We’re now almost a full year removed from the 2017 draft, in which the Cubs selected 41 players and signed 29 of them. And even though it’s hard to get a good feel for a class until you’ve seen its members play for at least two or three years, it’s still worthwhile to check in on how this most recent group is doing.
A couple of young pitchers have yet to debut this year, while three prospects are all the way up to high-A Myrtle Beach. A large portion of the draftees (13) are at South Bend and the rest will likely play for Eugene this summer or fill in at South Bend within the next month.
While the Cubs spent a majority of their picks (including two in the first round) last year on pitchers, it’s the hitters who have drawn most of my focus on a daily basis this spring. Austin Filiere, Jared Young, and Nelson Velazquez have been particularly noteworthy so far.
Another storyline that is sure to be ongoing for the foreseeable future is all the pitchers trying to figure out whether they are best suited to the rotation or the bullpen. Next year’s grades will be more interesting and indicative of this class’s potential, but let’s check in on how they’re doing right now.
Big pitching guns
It’s a bit hit and miss so, but progress is being made. Alex Lange, Keegan Thompson, and Cory Abbott have been up and down. Brendon Little is improving every start. Tyler Thomas was very good in April but seems to be inconsistent to begin May (his bio pic is fire, though). Brendan King is just getting to South Bend in a relief role and doing well. Rollie Lacy just made his first starts of the year for South Bend.
If the last few days are any indication, there’s a lot of promise. Abbott, a second-round selection struck out 11 on Saturday night and 18 for the week while third round pick Erich Uelmen went 12 scoreless on the week with nine strikeouts. It’ll be much easier to evaluate a year from now when these guys all have 25-30 starts under their belt rather than five or six.
The Cubs did pick a few hitters who I really liked last year. Filiere seems to have improved the most as he is hitting for average as well as drawing walks. I thought he would hit a lot more home runs, but it hasn’t really heated up yet in the Midwest League. Young is another impressive bat who really came on strong in August. He is one of my favorite hitters to watch in the organization because his approach is so good.
The same is true of Austin Upshaw, who did well at South Bend last summer but is struggling in 2018 at Myrtle Beach. The approach is still there, the results are not.
The 19-year-old Velazquez tore it up last summer in Mesa. I thought he would begin 2018 in Eugene and I was really surprised to see him debut at South Bend the week of May 7. You can definitely see the tools and the skillset on display, but he seems to be struggling at the plate with the types of curves or changeups he hasn’t seen before.
Luis Vazquez, an 18-year-old shortstop, should also be a sight to see this summer in Eugene. He might be the best defensive shortstop in the system and should move pretty quickly if he can do anything with his bat. I’m looking forward to seeing 19-year-old Jeremiah Estrada pitch for Eugene this summer. He pitched a little bit last year in Mesa but not enough to get a good look at, so actually watching him regularly may tell us whether the Cubs got a steal in the sixth round.
There are more than 10 other draft picks — that’s one-third of the class — who will make their 2018 debuts later this year. Part of me says to give them a B and move on, but that is just a lot of players who are still getting in the swing of things.
As much as it may sound like a cop-out, the fair grade at this point is probably an incomplete. And that might be true for most drafts after their first year, honestly. There are many good things happening with this class and there are other picks who really haven’t even gotten going. Then again, I thought it would be unfair to the reader to get through this whole article and not even give a grade.
With that in mind, I’m going to throw out a B- for now. There’s no one who has gone out and consistently dominated. However, depending on how things go this year, the 2017 class could easily be an A when we look back a year from now. If Little continues to improve, Lange and Thompson find some consistency, Estrada flashes at Eugene, Vazquez maintains the glovework, and the excellent hitting of Young, Filiere, Upshaw, and Velazquez continues, the Cubs will have made quite a haul.
The Cubs took some chances in the 2017 draft and may hit on a few of them in due time. Just a year from now we’ll know a lot more, but for right now, it’s a pretty promising class.