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A Trip to the NCAA Regionals Gives a Preview of the 2021-2023 MLB Drafts

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I jumped at the opportunity to attend the NCAA regional baseball weekend games in Eugene, Oregon, which featured University of Oregon, Louisiana State University (LSU), Gonzaga, and Central Connecticut. The regional featured legitamate top three round caliber prospects from the 2021-2023 draft.

Landon Marceaux, RHP, LSU, 2021 Draft eligible

Landon Marceaux is a top 3 round caliber pitcher in this July’s MLB Draft. Marceaux stands 6’0″ and is listed at 179 lbs., but he appears to have filled out and looks closer to 190-200 lbs. He still offers some projectability. What stands out with Marceaux is his success as a starter in the SEC with the ability to tunnel three pitches effectively.

Marceaux’s fastball operated 91-93 the entire outing. He was able to locate to both sides of the plate, but when he did miss it was often to his glove side. His breaking ball is his bread and butter pitch. He struggled to get the necessary break in the first two innings, but then locked in his command. The breaking ball had curveball actions, sitting 84-86, and at it’s best was a plus offering generating feeble swings from both righties and lefties. Marceaux also threw another breaking ball with more slider action in the low 80s. Marceaux’s changeup was more of a third offering in this outing sitting in the low 80s with some depth. He used it effectively to steal strikes over the course of several innings. The changeup needs more work.

Though he has some work to do, Landon Marceaux is a battle-tested Friday night starter in a major SEC program with four pitches (one of them plus). He’ll likely hear his name called in the third to fifth rounds.

Landon Marceaux, RHP, LSU at NCAA Regionals

Aaron Zavala, RF, Oregon, 2021 Draft eligible

Aaron Zavala attracted a good amount of attention from scouts when he was up at the plate. Standing just 6’0″, the Oregon rightfielder put on a bit of a show when he drove a double deep into the damp Oregon night. Zavala had minimal chances to show off his arm, but by all accounts, it’s a solid, accurate one. Zavala has solid weight transfer and stays balanced through the hitting zone. There could be some improvements in hip rotation to minimize wasted energy (which should be cleaned up with professional), but it’s a short, compact swing. Zavala should hear his name called relatively early this July.

Aaron Zavala, RF, Oregon at NCAA Regionals
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Dylan Crews, RF, LSU, 2023 Draft eligible

If you wanted to put money on who would be the favorite for the first overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, I’d pick Dylan Crews. The LSU rightfielder shocked many when he withdrew from the 2020 draft. Seemingly not receiving the offers he was looking for, he took his talents to Baton Rouge, where he has done nothing but mash. Crews played a solid right field, but it’s at the dish, where he’ll make his money. Crews showed good contact skills, even against Gonzaga ace, Alek Jacob. He starts in a balanced upright position before using his momentum and diving towards the ball. The hitting stance is reminiscent of Nolan Arenado. He stays balanced through the zone and is a big time power threat. Throughout the 2021 season, Crews sported a 15% K% as a true freshman in the SEC. Feel free to pick your favorite pun, but you’ll be hearing about more than a few “Crews Missiles” in the next two seasons.

Dylan Crews, RF, LSU at NCAA Regionals

Tre’ Morgan, 1B, LSU, 2023 Draft eligible

It’s not often that you hear a first baseman raved about for his defense, but Tre’ Morgan absolutely qualifies. He was dynamic at firs base saving three errant throws by the LSU infielders. He moved well around the base and even displayed flexibility in digging a ball out on a throw while doing the splits. He very much deserves the Evan White comparisons on defense.

At the plate, Morgan is a polished hitter at the plate who shows off extra bases rather than a massive power threat. That shouldn’t sell Morgan short as he did hit 5 home runs this past season as a true freshman in the SEC. In this game, Morgan showed solid bat to ball skills with only an occasional whiff. The varied timing of Gonzaga starter Alek Jacob’s delivery fooled a good number of LSU hitters on the night.

Tre’ Morgan, LSU, at NCAA Regionals

More pearls on players at the NCAA regionals

  • Alek Jacob, RHP, Gonzaga (2021 Draft eligible): He was exceptional in Friday night’s game throwing a complete game, shutout of the star-studded LSU offense. Jacob throws from a very low 3/4 (almost sidearm) angle producing a 84-86 mph fastball. Jacob dramatically alters the timing of his delivery, frequently using pauses at the top of his motion to throw hitters off. It was very effective. To complement the fastball, Jacob breaks out the occasional slow breaking ball, which sits in the mid 60s.
  • Cade Doughty, 3B, LSU (2022 Draft eligible): I’ll have more on Doughty when I release my Top prospect rankings for the 2022 draft, but Doughty has a legitimate chance to be a first rounder next summer.
  • Trystan Vrieling, RHP, Gonzaga (2022 Draft eligible): Vrieling came on in relief in the second inning to throw 7 solid innings. Vrieling has a very over the top arm motion. His fastball sat 92-94 mph (touching 95). It had good ride up in the zone. He paired it with a 79-81 mph curveball that generated weak swings and good drop.

