Deep dive on Cubs’ draft haul
With only 5 rounds in the 2020 MLB Draft, there was a lot of pressure for front offices around baseball to nail their picks.
The Cubs feel like they’ve done exactly that.
“We went in trying to target upside, tools and guys that we can imagine making an impact with the Cubs and at Wrigley Field,” Cubs VP of scouting Dan Kantrovitz said. “I think we executed that plan.
“I couldn’t have envisioned talking about a more exciting group of five guys.”
Here’s a closer look at the draft picks from Day 2 and check out more on 1st-round pick Ed Howard here.
2nd Round — Burl Carraway, LHP, Dallas Baptist University
In 2015, Dallas Baptist University (DBU) installed a TrackMan ball-tracking system. They were just the eighth Division-I program to do so. By spring of 2019, 54 Division-I programs had TrackMan systems installed. The team’s former assistant pitching coach whose tenure started before the 2012 season, Wes Johnson, is now the pitching coach with the Minnesota Twins. Before the public knew what high-speed Edgertronic cameras could do, Johnson was tinkering with them. Every year since 2014, DBU has finished with a record above .500 and place first or second in the Missouri Valley Conference.
DBU may not have the budget of a powerhouse SEC school, but their proficiency for improving players and staying ahead of the curve has allowed the team to churn out major league draftees. The Cubs selected their latest project, a hard-throwing, left-handed reliever named Burl Carraway, with the 51st-overall pick in the 2nd round of the 2020 First-Year Player Draft.
Carraway possesses an electric fastball with velocity that sits between 96-98 mph and a good curveball as his primary offspeed pitch. But he didn’t always throw in the upper 90s. During his freshman year at DBU he sat around 89-92 mph and retired just one of the eight batters he faced.
Before he left for the holiday break in 2018, he was hitting 102 mph on max effort pull-downs but wasn’t able to translate it to the mound, as he told Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo. He put on about 10 pounds of muscle that offseason entering his sophomore year and made a few mechanical adjustments that allowed him to tap into more velocity. During the 2019 season, he struck out 72 batters in 41.2 innings with a 2.81 ERA. His adjustments, with the help of DBU, paid off.
The Cubs’ new southpaw had two goals coming into the 2020 college baseball season after his breakout sophomore year: hit 100 mph and strike out two batters every inning. Before the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled college baseball in mid-March, he hit 100 mph but struck out 17 batters in 9.1 innings — just under his goal. His ERA sat under 1.00 with 5 saves.
Carraway is listed at 6-foot-1, 180-pounds, and DBU used him almost exclusively as a reliever. He gets all of his body into his delivery and has a high three-quarters arm slot which makes his high-velocity fastball devastating for left-handed hitters. In 2019, left-handed hitters struck out 53% of the time versus Carraway. His control is below average at present according to outlets like Baseball America and Fangraphs, but his velocity and experience working in high-leverage situations make him an obvious candidate to rise quickly through the Cubs’ farm system.
3rd Round — Jordan Nwogu, OF, University of Michigan
About 55 pounds separate the Cubs second and third round picks in the 2020 draft. Nwogu is listed at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds and played three seasons (his most recent cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic) with the University of Michigan Wolverines. Out of high school, he had offers to play linebacker or defensive end for Division-1 football programs, but he chose baseball instead.
Nwogu played 46 games in 2018 for Michigan and slashed .349/.442/.571 with six home runs and just over a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 2019, he cut back on his strikeouts substantially, posting 51 strikeouts to 44 walks. His offense improved as a result as he hit 12 home runs in 64 games and drove in 46 runs. In his pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, he hit a pair of home runs and slugged .456, continuing his impressive college career.
“He’s got power to all fields,” Kantrovitz said. “That’s a tool that’s really difficult to find in the draft and then you factor in that he actually combines the power with some plate discipline and might be able to limit his strikeouts in addition to putting up some home run numbers. That’s another exciting profile.”
