Cubs: First-round shortcomings may have helped end the curse

(Photo by Brian D. Kersey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian D. Kersey/Getty Images) /
3 of 3
Chicago Cubs / Javier Baez
(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs find Javier Baez, but little else in coming years

From 2009-11 the Cubs drafted three first-rounders, one of whom was Javier Baez, who you’ve probably heard some stuff about. Like, for example, that according to Stathead he’s the fifth-best Cubs shortstop ever.

The Cubs also drafted outfielder Brett Jackson (2009) and right-hander Hayden Simpson (2010). Jackson was a speedy, athletic centerfielder who, contrary to the stereotype of this sort of player, simply couldn’t make contact. He was done after 147 major league plate appearances, all but five with the Cubs, finishing with an epic strikeout rate of 40.8 percent that is lofty even by today’s incontinent standards.

As for Hayden Simpson, drafted in 2010, I see a hand raised in the back. Yes, Fangraphs?

"The organization went out on a very thin, brittle limb when it took Simpson with the 16th-overall pick of the 2010 draft. Considered by most as a huge over-draft, the right-hander never really recovered from a nasty case of mononucleosis that caused him to lose about 20 pounds (and he wasn’t a big guy to begin with). His fastball reportedly sat in the low-to-mid 80s during while pitching this past season. A college draftee, Simpson will turn 23 towards the end of May in 2012 so time is not on his side. He didn’t get out of low-A ball in ’11 and might have to return there next season. — Marc Hulet, 2011"

Simpson never made it to the majors. He was out of baseball by age 25, finishing with a career minor/independent league ERA of 6.83.

Some first rounders the Cubs could have drafted instead

Not only did the Cubs miss on most of the first-rounders they drafted, they also overlooked first-rounders still on the board who went on to have solid careers. Examples include:

  • Matt Cain (2002, LHP, 29.1 WAR) who went on to throw over 2,000 innings for the San Francisco Baseball Giants.
  • Aaron Hill (2003, SS, 24.4 WAR), who would have a good career with both bat and glove as an infielder, mostly with the Blue Jays and the Diamondbacks.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury (2005, OF, 31.2 WAR), who would finish his career with an 82.9 percent stolen base success rate, eighth-best for players with at least 300 steals.
  • Ian Kennedy (2006, RHP, 18.1 WAR), who would have his best years as a starter in his mid-20s with the Snakes, and eventually make a very successful late-career transition to the bullpen.
  • Jason Heyward (2007, OF, 39.4 WAR) who – and you kids won’t remember this – used to be a very good ballplayer. Before coming to the Cubs Heyward had only one season with a WAR below 3.6. Since his arrival at Clark and Addison, he has had no seasons approaching that level.
  • Christian Yelich (2010, OF, 33.4 WAR), who became a mainstay for the team that currently ranks as I-94’s best.

These are all first-rounders; the Cubs missed on later round gems, but so did just about every team. And the Cubs hit on some later round picks as well. But the first round is the most reliable route to big league success, and Cubs first round picks in the pre-Theo decade generally didn’t make the trip.

Next. Ranking the top free agent signings in Cubs history. dark

It’s possible that a better first round performance during this period would have prevented the Cubs from breaking the curse because the owners would not have felt the urgency to resort to the scorched earth practice of tanking. On the other hand, it’s also possible that Epstein would not have had to tank if he’d been able to take over a team less bereft of first round success.