In the lead up to the MLB Draft in July, there will be more articles focusing on the Draft prospects. Check out the latest Draft content here

Prospect Report: Cam Sanders

The 2018 draftee has top 10 prospect upside and is showcasing electric stuff this season

Cam Sanders via Rich Biesterfeld (@Biest22)

How acquired: MLB Draft, 12th Round, 2018

The Cubs’ 2018 draft is shaping up to be one of the most dynamic in the last two decades. Sanders had mid-90s velocity and a big curveball coming out of LSU in the 12th round. Most prospect publications thought he had high-leverage reliever upside if everything clicked, but that his control could hold him back. In fact, Sanders was most notable for being the son of former major leaguer, Scott Sanders. Cam Sanders debuted with 16 2/3 innings across the AZL and at Eugene in 2018 before a strong season in 2019 (2.94 ERA in 21 outings [20 starts] with 84 Ks in 101 innings) for then Low-A South Bend. Sanders used his time during the pandemic to his benefit. Cam Sanders garnered incredible feedback after his 2021 spring camp success. Cubs contacts were impressed with Sanders‘ improved command and ability to maintain velocity to the fifth inning (reminder this was spring camp so it was the equivalent to spring training for the major league squad).

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Mechanics and Control

Sanders starts his motion with a quick step-back before initiating his throwing motion. His windup is abbreviated and similar to his throws from the stretch albeit without the rock back initiation. He appears to gather himself well at the top of his motion. Sanders features a longer arm stroke, but one that appears to hide the ball through the arm path well. He does have a habit of falling off to the first base side (though that leads to some impressive K-struts). His mechanics showcase an athletic, fluid delivery.

Though the control has taken a significant step forward, it still can come and go. Some of this should be put within the context that this is the first professional ball Sanders has played in 18 months. His control averages out to be solid, but can flash above-average at times. His command is still a work in progress, but like his control, can also flash above-average. There are innings where Sanders can put multiple pitches where he wants them in or out of the strike zone. When he does that, hitters can do little with them.

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Pitching Arsenal

4-seam Fastball: Sanders had velocity in 2019, but it fluctuated in the 91-97 mph range. So far this season, Sanders was 96-98 mph in his first outing and 93-96 mph in his second. His third saw him hit 98 mph, but few other reports on his velocity are out there from that start. This pitch plays well up in the zone, but he’s still able to dot it on the outer half of the plate. I feel like this pitch is average right now, but needs to be better commanded. It has the potential for much more, especially when it can play of well-located curveballs.

Curveball: Sanders features a big breaking ball in his curveball. There is some impressive vertical movement where the pitch appears to start up around a hitters shoulders before dropping into the zone. This is a knee buckler at it’s best and still produces whiffs. It can be difficult to control due to it’s movement, but appears to be an above-average offering

Slider: The slider offers good movement with tight vertical break and a bit of horizontal movement off the plate to righties. This is also Sanders’ most inconsistent pitch right now. At times it will flash plus and other pitches it acts as a waste pitch. With more repetitions, the slider has the potential to be a true plus offering, playing off both his four-seam and 2-seam fastball.

2-seam fastball: The 2-seamer is where I get truly excited about Sanders’ potential. His 2-seam has excellent movement into righties and when he throws it in the top of the zone, it can absolutely eat up batters. Elevated 2-seam fastballs is a strategy employed by the Cubs at the major league level with great success. His 2-seam is a plus pitch when commanded up in the zone. Down and away it’s more above-average, but the fact that he is able to do both gives it a plus grade from me.

Changeup: I only saw a handful of changeups. But when Sanders threw them, they had good depth and solid fade away from lefties and into righties. It’d say this pitch is right now an above-average offering, but I do think it could play better down the line.

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Future Projection

Cam Sanders is on the rise. In my 2018 draft review, Sanders was majorly slept on. His report read “A guy who may surprise likely in the pen. He keeps making adjustments (that curve could be something special) as he climbs the ladder.”. Sanders is far outpacing those projections. He is showcasing 5 pitches and flashes enough command to dominate AA hitters at times. Sanders has frontline starter potential. That’s an overused term as there are very few starters in the major leagues with that level of consistent performance. His command (and as always health) will be crucial as he continues to navigate advanced AA lineups, but if it comes together consistently this summer, Cam Sanders is an arm that should be ranked comfortably within the Cubs top prospects.

MLB Mock Draft 2021 Version 2.0

So much of this draft season is still in flux and rumors are flying fast. It is sometimes hard to differentiate real intel from info put out by teams as a smokescreen. This mock is a projection of where things will stand in July so some players (Fabian, Leiter, Arroyo) would be taken with different selections if the draft was held in May.

1. Pittsburgh Pirates

Jordan Lawlar, SS, Jesuit Prep (HS)

I’ve heard more talk surrounding the Pirates taking a prep talent here and Jordan Lawler is the best prep player available. There’s a strong argument to be made that Lawler is the best player in the entire draft. The “five-tool” term is thrown out endlessly, but Lawler may indeed have five-tools that project to be above-average. My only concern is a bit more swing-and-miss than you’d like to see, but he has high upside and should be able to stick at shortstop long-term. Pittsburgh is able to build for the long-haul and selecting Lawler to anchor your farm system would be a strong move for an organization that is trying to recapture the magic of 2013-2015.

2. Texas Rangers

Marcelo Mayer, SS, Eastlake (HS)

I still feel like the Rangers are a possible team that will surprise here so Henry Davis, Frelick, or a college arm could be an option here. However Mayer is the top talent on the board. The Rangers are building for the long-haul and an elite prep SS has a great track record. It’s an incredible high school shortstop class and specific teams may rank Lawler, Mayer, or Watson in any order. Here Texas can still take a player many view as solidly in the top three overall. Mayer has true all-star upside.

