The June player draft has existed since the 1965 season, and has become a paramount method for building a successful roster. The Chicago Cubs have had their share of hits and misses in the draft, but the five best players they’ve drafted were among the best in the game for at least part of their careers.
We’ll rely on the Baseball Reference version of WAR here. The stat line for each player shows the year drafted followed by the round. And note that the WAR numbers for pitchers include their hitting contributions (or “contributions”) – that’s why they’re a little different than just the pitching WAR you’ll see in Baseball Reference.
#5 Lee Smith (1975/2), 28.9 career WAR
In his first four professional seasons Smith was mainly a starter. In every one of those seasons, the right-hander walked more batters than he struck out; his K/BB ratio in 1979, the last of those four seasons, was an abysmal 0.54. After 448 innings over these four seasons, Smith looked like a failure.
These results might have shattered a lesser man, but Smith had a will like railroad steel. His first year as a reliever, the 1980 season, was the first in which his strikeouts exceeded his walks. After achieving that modest success at Triple-A,, the Cubs promoted him. (It didn’t take much to break into the Cubs’ staff back then.)
Needless to say, it worked. Over his eight seasons with the Cubs Smith put up a 2.29 ERA, a 134 ERA+, and saved 180 games for a franchise that was under .500 every year during that span except 1984. He generated about two-thirds of his career WAR with the Cubs, laying the groundwork for his ultimate induction into the Hall of Fame.