We’ve talked extensively about how important prospects like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Cade Horton, Owen Caissie, and Matt Shaw could be to the 2024 Chicago Cubs. That being said, they could be even more important to the future of the franchise thanks to a new rule that could award the Cubs a high draft pick based on their success.
Former President of Baseball Operations and newly minted member of the Boston Red Sox ownership team, Theo Epstein, had a very important job between ending the Cubs’ 108-year World Series drought and returning to the Red Sox. He was a consultant to Major League Baseball, and one of his primary goals was to close the loophole that he, himself, used to win the 2016 World Series.
Most of us remember that in 2014, Kris Bryant destroyed the minor leagues to the tune of .325/.438/.661 with 43 homers and 34 doubles. Despite that dominance, the Cubs were incentivized to keep Bryant down in the minors to start the 2015 season “to work on his defense at third base,” in order to squeeze an additional year of team control out of him.
Bryant was called up 11 games into that 2015 season and would go on to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award and in 2016 he won the MVP as well as the first World Series in 108 years.
That incentive has now changed.
Rather than trying to get an additional year out of a player, the MLB has implemented the Player Performance Incentive (PPI) in which teams can earn prime draft picks by calling up highly rated prospects early and having them meet their high expectations.
MLB dot com has a really good FAQ about how teams can earn the PPI picks, but essentially what it comes down to is this:
The prospect must be considered a top-100 prospect by two of:
The prospect must break camp with the Major League team or get called up within two weeks of Opening Day.
The prospect must make their debut with the team in order to be considered for PPI
Meaning if a player makes their debut but still retains rookie eligibility for another team and they’re traded that player is no longer eligible for PPI (Michael Busch is ineligible).
If a player meets those requirements and then goes on to either win Rookie of the Year in their rookie year or place in the top three of voting for the MVP or Cy Young in their pre-arbitration years, they can earn their team a draft pick immediately following the first round.
Both the Orioles (Gunnar Henderson) and the Diamondback (Corbin Carroll) earned PPI picks in the 2024 draft and the Mariners earned a pick for Julio Rodriguez in 2022.
While players like Ben Brown and Kevin Alcantara are ineligible because they weren’t on two of the three top 100 lists, and Michael Busch is ineligible because he made his debut last season for the Dodgers, the Cubs still have a solid shot to earn a pick with their system in the shape that it is right now.
Pete Crow-Armstrong could open the season as the team’s everyday center fielder and with an impressive Spring Training, Cade Horton could pull the fifth spot in the rotation away from Jordan Wicks.
Beyond those two, Owen Caissie and Matt Shaw have the ability to earn the Cubs a pick (even if their odds are significantly lower).
Keep in mind, this journey doesn’t end after their rookie season. If Crow-Armstrong doesn’t win Rookie of the Year but goes on to have a Bobby Witt Jr.-esque second season and finishes in the top three of the NL MVP race he could still earn the Cubs a pick which would just be the proverbial cherry on top.