Cubs

2017 MLB Draft Tracker: Cubs add to stockpile of young arms

2017 MLB Draft Tracker: Cubs add to stockpile of young arms

After selecting three pitchers in the first two rounds Monday night, the Cubs continued their run on arms on the second day of the MLB Draft Tuesday.

Southpaw Brendon Little was the Cubs' first pick (27th overall) before a run that saw Theo Epstein's front office nab four straight right-handed pitchers. Alex Lange (30th overall) and Cory Abbott (67th) headline that group.

The Cubs have spent their last five first-round picks on hitters and have had no issue developing talent in that regard, watching as Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber helped end a 108-year championship drought while 2015 first-rounder Ian Happ is now up in the big leagues playing almost every day.

But Epstein and Co. have yet to find an impact pitcher in any of their five drafts under the Cubs umbrella and hoped to change that with a "volume game" mentality, which continued with the selections of Auburn right-hander Keegan Thompson (105th overall) and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo pitcher Erich Uelmen (135th) in the third and fourth rounds Tuesday.

Thompson is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and boasts a good curveball. The 22-year-old missed all of 2016 due to injury but started 15 games for Auburn this spring, going 7-4 with a 2.41 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 75 strikeouts in 93.1 innings.

He surrendered just 12 homers in 253 career collegiate innings.

Uelmen — 6-foot-3, 195 pounds — enjoyed a dominant season at Cal Poly despite a poor record (4-8), posting a 2.98 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and striking out 100 batters and allowed only one homer in 98.1 innings.

Round 5: OF Nelson Velazquez

The Cubs took their first position player with the 165th overal pick — a 6-foot, 190-pound outfielder out of PJ Education School in Puerto Rico. Velazquez, 18, is known as an impact defender with good bat speed.

Round 6: RHP Jeremy Estrada

After taking five straight collegiate players, the Cubs have gone two straight picks with preps players. Estrada is the latest, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound pitcher who throws his fastball up to 92 mph, but has seen a dip in performance and effectiveness this spring after a strong showing in his summer showcase last year.

Round 7: LHP Ricky Tyler Thomas

The Cubs select their seventh pitcher of the draft in the college left-hander from Fresno State. Thomas threw 104 innings for the Bulldogs, compiling a 2.16 ERA with 108 strikeouts and just 16 walks.

Round 8: 3B Austin Filiere

The Cubs spent the No. 255 overall pick on someone who went to school in Epstein's old neck of the woods. Filiere is a power-hitting third baseman out of MIT. He smashed 39 homers in three years with the Engineers, posting a jaw-dropping .414/.543/.809 slash line, driving in 151 runs and swiping 44 bases in his collegiate career.

Round 9: OF Chris Carrier

Taking just their third position player of this draft, the Cubs went with their second straight college hitter in Carrier, who hit .330 for the Memphis Tigers in his senior season with 16 homers and 50 RBIs. Carrier had a frightening situation a couple years back that led to surgery, a removed rib and a collapsed lung. But he played better than ever as a senior, his numbers taking huge leaps from his junior season. He reached base at a 43.8-percent clip and slugged .641 this year.

Round 10: RHP Brian Glowicki

A Downers Grove native, Glowicki's selection marked the sixth time in the first 10 rounds the Cubs chose a college pitcher. Glowicki worked as a reliever during his senior season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, picking up 16 saves, posting a 2.20 ERA and striking out 39 hitters in 32.2 innings of work.

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

The Cubs are looking for bullpen help this offseason. Enter Astros free agent right-hander Will Harris.

Harris has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers since 2015. In 309 games (297 innings), the 35-year-old holds a 2.36 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. Over that same period, his ERA ranks third among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, trailing Zack Britton (1.89) and Aroldis Chapman (2.16).

2019 was one of Harris' finest seasons yet, as he posted a pristine 1.50 ERA and 0.933 WHIP in 68 appearances. Of the 60 innings he pitched last season, 49 2/3 of them came in innings 7-9, an area the Cubs bullpen needs the most help.

Cubs relievers posted a 3.98 ERA last season (No. 8 in MLB), but that number is deceiving. The bullpen was OK in low and medium-leverage spots — as defined by FanGraphs — posting a 3.19 ERA (tied for No. 2 in MLB). But in high leverage spots, they sported a woeful 7.92 ERA (No. 24 in MLB) and a 15.4 percent walk rate (tied for last in MLB).

"It was a real interesting year in the 'pen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "Our inability to pitch in high-leverage situations was a clear problem and was a contributing factor — we had the third-worst record in all of baseball behind just the Tigers and Orioles in combined 1 and 2-run games.

"Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments kind of haunted us throughout the year, and that’s something that I have to do a better job of finding options for."

Those walks often spelled doom for the Cubs. Fans remember all too well the three-straight free passes Steve Cishek handed out on Sept. 10 against the Padres, the final of which was a walk-off (literally). David Phelps and Cishek combined to walk three-straight Cardinals on Sept. 20, two of whom came around to score. The Cubs lost that game 2-1; there are plenty more similar instances.

Harris, meanwhile, walked 14 batters (6.1 percent walk rate) in 2019 — 15 if you count the one he allowed in 12 postseason appearances. His career walk rate is 6.2 percent.

Four Cubs late-inning relievers are free agent this winter in Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. Cishek and Kintzler had solid 2019 seasons, while Strop had his worst season as a Cub. Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 2018, but he and the Cubs are working on a minor league deal, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. Strop has expressed his desire to return next season.

Harris regressing in 2020 is a concern. Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball, and Harris could see his performance sag in 2020 after pitching an extra month last season. Teams will have to trust his track record and assume a regression isn't forthcoming.

But assuming Cishek, Kintzler, Morrow and Strop all won’t return in 2020, the Cubs have a couple late-inning relief vacancies. Harris is one of the better available options, and he’d help the Cubs cut down on the walks dished out by their bullpen.

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Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

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USA TODAY

Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

The Cubs have reportedly made another low-risk gamble on a bullpen arm.

According to MLB Insider Robert Murray, the Cubs have reached an agreement with right-hander Daniel Winkler on a one-year deal.

Winkler, an Effingham, Ill. native holds a career 3.68 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.176 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 in 117 games (100 1/3 innings). He spent 2015-19 with the Atlanta Braves, undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2014 and another elbow surgery in April 2017. The Braves dealt him to the San Francisco Giants at the 2019 trade deadline for closer Mark Melancon.

Winkler posted a 4.98 ERA in 27 big league games last season and a 2.93 ERA in 30 minor league games. His best MLB season came with the Braves in 2018, as he made a career-high 69 appearances and posted a 3.43 ERA, striking out 69 batters in 60 1/3 innings.

The Cubs entered the offseason in search of bullpen upgrades following a rough 2019. That search includes finding pitchers who may not have long track records, but qualities demonstrating their ability to make an impact at the big-league level. In this case, Winkler possesses solid spin rates on his cutter, four-seamer and curveball, meaning he induces soft contact and swings and misses.

“We need to keep unearthing pitchers who we acquire for the right reasons, we work well with and have the physical and mental wherewithal to go out and miss a lot of bats,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference, “which is something we didn’t do a lot of — although we did increasingly in the second half with this pitching group — and find more guys who can go out and pitch in high-leverage spots."

The Cubs were successful in unearthing arms last season, acquiring Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck from the Padres in separate deals. They recently acquired Jharel Cotton from the Oakland A’s in a similar buy low move.

Not every pitcher will be as successful as the Wi(e)cks were last season, but the Cubs must continue making low-risk bullpen moves. At the best, they find a legitimate relief arms; at the worst, they move on from a low-cost investments.

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