Draft Grade: Cubs Believe their Gamble on Character and Upside will Pay Dividends

We’re now nearly three full weeks removed from the 2020 MLB Draft, and in that time the baseball landscape has shifted dramatically. With tenuous negotiations for the 2020 season likely a harbinger of an ugly CBA fight ahead, the promise of a 2020 season feels less exciting than it should.

But alas, we should have baseball in 2020, and for that we can be thankful — even if begrudgingly so. There are myriad new rules (roster and in-game) to pore over, which you can do here, compliments of MLB Trade Rumors.

For the time being, however, let’s return to the MLB Draft, and examine in full the selections of our beloved Cubbies.

In my Mock Draft for the Cubs I argued the focus should be on starting pitching. I was particularly fond of a few prep arms, suggesting the Cubs go that route in each of the first two rounds. Here were my picks, along with where they ended up:

Round – Pick No.My PickWhere my Pick Went
Round 1 – Pick 16Jared Kelley (RHP), Refugio HS (Texas)Chicago White Sox (R2)
Round 2 – Pick 51Daxton Fulton (LHP) Mustang HS (Oklahoma)Miami Marlins (R2)
Round 3 – Pick 88Clayton Beeter (RHP) Texas TechLos Angeles Dodgers (CBB)
Round 4 – Pick 117Zavier Warren (Utility) Central MichiganMilwaukee Brewers (R3)
Round 5 – Pick 147Tekoah Roby (RHP) Pine Forest HS (Florida)Texas Rangers (R3)

While I went o’fer in my mock draft the Cubs did reveal a pattern in each round of the 2020 draft. Certainly, there was a focus on pitching, as they selected three arms with their five picks. Instead of drafting sure-fire starters, however, they opted for hurlers that either have tremendous upside or show the promise of developing into polished Major League arms.

The position player front demonstrated a willingness to think outside-the-box so many (myself included) predetermined for the franchise, as the Cubs took two players with raw talent that could very well develop into productive every day players.

Above all, it was clear that new Scouting Director Dan Kantrovitz centered his selections around the character and makeup of each player.

Round 1, Pick 16: Ed Howard (SS) Mount Carmel HS (Illinois)

Photo: Quinn Harris via Max Preps

There’s nothing new I can add in speaking of Ed Howard. The Chicago-area product is already a legend, thanks to his role on the Jackie Robinson West 2015 squad, and a high school career that was fittingly prolific.

The Cubs surprised the baseball world drafting Howard, not because he didn’t grade out as a first round pick, but because the assumption industry-wide was that the Cubs would take a polished college arm or the best college hitter available in the draft. Clearly, they debunked both assumptions.

Our Editor-in-Chief Patrick Flowers was impossibly high on Howard, hoping he’d end up on the Southside with their first round pick (11). Instead, the Sox drafted for need, and understandably so, leaving the door wide open for Howard to fall right into the Cubs lap.

With MLB-capable defense right now, an intriguing offensive profile, and the physical frame to develop power, Howard very much looks like a safe bet to become an everyday player — if not a star.

It’s his character, however, that makes Howard such a great pick:

“Everybody brings three things up when they talk about Ed. They say, 1. He’s a winner. He’s always played on good teams and been an instrumental part of all those teams. 2. He’s just a great person. He’s just a down-to-earth kid, humble but confident. Just one of those teammates that you want to have. And then, 3. He’s a worker. When you listen to Ed interview — and he talks about his relentless work ethic and how he goes about his business — it’s not fabricated in any way.
If there was any player in this draft that I wanted to go to bat for, it would have been Ed Howard.”

John Pedrotty, Cubs Area Scout

Round 2, Pick 51: Burl Carraway (LHP) Dallas Baptist University

Photo: DBU Athletics

Carraway is a name that Cubs fans should quickly see on the 26-man roster. And by soon, I mean this season.

Burl is an interesting pick for the Cubs because, again, they shied away from drafting the farm’s biggest need (starting pitching) in order to select a premium talent with an elite skill set.

With a fastball that sits in the mid-to-upper 90’s, a devastating curve, and a delivery that hides the ball well, Carraway is as polished an arm as you can get coming out of the college ranks. This is especially true when you consider that he has a spin rate on both of his pitches that is already elite relative to Major League lefties.

