Cubs draft LHP Wicks with both eyes on future amid swoon originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
During the afternoon leading up to Sunday night’s draft, Cubs scouting director Dan Kantrovitz and his team kept one eye on final details related to Cubs draft targets and one eye on the broadcast of the Futures Game in Denver — where Cubs star outfield prospect Brennan Davis hit two home runs and earned game MVP honors.
It wasn’t exactly what team president Jed Hoyer means when he talks about keeping one eye on the present and one eye on the Cubs future.
On second thought, that’s exactly what it was.
A Cubs scouting/player development infrastructure that has been deservedly maligned for a decade had a rare day worth celebrating Sunday that out of that one eye also included prospect Manny Rodriguez flashing 100 mph in a scoreless Futures Game inning and rehabbing rookie Justin Steele pitching the first 3 2/3 innings of a combined no-hitter for Triple-A Iowa.
And out of the other eye watched what Kantrovitz called the “best college left-hander in the draft” fall to them at No. 21 overall — where the Cubs selected Kansas State’s Jordan Wicks.
“It’s an exciting time,” Kantrovitz said.
Nothing celebrated in that room could stop the rain Sunday, or do much to quell the noise coming from a frustrated group of players on a big-league club free-falling into the All-Star break.
But that’s the idea. That’s the point.
As soon as possible.
“It’s neat to see players in the system producing like that,” Kantrovitz said, “and also equally exciting to get players that we think are going to produce for us in the future like Jordan.”
The literal cheering for Davis’ home runs in that draft room in the Cubs’ Gallagher Way office building played out Sunday in stark contrast what was going on early Sunday in a damp Cubs’ dugout, where manager David Ross met the media for a round of damage control about 12 hours after catcher Willson Contreras ripped the team for what he considered a lack of effort during their 12th loss in the last 14 games.
The breakup of this Cubs championship core won’t get any prettier as it spirals toward a July 30 selloff and a second half of auditions for next year, ahead of free agent departures — finally marking the end of what was a six-year run of contending teams.
If Wicks is what the Cubs think he is — an unusually advanced, refined amateur with the kind of command of a low-90s fastball and low-80s changeup that could move quickly through anybody’s system — then don’t take either eye off him.
“I’d probably hold off on putting any kind of timetable on him,” said Kantrovitz, who expects to have the college workhorse on a limited workload the rest of this season.
“And next year it’ll be sort of up to him to determine where he’s placed out of spring training,” he said. “But with a repertoire as advanced as his, he’ll probably have some options.”
Wicks, whose changeup was rated best in the draft by Baseball America and the Cubs, also has a fastball that touches the mid-90s, at least two different breaking pitches and some of the best command in the draft (rated No. 3 among college pitchers by BA).
The “fairly unique” changeup because of its effect as a weapon against both righties and lefties could be a separator, but Kantrovitz calls the total package of pitches a “platoon-neutral mix” that gives the Cubs confidence that Wicks can be the rarest of all Cubs prospects: a pitcher who gets to the majors and actually sticks as a bona fide productive member of a starting rotation.
“He was among our top 10 on our internal board in the neighborhood of guys that if they’d get [to 21] we would definitely take them,” said Kantrovitz, who was running his second draft since joining the Cubs just before the pandemic. “We didn’t anticipate that happening, and when it did we weren’t going to pass it up.”
The Cubs had eight scouts track Wicks this year and more recently were “blown away” during a meeting at the draft combine with Wicks’ beyond-his-years acumen as he broke down how he manipulates his pitches and sequences and how he works and prepares for starts.
“What I wanted to show is what I feel like sets me apart, which is the mental side of the game,” Wicks said Sunday night. “What I really wanted to show them was my baseball IQ, my competitiveness, how self-aware I am, how much I know myself.”
“Impressive,” Kantrovitz said.
Now they’ve just got to get him to the big leagues ready to help fulfill that organizational vision — the one that takes keeping both eyes on the ball — for that next Cubs core.
“I’m excited to get in there and compete. I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity,” said Wicks, who seems to know what’s at stake. “I want to just get in there … and work my butt off.
“Obviously you know about the World Series drought and winning it in ’16,” he added. “It’s something where I’m going to go in there and we’re not going to wait that long. We’re going to get after it and get back to that World Series, and we’re going to win.”