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Digging into Shane Farrell’s draft record

The hire who is arguably the most consequential decision the Blue Jays made this offseason

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays last year officially announced the hiring of Shane Farrell as their director of amateur scouting, succeeding Steve Sanders who followed Ben Cherington to Pittsburgh. It’s not something that got a lot of attention, especially being eclipsed by the Hyun-Jin Ryu signing, but I’d submit it may be the most consequential decision the Blue Jays make this winter.

A linchpin to sustained success is consistently identifying talent in to theoretically create a pipeline of big league regulars. Thus far, this has been the front office’s greatest strength: Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio in the 2nd and 4th rounds of 2016, Nate Pearson in 2017, and Jordan Groshans in 2018 who looked really advanced in his short Midwest League run. The scouting director is integral to this, and thus the choice to fill this role is critical.

The choice of Farrell was thus surprising in two ways. Most obviously, the personal dimension given the acrimonious departure of his father from the organization just seven years ago. And it didn’t take long for inflammatory nonsense to appear, curiously from directly within the mothership rather than lobbed in from outside. As far as I’m concerned, John can pound sand, but otherwise Ezekiel (not Ezequiel) had it right: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.

The second (substantive) angle was that this was a big promotion for a young and relatively inexperienced/unproven person. Especially with the potential to add an impact talent with the fifth overall player, what is hopefully the last time the Jays draft that high for a long time. It’s certainly a gamble.

On balance, I think I like the choice conceptually. By all accounts, he’s well-regarded, as one would expect to hear. But philosophically, better to bet on a promising up-and-comer who might need a little development. There’s the likes of Tony LaCava and other experienced hands who will undoubtedly shape decision making. Regardless, a fifth overall pick is generally is going to have a lot of input from the general manager, probably making the ultimate call (I imagine mileage will greatly vary as to whether this is good or bad).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is just how fast Farrell’s career has moved in the last three years. Farrell was hired by the Cubs in October 2012 as an “amateur scouting assistant” after scouting the Cape Cod League for them that summer. He stayed in that position for four years, before becoming an area scout for 2017 in the north/midwest, and then moving up to Western crosschecker for 2018-19.

And now scouting director. It’s sort of the executive equivalent of a prospect who spends three of four years in the complex and short season rookie leagues, then moves up to low-A and rockets through full season ball, moving quickly to AA, and then moving quickly through AAA to the majors.

So I thought it would be worth taking a look at the draft picks with which we know he’s been involved. There’s a lot of other factors at play which probably dominate — Cub organizational preferences, scouting director or other front office members having final say, areas scouts being primarily responsible for evaluation — but it’s really all we have to go on in not just evaluating this hire, but also what to expect in future drafts.

There’s not much to infer from 2017, as only two players signed from his area were a $5,000 senior sign and a junior outfielder from Michigan State in the 16th round who has been converted to pitching. However, the Cubs drafted heavily from the territory he was crosschecking in both 2018 (four of top five) and 2019 (top four), including six top 100 picks. So with the above caveats in mind, below is a look at how each of those turned out.

2019 Draft

  • Ryan Jensen, RHP, Fresno State, 1st round (27th overall), $2,000,000
    Jensen was a non-consensus pick, for example ranked 55th overall at Fangraphs and 99th on MLB Pipeline’s board, but also coming over $500,000 underslot. Big time fastball velocity, able to hold mid/high 90s but lacking a plus secondary. Potential reliever profile, but may be bet my Cubs they can develop other stuff. He had a big junior season (2.88 ERA and 27/107 BB/K in 100 innings), limited pro debut but 14 walks and 19 strikeouts in 12 innings.
  • Chase Strumpf, 2B, UCLA, 2nd round (64th overall), $1,050,300
    Three year starter at UCLA who had a breakout sophomore season before regressing his junior year with a slow start. Solid across the board, but not standout tools, key is hit tool translating. Ranked 41st by Pipeline, 51st by FanGraphs, so something of a value play getting him at this spot. Some parallels to Logan Warmoth’s draft profile, a performer from a major conference. Strong 100 PA debut in the Northwest League.
  • Chris Clarke, RHP, Southern California, 4th round, $426,000
    Another somewhat off-the-board pick, a big 6-7 pitcher who had mediocre results in his first two seasons at USC as a swingman before moving to the pen exclusively in 2019 as a multi-inning reliever and breaking out with 1.03 ERA in 52.1 innings (60/18 K/BB). He followed that up with a strong pro debut, a 1.96 ERA and 26/4 K/BB in 23 innings over nine appearances. Potentially a really nice find/value play/diamond in the 4th round fringe.
  • Josh Burgmann, RHP, Washington, 5th round, $225,000
    Burgmann was another pop-up draftee after moving into the rotation for his junior year and posting a 3.99 ERA with 101 strikeouts in 79 innings after limited usage previously. He also had a good pro debut with a 22/3 K/BB in 19 innings in the NWL. Potentially another nice find in the mid rounds, also saving almost $100,000 relative to slot.