3. Detroit Tigers

Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt

The Tigers have had tremendous success targeting college talent and their board could skew so that Rocker, Davis, or a college outfielder could interest the organization. However Leiter here is too good to pass up here and, if healthy, could be up in the Tigers rotation sometime in 2022. Leiter recently was scratch late from a start due to “workload management”. The timing of the announcement being so late has led to some skepticism as to the accuracy of the rationale for Leiter being skipped. If no serious concerns arise, it’s hard for Leiter to slide too far. He still has a legitimate argument to be the top college arm since Stephen Strasburg.

4. Boston Red Sox

Brady House, 3B, Winder-Barrow (HS)

Brady House was the most heralded prospect from the high school class for the past few seasons. In that time, scouts have had ample time to pick apart his game. House has had to face the best of the best both in his class and the surrounding ones. The pendulum appears to have shifted the other way as prospect evaluators can appreciate just how special House’s hitting ability are at present. There even a few teams that think House deserves the chance to get a run at SS before deciding if he needs to move to the hot corner. Boston has the ability to do something the organization hasn’t been able to do for years, take a superstar near the top of the draft. Rocker, Watson, Davis could all be on the table as well to the Red Sox.

5. Baltimore Orioles

Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt

It has been speculated that Mike Ellis won’t take a pitcher in the first round after debacles related to the selections of Brady Aiken and Mark Appel during his time in Houston. That seems wildly overexaggerated and a terrible strategy to completely eliminate all pitching from consideration. Rocker will be a fascinating player to watch in the lead up to the draft. He could easily be the first player from the class to make his debut due to his advanced slider. The fastball and changeup are no slouch either. There has been frequent consternation over Rocker’s velocity, but if he’s sitting 93-95 mph at the end of the season, he should be in a position to go high.

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6. Arizona Diamondbacks

Henry Davis, C, Louisville

Henry Davis has been on fire all season. He’s sporting a .389/.511/.671 triple slash with 11 home runs and good defense added on top. As one of the most sure-fire college bats at a premium position, he won’t last long in the draft. Unlike their high school counterparts, college catchers are a less risky demographic. Davis would be a coup for a host of teams in the top 10.

7. Kansas City Royals

Kahlil Watson, SS, Wake Forest (HS)

The Royals have had the most success with high school hitters and college arms. Kahlil Watson has top 5 potential and a beautiful swing. Scouts are less certain he can stick at shortstop, but that’s not a deal breaker for the Royals who took the supremely talented Bobby Witt Jr. and watched him blossom into a top prospect. If Rocker were to make it down to this selection, I’d guess he doesn’t make it past KC.

8. Colorado Rockies

Jud Fabian, OF, Florida

Jud Fabian entered 2021 in the discussion for top overall prospect. His ability to stick in centerfield, hit with wood bats, and succeed against advanced competition in the SEC form a young age were all promising characteristics. Unfortunately Fabian had massive issues with Ks entering the season. He’s come on as of late and his overall K% is down to 27.5% as of May. Fabian offers Colorado an advanced bat with above-average power that should patrol CF in Coors in short order. Is this a bit high for Fabian? Maybe, but by the end of the season we may be looking at him as a Top 10 pick.

9. Los Angeles Angels

Harry Ford, C, North Cobb (HS)

The Angels were rumored to be making a “reach pick” in the 2020 draft. Whether that was in an effort to punt the pick or whether it was to take a high upside high school pick they could save money on is left to your imagination. There are some rumors that Harry Ford could sneak into the Top 10 picks according to Jim Callis. That’s info that I haven’t heard, but the Angels could fit that picture. Ford is a ton of fun with supreme athleticism and a first-round HS catcher worth the risk.

10. New York Mets

Jackson Jobe, RHP, Heritage Hall HS

High school righthanders carry an inherent risk in the draft. Between the significant injury concerns and the risk of complete flameout (Kohl Stewart and Tyler Kolek are a few of the notable misses), prep righties often tumble down draft boards. It sounds like Jobe is on the rise and even teams normally wary of prep pitchers have to be at least monitoring the situation. Jobe is largely seen as a pitcher at the next level, but he had some success as his team’s shortstop as well so his added versatility does mitigate a small portion of risk seen with prep pitchers.

11. Washington Nationals

Ty Madden, RHP, Texas

Washington will consistently take pitching risks (be it injury, signability, or character risks) in an effort to find high-impact talent. Some organizations are moving away from drafting pitchers who feature fastballs with sinking action, but Washington took Jackson Rutledge who had similar movement on his fastball. It’s also possible that Madden’s fastball is able to be optimized for more ride up in the zone and may still appeal to teams with strong pitching infrastructures. Gunnar Hoglund could be in play here.

12. Seattle Mariners

Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State

Safe college bats with average or better tools always have value to organizations. Cowser stands out as one of the top options in that regard due to an overall weak college hitting class. He should be an option to slot into the Seattle outfield in a few years. Ty Madden may be an option here as well. The Mariners had success with Emerson Hancock who entered 2020 in the 1-1 discussion before slipping to 6 with similar complaints about his fastball. Hancock has since soared up prospect rankings with a few pitching development modifications.

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13. Philadelphia Phillies

Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College

Frelick is more of a sure-thing when it comes to prospecting prognostications. He may not have elite upside, but he looks like a fairly sure bet to make it to the majors where could succeed as a high contact centerfielder. His run tool is about a 65. I do wonder if he is moved around at the next level. He has logged time at 2B and SS in the FCBL summer league in 2020. The fact that he is more of a “sure-thing” and the lack of college bats makes it likely he ends up somewhere in the top 10, but sometimes the board falls a certain way. And come on, you know you want a guy named “Sal” to end up in Philly.

