Here at North Side Bound it’s always Draft season so, in addition to MLB Draft rankings, Mocks, and player analysis, we’re continuing with a monthly Q&A. In this Q&A, I tackle questions related to past draft picks and next year’s class. It’s very early so I’ll avoid specific links of players and teams. I wouldn’t put much stock into those links until much, much closer to the Draft. Thank you for all your incredible questions. Make sure to check out Part 1.
I do think there’s something to bloodlines affecting future performance of players. The more people I speak to in the game, the more I appreciate how much of a player’s performance relies on makeup. Having a major league player as a close relative is an unbelievable resource to a young prospect. The ins and outs of the game, how to handle inevitable failure that comes with progress, and how to deal with success on and off the field are important aspects of development. Just because a player has a father, brother, uncle, etc who played in professional baseball, it’s no guarantee that those skills pass down to a prospect. Makeup isn’t genetic. However it can give certain players a leg up.
This class is all about bloodlines. Druw Jones, Jace Jung, Cam Collier, Justin Crawford, Daniel Susac, and Sean McLain all come to mind with professional baseball connections. It will be fascinating to watch how that plays out over the coming months.
I touched on my rankings in Part 1, but really quickly here’s my top 10.
1. Chase DeLauter OF (60), 2. Termarr Johnson SS/2B (60), 3. Druw Jones CF (55), 4. Brooks Lee SS/3B (55), 5. Daniel Susac C (55), 6. Gavin Cross OF (55), 7. Jace Jung 2B (55), 8. Cam Collier 3B (50), 9. Bryce Hubbart LHP (50), 10. Dylan Lesko RHP (45)
My personal favorite is Termarr Johnson and I’m not sure if he will be available at seven. There’s chatter that Termarr has a generational hit tool and he rocks plus power as well. Jim Callis recently spoke about how he may be the best high school hitter in 20 years. Even as a prep hitter who profiles at 2B (very unusual in the first round, let alone at the top of the draft), it’s hard to imagine six teams ahead of the Cubs passing up that type of hitter.
“Who isn’t on the national radar yet?” I’ll break this next question down a couple different ways. A player that I haven’t seen the major publications list in the top 30, but should is Mikey Romero. The high school SS had one of the best contact bats in the showcase circuit and I think he can be a plus hitter at the professional level. He’s also a good bet to stick at SS and he’ll be only 17 at the time of the draft. He’s not talked consistently as a first round pick, but if I had to guess in July, he is one.
For the next player, I’ll pick a guy that I haven’t seen on any of the prospect rankings (even with Prospects Live 200 deep as of this writing). That’s Ely Kennel, SS/2B, out of Santiam Christian HS in Monmouth, Oregon. Kennel is the top ranked Oregon player in the 2022 class and plays right down the road from me. He’s hit well in showcases with a .317/.440/.390 line that shows off a very patient approach. We haven’t seen home run power yet, but he has juice in that bat with a max exit velocity in the 83rd percentile in the 2022 class. I went and tracked his available at-bats in the showcases and found Kennel had a 67.5% contact rate. For perspective that’s not ideal, but players like Jordan Lawler, Tyler Whitaker, and Josh Baez were all lower last season in the showcase circuit. For a cold weather bat like Kennel, it’s just something to watch. He is committed to Oregon State. I think he has top three round potential.
Jimmy you’re tying me up in knots. Going through this question I’ve gone through all four of these demographics as my preferred option for next summer. It’s likely a question I need to explore on a deeper level down the line. I absolutely love following pitchers. It’s what got me interested in baseball in the first place and the thought of a young ace is awfully enticing. At pick 7, the Cubs could possibly end up with the top pitcher in the class. On the other hand, hitters (high school and college) are very dependable to project at the next level. If we’re looking at the 2022 class I lean towards college hitter. The group is so strong and I’d feel confident projecting that player to make a relatively quick impact in the system. There are specific players in the different demographics that I’d prefer, but in a broad sense this far out, mark me down for a college bat.
Risers and Fallers
I mentioned Mikey Romero as a potential riser and I’m sticking to that. High school shortstops are an incredible player demographic and they are consistent risers in the draft cycle. As the months go by we’re going to find players who rise from around the Top 100 to first round talents. It’s really hard to place those players now, but when the spring season starts up here shortly you can see players who may breakout.
