Checking In With the Latest 2021 MLB Draft Chatter and Possible Cubs Picks

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Checking In With the Latest 2021 MLB Draft Chatter and Possible Cubs Picks

Chicago Cubs

As college baseball heads to the tournament, I thought it would be a good time to check in with some possibilities on the Cubs pick at 21 in the first round. As we did last time, I’ll touch on the possibilities from each fo the four demographics: college and high school hitters and pitchers.

Big thanks to the many wonderful resources that provide draft coverage these days for helping me catch up and write this post. Prospects Live’s draft teams in incredible, they just dropped a top 500, and you know Baseball America is the gold standard. The Athletic, FanGraphs, ESPN have all been pumping out draft content as well. The intrigue in this draft lies in how teams at the top of the draft organize the prep shortstops that have risen to the top of most draft boards, but we’ll try and focus on names more realistic to the Cubs.

High School Hitters

The One I Dream About Falling to 21: It seems very unlikely that any of the top high school bats fall, even catcher Harry Ford, who started the spring as the most common guy mocked to the Cubs. I’ll just say that I think Kahlil Watson is awesome, even if he’s become a bit overshadowed by the Lawler-Mayer-House trio.

Realistic Options: The reason I started here is because there are just so many names in this area that might make sense. For instance, the 20-23 spots on the Baseball America big board are all prep hitters: the powerful Josh Baez, the massive James Wood, athletic catcher Joe Mack and quirky outfielder Benny Montgomery. There’s also a ton of late momentum on Louisiana middle infielder Peyton Stovall, and you know this front office doesn’t need to be sold hard on a middle infielder.

Down the Draft Board Sleeper Option: I’ll echo what Brett said about Keith Law mocking Will Taylor to the Cubs; that’s very specific intel, and I would take it seriously. Taylor’s an absolute top-end athlete, the question will just be whether the Cubs can project any lick of power in his swing.

College Pitcher

The One I Dream About Falling to 21: One reason I routinely advocated for Garrett Crochet in the draft last year was a belief that you grab elite MLB pitches when you can. The same opportunity presents itself in Miami (Ohio) right-hander Sam Bachman, whose 101 mph fastball is probably his second-best pitch behind an elite low 90s slider.

Realistic Options: I thought Greg at Ivy Futures made a really compelling argument for Michael McGreevy in his last mock draft, and it’s a name that absolutely wouldn’t surprise me. The Cubs have a lot of history with arms from California, and McGreevy has popped this spring by adding 5 mph to his fastball. How does the R&D team grade out the secondaries?

One thing I’m very curious about is what team takes the risk and drafts the two big arms to have Tommy John surgery this spring: LSU’s Jaden Hill and Mississippi’s Gunnar Hoglund. The Cubs have never been scared off from taking chances on guys with TJ in their past, but with the seventh-lowest bonus pool, will they be willing to commit 40% of their draft capital to the risk?

Down the Draft Board Sleeper Option: When elite arms pop up in super scout Billy Swoope’s region, I have to take them seriously as a potential Cubs pick. So while East Carolina right-hander Gavin Williams might be likelier in the second round than the first, he’s rising up draft boards and worth your attention. Williams is a massive 6-foot-6, 255 pound ace that routinely gets the fastball to triple digits. But while pitching in the rotation for the first time this spring, he’s also shown an amazing ability to command it: just 18 walks in 68 innings (against 108 strikeouts!). This is the type of arm whose performances in the NCAA tournament will have an outsized impact on where they ultimately get drafted versus arms with a longer track record.

College Hitter

The One I Dream About Falling to 21: In my March write-up, I said to pay attention to which of this group emerged at the front of the line: Franklin, Usher, Wilson, Cowser. Well it turned out to be Colton Cowser of Sam Houston State; he’s probably the only one who is a lock for the first round, and he’s being projected well ahead of the Cubs now. I still would prefer Sal Frelick or the guy right below here, but Cowser seems like a definite Major Leaguer.

Realistic Options: Once projected as a possible top-3 pick, strikeouts in the spring have pushed Jud Fabian all the way to the 20s on most draft boards. I can understand the skepticism in Fabian’s hit tool, but I’d also be thrilled if the Cubs scooped him up. Fabian has some of the highest in-game power of anyone in the draft thanks to elite bat speed. He added a two-strike swing after the first month this year that helped for awhile, but struggled again in recent weeks. This is the definition of boom or bust.

Down the Draft Board Sleeper Option: While he doesn’t strike me as a real threat to be the Cubs pick, I wanted to highlight that Eastern Illinois University could produce the first Midwestern college pick this year in shortstop Trey Sweeney. Checking every offensive box, Sweeney hit an insane .382/.522/.712 with the Panthers this spring, and the question is just what defensive position makes the most sense in pro ball.

High School Pitcher

The One I Dream About Falling to 21: I’m not sure anything speaks to the insanity of the overall rise in velocity across college baseball as the general lack of hype that Chase Petty has received. Remember Colt Griffin, who went in the top five once upon a time merely because he’d hit 100 mph? Well Petty does that, with good movement, in just about every outing. A pick like Petty is as high-risk, high-reward as it gets, but for someone who writes about these guys, selfishly I’d love to follow that development.

Realistic Options: Okay, maybe it’s not realistic, but I want to mention Bubba Chandler here. A QB recruit at Clemson, it’s expected that Chandler’s amazing spring in high school baseball will yield him the bonus necessary to give up football. I haven’t heard any specific connections between Chandler and the Cubs – it’s not really the type of pick they tend to make – but Scouting Director Dan Kantrovitz was in the A’s draft room when they took a chance on Kyler Murray in the first round.

Down the Draft Board Sleeper Option: I’ll bet the R&D Department really likes New Jersey southpaw Anthony Solometo, who has good traits on his fastball-slider mix. It’s a unique arm action that probably is too quirky from a team that has generally avoided high school pitchers early in the draft, however.

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Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.