14. San Francisco Giants

Matt McLain, SS/OF, UCLA

The Giants pick up a polished college hitter not too far from their own backyard. McLain has been raking in previous weeks and I don’t buy that a broken thumb will severely hamper his draft stock. Teams got a front row view to what McLain could do. Polished college bats are in short supply in this year’s draft. Most scouts don’t feel McLain is a shortstop at the next level, but his bat looks like it could play at 2B or in the outfield. A team that does believe he could stick at short could take him higher than the middle of the draft. Colorado and Seattle may be other landing spots for McLain. It is doubtful he falls much further than 12-14. I’d be shocked if he made it past the Cubs at 21.

15. Milwaukee Brewers

Benny Montgomery, OF, Red Land HS

Milwaukee has not been afraid to draft a hitter in need of a swing change. Garrett Mitchell (Milwaukee’s first round pick in 2020) was one of the most talented players in last year’s draft, but he slid due to a choppy swing. Montgomery has quieted down that hitch already in recent weeks and there are more teams who he would appeal to. Benny Montgomery has the potential to compete with Mitchell to determine for who should man centerfield in a few years with top the charts athleticism.

16. Miami Marlins

Will Taylor, CF, Dutch Fork (HS)

Taylor has surged up draft boards and is one of the many high upside high school talents in the class. Taylor entered the class as a contact-oriented bat with solid grade in centerfield. The main question mark was if he had enough pop in the bat to justify taking him early enough to prevent him playing baseball and football (slot receiver) at Clemson. He’s shown more explosiveness at the plate recently and done so in front of scouts and decision-makers in organizations. Miami has no issue dreaming on upside.

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17. Cincinnati Reds

Sam Bachman, RHP, Miami of OH

Cincinnati is deeply connected to pitch design with Kyle Boddy now working for the Reds. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll take a pitcher, but in this mock (and likely in July) there’s an abundance of intriguing pitching talent available at this stage of the draft. I believe that #17 to Cincinnati may be the high point for Alex Mooney (prep shortstop as well) who may consider him at 35.

18. St. Louis Cardinals

Bubba Chandler, RHP/SS, North Oconee HS

The Cardinals are willing to take a developmental prospect and can handle signability concerns. Saint Louis has also invested in two way prospects as recently as 2020. Chandler is a popular pick in the top 10 overall (the Angels could be in the market) so he may not be here when St. Louis picks at 18, but if he is, I would imagine the Cardinals organization would jump at the chance to bring him in. Chandler likely needs to go fairly high to convince him to give up his football aspirations at Clemson, where he is a top recruit to play quarterback.

19. Toronto Blue Jays

Jordan Wicks, LHP, Kansas State

Wicks is the top college lefthander though there’s work to be done. He still boasts a plus changeup and his fastball and breaking ball flash above-average. Toronto has done a great job with Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson’s development. In the right developmental organization, Wicks could be a quick-to-the-majors option for a host of competitive clubs.

20. New York Yankees

Joe Mack, C, Williamsville East (HS)

Mack boasts strong hitting metrics, which should fit well within the Yankees developmental system. New York has not shied away from selecting prep catchers in the first round (2018 Anthony Siegler). Mack has good power and a real shot to stick at C. If not, the bat can play on its own. It’s possible that the Yankees try to find some slot savings here to try to sign Jaden Hill in the second round.

21. Chicago Cubs

Michael McGreevy, RHP, UCSB

I featured Michael McGreevy as a potential Cubs target and we’ll continue with that in this mock. High school hitters are the most common demographic linked to the Cubs and I do think the organization is open to high upside selections, but I don’t think it’s a given that it will occur in the first round (see below). The high school hitting class is deep and there should be excellent talent available in the following rounds. If the Cubs feel that an ascending college arm in McGreevy is the top talent on the board, this could be the selection. The UCSB righthander has a 92-95 mph sinker and above-average slider and curveball. He throws a fourth pitch in his changeup that profiles as average. His data is rumored to be excellent and the Cubs have began to significantly target pitchers with certain data points. Sam Bachmann and Will Bednar could be targets here as well.

The natural question with the Cubs is whether they would, instead, focus on high-ceiling high school hitting talent. Though this mock is listed as what teams would more likely do, taking a high school hitter (Ford in a dream scenario) would be my personal selection. As I’ve asked around, I’ve heard conflicting comments as to what people inside and outside the organization feel the Cubs will do. No one will be tipping their hand and it is only May, but there was enough conversation around college talents that I went that way for this mock. Players to consider from the prep class include the aforementioned Harry Ford and Joe Mack. In the outfield, Will Taylor, Josh Baez, James Wood, Lonnie White, and Malakhi Knight all could be options. I don’t believe the Cubs will take a prep arm in the first round.

22. Chicago White Sox

Ryan Cusick, RHP, Wake Forest

The Chicago White Sox had a remarkable success taking a college arm who had reliever questions in Garrett Crochet. By September, Crochet was leading baseball in the number of 100 mph pitches thrown. Cusick offers similar potential, albeit from the righthand side. The White Sox also had a huge presence at a Will Bednar start recently, although he may be more of a second-round target. Christian Franklin out of Arkansas also fits the White Sox M.O. and could be an option with this selection.

