About a month ago, I began writing a post attempting to preview the 2021 Draft season as college baseball was about to begin. It didn’t go well. While the most diligent of draftniks were able then to make some sense of the collection of names in play for the first round after a year of missed action, the fluidity of the board (due to, of course, COVID) seemed too wild for someone like me to make much sense of.
I’m not going to tell you that I have totally put together the puzzle a few weeks of competition later, but at the very least, I have a much better sense of the pieces now.
Like everything else, this year’s Draft will again look a little different. It’s been moved to be an All-Star Weekend (July 11-13) event, which will allow for the complete college baseball season to play out, for a series of combine events, and for probably more late risers than ever before. The current plan is 20 rounds, though I gather that remains a placeholder number, and your Chicago Cubs will select 21st overall in the first round. This means that the Vanderbilt aces, Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, will be long gone, as will your usual handful of high school shortstops.
The Cubs’ draft will be run by Dan Kantrovitz for the second time, and he seemed to put a priority on competitive make-up, translatable athleticism and discernible tools with his five 2020 selections.
For an introduction to the class, with a Cubs focus, I want to organize the high school and college hitter and pitcher classes separately. We’ll look at one guy I like but don’t expect to make it to 21, two interesting prospects that have been mocked close to the Cubs pick, and a sleeper that appears in neither the Baseball America or Prospects Live (my two go-to sources so far this spring for draft coverage) top 40.
We’ll start with the strength of the draft: the college arms.
The One I Dream About Falling to 21: Ty Madden, RHP, Texas. A month ago, Madden was one of my three favorite potential names for the Cubs selection. Since then, the redshirt sophomore has allowed a 1.33 ERA and .112 batting average against in his four Friday starts, popping his fastball up to 98 mph with a wipeout slider. And now it seems like he’s far likelier to get drafted near pick ten than pick twenty. (Note that most of what I wrote here also applies to Ole Miss’ Gunnar Hoglund)
Two Realistic Options: Jordan Wicks, LHP, Kansas State; Sam Bachman, RHP, Miami (Ohio). Maybe I’m being too hopeful, maybe both these guys go in the teens. Like the Burl Carraway selection a year ago, Bachman is a guy that offers what Joe Doyle at Prospects Live has called “two 70-grade pitches” in a high 90s fastball and wipeout slider. And Wicks might have the draft’s best changeup and one of its highest floors; Kantrovitz’ draft history with a guy like Marco Gonzales signals Wicks’ potential selection as possible to me.
Sam Bachman (rhp, @MiamiOHBaseball) showed Day 1 #MLBDraft stuff today. 5IP, 1H, 1BB, 9K. Low slot & armside movement creates tough angles. FB sat 94-96 for the duration. Biting late breaking SL at 83-87. Firm CH at 85-87. Showed comfort and missed bats with all three. pic.twitter.com/lAgRs1eOeX
— Burke Granger (@burkegranger) November 7, 2020
Down the Draft Board Sleeper Option: Bryce Miller, RHP, Texas A&M. Not even in the preseason Baseball America top 200 prospect list, Miller’s been one of the big breakouts from college baseball’s first month. The curveball is a total wipeout pitch that I bet is going to grade well on Trackman, and he’s shown four pitches in his first extended stretch in the Aggies starting rotation. Miller is a senior, so he might be a guy you could go below-slot with if you had dreams of striking big in the middle rounds.
The One I Dream About Falling to 21: Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College. The college hitter class seems not great this year, with a lot of struggles from some of the buzzier preseason names (Louisville’s Alex Binelas, Arkansas’ Christian Franklin, even Florida’s Jud Fabian). This has probably allowed for Frelick to jump firmly into the top 15, which is not the place you’d usually expect to find a 5-foot-9 outfielder. But I have to tell you: I love this kid’s swing, particularly the bat speed that I think won’t be overwhelmed at even the highest level.
some videos of the guys I’ve seen the next three weeks, which will be covered in tomorrow’s scouting notebook:
BC’s Sal Frelick taking Auburn’s Richard Fitts deep. Frelick did it twice in this game. pic.twitter.com/qmkFVprmgj
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) March 11, 2021
Four Realistic Outfielder Options: Franklin; Levi Usher, Louisville; Ethan Wilson, South Alabama; Colton Cowser, Sam Houston State. I struggled with this space, as I’m not sure a particularly good option has emerged from a weak class yet. I would bet that one of these four starts heating up very soon, and all four have shown enough tools in the past to justify a selection at 21 if the results are there. In particular, I have my eye on Wilson, who in 2019 had an All-American freshman season (345/453/686), and just needs his 2021 to show those power numbers weren’t a fluke.
