We’ve spent the last couple days talking about the Cubs’ overall pitching heavy draft strategy, and Brett recapped each of the Cubs picks in his Day Two and Day Three posts. There’s not enough information about those guys to do full deep dives like I did with Cade Horton and Jackson Ferris, but I wanted to talk about each in terms of how the Cubs might approach their individual developments.
The Cubs won’t sign all of them – Scouting Director Dan Kantrovitz thinks the number will be 18 or 19 – but today I want to act as though they will, and play armchair player development director in discussing how the team can mold these balls of clay into big leaguers.
Christopher Paciolla, 3rd round, SS/3B, age 18
At first, there will be a project for the strength and conditioning team. Allow Paciolla to finish growing, and then add as much muscle as possible without sacrificing too much athleticism. This should allow the raw power he’ll flash to become a massive positive.
I see some Chase Strumpf parallels in Paciolla, and some of that you want to embrace, but you also hope that getting him in his teenage years means you can coach him into more consistent contact than Strumpf has managed. And lastly, but without a rush, you find him a defensive home.
Nazier Mule, 4th round, RHP, age 17
Mule’s done a really good job of strengthening his frame in the last two years, so I would imagine his first year in the Cubs organization will be more pitching-focused than many of his teenage peers. There seems to be some inconsistency in how Mule moves his weight through his lower body during his delivery, so an early focus will be on developing mechanical consistency. From there, he’ll play around grips on all his pitches: how to add a bit more IVB to the fastball, a bit more sweep to the slider, a bit more fade to the changeup.
To me, all this stuff comes way before exploring Mule’s two-way potential. But if he wants to hit some, I don’t see the harm of it. Would like to see him utilize the hips better and make the hand path cleaner.
Brandon Birdsell, 5th round, RHP, age 22
I actually don’t think we’ll see the Cubs mess with Birdsell’s unique mechanics very much, perhaps only small tweaks to see if he can get back to the velocity peaks of his past. I suspect the organization will first tackle the changeup, probably with a new grip. Then, you just decide what’s the better breaker to go alongside his slider: curveball, cutter, or both.
Will Frisch, 6th round, RHP, age 22
Currently rehabbing Tommy John surgery, so this one is easy. Give him to the team in Arizona for the next 12 months, let them get him healthy and stronger than ever. Eventually, I suspect you’ll see the breaking balls get completely reworked.
Nick Hull, 7th round, RHP, age 22
Hull’s slider seems like such a good pitch that he’ll be able to spend the next 14 months jumping around A-ball rosters, helping out in any role that’s asked of him. The organization’s priority on cut-carry fastballs surely means they have nuanced attack plans with the pitch, and Hull’s fastball fits the bill, so teaching him how to play up an otherwise-ordinary fastball is important.
Mason McGwire, 8th round, RHP, age 18
The most important steps in McGwire’s next development will take place in the weight room (and cafeteria). The right-hander has a good 30 pounds to add over the next few seasons. I would not bother having him debut in the minors until the ACL in June 2023, giving the High Performance team almost a full year to build out McGwire’s foundation. Then you can start to analyze how to teach him to pitch.
Connor Noland, 9th round, RHP, age 23
The Cubs have a velocity training program that they will tailor to specific pitchers, and I expect Noland to become a pupil of that course. Probably more than once over the next few seasons, the Cubs will see if there’s any way to squeeze a bit more juice out of Noland’s fastball. The breaking balls are really solid, so only the changeup looms as a pitch in need of a new grip.
Brody McCullough, 10th round, RHP, age 22
The carry numbers on McCullough’s fastball are really solid, and he does a nice job getting down the mound, so the Cubs first job is educating him on his core competency. For him to be successful, I think they’ll say, he needs to live and locate in the top third of the zone. There’s some arm slot consistency (I wonder if they’ll look to lower that release height) to be done, and every secondary will go under the microscope, but first and foremost you focus on fastball consistency and execution.
Branden Noriega, 11th round, LHP, age 21
It would seem to me that Noriega is destined for relief, so in my mind, his development should be focused on the things that maximize short-inning success. A little time in the weight room will go a long way, and I think the pitching coaches will encourage Noriega to better tap into his athleticism in his pitching motion (more tempo). The breaking ball will eventually go under the microscope, but that can happen during the 2023 season.
Mathew Peters, 12th round, RHP, age 21
Can you coach command? The Cubs’ most fun project in this draft is the arm from Ivy Tech Community College Northeast, who grew nine inches after high school, and has watched his velocity keep going up, all the way to 101. I like the use of his lower half in the pitching motion, I think the Cubs will look a little bit at his right wrist/hand to keep simplifying things.
Luis Rujano, 13th round, RHP, age 19
It’s funny, because, while I don’t think you touch much with Brandon Birdsell’s short arm delivery, I think you look to really play with Rujano’s version. The lower half engagement during the delivery could be a lot better, using that backside to load up better. Smarter people than I will have to determine if that arm action is sustainable, or if higher end velocity can be uncovered if he lengthens it out.
Shane Marshall, 14th round, RHP, age 22
It’s the new Jerrick Suiter story; a position player messes around on the mound, and the Cubs R&D team wants to find out if it’s real. So the first step in the Cubs development plan here is, quite literally, establishing a baseline with what he can do on a mound. Encourage consistency with a two-pitch mix to start. Create a weight room plan that will help mold the body to ideal pitching form. Then adjust based on the results.
Haydn McGeary, 15th round, C/1B/LF, age 22
McGeary checks the boxes you’d want in the damage he produces on contact (and still probably could with a bit less load). It got me thinking about Matt Mervis, who had the same big exit velocities, but struggled so much in Low-A in 2021 before his massive 2022 breakout. I think one big key was figuring out a consistent plate approach to bring to professional baseball that matched his skillset. Helping McGeary find that, and limit the strikeouts, will be key.
JP Wheat, 16th round, RHP, age 20
Putting on weight is going to be the first goal, which means this is a call-out to the team’s dietician. Once that happens, Wheat can add some muscle, and once that happens, his delivery can be much more controlled.
Andy Garriola, 17th round, LF, age 22
Opposing teams won’t need a long scouting report to build their gameplan against Garriola, and he knows what it says: pitch him inside or throw it up high. Learning to combat those parts of the zone, first by simply swinging less, is going to be really key. One key will be getting quicker and more efficient to the ball by limiting his pre-swing hand activity.
Garrett Brown, 18th round, RHP, age 22
Pitching at 6-foot-7 demands two necessities: staying athletic and maximizing that tilt. Brown should become a groundball machine by living and dying by his sinker, and the Cubs will determine the best accompanying breaking ball shape to tunnel off that pitch.
Brock Blatter, 19th round, RHP, age 18
Despite being pretty filled out, I think the high performance team would do a good job in ensuring Blatter’s body composition is where they want it to be. Seems to have a real aptitude for breaking balls, so I think the key there will be learning to command those and allowing Blatter to throw them 50% of the time. I think the fastball can become one of the cut-carry variety that the Cubs like these days.
Ke’Shun Collier, 20th round, CF/LF, age 21
I think the key with guys like Collier — too small to ever have significant power projections — is to encourage that he use his legs for every advantage it can offer. Be great at reads in the outfield, be great at bunting, make tons of contact, and be unstoppable on the base paths. Creating 10-20 runs of value with his legs is a necessity.