Despite his size, Nwogu possesses above-average speed. He stole 30 bases in his collegiate career and was caught only nine times. But the most distinct thing about him is his swing. He sets up slightly wide with his hands at his shoulders and bat just narrower than perpendicular to the ground. He doesn’t take a full step towards the pitcher but rather barely picks up and puts his foot down. Then his hands fly through the zone with a notable upward path, creating loft in his swing. The overall look and feel of his swing is funky. If you compare it to other premier right-handed hitters in the 2020 draft class it stands out.
“We love the power,” Kantrovitz said. “But know that it’s still gonna take a couple years to fully develop that swing.”
Nwogu has the natural loft in his swing and exit velocity numbers to back up optimistic projections. And if his college career is any indication, his swing works. Combine his raw power with unconventional speed, and the Cubs have added another player to their system with immense upside.
4th Round — Luke Little, LHP, San Jacinto Junior College (TX)
On May 8, Luke Little’s name gained immense traction after an individual posted a video of the junior-college southpaw hitting 105 mph in a quarantine bullpen. The popular pitching guru Rob Friedman, known as PitchingNinja on Twitter, retweeted the post and baseball Twitter went into a frenzy. The Cubs must have been impressed as well. They paired Little with 2nd-round pick Carraway to form a duo of elite velocity left-handers.
During Little’s freshman year at San Jacinto in 2019, he struck out 69 batters in 35.1 innings, good for a 17.6 K/9 (Josh Hader’s 16.4 K/9 led qualified relievers in 2019). His ERA sat just above 2.00 and he earned 3 wins in 6 starts. In the Northwoods League last summer, he continued to dominate, striking out 22 batters in 12.1 innings. Before the pandemic cut his season short, he struck out 17 batters and posted a 2.00 ERA in 9 innings during his sophomore season with San Jacinto.
Unlike Carraway, Little throws five pitches–a four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, curveball and slider. His slider is his strongest off-speed pitch, but draws inconsistent reviews from some evaluators. He views himself more as a reliever than a starter, sitting 97-99 mph and touching above 100 mph out of the bullpen with control that is gradually improving thanks to some mechanical tweaks. His velocity rose in the past offseason to its present level because of an offseason focus on medicine ball drills and growth into his now 6-foot-8, 225-pound frame.
“He’s gonna get an assessment in our pitch lab,” Kantrovitz said. “He’s gonna get a breakdown of mechanics and we’re gonna see what works for him and what doesn’t.”
As far as Little’s otherworldly velocity, he maintains an interesting perspective:
“Velo does matter in the sense of if you can’t dice with all your pitches you have to have something to blow them away,” said Little in an interview with Friedman.
Little went on to say that he feels he is better on the mound than a pitcher with a low-velocity fastball velocity. If he isn’t feeling his off-speed pitches on a given day, he’ll be able to blow away hitters with heat.
“I asked him if there’s more [velocity] in the tank and he seemed to think that there could be,” Kantrovitz said. “I’m not gonna go that far, but it’s exciting when you talk to a kid that’s throwing 105 and think that there might be more there.”
With the league-wide push towards high-velocity relievers, Little fits right in. A Cubs draft with a preference for upside has added even more in the form of this hard-throwing left-hander.
5th Round — Koen Moreno, RHP, Panther Creek High School (NC)
The Cubs selection of Koen Moreno in the 5th round seems to be yet another pick focused on upside and projectability. Moreno has a commitment to East Carolina University (ECU), the same college one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball had a commitment to when he was drafted third overall by the Padres in 2017, MacKenzie Gore.
The 18-year-old Moreno stands 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, with ample physical projection based on his frame. Like so many other college and high school players, scouts were interested to see the North Carolina native’s growth heading into 2020 after performing well on the showcase circuit last summer. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, limited their looks.
His fastball sat in the low-90s last season but ticked up to 94 by the fall, according to Baseball America. Other outlets have praised his innate ability to impart spin on breaking pitches, a key component to generating above-average movement and creating plus breaking pitches. He also throws a changeup in the low-80s, which like his frame, has promising projection.
“We’re gonna take things slow with him,” Kantrovitz said. “But there’s a lot of things to like with his fastball-slider-change combination.”
If Moreno signs and forgoes his commitment to ECU, the right-hander would be a great addition to a Cubs’ farm system which has few pitching prospects below the age of 20 with his kind of projection.