Hold Your Nose: Reviewing 10 Years of Chicago Cubs First-Round Draft Picks

Minor League Baseball is a lot like state government: It’s super important, has enormous impact, but only a few reporters cover it and nobody cares.

Because of this, state reps and front office brass enjoy the freedom of making atrocious decisions unchecked by rabble-rousing citizens and Major League Baseball fans alike.

Soon, history and inattention allows layers and layers of apathetic topsoil to bury those decisions like concrete over unsold copies of Atari’s E.T. in a New Mexican desert.

But here at Ivy Envy, we decided to dig deep for the pungent truth. With the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft approaching on June 5, I’ve review 10 years worth of Chicago Cubs first-round draft picks (top picks only — not supplementals) and included snippets of where they are now, what they’ve done and where they might be headed.

The most recent — very recent — picks give us hope. The new Cubs brass appears to be looking beyond scouting reports such as “plus arm” and “physical specimen.”

The rest of the first-round picks might make you physically ill.

I won’t suggest that drafting the right player is easy, nor is it fair to expect every first-rounder to pan out. But you’d think your favorite team could land at least one winner over the course of 10 years, right?

(Note: All stats via www.baseball-reference.com through June 2 games).

 

(2013) Kris Bryant, 3B

Kris BryantWhere he’s at: Bryant is restoring the faith of the first-rounder by killing the ball with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. He’s hitting .351 with 18 home runs and 49 RBIs while slugging .688. He’s struck out a lot (65 times over 244 plate appearances), but has made up for it with a .455 on-base percentage.

What he’s done: After a two-game stopover in Mesa with the rookie club, Bryant spent the rest of his first pro season split between Short-Season A Boise and Class-A Advanced Daytona. He hit a combined nine bombs in 32 games to earn his Double-A assignment this season.

Where he’s going: Don’t be surprised to see him in Des Moines before the season ends. Christian Villanueva needs a break and Bryant needs the challenge. We all love Mike Olt (and Luis Valbuena?) but they, too, know what Bryant’s up to.

 

(2012) Albert Almora, CF

AlmoraWhere he’s at: Almora is in Daytona with the High-A club. His numbers are down, but keep in mind, he just turned 20. He’s hitting .254 with a .624 OPS compared to a .842 OPS last season.

What he’s done: Last season, he had his first true test as a pro with Class-A Kane County, and he killed Midwest League pitching, hitting .329. However, an awful groin injury ended his season early. He made headlines for a resurgent fall-ball effort that proved his nether regions are OK.

Where he’s going: Young players tend to play out full seasons when in the lower rungs, so expect Almora to stay in Florida for the remainder of the year.

 

(2011) Javier Baez, SS

Javier BaezWhere he’s at: He’s toiling in Triple-A with a disappointing .220 average and just seven homers.

What he’s done: Do you really need to be told? He quickly became an Ivy Envy fan favorite thanks to a 2013 that saw him hit 37 bombs and drive in 111 runs between High-A Daytona and Tennessee. The fact that he did more of that damage in Double-A had us all hot and bothered. But he’s human after all.

Where he’s going: Where’s the guy who was busting car windows with spring-training long balls? He’s in there. He just needs some time. Any minor leaguer will tell you that pitching is the biggest difference between levels, and the jump from Double-A to Triple-A is often a shock. While some predicted he might make the 40-man this season, don’t bet on it now.

 

(2010) Hayden Simpson, RHP

MiLB: APR 12 - Daytona Cubs at Tampa YankeesWhere he’s at: A little Twitter stalking seems to suggest he’s back in school after being cut by the Cubs last spring, but he’s at least a million dollars richer this time. That ought to help help him buy a few exercise science books. He also enjoys rooting on his brother, Landon, who pitches for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

What he did: Not much. Criticized by many on the interwebs as an “overdraft,” Simpson had a career WHIP near 2.0 (1.868). For a little less sabermetrics in your diet, just know he never advanced past High-A and never carried an ERA less than 5.72. Some say he was never the same after a bout with mononucleosis that forced him to sit out the summer he was drafted.

What else: It’s always tough to lose your shot, and sometimes the fall can be hard. After being cut during the 2013 spring, he signed on to pitch with the indy league Southern Illinois Miners. He was rocked in three appearances (13 runs over 7.1 innings) before departing.

 

(2009) Brett Jackson, OF

brett jacksonWhere he’s at: He’s still on the 40-man despite being pretty terrible. Jackson is hitting .208 with three homers and eight RBIs with the Iowa Cubs.

What he’s done: Jackson had all sorts of promise, hinting that he could be a base stealer with surprising power. But that surprising power slowly fizzled and his feet are much less fleet. Jackson hit 20 homers in 2011, 15 in 2012 and just six last season, mostly between Double-A and Triple-A. Meanwhile, he stole just nine bases last year after stealing 27 and 21 the two years prior. He did break into the Bigs in 2012 and hit .175 with four homers in 44 games.