23. Cleveland Baseball Team

Edwin Arroyo, SS, Central Pointe Academy (HS)

Cleveland heavily factors in age to their draft model and Arroyo is a dynamic high school infielder with age on his side. He has excellent bat-to-ball skills and has succeeded against older competition. Arroyo is still developing. In a class full of dynamic high school shortstops, Arroyo’s age, switch-hitting, defense first, contact bat may entice Cleveland. Cleveland’s current President of Baseball Ops was the club’s General Manager during the 2011 draft when he selected a 17-year-old, switch-hitting, defense-first, high school shortstop. That move worked very well for both the organization and Francisco Lindor. Arroyo hasn’t been consistently mocked in the first round, but he’s been coming on of late and a team with an heavy age-weighting in a draft model like Cleveland could see him and fall in love. This is admittedly a bit of a projection pick.

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24. Atlanta Braves

Tommy Mace, RHP, Florida

Mace should be a quick-moving arm due to age and experience in the SEC. He’s refined a few points in his pitch design this spring and now looks to be going in the top two rounds. Though he’s not a huge money saving pick, Mace’s age likely allows a club to save a bit here to overslot later in the draft. Here the Braves are able to nab an arm they should be very familiar with who could make major league appearances in short order, while potentially saving to invest in the 2nd/3rd rounds.

25. Oakland Athletics

James Wood, OF, IMG Academy (HS)

Wood is a divisive prospect with a high variance in ceiling and floor. That doesn’t appeal to some teams who naturally gravitate to a more sure return on investment that a first-round pick requires in both financials and opportunity. Oakland has been willing to take significant risks in the first round multiple times in the past five years. It’s been a mixed bag on that front. Wood came into the year with whispers that he could be a top five overall pick. Those talks have largely quelled, but Wood still has impressive upside. At this point in the draft, there are some teams who would jump at the opportunity to take a player with true star potential.

26. Minnesota Twins

Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami

ADC, as he’s affectionately known, came into the season as a potential top 5 pick. He started off slow, but has picked it up as of late. Scouts are still split on whether he remains a long-term catcher, but a team drafting Del Castillo high likely would run him out there in pro ball. If he lasts longer in the draft, his value as a polished college hitter starts to even out his future defensive concerns. Minnesota has defaulted to selecting bats while worrying about defensive homes later.

27. San Diego Padres

Peyton Stovall, 2B, Haughton (HS)

While San Diego may start to factor projected proximity to the majors more in their draft model to supplement their core, the Padres still excel at taking the highest upside high school talent on the board. It’s what has built a good portion of the organizational foundation. Stovall has looked great this spring and his hit over power grades are respected by San Diego, who invested heavily in Robert Hassell III at 9th overall in 2020.

28. Tampa Bay Rays

Joshua Baez, OF, Dexter Southfield (HS)

Tampa Bay was linked to Baez at different points this spring. They haven’t been shy from drafting players from the Northeast and Baez has immense potential both at the plate and, if necessary, on the mound. Joshua Baez could be in play for a variety of teams in the middle of the first round. Baez has a commitment to Vanderbilt so that could always come into play, but I won’t speculate on signing bonus demands. Eastern Illinois’s Trey Sweeney (a SS who likely moves to 3B) also may be in consideration here, though it’s hard to tell how much helium he has at the moment.

29. Los Angeles Dodgers

Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Ole Miss

This pick is a bit of a mystery as a number of talented players could land in LA’s lap. Hoglund’s stock is also just as much of a mystery after he left his most recent start due to injury. Kiley McDaniel reported that he will need Tommy John surgery. In the past few years very few teams have taken significantly injured arms in the first round (Yankees in 2017 – Schmidt, San Diego in 2016 – Quantrill, and the Dodgers in 2015 – Buehler). With their pitching infrastructure and a number of young, talented arms in the pipeline, the Dodgers can afford to take a risk. Hoglund was ticketed for a selection in the top 10 prior to his injury.

Minor League Game of the Week: Opening Night

MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL IS BACK

After 595 days of sporadic reports from the Alternate Site and reaching out to individual players and Cubs contacts, fans can finally see the progress that minor league players have made. In addition to regular content such as prospect reports, podcast interviews, and draft content, I’ll be writing about a game of the week.

I am so impressed with the young talent at Myrtle Beach that I had to make it the inaugural Game of the Week.

Game 1 lineup courtesy of Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Prospects to Watch

Ed Howard:
Game results: 4 AB with 1 hit (single to left field); 1 Ks; sparkling defense
The Cubs are incredibly impressed with Ed Howard this spring. He came into camp in great shape while showing off his plus defense at shortstop. That defense continued to shine in his first professional game. Howard has easy lateral range and soft hands. By the fourth inning, it became clear that when the ball was hit to Howard, you felt the play would be made. It’s the minor leagues and errors will happen. They aren’t the best way to measure defense in the minor leagues. groundskeeping is inconsistent, among other developmental issues. But Howard’s defense is already very steady.

At the plate, Ed Howard did not look overmatched. He was calmand showed strong bat speed. Though he only was able to amass one hit, (a single; see below), Howard consistently put the bat on the ball against advance pitching. John Doxakis is a nearly 23 year old pitcher selected in the second round of the 2019 draft by the Rays, a team known for developing pitching. The other pitchers that Howard faced were Brigden, Theriot, and White (25, 24, and 22 years old respectively). Make no mistake, Howard will be challenged at Myrtle Beach. He’ll continue to face advanced pitching and will have moments he struggles, however he has the skills to succeed despite adversity. He’ll even have games where the strikeouts pileup, but I could not be more excited about Ed Howard at the present.

Jordan Nwogu:
Game results: 3 AB with 0 hits (double to right field); 2 Ks, 1 HBP
Nwogu has an insane amount of potential as a future power/speed threat, but it’s a definite work in progress. He appeared overmatched early against Doxakis. That continued throughout the game. Once it clicks for Nwogu, he could shoot through the system, but there may be some more Ks to his game early in the season.

