Cubs: A lineup full of former first-rounders doesn’t mean a thing

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

You might think having six former first-round picks in a potential starting lineup would be something worth noting. But in the case of the Chicago Cubs, it’s more about these guys living up to the hype that once surrounded them more than anything else.

There is still much uncertainty as to the final product the Cubs will have out on the field but we do know it will have tons of potential. As of now, the lineup is set to feature six former first-round picks. Those are Nico Hoerner (2018), Nick Madrigal (2018), Ian Happ (2015), Patrick Wisdom (2012), Clint Frazier (2013) and Jason Heyward (2007).

Sometimes for these first-round picks, they simply didn’t start off in the right situation and need a fresh start in order to reach their full potential. Wisdom is a perfect example of that. Drafted by the Cardinals in 2012, the third baseman never had a window to playing time as he played in just 41 games until coming to the Cubs in 2020. When he got his shot in 2021, he made the most of it by slugging 28 home runs in 106 games while finishing fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Let’s hope Frazier is another example of a player who has yet to break out. Drafted by the Indians fifth overall in the 2012 draft, he didn’t get a shot in the bigs until 2017 when he was with the Yankees. With a crowded outfield in New York, he became more of a utility man and 69 games in 2019 is the most he’s seen the field during an MLB season.  Let’s hope a clear path to playing time in Chicago will help the 27-year-old bust out.

Our own two former first-round picks, Hoerner and Happ, have much to prove themselves. Hoerner is a name with so much potential but some concerns as well. He’s exactly what the Cubs want in a second baseman as he can hit for average (.272 average through 112 games) and can get on base (.342 career on-base percentage).  However, he hasn’t shown his ability to stay healthy and team. He hasn’t played more than 50 games in a season and it’s difficult to trust his durability to this point.

Happ is the other name that has shown what he’s capable of. He’s got the .805 career OPS but he’s struggled to consistently perform throughout a full season. He was great in the 2020 shortened season, batting .258 with an .866 OPS but followed it up batting just .226 in 2021. Anyone can get hot in a 60-game season but being able to keep that up for another 102 games is something Happ needs to show.

We won’t address the topic of Heyward as his contract remains a huge handicap on what this front office wants to do moving forward.

Madrigal is the last name that does present some excitement. He’s only played 83 games but has shown what the Cubs want with a .317 average and .358 on-base percentage. The ceiling is high for the second baseman coming over from the Craig Kimbrel trade to the South Side but he’ll need to show what he can do for a full season, especially coming back from missing over half of 2021 due to injury.

While it’s exciting to see this kind of potential, these guys have so much to prove in 2022 and there’s a ton of uncertainty in terms of them being able to live up to their expectations. It’s important not to read into the ‘six first round draft picks in the lineup’ narrative until we see the on-field product.

Our skepticism actually arises when we look at a different sport. In the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons entered the 2020 with the most first-round picks on their roster with 10. Fans were excited about what could be but it ended up being exactly that as they finished the season 4-12. It’s more about what the collective group can do and if one can actually live up to the hype they were given more than anything.

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The Cubs are in the midst of filling out their roster and they have a long way to go before we can get excited about this group. While the first-round picks do present upside, there’s a lot more that needs to happen if Chicago is to be competitive in 2022.