The MLB Amateur Draft will begin on Thursday night, and since I pay little to no attention to high school and college baseball, I’m not going to bother trying to break down possible picks for either the Cubs or Sox. Instead I’ll look at history to give us an idea of the future. So, much like I did with the Bears a few weeks ago, I’m going to rank the first round draft picks of both our franchises over the last 20 years. You can read the White Sox rankings here, or you could just continue reading the list of Cubs picks.
While compiling these lists there were a few key differences I noticed between the White Sox and the Cubs in the draft. The biggest difference being the amount of players that each team has taken in the first round since 1994. The White Sox have had 35 first round selections in that time compared to only 26 for the Cubs. Also, if you don’t count the picks of players still in minor league systems somewhere, 10 of the 21 players the Cubs chose in the first round never saw the Majors, compared to nine of 30 White Sox picks.
Now, that doesn’t mean the Sox have been more successful drafting, necessarily, as much as it means the Sox were a bit more aggressive moving players through the system. Sometimes to their benefit, other times not.
Which brings me to the other key difference I noticed.
While the Sox may have gotten more players to the Majors, by and large, the Cubs first round picks that have reached the top level have had better careers. Of the 21 Sox picks I ranked yesterday, eight of them played in less than 100 big league games. Of the 11 Cubs picks we’re about to cover, only two played less than 100 games in the Majors.
So there’s a definite quality over quantity argument to be made by the Cubs here.
11. Josh Vitters 3B, 2007 Pick #3, -1.3 WAR, 36 games
This pick hurt because, when you’re picking at No. 3, you’d like to get a little something more than what Vitters provided. He’s still in Iowa, but he’s also 24, and plays a position that the Cubs have had trouble finding an answer for in recent years. Which is a problem he helped create. Also doesn’t help that the Cubs could have taken Matt Wieters, Madison Bumgardner or Jason Heyward with the same pick.
10. Luis Montanez SS, 2000 Pick #3, -1.2 WAR, 129 games
Another bad position player taken with the third pick. The third pick is apparently cursed, so good news for the White Sox. As for Montanez, he wasn’t terrible, but he was wholly unremarkable, and though he did play for the Cubs, he took an odd route there. After being drafted in 2000 he spent a few years in the Cubs farm system before being granted free agency in 2006. He then signed with the Orioles and spent parts of three seasons in Baltimore before signing with the Cubs in 2011. He played in parts of four MLB seasons, but never played in more than 38 games in any single campaign.
9. Brett Jackson OF, 2009 Pick #31, 0.1 WAR, 44 games
Brett Jackson’s career isn’t over, as he’s still playing in Iowa, but from what we’ve seen of him with the Cubs, I’m not sure how much hope we should have for the 25-year old’s chances to climb this list. Especially when you look at his numbers in the minors the last few years, as he hit .210/.296/.330 last season and is at .208/.266/.386 this year.
8. Ryan Flaherty SS, 2008 Pick #41, 0.0 WAR, 192 games
Flaherty bounced around the Cubs farm system for a few years before being taken by the Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft in 2011. Since then he’s just been a guy to fill out a roster spot for the most part, with a career line of .218/.280/.361.
7. Tyler Colvin OF, 2006 Pick #13, 1.5 WAR, 403 games
We had some hopes for Tyler, didn’t we? After getting a cup of coffee in 2009 Colvin showed up in Chicago in 2010, hitting 20 homers and finishing with an OPS of .816. Considering he was 24 at the time, we all thought he’d get better. But he didn’t, and after a terrible 2011 season he was traded to Colorado for Casey Weathers and Ian Stewart. Now there’s a trade that worked out well for the Cubs. As for Colvin, like in Chicago, he had a promising start to his Colorado career and followed up the first season with a dud. He’s now with San Francisco.
