Cubs

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Cubs

Under Theo Epstein's regime, the Cubs are all about trying to find baseball's next market inefficiency.

Instead of following the crowd, they're always trying to be one step ahead, setting the tone.

Over the last 15 or so months, we've seen a renaissance of sorts around the game as the Launce Angle Revolution has gained notoriety and velocity from pitchers has increased.

The two downfalls to that are strikeouts and walks. 

It's more complicated than this, but for the most part: Hitters are sacrificing contact for power and pitchers are sacrificing control for velocity.

The Cubs are trying to address that within their own organization and their strategy for the MLB Draft this week is another clue into how they plan on doing so.

With science contradicting the effect of Launch Angle, it looks like that bubble is about to burst around the game. As such, the Cubs are trying to be one step ahead of the game, moving to a more contact-oriented approach.

Thanks to a pair of compensatory picks, the Cubs owned 12 selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. They used 7 of those picks on hitters, 5 college bats (Nico Hoerner, Jimmy Herron, Andy Weber, D.J. Artis, Luke Reynolds) and a pair of high-school outfielders (Brennen Davis, Cole Roederer).

Throughout their respective 2018 seasons, 5 of those 7 hitters walked more than they struck out and all 7 guys are seen as high-contact individuals. Combined, those 7 hitters drew 224 walks this spring against only 191 strikeouts.

 

Now, part of that may be the competition they were facing, as the two high school kids were clearly far more advanced their their peers.

Still, it's a glimpse into what the Cubs front office places the most value on moving forward.

"If you look especially in the first 10 rounds, we really focused on guys that we feel can control the barrel, get the ball in play," said Jason McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting. "For some of those college guys, history of hitting, history of controlling the zone, low strikeouts."

The Cubs believe the contact skills and strike zone judgement/organization will carry over to the professional ranks, especially with the college hitters who have faced more advanced pitching on a regular basis.

Managing the strike zone and placing an emphasis on contact is also something the Cubs are preaching at every level in the minor leagues right now, making it a focal point as these young hitters develop toward the big leagues.

With the pitchers they selected in the Top 10 picks, the Cubs once again prioritized the strike zone.

Paul Richan — the second compensatory pick, 78th overall — doled out just 13 walks in 89.2 innings at University of San Diego this season, good for a sparkling 1.30 BB/9 ratio.

Ethan Roberts — the right-handed reliever the Cubs selected in the 4th round (128th overall) — has permitted 31 free passes in 107.2 innings the last two seasons.

Derek Casey — the Cubs' 9th round pick (278th overall) — walked only 25 batters in 95.2 innings at Virginia.

In the big leagues, the main issue that has plagued the Cubs pitching staff since the start of last season is too many free passes. That was a major point of emphasis in the offseason, but yet the problem has persisted 1/3 of the way through 2018.

Tyler Chatwood's start Thursday (7 walks and a hit batter) served as yet another reminder.

"On the pitching front: When you look at Paul Richan, Derek Casey, some of the college arms that we took, these are guys that have consistently shown that they'll throw strikes, limit the walks," McLeod said. "And then we were able to sprinkle in a Kohl Franklin (6th round, 188th overall), who's another upside high school arm out of Oklahoma."

These guys drafted Monday and Tuesday are still years away from Wrigley Field, but the organizational strategy is clear, both in the short and long term.