How Cubs plan to find another ‘diamond in the rough’ after 5-round draft

Now that the shortest, strangest, most socially-distant draft in baseball history is done, what’s next for the Cubs?

Maybe actual big-league games, right?

Owners and players are at least expected to pick up the dialogue in the next few days with the draft behind them, and if we can take the commissioner at his word, we can count on a 2020 season – even if it means he has to impose one of as few as 48 games.

But until then, the Cubs probably aren’t done acquiring draft-eligible players – though how many and of how much quality now depends more on their recruiting skills than how much they’re willing to spend.

Coming off an “epic” five rounds that included a pair of high-velocity left-handers and a pair of raw but very high-ceiling hitters, Cubs scouting director Dan Kantrovitz said he doesn’t expect an issue with signing any of the five, including first-round local kid Ed Howard of Mount Carmel.

MORE: Breaking down the Cubs’ second-day draft selections

But adding to the five players taken in a draft shortened by economic considerations caused by the coronavirus shutdown might be the only part of this draft cycle stranger than the Zoom sessions and the 35 fewer rounds.

More good players remain after this draft than perhaps in any that came before it, but strict spending limits might make signing any of them look more like a college recruiting process than a pro sports negotiation. 

“It’s just hard to have a whole lot of visibility right now in what that process is going to look like, having never done it on our own,” Kantrovitz said, “and I think the players themselves, frankly, are a little unsure and uncertain what they might want to do.”

Kantrovitz, in his first year with the Cubs, plans to Zoom with his staff Friday to map out plans for pursuing undrafted players once the two-day “quiet period” expires Sunday.

The players they’ll consider are in a group they’ve targeted and built relationships with in the buildup to the draft – but in many cases players who hoped to be drafted and who might have been candidates for the 6-through-10 rounds in a normal year.

About two-thirds of the players taken in those rounds last year received six-figure signing bonuses. 

The assigned slot value for the Cubs’ final pick Thursday, high school right-hander Koen Moreno, was $367,900.

Under this year’s rules, bonuses for undrafted players are capped at $20,000 before counting against a team’s five-round draft pool (down from $125,000 in past years). And the famously low salaries in the minors that have been subject of increasing media attention the last year or two don’t exactly sweeten the deal.

With no minor-league season this year, the Cubs don’t need to stock teams by signing in volume.

But even in the cases of just a few targeted players, they figure to be competing with high school players who have partial scholarship offers and college players with the choice of returning to school.

Mostly, it amounts to a sudden, brutal squeeze on hundreds of players’ professional dreams, especially for those who would be college seniors next year with very little leverage if drafted.

That’s where relationships that have been built with players become critical, with the Cubs selling their state-of-the-art facilities, revamped, high-tech player-development methods and fit for the player.

RELATED: Dan Kantrovitz: Increased access before draft was silver lining for Cubs scouts

“At the end of the day if you get one big-leaguer from the post-draft process, I think it’s a resounding success,” Kantrovitz said. “That’s our goal, and I think it’s the same goal if you would have been drafting in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th round. 

“It’s probably a more challenging pool, to be totally honest, when you look at it in comparison to what the draft may have looked like. Because there’s going to be a lot of players who decide to go back to school. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find a diamond in the rough here.”

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How Cubs plan to find another ‘diamond in the rough’ after 5-round draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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