Cubs Alter Draft Strategy In Wake Of Trades

The Cubs are still sticking with the best-player-available cliché. But as their scouts file reports and talk on regular conference calls before the draft, they acknowledge that the pendulum has swung in the other direction.

An organization that spent years loading up on first-round hitters, drafting pitching in bulk and making deadline deals for Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana now has gaps in the farm system.

The Cubs are trying to find a next generation of hitters in this year’s draft. After working the free agent system, they have four selections in the top 78 picks—and five in the top 98—plus a $7.5 million bonus pool.

“There’s going to be opportunity there,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development. “Maybe it won’t be the position players because we can’t control what everyone else is doing. But I think we’re going to be able to take some upside guys and try to replace some of the impact talent that we traded away the last couple of years.”

The Cubs understood what they gave up—and what they stood to gain—when they traded away blue-chip prospects Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez to the Yankees and White Sox to acquire Chapman and Quintana.

The Tigers also picked up interesting prospects in third baseman Jeimer Candelario and shortstop Isaac Paredes in last summer’s Justin Wilson-Alex Avila trade, at a time when the Cubs no longer had access to the top-of-the-draft college hitters they prefer.

“We absolutely did try to force the pitching (in the draft), in terms of going heavy with taking a lot of arms,” McLeod said. “I don’t think that it’ll be as much of an internal mandate for us to really go out and just keep getting volume.

“And, of course, we’re going to try to hit on pitching again. But ideally, we’d feel good about taking a couple of position players. We’re going to try to hone in on a couple of guys who we’ve been spending time with this spring.”

>> An ankle issue delayed righthander Adbert Alzolay’s arrival at Triple-A Iowa, but after he arrived he promptly took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in two of his first three starts. Between Alzolay’s raw talent and mental makeup, the Cubs felt comfortable pushing him to Triple-A, even though he had just seven career starts at Double-A.

>> When the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Rangers in 2012, they viewed Kyle Hendricks as the secondary prospect to third baseman Christian Villanueva. Chicago hoped to develop Villanueva as a trade chip, but he ran out of minor league options by the time he recovered from a broken leg suffered at 2016 spring training. He landed with the Padres after that season when the Cubs non-tendered him.

“He was always a really steady player at Iowa,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “He plays really good defense, and he could hammer the low pitch—and he has not been missing his pitch . . . He’s got strong wrists and the ball just explodes. He’s a great kid, someone you root for. I hope he keeps it going.”

Patrick Mooney is a senior writer covering the Cubs for The Athletic Chicago

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