Yeison Santana:
Game results: 4 AB with 1 hit (double on a fly ball); 3 Ks
Santana is another young infielder on the MB roster. He is the only member of the prospects brought over in the Yu Darvish trade who actually logged professional games before this season. Santana looked pretty solid with good defense at 2B and a couple competitive at-bats. In two other at-bats he was largely outpaced by advanced pitching. Santana was raved about from Cubs officials for his bat-to-ball skills.

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Yohendrick Pinango:
Game results: 4 AB with 1 hit (single to left field)
Cubs officials rave about the bat speed and his bat-to-ball skills. Pinango put that praise on display all game as he constantly slashed the ball to the opposite field. Pinango begins the season as one of the youngest players in full-season ball (he turns 19 on May 7th), but his contact ability is impressive. Like many of the young members of this roster, Pinango faced off against advanced pitching. There will be struggles this season, but the potential is immense.
Game results: 4 AB with 1 hit (single to left field)

Pablo Aliendo:
Game results: 4 AB with 1 hit (double to right field); 2 Ks
With Ethan Hearn on the roster, Pablo (don’t call him “Paul”) Aliendo was a relative surprise starter at catcher in game 1. Aliendo got some shoutouts for his progress in spring camp and earned his spot at Myrtle Beach. Overall, Aliendo looked solid behind the plate and had an equally solid day at the plate (as a hitter). I would still imagine Hearn gets the majority of the run at catcher for the Pelicans (with time at DH and 1B possible), but here’s hoping Aliendo takes the opportunity and runs with it.

News and Notes

  • It is incredible to have minor league baseball back!
  • The next Game of the Week will head to South Bend as we enter the House of Bain. Max Bain is, perhaps, the most fascinating man in the entire Cubs system. He gets the nod on Thursday for the South Bend Cubs alongside positional prospects, Chase Strumpf and Cole Roederer
  • A slimmed down Jose Albertos looked solid on the mound in yesterday’s game. He had a significant case of the yips, but never lost the stuff. He only allowed one walk and it was a competitive plate appearance. Here’s hoping Albertos can progress as a reliever. He’s still only 22.
  • Luis Verdugo is the third of the “Young Myrtle Beach Infield Prospect Triumvirate”. He had a fairly unremarkable day with an 0/4 with 2Ks at the plate.
  • Yes, Ed Howard is a special player. A recent Cubs contact noted that Howard showed off some of the best defense they had ever seen. It’s hard not to be impressed with the overall package of tools. He’s 19 years old. Remarkable.

The State of the Cubs Organization

Max Bain in Spring Camp by Rich Biesterfeld (@Biest22)

As the Chicago Cubs enter the 2021 minor league season, there are some within the organization who feel that this is a transformative year. If you haven’t read this incredible piece by Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma, you definitely should (subscription to The Athletic required and encouraged). I reached out to a few Cubs contacts and provided summarized sentiments about a few players. I’ll try to avoid duplicating from their article, but as you can imagine, Cubs executives are excited about many of the same players.

Cubs Top Prospect Rankings Updates

Based on feedback from scouts, executives, and notes from around the game, I’ve updated the prospect rankings. Check them out below.

Spring Pitching Successes

If you’ve been skeptical of the Cubs’ ability to produce pitching, you aren’t alone. It’s hard to justify significant faith in an organization that touts Duane Underwood Jr.’s 36 1/3 innings as its crowing achievement in homegrown talent, however there is real belief within the Cubs system that the infrastructure in place (led by Craig Breslow) has allowed numerous pitchers to take significant steps forward.

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Richard Gallardo opened eyes this spring. There was a lot of hoopla when he reportedly touched 96 mph, but he’s sitting in the 92-96 mph range. Gallardo was a divisive prospect. His stature as the top international free agent pitcher in 2018 suggested a higher ceiling, but Gallardo looked to be a back-end starter, albeit one with a surprisingly high floor. His control and command where unusually advanced as he reached short-season Eugene at the age of 17. He is primarily a fastball/breaking ball pitcher now, but look for the Cubs to continue to add to his repertoire this summer.

The relievers in the Cubs system don’t get the credit they deserve, but multiple bullpen arms took steps forward during the shutdown. Brandon Hughes was an outfielder in the Cubs system before he converted to pitcher. He spent considerable time during the shutdown smoothing out his mechanics, which unlocked extra velocity. Hughes routinely sits mid 90s now. That velocity will definitely play from the left side. Speaking of velocity gains form the left side, Cubs officials are similarly impressed with Bryan Hudson. Hudson came out firing in instructional league play this past fall and continued his strong showing this spring. Hudson will begin the season at AA Tennessee and is one call away from a debut at Wrigley if he’s clicking this summer. He will be joined in the Tennessee pen by Ethan Roberts. When Roberts was drafted in the next wave-defining 2018 draft, the Cubs were intrigued by his pitch metrics and characteristics. Roberts continued that success with a strong showing in the 2019 season. His high-spin offerings allowed his pitches to play far above the high 80s to low 90s velocity. Roberts worked hard to add velocity. This spring he sat in the mid 90s in live outings, while continuing to carry his strong pitch characteristics. Roberts to a name to definitely have on your radars as the calendar turns to August and September. Joe Nahas, Eury Ramos, and Chris Kachmar also received shoutouts from Cubs officials.

