“What is the optimal strategy in this year’s draft for the Cubs?”
There are countless different “ideal options” in the current landscape of the MLB Draft. Since the first year of the 10-round bonus pool draft format in 2012, we’ve seen teams be creative in how they stretch their imposed financial constraints to get the most talent out of the draft. For a breakdown in how the 2021 draft operates, check out the Chicago Cubs Draft Primer, but here’s a quick summary.
Since these bonus allotments aren’t fixed (only a guideline), the draft is really separated into two drafts. The first 10 rounds becomes its own beast with teams strategically drafting certain players to “save money” for higher priced picks. Often, this involves drafting players in the latter half of the first 10 rounds who are seniors in college and lack leverage in negotiations.”Ivy Futures Draft Primer
A special thanks to David Elliott (@Davidrelliott) for the suggestion for the article
Disclaimer: I reference the signability of players casually, but these conjectures are based entirely on speculation and reports by draft analysts. No financial figure should be interpreted as a specific figure or information gathered from a player or advisor.
Round 1, Pick 21: James Triantos, SS, Madison HS
Slot figure $3,132,300; approximate signing $2.7 million
Report: I previously wrote that if any player in this draft provided a profile similar to last year’s surprise first-round pick, Nick Yorke, that it was Triantos. Additionally, I believe James Triantos ranks high on the Cubs board. This is far from the consensus, but in this scenario, Triantos offers an a slot savings deal while bringing in a player that had some of the strongest batted-ball data on last year’s showcase circuit. Triantos is from Cubs area scout Billy Swoop’s territory and he’s rising on draft boards. Ultimately, more scouts view him as a SS/3B long-term. He may be the best high school hitter to come out of Virginia in the past five years, according to Prospects Live’s Draft Director, Joe Doyle.
Round 2, Pick 56: Jackson Linn, OF, Cambridge Rindge and Latin
Slot figure $1,276,400; approximate signing $1.8 million
Report: With the money saved from the pick at 21, the Chicago Cubs take a chance at another rising high school bat, Jackson Linn. The outfielder produced big time exit velocities at the MLB Draft Combine. He is a power bat that also shows off a plus-plus arm (hit 98 mph off the mound). He has a smooth easy stroke with a consistent hitting pattern. The Cambridge Rindge and Latin player has teams interested in the second and third rounds, with Baltimore at 41 offering a high water mark for him. This mock sends Linn to the Cubs for the 41st pick’s value.
Round 3, Pick 93: Grant Holman, RHP, California
Slot Figure $627,900; approximate signing $500k
Report: California’s Grant Holman is an upside prospect in this year’s draft. He is a recent convert to pitching and utilizing a long extension (over 7′), which boosts the perceived velocity (the ball looks faster to the hitter because the ball is released closer to the plate) on the pitch. His secondaries don’t play as well as his 92-95 fastball, but his split-change and slider show flashes of being better than average. The fastball incorporates heavy sink on the pitch, which is a fastball characteristic the Cubs have historically liked. This is another selection where the Cubs invest in a large, athletic player who boasts characteristics they like and features an impressive ceiling.
Round 4, Pick 123: Denzel Clarke, OF, Cal State Northridge
Slot Figure $464,500; approximate signing $500,000
Report: Clarke is a name on the rise after his stellar performance at the MLB Draft Combine. He is a big power/speed threat at the next level. And he uses that speed to be a strong centerfielder (Big West’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2021). Clarke’s power is still raw, but it appears after his performance in the MLB Draft Combine, that he’s starting to realize that power. Clarke is a mammoth of a man, standing 6’5″ and 220 pounds. He’s gaining a lot of buzz and should go on day two of this year’s draft.
Round 5, Pick 153: Rohan Handa, LHP, Yale
Slot Figure $343,400; approximate signing $343,400
Report: The Hartford Courant put out an incredible article on Handa who is a big-time pop-up arm. The Yale pitcher remade himself this past season and is intriguing teams with upper 90s velocity and plus slider. No one knows where to place him in the draft, but with the interest in Handa, a team is likely going to need to take him relatively early even if it is just a bullpen profile. The Cubs invested in power lefty arms in last year’s draft (Carraway and Luke Little) and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them do it again this season.
Round 6, Pick 184: Garrett Horn, LHP, Glenn HS
Slot Figure $263,700; approximate signing $563,700
Report: In the past several year’s the Cubs have leaned heavily on prep pitching in North Carolina. Horn may not be a familiar name but he’s a 6’2″, projectable lefthander who throws five pitches with his four seam (90-95 mph), curveball (77-81 mph), circle changeup (low to mid 80s), and cutter (87-91 mph) his primary pitches. He will mix in a two-seam fastball. Horn recently had a successful showcase at the MLB Draft Combine and I believe he’ll be on teams’ radars, including the Cubs.
Round 7, Pick 214: Wyatt Hendrie, C, San Diego State
Slot Figure $206,500; approximate signing $56,500
Report: Hendrie was the lone pick in the first ten-rounds of the draft to not sign with the Cubs during Theo Epstein’s tenure. Some believe that Hendrie’s failed signing was the sole reason for Theo Epstein to leave the club over a year later. Those aren’t people you should associate with without witnesses. Hendrie looks like a future back-up catcher with more upside. He’s a rare hitter who has almost as many walks as strikeouts and his defense looks above-average behind the plate. He may never hit for much power, but Hendrie should have success at the next level.
Round 8, Pick 244: Michael Kirian, LHP, Louisville
Slot Figure $168,500; approximate signing $168,500
Report: It was almost a rite of passage for a Louisville pitcher to be selected by the Chicago Cubs in the draft. Here the Cubs select a giant lefty (6’6″, 230 pounds) who still needs considerable mechanical refinement and pitch development. The Cubs have invested heavily in their high performance and performance science infrastructure and have the foundation to develop Kirian either as a starter or in the pen.
Round 9, Pick 274: Brett Harris, 3B, Gonzaga
Slot Figure $152,300; approximate signing $52,300
Report: Brett Harris is a classic “senior sign” player from a solid program. He performed well this past season and, per scouts, showed good makeup with his teammates. At the NCAA Regionals, multiple scouts from the Oakland A’s were impressed with Harris. The defense wasn’t spectacular in that outing, but he’s a steady bat.
Round 10, Pick 304: Griffin Doersching, 1B/3B, Northern Kentucky
Slot Figure $143,900; approximate signing $43,900
Report: The Cubs were heavily linked to East Carolina’s Alec Burleson (1B) in last year’s draft before the Cardinals nabbed him in the third round. They then landed Matt Mervis in the post-draft free agency period. After year’s of avoiding the profile, I believe the Cubs see value in college first basemen. Griffin Doersching’s 20 home runs and his improving performance warrant a serious look.
Savings plus 5% overage: $390,070
Savings can be used to offer above the $125,000 threshold for players in rounds 11-20. Effectively the Cubs could bring in several $250,000 players in the later rounds since only the funds above $125,000 are counted against the pool. The Cubs did this in 2018 to great success.
Ten-round mock drafts are not built to be accurate exercises, but they are fun. It will be fascinating to see who the Cubs target early in this draft. This mock incorporates a few player demographics and qualities that I hope the Cubs target: high school talent, upside college players, premier athletes, and an emphasis on high performance/performance science.