Mason McGwire – Pics via ESPN

Under Jason McLeod, the Cubs were not known for selecting and signing high school pitchers much after 2012. Every year they’d take a few guys, but rarely did they sign them except for 2014 when they took Carson Sands, Justin Steele, Dylan Cease, and Austyn Willis. Steele, as you know, is now in Chicago and so is Dylan Cease, but on the other side of town. Willis did not make it a year and a half in the system before he was released and Carson Sands struggled with elbow injuries. Otherwise, the only other major HS arms the Cubs took after that quartet were Bryan Hudson in 2015 and Kohl Franklin in 2018.

McLeod tended to stick with college guys who had track records that had high floors and low ceilings. It wasn’t until 2019 when the Cubs began to invest more in prep pitching. That draft saw the Cubs take DJ Herz, Tyler Schlaffer, Porter Hodge, and Johzan Oquendo. However, those prep selections have been attributed more to Matt Dorey than McLeod.

In 2020, new Scouting Director Dan Kantrovitz took prep pitcher Koen Moreno in that year’s five round draft who should be at Myrtle Beach this year. In 2021, Kantrowitz had a 20 round draft and took six prep arms, four of whom signed – Erian Rodriguez, Dominic Hambley, Wilson Cunningham, and Drew Gray, who will be making his full season debut in 2023.

However, last year’s draft class of prep pitchers may be the big crop of arms to watch, largely in part because the Cubs took 15 arms total in the draft, four of them of the prep variety – Jackson Ferris, Nazier Mule, Mason McGwire, and Luis Rujano.

MY HOT TAKE OF THE DAY – The 2022 prep pitching group might end up being the best pitching group since 2012 when the Cubs took Duane Underwood, Paul Blackburn, and Ryan McNeil.

There are a few reasons why I made the statement I just did. Let’s take a look at why

1. Their Floor

All four of these kids come in with a different set of skills. Mule has a fastball that can sit between 95 and 100. Ferris has a plus slider already in addition to a mid 90s fastball. McGwire is just a tech junkie who is buying into the Cubs individualization of his development. While Rujano comes in as a very polished pitcher who also can sit in the mid 90s.

2. Their Ceilings

For Ferris, he is a top of the rotation type starter and something the Cubs really haven’t had it in his system yet. It’s kind of strange to know what to think of what to do without him having thrown a pitch yet. When it comes to Mule, his ceiling is written in pencil. He has an incredible skill set that could see him become a pitcher or a hitter. The Cubs are going to let him play both this year and we will see where that takes him. As for McGwire, he already has a plus-plus splitter that he learned from Rollie Fingers, and he supposedly has been gaining velocity by leaps and bounds this winter by following his development plan. Rujano is sort of the dark horse here. It’s rare to get a polished prep pitcher and then polish him up some more and build him up. So it’s a little unclear what his ceiling is at this point.

3. The Allure

Part of what makes these four guys appealing is that they really haven’t gone out and pitched in a game that mattered yet. Ideally, we might Ferris start the year at Myrtle Beach. I’m hearing behind the scenes that McGwire may also be ready for that level too based on his development this off-season. Mule and Rujano could be going to go to Arizona. However, all bet are off when spring training starts. We will see how they do in that setting before they move onto the next one.

To really find out whether my prediction is going to be correct or not, it’s going to take several years to answer. While 2023 will give us a nice foundation, their development of their skill sets is just beginning and I am pumped about what they might be able to do the next few summers. It’s a nice group of arms to build around.