Max Bain in Spring Camp
Photo by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)

I’ve written about Max Bain and Cam Sanders, but if you aren’t buying in yet, you should. There’s still time to hop on the bandwagon. Both pitchers had Cubs execs floored with their stuff in live outings this spring. Sanders in particular was able to hold both velocity and stuff till the 5th inning. Sanders was always known for plus stuff and struggling command, but he showed some encouraging trends with his velocity tickling up and control/command taking a step forward. Bain is one of the most incredible stories in the system, but he’s making a name for himself strictly for his time on the mound. Bain will sit 96-99 mph with a plus slider/cutter. He also throws a curveball. He was able to hold velocity for multiple innings this spring. There are some in the Cubs system that believe both pitchers have the potential to be top 10 prospects this season.

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Hitters on the Rise

Make no mistake, Ed Howard may receive praise – perhaps even doubly so as a hometown player-, but that adulation is well deserved. The Cubs are huge believers in Ed Howard’s ability. According to some within the organization, Howard is the most naturally gifted defender they’ve ever seen, which will serve him well as he climbs the system. There is immense value to an organization to have a prospect who scouts feel is a no-doubt shortstop at the big-league level. However that defense will only do so much for his future projection. The Cubs are also excited about the progress he’s made with his swing and believe that he can hold his own in an aggressive assignment to Class A Myrtle Beach.

Cole Roederer via Clinton Cole (@cdcole55)

Cole Roederer could certainly make a case he is the most overlooked prospect in the system. The former UCLA commit and second-round draftee had his share of ups and downs in 2019, but he came into Spring Camp on a mission. Roederer showcased different swing paths and and even better ability to drive the ball to all-fields. When Roederer got his first taste of full-season ball two years ago, he fit the definition of a pull-happy slugger. Now he’s able to face off with high velocity offerings and use his naturally beautiful swing to a greater advantage. Roederer received Andrew Benintendi coming out of high-school and he looks to be in a great position to meet those loft expectations.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ethan Hearn. The young catcher drafted in 2019 has taken considerable strides in the last year. Much of that can be attributed to his work with Justin Steele during the shutdown and in the offseason. Hearn impressed Cubs officials with both his improved hitting mechanics and his commitment to the pitching staff. High school catchers are always a riskier demographic in the draft, but Hearn is proving to be well worth the investment.

Yeison Santana and Luis Verdugo will no-doubt be overlooked playing on the same infield as Ed Howard, but Cubs officials feel each of these young players can stand on their own. Both Santana and Verdugo performed well in spring camp and I was told not to discount them. The Cubs are loaded with up-the-middle prospects (many capable of playing shortstop). The organization had a lot of choices as to who would break camp with a full-season team. Santana and Verdugo earned their assignment.

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Teams to Watch

Early in the season I’ll be tuning in to watch the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and South Bend Cubs. The now Low-A and High-A affiliates have a ton of talent that I cannot wait to see take the field. Ivy Futures Interviews guests DJ Herz and Ethan Hearn are now battery mates for Myrtle Beach. Ed Howard, Santana, and Verdugo, make up a dynamic infield for the Pelicans. Yohendrick Pinango is another player the Cubs are believers in as they enter 2021. The young prospect should patrol the outfield in Myrtle Beach. South Bend is comprised of prospects who may not spend much time in High-A. Ryan Jensen, Chase Strumpf, Burl Carraway, and Max Bain could each see themselves play their way to Tennessee. Early in the season, the lower levels of an emerging Cubs system will be must-watch.

The Inevitable Injury Bug

I try not to discuss player injuries until they are announced (unless a player specifically would like to address it). There are a few notable absences to these rosters. Most of the players that were expected to make a full-season assignment and weren’t on the roster are dealing with “soft tissue injuries”, which are viewed as quite minor. There are a small number of players who developed more serious arm injuries, which should be announced soon. I hope you’ll join me in wishing the players a speedy recovery. In a season where most players will be on the field in almost two years, 2021 will likely be injury laden. Hopefully the Cubs players, in particular, can avoid the IL.

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Potential Cubs Pitching Draft Targets

The Cubs Way

The Chicago Cubs aren’t known for their organizational success in drafting pitchers. Duane Underwood Jr, second round pick in 2012, has pitched the most innings for the team in anyone drafted by the organization since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took the reigns in 2011. That inning total that Underwood Jr. threw before being traded to Pittsburgh only amounted to 36 1/3 innings. The sheer lack of pitching developed from start to finish by the Cubs is almost unfathomable. It should be noted that the Cubs have developed pitchers both at the minor and major league level, even if they weren’t drafted by the team. Kyle Hendricks, Rowan Wick, Alec Mills were all acquired in trades and took developmental steps to have major league success. Adbert Alzolay was an international free agent in 2012. After years of battling injuries, Alzolay appears to be taking the necessary steps to succeed in a major league rotation. However, a team can’t sustain success without drafting and developing homegrown pitching. The Chicago Cubs have been keenly aware of this fact ever since 2016 when Theo Epstein commented that he had “Find Pitching” scribbled on a white board in the office. Years of first prioritizing college hitters in early rounds followed by drafting “safe” college arms has produced very little impact. Drastic steps needed to be taken, and they were taken, when the team shifted organizational philosophies starting in 2018 before being fully realized a year later.

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.

Pitching Metrics to Consider

Extension

A pitcher’s extension refers to the distance a pitcher releases the ball relative to the pitching rubber and it is a metric that the Cubs absolutely love (link is to an Ivy Futures Interview episode featuring Mason McRae who discusses this topic). Nearly all their top pitching selections in recent memory threw with well above-average extension. The effects of a longer extension leading to a higher “perceived velocity” is still debated, but all accounts are that it at worst is neutral to a pitcher’s success. Additionally, extension along with vertical release height are both related to a pitcher’s vertical approach angle (VAA), which is an in vogue pitching topic. You can read more about VAA here.

