The Cubs Way
The Chicago Cubs of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer era was built largely on the backs of elite hitters taken in the first round. Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, and Nico Hoerner experienced varying levels of success from role players to MVP, but each first-round hitter drafted from 2012-2018 made the major leagues. While every fan dreams of filling out the an All-star team with the Cubs starting lineup, it’s important to remember that even just receiving major league contributions from each of those picks is a remarkable success. That doesn’t even take into account of the ultimate goal (winning the World Series), which was finally accomplished in 2016.
But this is no time to rest on laurels and the organization dramatically adjusted organizational philosophies starting in 2018. This involved targeting players with a higher upside/risk. These players with a higher variance (between their low and higher projections) have been immensely valuable to the organization. Look for the Cubs to target players that fit that category during the upcoming MLB draft.
Disclaimer: Every major league organization uses some form of draft model and metrics to compare and rank both hitters and pitchers. This isn’t meant to reverse-engineer the Cubs draft model, but rather to highlight a few components of that model that may pertain to players selected. Teams also have access to far more biodynamic and proprietary data.
Hitting Factors to Consider
Every team wants athletes, but the players the Cubs have targeted in the last few years have trended to showcase more athleticism at the expense of polish, especially outside of the first round. Specific hitters like Brennen Davis, Cole Roederer, Ethan Hearn, and Jordan Nwogu are some notable examples. The Cubs have also targeted multi sport athletes, which is a good marker for well-rounded athleticism.
While the Cubs have targeted shortstops in the past few years, You Can’t Have Too Many Shortstops. It’s not impossible to see the Cubs target one of the immensely talented high school shortstops in what is viewed as possibly the best draft class of high school shortstops ever. However, there are also a bevy of high school outfielders and catchers very worthy of being drafted in the top three rounds. Unfortunately this is largely seen as a disappointing college hitter class. That doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t take a college hitter early, just that it will be more of a scouting challenge. College outfielders get most of the publicity in the first round, however there are a number of infielders who should find themselves drafted in rounds 1-3.
All organizations include age to some extent into how they evaluate players, especially in extremes. A player who is 19 years old in high school may offer less growth than a 17 year old. Certain organizations factor age very little into their draft models (Arizona) and others are notorious for heavily factoring it in (Cleveland). The Cubs are largely in the middle of the pack. Ultimately, I wouldn’t heavily weigh age when it comes to identifying players the Cubs may target.
The Cubs have prioritized players with strong bat-to-ball skills in upper rounds of the last several drafts. Players like Ed Howard, Nico Hoerner, and Chase Strumpf were some notable examples of players who showed excellent bat-to-ball skills. Every organization wants player who make contact, however it should be noted that the Cubs have prioritized hit tools over power.
The Cubs heavily invested in their hitting infrastructure. Justin Stone and the hitting department showed remarkable success with Brennen Davis and the Cubs have not shied away from drafting players who need to have their swing reworked (Ed Howard and Jordan Nwogu). Though the Cubs are not alone on this island, not every organization is comfortable devoting significant financial resources to players who need a reworked swing.
High School Hitters
Will Taylor, OF, Dutch Fork (HS)
Ivy Futures Report: Will Taylor may seem like a prospect on the rise, but he had an excellent showcase circuit last year. Taylor showed off the best contact rate (by a good amount) and chase rate (by a bit over Peyton Stovall). Taylor is set to play baseball and football at Clemson, but from all accounts Taylor appears signable if drafted early. Taylor is supremely athletic and is a plus-plus runner who should be able to stick in CF long-term.
Cubs connections: Taylor definitely fits the athleticism picture to a tee. His bat-to-ball skills are very well-regarded. Taylor is a good bet to stay up the middle in CF. Also, Taylor has specifically been linked to the Cubs by both Keith Law and Jim Callis. Bryan Smith from Bleacher Nation also outlined his thoughts on Taylor here.