6. Andrew Cashner RHP, 2008 Pick # 19, 4.3 WAR, 138 games
Cashner hasn’t been brilliant or anything, and arm troubles could be to blame for that, but he’s not terrible. He’s actually been all right for San Diego the last few years, but he could end up being awesome for the Cubs, even if he never plays for them. Let’s not forget how Cashner got to San Diego in the first place: he was traded there by the Cubs for Anthony Rizzo.
5. Corey Patterson OF, 1998 Pick #3, 9.6 WAR, 1,230 games
Another third pick that didn’t work out quite the way the Cubs were hoping. The hype for Patterson was endless, but when he got to Chicago he didn’t quite live up to it. Not that he was ever a bad player, it’s just with Cubs fans comparing him to their expectations, he had no real chance here. After getting traded to the Orioles (all Cubs picks end up in Baltimore) in 2006 he went on to have three pretty solid seasons for them, and would go on to play for five more teams before retiring after the 2011 season at 31. He made nearly $15 million during his MLB career, too, so no complaints for Patterson.
4. Josh Donaldson C, 2007 Pick #48, 13.8 WAR, 303 games
Okay, so this was a mistake by the Cubs. Not the pick itself, just what happened with the pick. The Cubs drafted Donaldson as a catcher (he was a sandwich pick in the same draft they took Vitters No. 3) and then sent him to Oakland as part of the package to bring back Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. Oakland quickly figured out Donaldson wouldn’t stick as a catcher and moved him to third base….where he’s been awesome ever since. Between this year and last Donaldson has hit .296/.382/.513 with 39 homers and 141 RBI while playing pretty well over at third base. A position the Cubs could use some help at. Oh, and he’s done all this while costing the Athletics only $500,000 this season. But, hey, Rich Harden helped the Cubs win a division title in 2008, and sometimes you just got to do what you got to do.
3. Mark Prior RHP, 2001 Pick #2, 16.5 WAR, 108 games
Oh Mark Prior. Things were going to be so wonderful, and then your arm fell to pieces. Make no mistake about it, while his career was short due to those arm problems, when he was healthy, Mark Prior was absolutely dominant. From 2002 to 2005 Prior had an ERA+ of 133 while striking out 10.6 hitters per nine innings, and walking only 2.9. I’m still pissed off about the way this all ended for him. He could have been one of the all-time greats.
2. Jon Garland RHP, 1997 Pick #10, 22.5 WAR, 367 games
This is where White Sox fans reading this post start chanting “Matt Karchner” while high-fiving themselves. Garland never played for the Cubs thanks to that trade to the White Sox in 1997, and I think we all know how that trade worked out for both teams. Garland was a key part of the 2005 White Sox rotation, and was worth 18.3 WAR over eight seasons with the Sox. He’d spend 13 seasons in the Majors, and was a frontline starter at his best, and an innings-eating, groundball machine at his worst. The kind of pitcher a lot of teams could use.
1. Kerry Wood RHP, 1995 Pick #4, 27.7 WAR, 449 games
Like Mark Prior, injury kept Kerry Wood from becoming the pitcher Cubs fans openly fantasized about after seeing him strike out 20 Astros one afternoon at Wrigley. Unlike Mark Prior, Wood was able to return from his injuries, and re-invent himself a few times. From starter to reliever to closer to setup man. There were a few years there when Wood left Chicago for Cleveland and New York, but he was always a Cubs and destined to return the whole time. Which he did, and he retired after the 2012 season. Not one of the greatest Cubs of all time, but one of the most beloved in recent decades.
The Guys Who Never Made It (Year Drafted): Hayden Simpson RHP (2010); Mark Pawelek LHP (2005); Ryan Harvey OF (2003); Bobby Brownlie RHP (2002); Luke Hagerty LHP (2002); Chadd Blasko RHP (2002); Matt Clanton RHP (2002); Ben Christensen RHP (1999); Todd Noel RHP (1996); Jay Peterson RHP (1994)
The Guys We’re Still Waiting On (Year Drafted): Kris Bryant 3B (2013); Albert Almora OF (2012); Pierce Johnson RHP (2012); Paul Blackburn RHP (2012); Javier Baez SS (2011)