The First BA Staff Draft Suggests Cubs Will Have Good College Options in the First Round
With amateur seasons well underway, it’s high time we get a mock draft! Er, well, kinda – the one we’re discussing today is actually a “staff draft” from Baseball America, where a set of writers drafted FOR the teams in question.
Yeah, sure, it’s still way too early for the tops of the draft to have a ton of clarity (much less an entire first round), but these kinds of imagined drafts (mock or otherwise) in March give us an increasingly good idea of the prospects who could be considered in the first round, and also the caliber of talent that COULD be available when the Chicago Cubs pick at number 13.
Baseball America just released its opening Staff Draft, which is position-player heavy at the top, especially on the college side. This tracks with what most were saying about this year’s class over the offseason (strong in college bats and college arms), and also tracks with having a global pandemic three years ago that put a huge dent in the ability to effectively scout high school seniors who are now college juniors, or to sign the ones you wanted out of a short, five-round draft.
I’m not saying that makes it a particularly good draft to have a mid-round pick – it will still always be true that things get much less certain after the top five picks – but I will say that means the Cubs will PROBABLY have a number of high-quality college prospects available at pick 13 if they want to go that route.
In the Baseball America draft, they do:
13. Cubs – Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest (Ranking: No. 14)
Writer: Ben Badler
Rationale: I thought about Pennsylvania prep shortstop Kevin McGonigle here. Other than Cristian Hernandez, there aren’t any other middle infielders who rank among the top 20 prospects in the organization, so it’s a position of need and I love McGonigle. But you’re not drafting for need in the first round, and the Cubs could use more pitching anyway. They have gone college pitcher with their first-round pick in three of the last four years, and with Lowder at No. 13, they’re getting a better prospect than they did a year ago with Cade Horton at No. 7 overall.
Lowder is the fourth college pitcher taken in the draft, behind LSU’s Paul Skenes, Tennessee’s Chase Dollander, and Florida’s Hurston Waldrep. So, the comment on Horton, perhaps being less about Horton, implies that this is a very strong group of pitchers at the top this year.
Presently ranked 14th overall to BA, the scouting report on Lowder reads like a prototypical high-end starting pitching prospect:
While Wake Forest has become a pitching factory in recent years, Lowder became the first player in program history to be named ACC pitcher of the year after a 2022 season where he posted a 3.08 ERA in 99.1 innings, with a 25.1% strikeout rate. He followed that up with a dominant showing for Team USA’s Collegiate National Team, where he was one of just two pitchers to make multiple starts during the Honkbalweek Haarlem competition in the Netherlands. Lowder is a large and physical righthander listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds who works with an up-tempo windup and throws from a lower, three-quarter slot. He works with a three-pitch mix that includes a fastball in the 92-94 mph range as well as a mid-80s changeup and low-80s slider. Lowder’s fastball has solid running life and touched 97 mph in 2022, and he pounded the zone at a 73% rate with the pitch in 2022 in order to set up quality secondaries. He used his slider and changeup more than half the time and those pitches are his go-to swing-and-miss offerings. Lowder’s changeup features significant fading and diving life, which pairs well off his fastball shape and he used the pitch to generate a 39% miss rate in the 2022 season. His slider features spin rates in the 2,500 rpm range, and generated misses at a 34% rate in 2022. Lowder has a safe starter profile and is one of the best pitchers in the class.
You can certainly see how and why there would be less risk there with Lowder than with Cade Horton, even if the Cubs are exceedingly high on Horton (I reeeeeally can’t wait to see his pro debut this year).
An interesting consideration for the Cubs with this pick – as we saw last year – is if they believe they are so good at developing pitchers now that they have a preference for drafting pitchers high (believing that they can make them even better than most other organizations could). There will be plenty of high-quality college and prep bats available, too, around pick 13.
Read the BA top prospects list for more on the (currently) top prospects in the draft, and check out the staff draft for who goes where this time around.