Sinkers/2-Seam fastballs

If you have seen the Chicago Cubs pitching staff, then you likely have seen the reliance on 2-seam fastballs and sinkers. These pitches, which have very similar movement patterns are often lumped together. While that’s not quite accurate, even Fangraphs categorizes 2-seamers and sinkers as “SI” (sinkers). And frankly, sinkers are not popular pitches in drafting and development circles for most organizations. High velocity fastballs up in the zone with “ride” coupled with power curveballs and sliders are the pitches teams gravitate towards. The Chicago Cubs have embraced those philosophies, but they are zagging while other teams are zigging in continuing to incorporate 2-seam fastballs in pitch design. Riley Thompson, Michael McAvene, Brailyn Marquez, and Adbert Alzolay all have worked to develop a 2-seam. Ryan Jensen, the Cubs top selection in 2019, heavily features a 2-seam fastball that a Cubs exec described as “dirty”. Unlike other organizations junking the 2-seamer/sinker, the Cubs embrace it as a legitimate offering and while they don’t overwhelmingly target pitchers who throw the pitch as a primary weapon, the organization doesn’t view it as a negative (like several other teams).

Age Considerations

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, especially when it comes to pitchers. In the past few years they’ve skewed to take pitchers on the younger end of their respective draft class from college and haven’t been tied to players like Bryce Jarvis and Landon Knack who were on the age outliers in last years draft. Ultimately, I wouldn’t heavily weigh age when it comes to identifying players the Cubs may target.

Prior Injury Issues and Reliever Risk

Until 2019, the Cubs actively avoided drafting pitchers with prior Tommy John Surgery (TJS). However, in back-to-back-to-back picks, the 2019 draft featured college arms (several as relievers as well) with prior TJS (McAvene, Clarke, Burgmann). There’s no denying it, 2019 was a risky draft. The Cubs bet on high upside even with high risk. Pitchers with prior TJS can’t be ruled out when evaluating potential Cubs picks. 2020’s shorten draft saw the Cubs double down on taking likely relievers in Burl Carraway and Luke Little, though Little is working to develop four pitches.

College Pitchers

Sam Bachman, RHP, Miami (OH)

Ivy Futures Report: Bachman is a sturdy righthander with an unusual delivery. He’s held up to a starters workload previously, but has dealt with injury issues this season. His profile may fit better in relief with a mid-to-upper 90s (top 102) fastball and plus slider. The changeup will fluctuate between below average and average. The deception from his arm action makes the stuff play up, but I question if it’s a long-term starter’s profile. Bachman has some fans within the Cubs organization, though he may not be on the board by the time they select at #21.

Michael McGreevy, RHP, UCSB

Michael McGreevy pitching for UCSB

Ivy Futures Report: Michael McGreevy is getting a ton of buzz recently in large part due to his improving stuff. McGreevy’s velocity keeps ticking up with a now 92-95 mph sinker and above-average slider and curveball. His fourth pitch is a changeup that may only slot in as an average but the whole package is enticing. McGreevy is a projectable guy at 6’4”, 215; he carries a high floor and a projected ceiling that appears to continue to rise as we get further into the draft season.

Will Bednar, RHP, Mississippi State

Ivy Futures Report: 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 is a benefit in overall pitch movement, but also causes him to miss to his arm side (inside to righties). His slider is his best secondary with good sharp break. The curveball and changeup are a tad behind, but this is a four-pitch pitcher with a starters 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

Dominic Hamel, RHP, Dallas Baptist University

Ivy Futures Report: DBU is well-regarded for their pitch design infrastructure. Cubs scouting director Dan Kantrovitz made multiple comments that Cubs 2020 2nd round pick out of DBU, Burl Carraway, had some of the most impressive metrics the organization has seen. Hamel offers a similar package, albeit with three pitches and the ability to start at the next level. There’s still reliever risk here, but Hamel’s 91-96 riding fastball and either his slider or curve could provide an impact arm in a multi-inning role if necessary. Hamel (like Carraway) has high spin rates and plus extension.

Prep Pitchers

Josh Hartle, LHP, Reagan (HS)

Ivy Futures Report: Hartle is a projection dream standing 6 foot 5 with three pitch mix (fastball/changeup/slider). The changeup is ahead of the slider, but both are solid offerings. He has smooth, repeatable mechanics for a high school pitcher. His frame looks like it can add good muscle in the future. Midrotation upside. The velocity is more 88-91 right now, but he boasts metrics that some teams put strong emphasis on like extension.

Josh Hartle via Prospects Live

Thatcher Hurd, RHP, Mira Costa (HS)

Thatcher Hurd pitching for Mira Costa

Ivy Futures Report: Hurd is a recent convert to pitching from catcher and sports some eye popping spin metrics. He’s peaked at 2700+ rpm on the fastball and 3000+ rpm on his curve in rapsodo sessions. Hurd’s curve is already plus and according to one scout, his changeup should sit plus with further development. In-game his fastball sits low 90s and runs pretty straight, however the velocity should increase as he continues to build innings after converting to pitcher.

Team draft boards are very much still in flux, however a few of these metrics and demographics are ones the Cubs have gravitated towards since a large draft philosophy changed. It’s very possible the Cubs employ a new strategy to bringing in pitching, but at this juncture, all options should be on the table.