines for the draft’s first day next week and won’t choose until the 104th pick, part of the final bill for taking big-game pitcher John Lackey and Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward away from the St. Louis Cardinals and re-signing leadoff guy Dexter Fowler in spring training.
Of course, the four previous draft classes have already yielded a Rookie of the Year (Kris Bryant), a playoff legend (Kyle Schwarber) and what’s still regarded as a strong farm system, even with the accelerated youth movement on the North Side.
“We also haven’t taken a pitcher in the first round,” McLeod said. “We haven’t taken a college pitcher to go to the big leagues (on a fast track), so that hamstrings you somewhat. When you look at major-league rotations – out of the drafted players – almost half of them come out of the first round.
“That’s not excuse-making at all – we got to be better at identifying and developing these guys. That’s something that we constantly look at.”
With their first pick not coming until the third round, the Cubs will also be limited by a small bonus pool ($2,245,100) that Baseball America ranked 30th out of the 30 major-league clubs. Still, this is another opportunity to roll the dice on some more pitchers and see if any of them can prepare the franchise for life after Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Lackey.
“We’ve had a volume approach to the draft (and) right now that fruit hasn’t born out yet,” McLeod said. “That’s something that we’re always (analyzing): Is it something we’ve done? Is it something we’ve evaluated? Is it something we’re doing in player development?
“Certainly, we’ve done a very good job with position players and we feel great about a lot of the players in our system at all levels. But for us, again, the challenge is that’s only one half of the equation. We need to be better at developing pitching.”