The Cubs started the draft with high-floor players and finished with upside. For all five selections, they have the potential to flourish at the major league level.
Round 1, Pick 16: SS Ed Howard
Age: 18 B/T: R/R Height: 6’2” Weight: 185 lbs
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One of the many positives about Howard is his connection to Chicago. For one, he lives there, but he also played on a well-known little league team for the city. Unfortunately, they are best known for adults not playing by the rules in terms of roster construction; however, that does not change the fact that it was a special group of individual players, one of whom was Ed Howard.
A strong hitter, Howard generates power from the ground all throughout his body. The use of his legs and core might be described as violent, as “explosive” simply does not do it justice. In spite of this, he keeps a controlled swing with his steady shoulders and his arms. In his Varsity career, he hit for a .229 ISO while only striking out 13% of the time. With his hand-eye coordination and ability to get the most from his body, Howard is a truly special hitter. And there’s more power on the way, as he hasn’t yet filled out his frame to the fullest extent.
In the field, the Cubs are safe. There is no real risk that he will “outgrow” the position. He has smooth hands, solid fundamentals and footwork, and a strong arm working in his favor. The only real roadblock would be Javier Baez, but that’s irrelevant right now: whether or not Howard has to cover an immediate positional need for the big league club in his first stint (second base, maybe) he will still be capable of playing shortstop well. Overall, the Cubs did a great job with this pick.
Round 2, Pick 51: LHP Burl Carraway
Age: 21 B/T: L/L Height: 6’0” Weight: 173 lbs
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Carraway’s delivery is odd, to say the least. However, it’s relatively clean mechanically; my only concern is the extent of his chicken wing arm positioning. Yes, a bent arm is usually more conducive to higher velocities and better efficiency than a full arm swing, but it seems like this poses a limitation on his extension and release point, causing his curveball to be more elevated than anyone but opposing batters would like. His curve is his main offspeed pitch, and it’s a quality pitch other than that one concern. It has a speed difference of almost 20 mph with the fastball, and with that and the depth of it, it’s a difficult pitch to hit even if the location isn’t great. Of course, it won’t play as well as it does against major leaguers if it’s consistently elevated: college players have a hard time on the stuff alone, but most major league hitters will be able to hit a good pitch in a bad spot.
Carraway relies on his mid-90s fastball, which often flies over the swings of opposing batters. Well, pretty much everything he throws misses bats: he has consistently struck out over 40% of batters in his college career. Hitters swinging under his fastball suggests a high spin rate, which happens to be the hottest trend in professional baseball. Pair that with his crazy delivery, and it might feel like it’s another tick or two higher than what radar guns read. Unlike the curveball, he actually has pretty impressive control of this pitch. Especially if he adds some velocity on his path to Chicago, Carraway’s fastball should be a hitter’s nightmare.
Round 3, Pick 88: OF Jordan Nwogu
Age: 21 B/T: R/R Height: 6’3” Weight: 235 lbs
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Nwogu has a unique swing that he must prove to work at higher levels before I can have faith in it. The shoulder dip, uppercut, along with starting the bat angled towards the catcher do all work together to create a strong swing, but there are holes that can be exploited. An obvious one is the infatution with high-spin fastballs up in the zone, and another is that his swing makes it hard to hit outside pitches. As I’d hope is the case for every hitter taken this high, Nwogu has solid hand-eye coordination that makes this swing work. Unfortunately, that only gets so far before a visit to the fundamentals and some deep thinking mull over necessary tweaks. Luckily for Nwogu, he studied computer engineering in college, so the mental aspect shouldn’t be too hard for him. One thing that could let his power take off is by keeping his hands in the loaded position until the point he fires his swing. That way, he can keep the most tension in his swing as possible and generate more power with his strong body. He tends to let his hands gravitate towards his body, which is natural, but it is a power leak.
In the field, he projects to be more of a corner outfielder. The speed that works in his favor on the bases doesn’t play as much in the outfield because of his jumps and reactions. With his decent arm, right field would probably be better suited for someone else: on a big leage club, Nwogu is most likely a left fielder. Although there is a lot of room for improvement, the Cubs are working with a high-ceiling talent that certainly has the ability to contribute in a big way at the highest level. To have the capacity to improve is not a bad thing: it’s better to have unfulfilled potential than no potential at all. However, until Nwogu begins to solidify his mechanics as a professional, his trajectory is considerably lower than it could be.
Round 4, Pick 117: LHP Luke Little
Age: 19 B/T: L/L Height: 6’8” Weight: 225 lbs
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Luke Little is one of the best pitchers in this draft class. What goes against him is that he’s a reliever… but he’s not just any reliever: he’s a lefty reliever that can hit 105 mph with a low 80s slider and changeup. Does this remind you of anyone? Say, a young Aroldis Chapman? Both are high-strikeout pitchers who use their bodies exceptionally well to create high velocities. In Chapman’s case, his strengths are his core and legs; for Little, it’s his legs and the ability to create exceptional torque with his long limbs and 6’8” frame. What Little struggles with is walks (9.2 BB/9 in 12.1 IP this season), which a simple move to the third base side of the rubber can help with.
With command in the zone, Little is actually not so bad. His fastball is more or less where he wants it, and he has the awareness to not hang offspeed pitches. The changeup in the dirt taken for a ball is better than the thigh-high 83 mph meatball. Something to keep in mind is that he’s only 19 years old; with some time around minor league pitching coaches, an even more refined delivery should help Little’s electric stuff find the zone more often.
Round 5, Pick 147: RHP Koen Moreno
Age: 18 B/T: R/R Height: 6’2” Weight: 170 lbs
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Koen Moreno looks like a lower ceiling, right-handed Luke Little. He won’t have as much torque in his delivery simply because of the six inch height difference, and the same logic can be used for his extension, but this is the type of pitcher worth gambling on. Taking a high-strikeout (29.2% in high school) high-walk (13.1%) pitcher and attempting to refine his control is much more feasable than expecting a low-velocity strike thrower and greatly enhancing his stuff. Moreno throws a fastball around 90 mph with a changeup and a slider as well. Of the two, the slider is currently the better pitch because of its sharp break and great vertical movement. Both offspeed pitches settle in the low 80s. As a 6’2” high schooler, there is undoubtedly more muscle to pack on. His fastball should be able to sit in the mid 90s, or at least 93, by the time he reaches the big leagues. As for his control it’s not the best but not the worst either. It will be around average in his prime. Moreno is a bit of a project, but his projectability makes him a relatively safe one.