I’ve had the MLB Draft on the brain a lot lately, though probably more the 2023 MLB Draft than I’d like to admit. Such is life when the Chicago Cubs are so very bad. The brain starts thinking about the new draft lottery.
As for the 2022 MLB Draft, we’re well under a month away, and there are a couple new mock drafts to discuss this week. They REALLY change things up, too.
At MLB Pipeline, Jim Callis’s mock comes with a pretty shocking pick at the top: it’s high school bat Termarr Johnson going first overall to the Orioles. His rationale is that the Orioles are focused on a group of five prospects for that top pick – Johnson plus the other three top prep bats (Druw Jones, Elijah Green, and Jackson Holliday) and Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee – and if there is no huge differentiation, they may want to take the player who will sign at the most under slot. That would be Johnson, who could otherwise fall all the way toward the Cubs at pick seven.
As you might expect, the next four picks go to the other four names, and then Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada goes 6th to the Marlins, as he often does in these mocks. Those are pretty frequently the six names off the board by the time the Cubs pick at 7, which would give them the opportunity to take Cam Collier, the junior college 17-year-old who is playing way above his age in the Cape Cod League right now.
As Callis says, “It’s no secret that the Cubs love Collier, and the Pirates might be the only team that would take him before No. 7.” I tend to think the Cubs would have no problem with it if the draft falls this way, because they likely really do love Collier, and he might also sign a little under slot since he has a potential floor several picks later. Don’t COUNT on that part, mind you, because there is definitely buzz that he could be off the board before the Cubs pick. (In either case, it’s nice that there are at least seven prospects that you feel like are no doubt quality picks at number seven. Probably more.)
Callis drops a really surprising alternative, though, for the Cubs at seven: “Alabama left-hander Connor Prielipp, who didn’t pitch this season after having Tommy John surgery in May 2021, impressed at his Draft Combine workout and could factor as high as here.”
Prielipp, who winds up going 13th in Callis’s mock as the second pitcher and first college pitcher selected, is name-checked in almost every pick after the Cubs. Pipeline describes him as being in the conversation as a possible future top overall pick when he dominated so thoroughly at Alabama as a freshman, but then he blew out his elbow as a sophomore. So now it’s up to the scouts who’ve seen him post surgery to decide just how back he is. Fair to guess that the Cubs would turn to Prielipp only if their tip-top option(s) are off the board, and they formulate an under-slot strategy that allows them to get Prielipp and a first-round talent who slid in a subsequent round.
Meanwhile, Keith Law’s latest mock has the Pirates plucking Collier at pick four, and the guy who slips is Brooks Lee. I don’t think anyone would complain if he made it all the way to seven. Then again, Law might be a bit lower on the Lee projection than other services:
Lee has been the best pure hitter among college prospects this year, running a walk-to-strikeout rate over 2.00 all season and punching out well under 10 percent of the time. He controls the zone well and rarely misses fastballs within it, thanks to exceptional hand-eye coordination. His swing is unorthodox and kind of noisy, with some evident effort, but with all that hip and torso rotation he doesn’t always make the high-quality contact teams are looking for in elite prospects. I don’t think Lee is a shortstop long term; he has outstanding hands that will play anywhere on the field, but his ankles are thick and he’s a 40 runner, so the lateral agility that position demands may just be beyond his physical ability. Put him at third base and he should be fine. It’s a bet on the bat, and that a pro department can take this foundation of contact skills and help him get to more consistent contact quality; it’s easier to teach someone to hit the ball harder than it is to teach him to hit the ball in the first place. Lee should be a strong regular who makes some All-Star teams as a third or second baseman, but probably doesn’t project to be a superstar.
Not that it would be bad to get a multi-year All-Star with your first round pick in the draft! I am personally a big fan of Lee, whose bat might be the best all-around in the draft among the college cohort.
Law mentions college shortstop Zach Neto as another option for the Cubs, something that has been discussed before. Interestingly, he says that the Cubs could be Collier’s floor rather than one of the earlier options for him. Recall, Law is extremely high on Collier, whom he ranks as the second best prospect in the draft, behind only Druw Jones. (Lee ranks 5th.)