And holy cow, can we talk more about Michael Gupton, an outfielder out of Knightdale, NC? He gets a ton of publicity for his ridiculous 5.96 second 60-yd dash time (that’s a legitimate 80-grade run grade), but he’s way more than that. Charting his at-bats available from the showcase circuit, he posted a 78% contact rate with a 101 max exit velocity. For reference that’s in the same range as 2021 first-rounder Colson Montgomery on both accounts. It looks like Prospects Live is the highest publication on him in the 90s. I have a high second-round grade on Gupton and hey, he’s from Cubs ace scout Billy Swoope’s neck of the woods. It could be a fun pairing this July.
On a smaller scale, Cooper Hjerpe doesn’t get the publicity he should. The left hander out of Oregon State has a deceptive, cross-fire delivery, but shows solid control and command of three pitches (low 90s fastball, breaking ball, changeup). College lefties that can do that and show the ability to start do well in the draft provided they stay healthy. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Hjerpe land somewhere in the early-to-mid second round.
Fallers in the draft tend to be hitters who can’t control the strikeouts and pitchers who get injured. I’ll focus more on the former. We entered the 2021 cycle with Jud Fabian, Joshua Baez, and James Wood all getting top of the first round buzz. Leading into the spring season, Fabian, Baez, and Wood, had reputations of striking out often, but were at a pivot point. If they cleaned up the Ks, they would be in a position to stay up top boards. Ultimately they all experienced a fall in the draft rankings and while each player was able to go in the top two rounds, they weren’t compensated like top 15 picks they were projected to be.
I’ll say that Elijah Green strikes me as a player at a pivot point like those players. Green has otherworldly gifts, but the strikeouts definitely piled up. If Green adjusts and strikes out less this spring for the prestigious IMG Academy, he has a very real shot of top 5 in the class. Continuing to whiff and chase at the rates he did in the showcase circuit would push him down draft boards.
It’s probably the biggest question of the 2022 draft cycle. With Kumar Rocker it really all comes down to the medicals. There have been varied rumors about what the Mets saw in his physical to back out of the deal. While it felt jarring to read the reports and hear the chatter as the breakdown between the Mets and Rocker occurred, it’s not foreign for a team to fail a first round pick’s physical and take the compensatory pick the following year. The Braves failed Carter Stewart over a wrist issue and took the 2019 first round pick.
Rocker has been under the spotlight for years and maybe he was unfairly judged during his junior year at Vanderbilt. I had him listed as the most major league ready arm in the draft and, if medicals check out, he likely enters the 2022 draft in the same way. What Rocker didn’t have (in my opinion) was completely frontline potential. Part of that was the fastball “shape”. It wasn’t spectacular. He also was maxed out in projection.
I don’t want that to sound pessimistic. His profile was one in which he could quickly rise through the minors, take hold of a mid-rotation spot, and impact a major league team. It’s a top 50 pitcher in baseball type of projection and likely one where he racks up 10 WAR before anyone else in the draft class.
But are those medicals going to check out? I won’t speculate on specifics, but the Mets didn’t get cold feet over signing Rocker. The team physicians failed his physical. He won’t be pitching at Vanderbilt so it’s all a bit unknown right now. Because of all this it’s possible he ends up undervalued come draft time. Personally, I hope he’s healthy and comes out firing bullets.
I’d say that while the Cubs haven’t drafted a lot of left handed hitters, they’ve certainly brought them in via trades. Owen Caissie, Pete-Crow Armstrong, and Reginald Preciado (switch-hitter) all line up in the top 10 rankings at North Side Bound.
But I think your question raises some good discussion. Teams may factor in a hitter’s handedness to some degree into their respective draft model calculation. For me, I don’t tend to weigh it heavily in the first few rounds. I would much rather take a right handed hitter who I project better than a left handed one. Using an example from last year’s draft. James Triantos and Jackson Merrill both came from the same geographical area (Virginia and Maryland respectively), had a similar hitting profile, and played the same position. I had Triantos ranked higher and so far I feel really good about that.
Let’s just hope the Cubs can land Chase DeLauter, Termarr Johnson, Brooks Lee, or Jace Jung because that would cover both sides of the discussion.
Break windows, win titles. Theo Epstein once said “every season is sacred” so who needs a 30 year window of being good when you could wake up every morning and put on gear from a handful of championship seasons?
Thanks for the questions!
As the spring college seasons get rolling soon we’ll have more clarity on players. I’ll have my rankings out this winter, but please keep sending more questions and posts about the draft.