Where he’s going: Jackson and 2007 first-rounder Josh Vitters are having somewhat parallel careers. Of the two of them, Jackson has more upside as an outfielder in an organization dying for a decent one. He weathered a demotion last season, and despite struggling to start his 2014 campaign, ended May with a good run at the plate. He’s hitting .375 over his last 10 games.

 

(2008) Andrew Cashner, RHP

cashnerx-largeWhere he’s at: Looking ridiculous with the Padres: Exhibit A / Exhibit B. He’s 2-5 with a 2.35 ERA in nine starts. His gem of the season includes a 6-0 complete game shutout against the Tigers on April 11. He struck out 11 and gave up just one hit.

What he’s done: Cashner has been a Major League regular since being traded to the Padres in 2012, and he’s done fairly well. He was a 10-game winner in 2013 for a terrible ball club and carried a 1.131 WHIP. It was enough to earn him a one-year contract worth $2.4 million.

Where he’s going: He appears quite capable of staying in the Bigs despite his dreadful mullet and overgrown lip blanket. He’s arguably the most successful Cubs first-rounder over the last 10 years (so far). That’s fine. We got the Riz in return.

 

(2007) Josh Vitters, 3B

VittersWhere he’s at: Like Jackson, Vitters is still on the 40-man and is still disappointing. And Like Jackson, he’s hitting .208. Vitters, though, has three more homers (six total) and 12 more RBIs (20) in 43 games with Iowa.

What he’s done: Vitters and Jackson are following similar paths of promise to plummet. Vitters was drafted out of high school, something that at least anecdotally seems to becoming less and less common for position players. General managers and farm directors have told me they like college players for the added mental grit that comes with a couple more years of maturity. Learning on the job, Vitters has been up and down. Things looked great after a 2012 season that saw him make his MLB debut and hit .304 with 17 homers in Triple-A. But hope is fading.

Where he’s going: He’s still just 24 years old, but his inconsistency is super troubling, and I don’t see him beating out Bryant at third base when it comes to that. Substitute teaching and a Bobby-Scales-esque comeback might be in his future. Second guess, he’ll be a perpetual minor leaguer a la Robin Jennings.

 

(2006) Tyler Colvin, OF

tyler-colvinWhere he’s at: Colvin signed a Minor League contract with the Giants this season and has played 19 games in the Bigs. He’s up with the Giants currently but has spent a bit of time in Triple-A Fresno.

What he’s done: Well, he had a 20 home run season with the Cubs in 2010, but he mostly just got stabbed in the lung with a broken bat (not for the squeamish). That ended his season and pretty much his relevance in Chicago. He rebounded in 2012 to hit 18 homers with Colorado, but inconsistency sent him back to the minors in 2013. He was cut by the Rockies after that season.

Where he’s going: Because of his history hitting for power, and because of his left-handed bat, Colvin seems like a guy that might hang around, bopping from team to team several years. However, he’s too inconsistent, and that doesn’t bode well for a pinch-hitting role. He’s not really versatile in the field (almost strictly left field), so that limits his platooning options. His best years are likely behind him.

 

(2005) Mark Pawelek, LHP

pawalekWhere he’s at: Short of digging up public records, Mark Pawelek has disappeared. He’s been out of pro ball since 2010. However, in March of 2013, Baseball America correspondent John Manuel wrote a pretty solid “Where is he now” article after Pawelek surfaced in the World Baseball Classic as a reliever for the Netherlands.

What he did: Pitched poorly. He was only remotely successful in rookie ball during his draft year. He only pitched two games beyond Short-Season A when he pitched four innings for the Class-A Peoria Chiefs in 2007. He finished his pro career getting rocked in indy ball.

What else: Here’s a Mark Pawelek from Canada if you want to make a Facebook friend.

 

(2004) nobody

What happened: The Cubs signed Latroy Hawkins giving the Twins a compensation first-rounder.

 

Want to go back 10 more years?

Here are the picks descending from 2003-1994: Ryan Harvey, Bobby Brownlie, Mark Prior, Luis Montanez, Ben Christiansen, Corey Patterson, Jon Garland, Todd Noel, Kerry Wood and Jayson Peterson.

Matt Veto

Matt Veto is a former sportswriter and columnist from Moline, Ill. Today, he’s a journalism professor in northeastern Pennsylvania. Once comfortable wearing his Cubs hat in public, he now feels the stink-eyed gazes of perplexed East Coast gawkers.

About Matt Veto

3 comments
Justan Neels
Justan Neels

^I know they were not #1 picks but they were talent the Cubs produced.

Justan Neels
Justan Neels

Dont even get me started on Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith. I remember when I was a kid they were going to be superstars.