The Chicago Cubs surprised fans, scouts and experts alike when they made Oklahoma right-hander Cade Horton the seventh overall pick in this year’s MLB amateur draft. But, linked with some flashier names in the draft, namely bats, the front office instead continued to address much-needed depth at a position they have made a priority in recent years.
They followed up the Horton selection with a high-upside prep arm, left-hander Jackson Ferris, in the second round. It marks the second year in a row where the Cubs have given precedence to arms in two of the draft’s first three rounds.
In total, the Cubs drafted 15 pitchers in the 20-round marathon, four more than last year. Of the 11 arms drafted last season, all but two signed contracts. This year there is likely a handful more who will not sign deals; however, the direction and message are clear, and the organization is about to become even more abundant with arms, which is excellent news looking to the future.
Cubs: The importance of developing skillful pitching
The Cubs currently have 10 pitchers within their organizational top 30. Left-handers Jordan Wicks and D.J. Herz are in the top 10 and have each put together strong seasons to this point. Wicks is a first-round pick from last season and has shown a significant shift from last season when he posted a 5.14 ERA in South Bend, however, in just a four-game sample size.
This year, Wicks was back in South Bend, and that improvement has come in the form of an improved strikeout rate from 15.6 to 30.6 percent, which, in turn, has led to a very recent promotion to Double-A Tennessee. Conversely, Herz has continued defying every expectation from which his eighth-round draft status signaled.
Having turned 21 years old just six months ago, the lanky lefty has dominated competition at every level. However, the most impressive thing about Herz is that he seemed to only get stronger despite having found himself in the pandemic pool of pitchers who lost time over nearly two seasons.
Herz continues to lower his earned run average and, through 17 starts this season, boasts a 2.26 clip with a 2.85 FIP and a ridiculous 38.1 percent strikeout rate which is a slight dip from last season’s 40.6 percent. Oh yeah, he’s also a lefty if it hadn’t been mentioned enough, which is a considerable need for the Cubs. Both Wicks and Herz are a few years from the ‘Show.’ However, these are two legitimately scary good arms and are a big reason the system stock is rising.
The remaining arms in the top 30 can be summed up by a famous line in the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ and is a mixed bag of talent who have all shown brilliance at points. Right-hander Daniel Palencia, currently in South Bend, is one of the more consistent arms in terms of his overwhelming ability to strike guys out. He is sitting on a much improved 29.1 percent strikeout rate this season.
Marred by a bit of bad luck in each of his three professional seasons, Palencia has pitched better than the numbers show, and there is hope he continues to improve this season at High-A. One tricky thing about navigating the current crop of young talent is the nature of the Cubs’ decision to promote guys.
As the season has been off the rails for a while, it has given them the chance to evaluate some of these arms in the aggregate at the highest level. As a result, guys like right-hander Caleb Kilian, who came over in the Craig Kimbrel trade, and Brandon Hughes have had chances this year, and there is likely more to follow suit as the season rolls along.
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It should be noted that you can never have enough pitching. It will be interesting to see how this newest group fits into the arc of where the Cubs hope to go and, at the end of the day, how they foresee arriving at whatever they expect. Let’s hope these guys continue trending in the right direction because, as we all know, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and this core of arms will ultimately bring a lot of uniqueness to a team eager to return to the top.