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Ryan Cooper | | October 26, 2016

Chicago Cubs players’ college baseball careers

  Kyle Hendricks burst onto the baseball scene as a junior at Dartmouth.

The teams have been selected, the stadiums are getting prepped, and the 2016 World Series is so close that you can practically smell the hot dogs cooking.

But the Fall Classic isn’t quite here yet, so in the meantime, let’s look back at the NCAA careers of the players on each team.

Many major league players sign with the team that drafted them directly out of high school, while an ever-increasing number come from the foreign ranks. Still, many do it the old-fashioned way, developing their skills in college ball before turning pro. In fact, 181 players on the 40-man rosters of the 10 teams in the 2016 MLB playoffs spent some time playing for NCAA programs.

Here’s a breakdown of the college years for those players on the National League champion Chicago Cubs. Check out the Cleveland Indians roster here.

Jake Arrieta | TCU

The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner pitched in purple in 2006 and 2007 after transferring in from Weatherford Junior College.

Arrieta made an immediate impact for the Horned Frogs, tying for the national lead with 14 wins in his first year. He earned second-team All-American honors for that campaign, which included a 2.35 ERA and 111 strikeouts in as many innings.

His final year wasn’t quite as strong, but it was still excellent as he went 9-3 with a 3.01 ERA and his second straight first-team All-Mountain West spot.

That was enough for him to receive a fifth-round selection and record $1.1 million signing bonus in the 2007 MLB draft from the Baltimore Orioles.

Kris Bryant | San Diego

From the time Bryant started ripping the balls for the Toreros, it was very clear that he was bound to be a special player.

The unanimous 2015 NL Rookie of the Year was named West Coast Conference co-player of the year as a freshman and then topped that in his sophomore and junior years by earning first-team All-American honors.

Bryant absolutely mashed the ball in college, slugging 54 home runs in 172 games. He batted .353 cumulatively, with an incredible .702 slugging percentage.

His senior year was when he really emerged as a premier power threat. While his average dropped nearly 30 points, he hit 31 homers, more than he hit in his first two years combined. He averaged one dinger for every two games played, and the 31 home runs were more than 223 Division I teams hit that season.

That Babe Ruth-like prestige made him an easy choice for the Cubs to take with the second-overall pick in 2013.

Chris Coghlan | Mississippi

Coghlan was a solid contributor as a freshman for the Rebels but really exploded as a sophomore and junior, batting over .350 each of those years.

Like in the majors, he was not a big power threat in college, hitting just 13 homers in his three seasons from 2004 to 2006. However, he made up for that by doing a great job finding alleys for doubles and using his speed. He combined for 43 doubles over his final two years and stole 24 of 26 bases as a junior.

He was named to the All-SEC team each of those years and a third-team All-American in his final season. He was then drafted 36th overall by the then-Florida Marlins in 2006.

Justin Grimm | Georgia

Unlike the first three Cubs on this list, Grimm was no All-American in his time as a Bulldog, instead struggling to develop consistency.

He showed flashes but struggled on the whole, putting up ERA numbers of 10.91, 4.15 and 5.49 in his three years in Athens. The figure he had going for him most were his strikeout numbers, as he posted a solid 8.32 strikeout per nine innings rate over his three years from 2008 to 2010.

That upside was enough for the Texas Rangers to give him a look in the fifth round of the 2010 MLB draft.

Kyle Hendricks | Dartmouth

In a nice parallel to his MLB career, Hendricks was far from anything special for his first two years in college before emerging out of nowhere as one of the best pitchers in the country as a junior.

The soft-throwing righty surrendered ERAs of 4.84 and 7.49 and opponent batting averages of .303 and .327 as a freshman and sophomore, respectively, before completely flipping the script.

As a junior, he went 5-3 with a 2.47 ERA and .236 opponent batting average.

The pinpoint control that led to him being a Cy Young Award frontrunner this season was on display for each of his three years, as he walked just 40 batters in 186.2 career innings.

He was named to the first-team All-Ivy League as a junior and was later selected by the Texas Rangers in the eighth round of the 2011 draft.

David Ross | Florida

The oldest member of the Cubs spent his college years at a pair of SEC schools way back in the late ‘90s. He began his collegiate career at Auburn in 1996 and 1997 before making the switch to Florida.

That move certainly paid dividends for him, as his very pedestrian Auburn numbers (.252 batting average, two home runs in 80 games) exploded with the Gators.

In his one year with them, he batted .332 with 21 doubles and 19 home runs in 63 games. He was then selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the seventh round of the 1998 draft and signed.

Interestingly, Ross made the College World Series with both of his schools. He has also made the World Series with two different MLB teams (Boston Red Sox and Cubs).

Matt Szczur | Villanova

Szczur was a notable name in college because he was a standout in two different sports.

He was an FCS All-American in football, serving as a do-it-all weapon on offense. His best year was his junior year in 2009, when he accounted for over 1,400 yards of offense and was the only Division I player to record a touchdown as a receiver, rusher, passer and kick returner. He won the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year and scored two touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to a national championship.

On the baseball diamond, he was possibly even better, debuting with a .346 average in 2009 before batting an inhuman .443 the following year. His athleticism was on full display, as he legged out seven triples in 39 games in 2010.

Szczur was considered an NFL draft prospect but chose to sign with the Cubs after they drafted the outfielder in the fifth round of the 2010 draft.

Ben Zobrist | Dallas Baptist

Zobrist boasts one of the coolest baseball backstories, as he graduated high school without any offers to play college ball and considered his baseball career to be dead and buried.

However, he was convinced to take part in a showcase, where he performed well enough to receive an offer from Olivet Nazarene. After performing well there for a few years, he transferred to Dallas Baptist to finish out his college days as a 23-year-old shortstop.

He hit the cover off the ball with the Patriots, batting .378 with eight home runs and 29 steals in his lone season in 2004. From there, he was selected by the Houston Astros in the sixth round and eventually carved out an excellent big-league career. He is playing in his second consecutive World Series after winning it with the Kansas City Royals a season ago.

Kyle Schwarber | Indiana

Between college and the pros, there has never been a shred of doubt about the abilities that Schwarber has with his powerful bat. In three years as the Hoosiers’ catcher, the Middletown, Ohio, native crushed the ball.
He finished his college career with a .341 batting average and 1.044 on-base plus slugging. That included an OPS of over 1.100 for each of his final two seasons.
He showed the power that he is known for with 40 homers and drew more walks than strikeouts in each of his three seasons. Those figures led to him being a first-team All-American in both 2013 and 2014.
Despite some questions about his fit on defense at the major-league level, the Cubs simply could not pass up his bat, taking him fourth overall. Just a year after that, he was bashing home runs in the majors.

Note: John Lackey attended Grayson College, a member of the NJCAA

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