Dan Kantrovitz knew he’d be putting in a little extra work to prepare for his first Cubs draft when he was hired as the team’s VP of Scouting back in November, but he probably didn’t envision looking to NFL teams for advice. With the sports world shut down and little to no in-person scouting taking place since mid-March, the Cubs have adopted new strategies when it comes to vetting the players they’ll select Wednesday and Thursday.
That meant turning to a another league in order to learn more about evaluating players and personalities from a distance.
“They had more experience dealing with players remotely than we had on the baseball side,” Kantrovitz told 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh Show on Tuesday. “One of the things I wanted to pick their brain on was how they were getting past just these generic interviews and Q&A sessions and coming away with something actionable, something above and beyond the generic sessions.”
This is all a part of what Kantrovitz said is a “more creative” process born of necessity, since no one has dealt with a draft quite like this one. In addition to to the inherent difficulties in scouting players when there are no games being played, narrowing the draft to five rounds from the typical 40 places increased emphasis on each pick. For the new guy, that essentially amounts to having to hit a homer in his first at-bat.
Not that this is Kantrovitz’s first go-round when it comes to running a draft. The 38-year-old spent the previous five seasons as an assistant GM for the A’s, prior to which he served as director of scouting for the the Cardinals from 2012-14. He experienced a great deal of success with those organizations, which is why the Cubs tabbed him to reboot a farm system that has struggled to produce pitchers or impact players outside the first round in the last decade.
Though Kantrovitz was understandably veiled when it comes to the Cubs’ plans in the draft, it’s reasonable to believe he’s serious about avoiding a focus on any one player or position. Maybe it’s the football influence talking, but it sounds like he’s going with the idea of going with the top-rated player on the board when they pick at No. 16 on Wednesday.
“Our position will be to get the best player when our pick is up,” Kantrovitz said. “But with the draft changes, there could be a change in strategies this year. We have been preparing for the draft by looking at the teams in front of us and what that may mean for who is available when we pick. Certainly, some high school players didn’t even get out and play a game this spring. That could change a team strategy for this draft.”
In keeping with that concept, our previews here at CI over the past few weeks have included prep arms, toolsy players with a bit of risk, or a full-on mock draft with rising and falling prospects. Everything about this draft is just so hard to predict, with the new regime making it all the more intriguing.
Adding a bit to that intrigue is Kantrovitz’s familiarity with some of the players currently in the Cubs system, at least until very recently. While it may be merely coincidence, several of those players have been acquired over the past couple of years.
By the way, I love that Kantrovitz has these connections to current Cubs already. He drafted Rowan Wick (as a catcher) and Trevor Megill (who didn’t sign) in St. Louis. He was in the room when Alfonso Rivas was picked in Oakland. He even picked Ian Rice and Derek Casey out of HS!
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 9, 2020
The Cubs had fallen into a trap of going far too conservative in the draft under Jason McLeod, choosing pitchers with lower ceilings and subsequently being too rigid in their development plans. They’ve since vowed to be more aggressive and admitted this past January that they’re putting together more customized plans for players, pretty stunning revelations when you consider what it says about how far behind the curve they’d fallen.
How quickly they can catch back up to the organizations that have passed them by is going to depend on more than just coaching and development. Since those plans are all for naught if the talent isn’t there to carry them out, Kantrovitz is going to need to strike the proper balance between potential and risk. It’ll be tough to judge the results of this first run for quite some time, but we should at least get an idea of how the new scouting department varies from its previous iterations.
We’ll have plenty of draft coverage for you here at CI, with live coverage on The Rant and various previews and breakdowns published here throughout.