Colson Montgomery, SS, Holland (HS)
Ivy Futures Report: Montgomery is an exciting high school shortstop that appears to be on the rise. In showcases last summer, Montgomery showed off the rare combined traits of a high contact and low chase rates, while also hitting the ball hard. Scouts are mixed as to whether he can stick at shortstop, but he has more than enough arm if he needed to move to third base. He also shows off enough defensive instincts to allow a team to send him out at SS in pro ball.
Cubs connections: Colson Montgomery may end up moving over to third base, but the Midwest shortstop brings both an athletic profile and the ability to combine bat-to-ball skills and power. His future above-average projections in both hit and power is similar to Ed Howard’s.
Benny Montgomery, Red Land (HS)
Ivy Futures Report: Perhaps the most toolsy prospect in the entire draft, Montgomery’s main knock has been a hitch in his swing that appeared to go away before reappearing in recent games. Montgomery possesses great defense in CF with a plus arm and plus-plus run times. He’ll also show off above-average raw power. A team that believes it can iron out Montgomery’s swing will likely take him high.
Cubs connections: The presence of Justin Stone as the Cubs Director of Hitting should provide confidence in ironing out Montgomery’s swing. Montgomery may go higher than 21 (where the Cubs select), but if he’s there on the board he very well may present the best balance of floor and high upside.
Malakhi Knight, OF, Archbishop Murphy (HS)
Ivy Futures Report: Malakhi Knight uses his quiet hitting stance to cover the plate well. He is more hit (50) over power, (45) but Knight can barrel the ball. He’s comfortable in centerfield and looks like he has solid instincts. Knight’s 6’3″ 200 lb frame should add some good weight as he grows. That growth may lead to him moving to RF, but he boasts a strong arm that should allow him to thrive in a corner if needed.
Cubs connections: Knight definitely fits that athleticism and raw talent profile that the Cubs have selected recently. Knight’s hit over power profile fits with the organization’s past precedents. He may be a round 2-3 target, but a UCLA commitment likely means he won’t come cheap.
Trey Sweeney, SS/3B, Eastern Illinois
Ivy Futures Report: Sweeney is a big time pop-up prospect, who sports big hitting data. Sweeney both hits the ball hard and also does not whiff often. He plays SS for Eastern Illinois University, but is a likely 3B (or even 2B) at the next level. Some organizations may shy away from Sweeney due to his program strength or just because they weren’t able to get enough evaluators in to see him to draft Sweeney high enough. Sweeney has a chance for an above-average hit and power tool.
Cubs connections: After investing in Ed Howard, the Cubs are a good bet to trust their Midwest area scouts. Sweeney’s ability to hit the ball hard while not striking out in bunches stands out in a weaker college hitting class.
Jud Fabian, CF, Florida
Ivy Futures Report: A likely above-average CF at the next level, Fabian has consistently performed against older competition. He checks off all the boxes as an up-the-middle defender, performer using wood bats on the cap, and solid hitting mechanics. This spring, his swing and miss has kept a K% way too high to be the top talent in the draft, but he’s normalized around 29%, which is still high, but may convince a team to invest. He may be better off going back to school to be in the 2022 draft.
Cubs Connections: If the Cubs feel they can adjust Fabian’s swing, they could have a superstar, but that’s a big “If”. He’s an up the middle, athletic talent, but comes with bigger risks than most college hitters.
Matt McLain, SS, UCLA
Ivy Futures Report: Plays SS at a premier program, McLain is a likely 2B or OF at the next level. He utilizes a contact approach from the right hand side, but strikes the ball well. An offensively strong MLB organization may make changes to his swing to allow him to drive the ball. Still he’s not a slap hitter and capable of driving the ball and probably has average power right now. Hit tool will be critical to be above-average to succeed.
Cubs connections: He’s unlikely to make it to pick 21, but McLain has some fans in the Cubs organization. McLain is a safe college bat from an advanced program, a profile that the Cubs organization from prior years would have been all over.
For more information the 2021 Draft, check out the Ivy Futures draft page.