As the 2019 college season began, the Cubs regarded UCLA second baseman Chase Strumpf as one of the top five or six college hitters in the draft class. But following an unspectacular junior campaign, he fell to the second round, much to the delight of the Cubs.
In a typical 2020 season, Strumpf likely would have started at High-A Myrtle Beach and tried to get on the organization’s fast track. The Cubs had previously promoted top college picks such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner aggressively from campus to the big leagues.
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted every aspect of baseball in 2020, and Strumpf wasn’t close enough to the big leagues to get in the Cubs’ 60-man player pool. The organization prioritized pitching at their alternate training site in South Bend, Ind.
As a college sophomore, Strumpf hit .363 with a 1.108 OPS , but those numbers dipped to .279 and .888 in 2019. A wrist issue also slowed Strumpf at the beginning of spring training in 2020, though he made a strong impression in the fall during instructional league.
“When he came to instructs, he was like (the) 2018 version of Strumpf,” said Matt Dorey, the organization’s recently promoted vice president of player development and a former scouting director for the Cubs.
“The power had really returned. He was driving the ball to the off side of the field, that off gap. One of the reasons why we liked him so much is he’s always really selective. He made really good decisions and has a really advanced approach.
“Honestly, he knocked some rust off in the first 10 days, but he was one of our best hitters down there in instructs in terms of quality at-bats and hard contact.”
To keep open his versatility, the Cubs worked out Strumpf at third base in addition to second base, where they think he can be a steady, if unspectacular, defender. But the Cubs will ultimately be making their long-term decisions based on Strumpf’s bat.
— Righthander Ryan Jensen, the Cubs’ first-round pick in the 2019 draft out of Fresno State, threw roughly 60 simulated innings during the shutdown, according to Dorey, and was part of the group that checked in with the player development group during instructional league in Arizona. Jensen has been working on adding a curveball and refining his changeup, using the resources the Cubs have committed to their pitching infrastructure.
“He was a starter in college, but he had such big stuff—fastball/slider—that he could kind of just lean on that in college,” Dorey said. “He’s made really big strides in developing that curveball and trying to find something else for lefthanded hitters with his changeup and curveball.”
— The Cubs are extremely thin in the outfield right now, which led to discussions about taking one in the Rule 5 draft, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. The Cubs ultimately went with a more familiar route, taking 24-year-old righthander Gray Fenter from the Orioles and figuring his stuff and numbers might be worth a shot. In 2019, Fenter finished with a 1.81 ERA in 94.1 innings at the Class A level while piling up 123 strikeouts against 43 walks.
“We liked the fact that he’s got an explosive fastball,” Hoyer said. “He has two different breaking balls with a slider and a curveball. All the makeup stuff we got on him was really positive.”