Entangled in the depth for the Cubs is an intriguing arm with lots of upside.
You never know what you will get when it comes to the MLB Draft. We’ve seen the Cubs strike it rich and swing and miss over the years. Encapsulated in 40 rounds year-to-year sans 2020, it is a crapshoot combining expectation, unheralded boom-or-bust talent and a chance at hitting that golden ticket of the next generational superstar.
It is not all about the first-round talent in this environment. It sometimes isn’t about fifth-round talent. Sometimes some players are passed over for double-digit rounds before finding a home and, subsequently, a chance to leave their footprint.
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Although not initially drafted by the Cubs before the trade from the Phillies, Ryne Sandberg heard his name called in the 20th round in 1978. Cubs great Mark Grace was a 24th round pick in 1985. It has seemingly continued as the Cubs in 2017 as the final pick of the draft that year, pick number 1215, selected a right-hander from the tiny private Christian Lipscomb University: Jeffrey Passantino.
Passantino attended Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Florida. He played in many national showcases and was a part of many competitive tournament teams before his commitment to Lipscomb. As a freshman, Passantino appeared in 16 games registering seven starts and pitching to a 2.69 ERA, striking out 64 over 67 innings.
In his sophomore and junior seasons, Passantino became a staple in the rotation starting 15 games in each respective season. In his sophomore season, the righty threw two complete games. His junior year was his strongest year as he finished with a 3.09 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 96 innings.
Never a huge strikeout guy in college, at least on paper, that changed for Passantino when the Cubs nabbed him with the final pick of the draft in 2017. The first year was spent in the Arizona League, where he posted an impressive 25 percent strikeout rate to just a 2.3 percent walk rate over 20 1/3 innings.
Consistency for Passantino continued to stay strong as he finished with a 3.34 ERA the following season spent moving between short-season Eugene and Class-A South Bend. In 2019, Passantino began the year at South Bend and quickly rose through the system’s ranks, reaching Triple-A Iowa by year’s end.
Moving between the levels, a few things immediately stick out for Passantino. His ability to strike batters out has worked well as he hovered between 24 to 34 percent and has kept the walk rate at an unseemly low level.
One thing to note about Passantino was the award he earned in 2016, named the Most Outstanding Pitcher in the Cape Cod League when he posted a 0.64 ERA with 55 strikeouts and only six walks, joining the ranks of star pitchers Chris Sale and Andrew Miller as a recipient of the award.
Whether Passantino rises to the stature of a starter or can profile as a potent reliever is yet to be known, but in a system reliant on pitching talent in the future, Passantino can rise to the challenge to be a guy the Cubs could rely on down the road.