“With the 56th selection in the 2021 MLB (Prospects Live) First-Year Player Draft, the Chicago Cubs select…”Greg Zumach
Last summer, as the major sports had ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic and baseball players and owners were locked in a negotiation standstill, the only baseball event which continued to be held on schedule was the MLB Draft. Fortunately, if any event in baseball could lift my spirits, it would be the Draft. I’ve gone on record that my favorite day of the year is the first day of the MLB Draft. While my wife doesn’t like to hear such talk around the holidays, I stand behind it.
Since 2001 (the Mark Prior draft), I’ve followed the Draft and have done so passionately for over a decade. So when sports became more fantasy than reality last summer, I experienced a brief moment of normality, even if it was one-eighth the length of a standard Draft.
Prospects Live began in 2018, and I started to follow them in early 2020. As a free resource, I found their prospect and draft analysis to be quite robust and well-written. Now it’s become a go-to publication with content that matches up with any in the industry. What has now become an annual event is their Prospects Live Mock Draft, where writers, analysts, and other Draft gurus join in drafting for their respective teams in a streamed event. As of this writing, Prospects Live’s 2020 Mock Draft has over 4,100 views on YouTube. I’m reasonably sure I account for at least ten of those.
It was a thrill to be able to participate in this year’s event. And I want to take a moment to thank Bryan Smith of Bleacher Nation, who served as General Manager (GM) picking for the Chicago Cubs. He was very generous in including me in the process as “Scouting Director”. You can watch the entire Mock Draft here. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the Cubs selections.
In the week lead-up to the Mock, Bryan and I compiled our boards before meeting. My draft board leading into this week included 85 profiles, with 150 players ranked in total. Bryan had viewed video/ranked over 75 players. Since the Cubs were drafting at the 21st and 56th selections, we were in great shape to cover both picks. The day before the Mock, we met to hammer out a board and talk about players where our opinions diverged. We planned to collaborate on both picks with Bryan hopping on to the stream for pick 21 and me for pick 56.
One player that was sure to garner mixed emotions was Florida centerfielder, Jud Fabian. To be clear, both Bryan and I rank Fabian within our top 30 prospects but acknowledge his strikeout concerns (29% K%). The upside of Fabian, though, is undeniable, and since we were picking at 21 for the Cubs, he was a player we needed to consider. So while both Bryan and I were not completely sold, I gave him a pitch in case, as GM, he wanted to make that selection:
“You could speak to: Justin Stone, [Fabian’s] other qualities (abv-avg defense in CF, plus power), and his mid-season swing adjustment (from 4/6-5/15, he had a 16% K%). So if you believe you can get him back to that, you have an upper-echelon player. The Cubs have made investments in the player development infrastructure; it’s time to make a pick with high performance and performance science at the forefront of the selection.”
Man of Mystery
A late addition to my board has been James Triantos, a SS (and RHP) out of Madison HS in Virginia. Triantos (SS, Madison HS) deserves some more publicity. His contact rate of 94% contact rate topped prep players in the showcase circuit last year with a similar max EV as Will Taylor, Harry Ford, and Colson Montgomery. Traintos has quite an arm and has good run times. He hails from Cubs area scout (and 2020 Stan Zielinski Scout of the Year) Billy Swoope’s territory. I also don’t think it would surprise me to hear the Cubs very interested in Triantos with an early selection. From my latest mock: “If there’s one player who could be this year’s Nick Yorke (who was a surprise mid-first round selection), I’ll say it is James Triantos.” Bryan and I spent a good bit of time analyzing his swing and video before agreeing that we planned to consider him at pick 56.
21st Selection: Will Bednar, RHP, Mississippi State
Our shortlist of available players heading into pick 21 included (in no particular order): Ryan Cusick (RHP, Wake Forest), Jud Fabian, Will Bednar (RHP, Mississippi State), and Colson Montgomery (SS, Southridge High School). Ultimately, Will Bednar was too good to pass up. He ranked 12th on my board and similar for Bryan. Bryan locked in the pick on the Prospects Live Mock google doc. Bednar’s key qualities match up well with qualities the Cubs have gravitated towards in recent years.
Bednar brings a low-to-mid 90s fastball (tops at 95) along with an above-average slider and a solid curve and changeup. The fastball has late arm-side life, which benefits overall pitch movement, but can cause him to miss to his arm side (inside to righties). His slider is his best secondary with a good sharp break. The curveball and changeup are a tad behind his other offerings. However, this is a four-pitch pitcher with a starter’s build from the SEC. Even more, Bednar boasts good extension, which is a metric that some teams (like the Cubs) focus on in their draft models. The selection happens around the 1:48:00 mark in the stream.
56th Selection: James Triantos, SS, Madison High School
Our second-round selection was the most challenging. As Bryan and I reconvened at pick 50 to hammer out our selection, we had a larger group of players on our boards. The top four players in our rankings were Thatcher Hurd (RHP, Mira Costa HS), Josh Hartle (LHP, Reagan HS), Andrew Abbott (LHP, Virginia), and James Triantos (SS, Madison HS). Other players considered for the pick included Ben Kudrna (RHP, Blue Valley Southwest HS), Ian Moller (C, Dubuque Wahlert HS), Ky Bush (LHP, St. Mary’s College), and Spencer Schwellenbach (RHP/SS, Nebraska). After we selected Bednar in the first round, Bryan and I discussed who we preferred at pick 56. I am an enormous fan of both Thatcher Hurd and Josh Hartle, who I profiled as ideal Cubs pitching targets. However, Bryan agreed that we had an opportunity to have a fun selection and one that both matches up with Cubs’ drafting tendencies and that could generate some great discussion. Bryan was gracious to let me make the selection and hop on the video to discuss our mystery man and rising prospect, James Triantos. The selection happens around the 3:58:00 mark.
Wrap Up and Next Steps
Ultimately I loved who we brought in during our two picks in this mock. Both Bednar and Triantos represent players that match skills and metrics that the Cubs organization has targeted in prior drafts. I can’t wait for the actual MLB Draft, where we can dive into 20 rounds of talent. Greg Huss, Jimmy Nelligan, and I will be hosting this year’s MLB Draft Special on The Rant Live, beginning with the first pick and continuing about 30 minutes after the Cubs selection. And once the 2021 Draft ends, I’ll be turning my attention to the next class of Draft prospects. In between, you’re going to see a lot more Cubs minor league content.
It’s been a blast to have the opportunity to analyze this Draft class as I’ve started Ivy Futures, and while it’s been successful, I’ve also learned a lot along the way to improve when I start next year’s rankings. Thanks for joining me on this journey.