Down the Draft Board Sleeper Option: John Rhodes, OF, Kentucky. The instinct was to go with the buzziest name in college baseball, UNC’s Justice Thompson, in this spot, but I don’t quite see it. But then I discovered Rhodes, who is going to appeal to Kantrovitz’ statistical modeling (he has a career 1.119 OPS at Kentucky) and was an absolute star in the Northwoods League last summer, hitting .378/.495/.500 with a wood bat. He’s also one of the youngest D1 draft-eligible players in the class.
High School Pitchers
The One I Dream About Falling to 21: Jackson Jobe, RHP, Heritage Hall HS (OK). For a few months now, this has been the guy I have wanted for the Cubs. A super athlete on the mound (like recent picks Ryan Jensen, Koen Moreno), Jobe also has some of the highest spin rates in the entire draft class. I’ve been hopeful, at least until I read Carlos Collazo’s piece last week on 10 Early Season Draft Risers: “…it wouldn’t be surprising for Jobe to pitch his way to the top of the prep arms in the class.” Rats.
Two Realistic Options: Ben Kudrna, RHP, Blue Valley SW (KS); Andrew Painter, Calvary Christian Academy (FL). Painter has long been seen as the top prep arm in his draft class, your traditional projectable (6-foot-7, hello) right-hander with the four-pitch mix. There have been reports of some struggles out of the gate this spring, and I could see a scenario where that coupled with a higher bonus demand pushes him to the twenties. Kudrna is just a guy that’s jumped out to me on video, who if he’s pitching at the high-end of a pretty wide velocity range by summer could absolutely enter a first round discussion.
Two Down the Draft Board Sleeper Options: Gage Jump, JSerra Catholic (CA); Thatcher Hurd, Mira Costa (CA). They’re both stretching the definition of sleepers, but my knowledge on this class only goes so far. Hurd is a spin rate freak that also checks all the athleticism and projection boxes you could hope for. Jump is just 5-foot-11, but that allows for a vertical approach angle that really plays up his low 90s fastball.
High School Hitters
The One I Dream About Falling to 21: James Wood, OF, IMG Academy (FL). Drafting in the top 10 means that you had to endure a bad Major League season the year before, but it also means that you get to dream about getting athletes like Wood into your farm system. I see no scenario that Wood drops to the Cubs, but I wanted to put him here merely because this is to me what a first-round pick looks like.
Two Realistic Options: Benny Montgomery, OF, Red Land HS (PA); Izaac Pacheco, 3B, Friendwood HS (TX). For Montgomery, I only have to quote his write-up in BA’s prospect rankings: “Tool for tool, Montgomery might be the most talented player in the 2021 class.” Okay, sold. But seriously, the reason Montgomery is down the draft list a bit and possible for the Cubs is that he’s a bit awkward in his actions with a lean 6-foot-4 frame coming from a cold weather state. Pacheco has been a top prospect in this class for years, but dropped a bit in the rankings after a less-than-great performance on the summer showcase circuit. Pacheco has quick hands and the athleticism to currently handle shortstop. I’ll also say that Ian Moller from Dubuque, Iowa is one of my favorite prospects in this class, a catcher with an absolutely beautiful right-handed swing, but I’m not sure he’s a fit for the Cubs.
Down the Draft Board Sleeper Option: Colson Montgomery, SS, Holland HS (IN). Just read Montgomery’s feature in the Prospects Live draft mailbag this week and try not to get sold on Montgomery. A lot of the things that made Brennen Davis appealing to the Cubs once upon a time are at play here: two-sport star, still growing, fantastic instincts. With a big spring, I won’t be shocked if teams at the back end of round one are talking about buying Montgomery out of his Indiana commitment.