5 takeaways from the Chicago Cubs’ 2023 MLB draft, including an offensive power infusion and intriguing 16th-round arm

12 July 2023

The Chicago Cubs’ latest draft class is in the books.

The organization has until July 25 to sign their 20 picks, led by their first-round selection Maryland shortstop Matt Shaw.

“There’s always a chance that there’s some surprises that crop up between now and the signing deadline and potentially a little leakage in certain places,” vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz said Tuesday. “But for the most part, I wouldn’t expect the signing process to be too eventful, in a positive way.”

1. A balanced, but college-heavy class.

By the time Kantrovitz and the Cubs completed the 20-round draft Tuesday, 17 of their selections came from the collegiate level.

Of the college group, it was a nearly even split with nine pitchers and eight position players (six infielders, one catcher and one outfielder). Kantrovitz said the Cubs didn’t necessarily go into the draft planning for a big emphasis on college players, but noted their 2023 bonus pool ($8,962,000) ranked near the bottom third of all MLB teams.

Pretty happy with the way it unfolded and pleasantly surprised that it looks like we are able to get some young players in the fold, which is uncharacteristic of having a pool in the bottom third,” Kantrovitz said.

“Whether it’s particular traits of players or whether that’s the demographic breakdown of our draft, to be totally honest, with bottom third pool, I’m pretty surprised that we were able to get as many high school players as we could. Now we still have to sign them. But if we didn’t have some idea of whether they’re going to be able to sign we probably wouldn’t take him in this case.”

2. Cubs leaned on the projectible tools of their high school selections.

The Cubs’ three high school picks feature the type of raw upside that can pay off longterm.

They took outfielder Alfonsin Rosario (P27 Academy in South Carolina) and shortstop Yahil Melendez (B You Academy in Puerto Rico) in the sixth and seven rounds, respectively, and drafted outfielder Zyhir Hope (Colonial Forge High School in Virginia) during the 11th round.

“When you talk about a young high school kid, we’ve always viewed it as a positive to fall back on those tools, whether it’s like a plus run tool or plus raw power, plus arm,” Kantrovitz said. “Sometimes if it’s not a toolsy guy, it becomes tough to sort of get out of some of those funks and it can go downhill quick. So I think the toolsier a player is, the more options and more pathways they probably have to succeed.”

The 6-foot-6 Rosario, 19, boasts enormous raw power that excites Kantrovitz, who added, “we’re going to take it slow with him and he’s going to have to refine his approach offensively and develop a little bit more polished baseball skills.”

With Melendez, who turns 18 in September, Kantrovitz estimates the Cubs had five or six scouts get a look at the left-handed hitting shortstop this spring, a notable amount for a player in Puerto Rico. The Cubs believe Melendez should be able to stick in the middle of the diamond, contributing to his upside.

Hope possesses athleticism and lefty power and is capable of hitting the ball hard with the type of exit velocities that are intriguing for an organization that values those metrics alongside scout’s reports.

3. Cubs tap into big, power pitchers.

Three of the collegiate pitchers the Cubs drafted boast a 6-foot-6 frame: Arkansas right-hander Jaxon Wiggins (compensation round), South Carolina right-hander Will Sanders (fourth round) and Ball State right-hander Ty Johnson (15th round).

Wiggins is coming back from Tommy John surgery but features a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and power slider to join a still-developing curveball. The Cubs haven’t shied away from selecting pitchers with that injury history, and once healthy, Wiggins should be able to re-harness the quality of pitches he showed pre-injury.

Sanders’ frame helps him generate an extreme downhill angle and extension. Although he throws a mid-90s fastball, the Cubs see him as more than just a power pitcher thanks to his three secondary pitches: slider, curveball, changeup. Kantrovitz said the Cubs could have Sanders add another weapon to his pitch mix — like a cutter — and have more power across the board.

“When you get a guy like that that has a starter’s repertoire, that still has some projection left his frame and that throws strikes, it ends up being what we believe is a pretty good recipe for potential velo gains and maybe some tweaking to his repertoire and somebody that we think we haven’t really seen the best of yet,” Kantrovitz said.

Johnson struggled with command at times during his three seasons at Ball State (4.0 walks per 9 innings) but saw a jump in his strikeout rate in 2023, tallying 68 strikeouts in 53⅔ innings (11.4 K/9) with six of his 16 appearances coming in the bullpen. Like Wiggins and Sanders, Johnson’s fastball is a strong pitch that can hit in the upper 90s.

4. An offensive power infusion from the college ranks.

A common theme emerged from the Cubs’ selection of college position players: lots of slugging in their bat.

Florida shortstop Josh Rivera (third round) saw a big jump in his power numbers between his junior and senior seasons. Kantrovitz attributed the power improvement to Rivera’s approach and ability to make contact.

