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. Enjoy Part 2 of our January Q&A.
I still think the Cubs play to the strength of the draft in the rounds they’re picking. That’s an obtuse way of saying they’re going to be opportunistic. And, honestly, I’m here for it. We see teams like the Dodgers do this same thing. Find players that you have confidence in your player development group refining. If, as we expect this far out, there are hitters on the board who fit that mold, I think that’s where they go. However, if there’s a can’t miss pitcher sitting there at 7, I don’t really think the presence of Jordan Wicks would preclude them from taking another arm.
As we talk about refining higher upside players, prep arms have to be a consideration. I’ll bring up a couple of names where it’s a steeper climb to develop, but the payoff could be immense.
Noah Schultz, LHP, Oswego (HS), Vanderbilt commitment, is an immense human being. Standing 6’9″, his low arm slot annihilates left-handed hitters. He also features a sweeper slider, which is a popular pitch in organizations like LAD, HOU, and MIN. His fastball only sits upper 80s (and touches the low 90s), but it’s a frame to dream on. We’ve seen the Cubs take a similar statured pitcher in Wilson Cunningham, though that was a pure low-risk development selection in the 20th round.
I’m not sure where Javier Santos Tejada, RHP lines up this summer, but I’m all in on the stuff. He gets a handful of Daniel Espino-comps. It’s electric stuff and he may make his way on a handful of mocks of mine in the future.
I had a note that some teams were already fearing the worst about Peyton Pallette this offseason so I will admit I was ranking him lower than consensus for that reason. Seeing Henry Williams go down was also so disappointing because with a good season I thought he had first-round potential. The consensus top college arm, Connor Prielipp, already underwent TJS last summer. The class is desperately waiting for college pitchers to stand up and assert themselves, which I think happens relatively soon into the season (Bryce Hubbart and Cooper Hjerpe, perhaps?)
So could these injured pitchers find themselves targets in rounds 2-3? I think they could make it there, yes. If anyone fit the mold, I’d guess Henry Williams makes the most sense so far. Though I’ll couch that point by saying I’m not sure how likely the Cubs would actually go after these types of pitchers. Under Dan Kantrovitz, they haven’t targeted pitchers with a history of TJS.
Mid-round Talents and Signability: Finding the Next Triantos?
Everyone is still looking for the next Triantos and Yorke. I don’t have a lot of answers yet, but if you’re looking for a similar profile, look for high contact middle infielders. Bonus points if the players aren’t.already being mocked high because both players were somewhat off-the-radar either because they had reclassified (Triantos) or were nursing an injury (Yorke). Triantos mashed on the showcase circuit with an astounding .458/.527/.646 line. It was the contact ability (94%) that blew people away, but he was set to be in the 2022 class and he didn’t get as many looks. Yorke’s injuries kept a few teams from digging in as well, though Boston (and allegedly the Cubs) were highly in on the eventual Boston first-rounder.
So who could be on that same trajectory? Easton Swofford fits some of the similar profile as a middle-infielder who gets marks for his contact ability. Charting his at-bats, I only logged him with a 77.8% contact rate. It’s solid, but not eye-popping like Triantos. Swofford hit .357/.479/.491, which is great, but also doesn’t fit the narrative.
A guy I’m digging into more is Justin Vossos, a SS from Missouri City, TX. He similarly mashed showcase pitching to a tune of .476/.589/.715 and I logged his contact rate at 88%, which is very close to the Triantos/Will Taylor range. His exit velocity is in the 78th percentile. If you wanted a guess here this far, out, he’s the name I’ll pick right now. But I’m definitely diving into him more.
I know it’s frustrating to hear ‘It’s early”, but it really is. Players, their families, and their advisors really haven’t sat down to discuss specific numbers. I’ll instead point out a few players who are committed to schools that, historically get more players to campus. I will tackle college seniors down the road if that’s okay. It’s a demographic I need to spend more time with
David Horn (RHP), Vanderbilt committment
Horn sits outside my Top 100, but the JSerra pitcher will have outings where you imagine he ranks much, much higher, He throws a fastball, curveball (with serious bite), and a slider. Vanderbilt is a tough school to buy a player away from, but Horn will likely cause several organizations to have serious conversations.
