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’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Ian Happ paused before answering, the moment of silence punctuating his matter-of-fact response.

“No,” he said. “I don’t feel that way.”

Looking back, he doesn’t feel like he rose to the Major Leagues too quickly.

Happ has had to field that question since spending 2/3 of last season in Triple-A. But already this year, Happ has hit three home runs, tied for the most on the team, while also maintain a top-three batting average (.297). Not only is he performing on the field, Happ has also embraced a leadership role and taken over for Kris Bryant as the team’s MLBPA representative.

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“He’s the real deal,” Ross said Sunday, after Happ went 3-for-3 with two doubles in the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmage.

The club’s decision to send Happ to Triple-A Iowa at the beginning of last season came as a surprise. Much of Happ’s conviction that he was ready for the major leagues when he debuted came from his standout rookie season.

Happ hit 24 home runs as a rookie – still his career high – and finished eighth in rookie of the year voting in 2017. His batting average regressed the next year (from .253 to .233), and his strikeout number rose (from 129 to 167). But he joined the .350 club in on-base percentage.

“We believed then and we believe now that he’s going to be a really good player,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this week. “We thought it was the right move and something that was necessary even though it was really unpleasant to send him back there. To his credit, he made the absolute most of it, took personal responsibility.”

When Happ returned to the big leagues, his progress showed. He won NL player of the week in the final week of the season. But he’s made even more of a splash this year, from Spring Training through the first two weeks of the regular season.

Entering the year, center field was one of the main position battles to monitor for first-time manager Ross.

“Right now, the job is Ian Happ’s,” Ross said Sunday.

Ross’ lineup choices had suggested as much already. Happ has appeared in all 13 of the Cubs games, at least pinch hitting in the three he didn’t start.

“It’s hard to take Ian Happ out of the lineup,” Ross said of the switch-hitter. “The guy’s swinging the bat really well, and his right-handed at-bats have gotten tremendously better. He’s been a staple.”

Happ started his season off with a two-run home run in his first plate appearance. He was batting ninth, and through all of Ross’ reshuffling of the bottom third of the batting order, Happ has been the Cubs’ most frequent nine-hole hitter.

With the Cubs’ No. 7 and 8 hitters consistently getting on base, in the nine-hole has showcased Happ’s ability to drive in runs (he’s tied for second on the team with six RBI) or set the table for the Cubs’ unconventional top of the order.

“I feel great about where I'm at right now,” Happ said, “my ability to help the team and get on base for those guys that are hitting behind me.”

Just as he set the tone in the batter’s box early, with an Opening Day home run, Happ flashed some leather in the opening series against the Brewers. Three days into the season, Happ tracked a long fly ball back to the wall. He leaped and caught it just before his back slammed into the ivy, which barely cushioned the brick behind it.

Happ slid down the wall into a crouch, his body no doubt feeling the results of the impact. But it wasn’t long before he stood back up.

“I think he absolutely took advantage of his time down (in Iowa),” Epstein said, “and is in a different and better phase in his career now because of what he went through.”



How Cubs temporarily grabbed White Sox spotlight during Sunday Night Baseball

How Cubs temporarily grabbed White Sox spotlight during Sunday Night Baseball

Even with the White Sox on center stage, the Cubs found their way into the spotlight.

“We’re gonna aggravate everybody in Schaumburg with this,” ESPN broadcaster Matt Vasgersian said Sunday. “White Sox fans, sorry about this.”

The White Sox made their first appearance on Sunday Night Baseball since May 12, 2013 on Sunday. But early in their matchup against the Indians, the ESPN broadcast momentarily pivoted towards the North Siders.

ESPN showed the results of a social media poll asking baseball fans what they make of the Cubs’ 10-3 start to the season. Of the more than 52,000 respondents, 41 percent said they’ll start to fade soon, 34 percent said they’re a World Series contender and 25 percent said they’re a division title contender.

“Apparently, we had a lot of respondents calling from the South Side of Chicago,” Vasgersian joked.

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The Cubs were scheduled to appear on Sunday Night Baseball before their series against the Cardinals was postponed. So while the poll’s appearance was no coincidence, some White Sox fans probably weren’t happy seeing it pop up mid-game.

“White Sox (fans) are saying,” Vasgersian said, “‘It’s the first time we’ve been on Sunday Night Baseball since 2013 and we gotta talk about the Cubs?’” 

White Sox fans have aired their grievances in recent years over the team being forgotten by national media, especially as the Cubs have received plenty of coverage. This may not fall under the same category as previous occurrences, but it certainly brings back memories of those moments.