“He’s always had a pop in his bat, we’ve observed that since high school,” Kantrovitz said. “Josh really focused on improving his decision-making and just really his control in the strike zone. Sometimes when a player focus on that, it doesn’t always come to fruition. But in the case of Josh, it’s clear some of the adjustments actually were substantial and meaningful.”

When healthy, Davidson’s Michael Carico (fifth round) showed the type of power that’s extremely valuable at catcher. A wrist injury limited Carico to 21 games in 2023, but he proved to be an imposing figure in the batter’s box. He was hit by a pitch 41 times in three years at Davidson against Atlantic 10 pitchers, including 36 over the last two seasons. Carico was also drilled 16 times in 24 games in the 2022 Northwoods Summer League.

“It’s indicative of somebody that is probably pretty well respected as far as a hitter in this conference,” Kantrovitz said. “He did not come out of the SEC or the ACC, it’s more of a mid-major so pitchers were trying to probably figure out how to how to pitch to him and sometimes really couldn’t figure it out as well as they wanted to.”

The Cubs don’t see many offensive holes with Long Beach State first baseman Jonathon Long (ninth round), who hit 15 home runs and 17 doubles with a .600 slugging percentage while playing in a home ballpark historically known as a tough place to hit.

“It’s always been like that, it’s kind of a graveyard in terms of the ball just staying in the park, the air is really thick and dense so when you hit for power there, typically it means you have the makings of what could be some real power,” Kantrovitz said. “How hard he was hitting the ball indicated by the exit velocity was something that, it didn’t remain constant, but it stood out from Day 1 when he walked on the field at Long Beach. He’s been somebody that we’ve been following for a few years.”

Late-round picks Brian Kalmer (Gonzaga third baseman, 18th round) and Drew Bowser (Stanford third baseman, 20th round) also possess the type of power potential that are valuable additions that deep into the draft.

5. An intriguing arm taken in the 16th round.

Based on left-hander Daniel Brown’s career numbers at Campbell, he isn’t an obvious choice to be drafted.

“That’s a good one that should probably raise some eyebrows,” Kantrovitz said of the Cubs’ 16th-round selection.

Brown, 20, appeared in only six games in his two seasons at Campbell, including only one inning pitched in four outings this year. He walked 13 of the 18 batters he faced and hit two others in 2023. In his best game, Brown struck out the side March 19 against Winthrop.

“He had a little difficulty finding the zone, but frankly, to be fair to him, probably didn’t get the chance that a guy with that kind of arm strength in our estimation deserved,” Kantrovitz said. “We want to give him that chance.”

That opportunity centers on the 6-foot-6 lefty possessing a fastball that hits triple digits with the type of athleticism and spin generated on his pitches. It’s a combination of upside not often found at that spot in the draft — and one that can make that player a worthy gamble.

“When you come into the system and haven’t pitched much in a game setting and when he did it was scattered control, there’s going to be a lot of work to do there,” Kantrovitz said. “It’s going to be somebody that just comes in with some pretty top of the charts, raw tools from a pitch metric standpoint, pitch shape standpoint, and even just a scouting evaluation standpoint, and just let our player development work with him and see where we can go.”

Here’s a breakdown of the Cubs selections in the 2023 MLB draft.

Round 1, No. 13 (bonus slot value $4,848,500): SS Matt Shaw, Maryland
Compensation round, No. 68: RHP Jaxon Wiggins, Arkansas
Round 3, No. 81: SS Josh Rivera, Florida
Round 4, No. 113: RHP Will Sanders, South Carolina
Round 5, No. 149: C Michael Carico, Davidson
Round 6, No. 176: OF Alfonsin Rosario, P27 Academy (S.C.)
Round 7, No. 206: SS Yahil Melendez, B You Academy (Puerto Rico)
Round 8, No. 236: OF Brett Bateman, Minnesota
Round 9, No. 266: 1B Jonathon Long, Long Beach State
Round 10, No. 296: RHP Luis Martinez-Gomez, Temple College (Texas)
Round 11, No. 326: OF Zyhir Hope, Colonial Forge (Va.) HS
Round 12, No. 356: 2B Carter Trice, NC State
Round 13, No. 386: RHP Sam Armstrong, Old Dominion
Round 14, No. 416: RHP Grayson Moore, Vanderbilt
Round 15, No. 446: RHP Ty Johnson, Ball State
Round 16, No. 476: LHP Daniel Brown, Campbell
Round 17, No. 506: LHP Ethan Flanagan, UCLA
Round 18, No. 536: 3B Brian Kalmer, Gonzaga
Round 19, No. 566: RHP Nick Dean, Maryland
Round 20, No. 596: 3B Drew Bowser, Stanford


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