Jared Jones (C), LSU commitment
Jones shows off impressive power, but I was impressed at his ability to make contact as well. His 85% contact rate along with his ability to barrel the ball all over the field has to impress teams. I’m not sure if he qualifies as mid-round. He sits right around my top 100.
The top of the draft right now looks to be more college heavy so signability may not be too much of a factor. However, the two players who could factor in at the top of the draft are Druw Jones and Termarr Johnson. I doubt Washington walks away from high demands, but maybe Pittsburg, and Miami want to take a deal to move money around. It wouldn’t completely shock me.
I don’t want to get my hopes up, but yes, I’m on team Termarr (both Termarr or Druw are awesome). I can’t speak to specific signability and I don’t comment on it publicly if it’s shared to me from players, families, or close contacts, but we’re far enough from the draft that I don’t mind discussing the hypotheticals.
Deep Draft Questions
Jimmy, you ask a very deep question. Is it a better bet to draft a “cold-weather arm” since there’s less mileage and, thus, less risk for injury? There is data to support that line of thinking. From 2016 in the Orthopaedic Journal at The Harvard Medical School, researchers found MLB pitchers born in regions with average temperatures less than 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit completed an average of 187 more career innings, had 13 more career wins, and had 49 more career complete games than pitchers born in regions with warmer average temperatures. So that seems to back up your point quite nicely. However, I think it’s a discussion that deserves more nuance. For instance, the way that we evaluate players has changed dramatically even since 2016, let alone when the MLB pitchers were pitching at the amateur level. Additionally, Pitch Smart, which was a joint operation between MLB and USA Baseball designed to provide guidelines on the total amount of pitching that is safe for children to experience, was created only in 2014. While there are issues with overall compliance in Pitch Smart, it’s worth considering that we don’t know the long-term effects of this initiative. The questions that I now ask myself are:
- How does this pitcher move through space? How are their biomechanics? Is the energy channeled optimally?
- How are their specific mechanics?
- What is their overall usage?
I think all of these points even are just some of the puzzle pieces that scouts, scouting coordinators, and executives try to decipher when it comes time to make the call to draft that pitcher. I can’t speak to how the Cubs feel about this, but of the pitchers that they’ve drafted in the top 5-10 rounds the past two years, a few trends emerge:
Jordan Wicks (starter): Kansas – cold weather
Drew Gray (starter): Florida – warm weather, but split 1B/LHP and fewer innings totals.
Chase Watkins (starter/relief): Oregon -cold
Riley Martin (starter/relief): Illinois – cold
Burl Carraway (relief): Texas- warm
Luke Little (starter/relief): Texas – warm
Koen Moreno (starter): North Carolina – it’s borderline, but somewhat considered a warm-weather state
We’ve seen the Cubs invest slightly more (especially for starter profiles) with players in cold-weather states or with less mileage on their arms (Drew Gray). I don’t mean to overgeneralize it because I’d guess these are far more nuanced discussions that happen behind the scenes, especially in regards to the development of specific player development plans individual to each player.
Right now I’d guess more polished talent (HS or college) early and more developmental picks spread through the middle rounds. That fits their M.O. under Dan Kantrovitz.
2020: Ed Howard and Burl Carraway followed by developmental (and uber-athletic) players in Jordan Nwogu, Luke Little, Koen Moreno. The caveat here, especially with the former set, is that the pandemic had significant downstream effects as players returned to baseball.
2021: Jordan Wicks and James Triantos followed by athletic players with specific developmental plans (Christian Franklin, Drew Gray).
But the Cubs put a tremendous amount of trust in their performance science and player development departments. So while I’m not trying to just cover all my bases, it wouldn’t shock me to see them invest significantly in players with a steeper development path. I have so much more trust in those departments from the outside that I would absolutely buy-in if they took a raw talent early. Guess: polished player(s) early
I love doing Q&As and talking Draft. I’ll have a lot more content in February and March related to the draft including a tier breakdown of the top 100-120 players in my rankings.