Cubs scouts were back in the draft room this week, debating players and putting together a plan for this weekend.
“Everybody was pretty thirsty to do that,” Cubs vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz said. “Not just scouts, but I think the entire front office. “It's a fun time for the organization.”
This year’s draft isn’t quite what MLB scouting departments are used to. It’s only 20 rounds, and taking place outside of June for the first time. But the three-day event, beginning Sunday, is far closer to normal than last year’s five-round affair. And last year was also Kantrovitz’ first draft with the Cubs.
“This is the first time that we’ve had our entire scouting department together since last January,” Kantrovitz said this week, “so it’s definitely starting to feel real.”
As the Cubs transition to a new era –Javy Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are all in contract years, and an 11-game losing streak made the Cubs likely trade-deadline sellers – this draft becomes as important as any to set up the next cycle for prolonged success.
“The best drafting teams stack one good pick and one good decision on top of another year after year,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “I think if you do that, you end up with a really quality system.”
Kantrovitz believes in taking the best player available, as opposed to drafting based on need. That applies whether the big-league team is in the middle of a championship window or rebuilding. So, the fact that the Cubs are in a transition period doesn’t affect his approach to this draft.
“Ultimately, you want to get the most valuable assets that you can,” Kantrovitz said. “And if it ends up not being a great fit from a position standpoint, there's always the possibility that you can trade that asset.”
Exherting more influence on the Cubs’ draft board are the ripple effects from last year’s pandemic-altered draft. With only five rounds, some undrafted players signed with teams as free agents, but others stayed in school.
“There's certainly more college players this year that we're looking at that are over 22 (years old), for example,” Kantrovitz said. “In the past, there weren't too many guys in our draft board that were 23 or 24 years old.”
The in-person scouting process has snapped back to normal this spring, with high school and college baseball returning – plus the addition of the first-ever MLB Draft combine. But the Cubs borrowed at least one method from last year’s process: Zoom interviews.
“It's just not practical or possible for all of our scouts to meet in person with every player,” Kantrovitz said. “The tool of being able to meet with these players over Zoom is one that will probably be with us for the long term.”
This year, the Cubs have the No. 21 pick in the first round. In Denver, where the draft will be held alongside All-Star events, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg is set to be the Cubs’ representative.