Others: Notably, the Cubs draft Wyatt Hendrie, a catcher from Antelope Valley JC in California in the 10th round who went unsigned. That meant the Cubs forfeited the slot value for the pick, which is never great but was only a couple percent. They also signed two high schoolers from out west in later rounds for $125,000, RHP Porter Hodge from Utah in the 13th round and OF Manny Collier from Arizona. There’s little that can be said at this point about them, but I in my view it’s only positive when a team can sign an interesting high school player without dipping into the slot pool.

2018 Draft

  • Nico Hoerner, SS, Stanford, 1st round (24th overall), $2,724,000
    Hoerner went a little ahead of where various boards had him (52nd Pipeline, 37th Fangraphs), but he’s living up so far with a debut in September, posting an 86 wRC+ in 82 PA after a solid half season in AA. The profile is contract oriented, with very low strikeout rates, line drives and ground balls that result in hits but not a ton of power. It’s another college performer profile, with solid if unspectacular across the board tool-wise, not a terribly high ceiling. On the plus side, one can hardly complain when a draftee is in the majors and holds his own the year after being selected. And if he hits, he’ll be solid regular somewhere on the (middle) infield.
  • Brennen Davis, OF, Arizona HS, 2nd round (62nd overall), $1,100,000
    This pick was a completely differently profile, a toolsy high school draftee with questions about whether he’d hit in pro ball. So far, so good as Davis had a solid complex debut in 2018 before a standout though injury shortened Midwest stint in 2019. He hit .305/.381/.525 in 204 PA, with good power and decent plate discipline. Again, by consensus it was a bit of a stretch (81st Fangraphs, 145th Pipeline) — but looks like they were right to be bullish.
  • Cole Roederer, OF, California HS, 2nd round supplemental (77th), $1,200,000
    As compensation for losing Wade Davis and Jake Arrieta, the Cubs had back-to-back picks at the end of the 2nd round and appear to have approached it as a pair. The first half was going $425,000 overslot for Roederer, going a little off-the-board int hat he was outside Pipeline’s Top 200 and about 150th for Fangraphs. It’s still early, but so far it’s not looking like a good gamble, as after a decent complex league debut in 2018, Roederer struggled to a .224/.319/.365 Midwest League line in 2019.
  • Paul Richan, RHP, San Diego, 2nd round supplemental (78th), $450,000
    The next half of that “pair trade” looks much better, as the Cubs went $300,000 underslot to offset the Roederer money, resulting in another overdraft relative to consensus. Interestingly, Richan attended the same high school as Roederer. Richan had some helium going into the draft with very strong peripherals (101/13 K/BB in 90 innings) as a weekend starter. He had a good pro debut (2.12 ERA 31/5 K/BB) and moved directly to high-A in 2019, posting a solid 4.02 ERA in 123.2 innings with 115/20 K/BB across two teams having been part of the Nicholas Castellanos midseason trade.

Others: Tyler Durna got a $100,000 bonus in the 15th round out of UC San Diego, hasn’t really hit enough as a first baseman. They dipping slightly into their pool to give junior college lefty Chris Allen $150,000 in the 20th round. He hasn’t pitched much (50 innings) but the results have been decent.

Overall, there’s definitely some patterns: college position players who are established performers, more solid regular type ceilings than riskier gambles; heavy on college pitchers; and some gambles on high school outfielders. Notably, no high school pitchers, and a conviction or at least lack of reticence to draft players ahead of where they otherwise might be expected to go.

But overall, with the caveat that it’s still early, the picks look pretty decent. Almost all the pitchers had promising pro debuts; none of them has flopped or been injured. There’s already a major leaguer, and there’s perhaps one disappointment so far. And that’s offset by the other prep outfielder hitting and flashing major promise and upside — if you bat .500 on high school players in the second round you’ve more than happy. Again, we can’t directly attribute this to Farrell, or even but a small minority, but all else equal a good track record is preferable to the converse.


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