I recently spoke with Dallas Baptist Pitching Coach Josh Hopper, and he raves about Burl, both as a player and a person. ““What sets him apart is the way his stuff plays because of a different [arm] slot. Obviously a different height as well, as far as different physical features. But I think you’re getting an Andrew Miller-type pitcher, where he could close, he could potentially set-up, he could potentially come in the fifth and run three innings.”

While the Cubs certainly need starting pitching depth, the addition of a unique lefty that is already drawing comparisons to Andrew Miller maintains its own intrigue. The Cubs only named 50 players to their 60-man player pool for 2020, leaving plenty of roster maneuvering available in the coming months.

That he’s considered a likely candidate to debut in 2020 makes him an especially valuable arm.

Round 3, Pick 88: Jordan Nwogu (OF) Michigan

Photo: Rick Osentoski, Associated Press

To put it bluntly, Nwogu is far-and-away the riskiest pick the Cubs made in this year’s draft. A star at the University of Michigan — especially so during their surprise run in the 2019 College World Series — Jordan is an elite athlete with both size (6’3, 235) and surprising speed.

He was a walk-on at Michigan, with an unmatched work ethic. Michigan’s Assistant Head Coach Nick Schnabel offered nothing but superlatives about Jordan when I spoke with him earlier this month.

He may have an awkward swing that doesn’t fully utilize his raw power, and his defense, while improved, is still a work-in-progress that best profiles in left field. But after researching and hearing first-hand accounts about Nwogu, the Cubs are banking on developing a talented athlete with a will to succeed. It won’t be surprising if they help him unlock his full potential.

Admittedly, I would have liked the Cubs to take Zavier Miller here (who ended up with Milwaukee a few picks after Nwogu) as I covet a player with versatility and switch-hitting capabilities, and success in the Cape Cod League.

Nwogu has a high-ceiling, however, and I trust the Front Office’s due diligence in making their third-round selection.

Round 4, Pick 117: Luke Little (LHP) San Jacinto Junior College

Photo: San Jacinto Baseball

One of the most intriguing arms in the 2020 draft, the selection of Luke Little is once again about taking an uber-talented arm with the hopes of developing him into a valuable weapon in the not-so-distant future.

At 6’8, 225 pounds, Little is an imposing force on the mound, complete with an upper-90’s fastball that can easily reach triple digits. His slider sits in the low-80’s, and has shown improvement in his brief college career.

Little’s success will depend on his ability to develop consistent mechanics and repeat his release point. While many assume he will inevitably make a living as a reliever, the Cubs Pitch Lab could help him refine his mechanics while also developing a change-up.

Since Little shows a lot of promise — with an equal amount of necessary development — I wouldn’t be surprised to see him groomed as a starter. Should that development never occur, he’s still a safe bet to debut as a reliever for the Cubs sometime in the future.

Round 5, Pick 147: Koen Moreno (RHP) Panther Creek HS (North Carolina)

Bailey Horn - Baseball - Auburn University Athletics
Photo: highschoolOT.com

Moreno was an East Carolina commit until the draft, and because he has a lot of development years ahead of him there was speculation he might not be signable if drafted in 2020. Clearly that wasn’t the case, as the Cubs recently signed him to a deal nearly triple the slot-value.

In Moreno the Cubs are receiving a projectable frame (6’2, 170) with stuff that already shows as plus. His fastball, while mostly high-80’s to low-90’s, has touched 94, and his developing curve and a feel for a change suggest he is a long-term starter.

Moreno’s pandemic-shortened senior season limited his ability to climb draft boards, but the fact the Cubs were able to snatch him up in the fifth round (while also securing his signature) means they finally added a legitimate starting pitching prospect in the 2020 draft.

Final Grade: B+

My immediate response to the Cubs 2020 draft maintains both praise and confusion. Getting a potential superstar in Howard and an immediate contributor in Carraway should be met with high-praise, as they both answer long-term questions for the Cubs.

I am surprised, however, that the Cubs landed just one guaranteed starting pitcher prospect, and for that reason alone I lowered the grade from the A range to a B+.

If we’re isolating picks, if this draft were in a vacuum, the Cubs would certainly receive an A. In rounds three to five the Cubs selected players with unteachable athleticism (Nwogu), electric stuff (Little), and a clear path toward becoming a rotation stalwart (Moreno).

While I love the Cubs picks from a character standpoint, taking calculated risks, and from getting great value out of their selections, at the end of the day they must find more young, controllable starting pitching depth.

Perhaps that will be the clear focus in the 2021 draft.

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