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2021 MLB Draft Prep: A mock draft a month from opening day

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And, some thoughts about college baseball in 2021.

The first round of the 2020 MLB Draft at MLB Network’s headquarters
Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I'm starting today's draft article with a disclaimer. If you have no interest in assessing college or high school players regarding their eventual ability to contribute to a big-league organization, thanks for stopping by. You are excused. If you wish the Cubs community had more qualified writers than I writing on the topic, you're not alone. I wish more people committed January column inches to pick 21 in the draft, but alas, no. For those of you that wish to learn about, and become more conversant in, who the Cubs might consider, make yourself at home. Whether Bleed Cubbie Blue is your home blog or not, or if you're even a Cubs fan, draft chatter is welcomed here for the discussion topic it usually isn't.

I dig Mason McRae's draft awareness. When the Cubs’ return in the Yu Darvish trade was announced, McRae was the one I first approached regarding Owen Caissie. He responded three times in five minutes. His opinions are his own, he usually has statistical reasons for his assessments, and he can argue the other side as well as his own. He came out with a mock draft a few days ago, and his mocks are definitely worth the look.

While D1 games aren't scheduled for another month, having a look at the three or four picks before the Cubs selection, the Cubs choice, and the three or four after, give you a ballpark view of what pick 21 might look like half a year from being on the clock. Some who think talent projection is easy toss off flip comments like "draft an ace." Which one will that be? I'm very interested in which players in that range seem most likely to excel. If you already know, save us the frustration. If you're as unsure as most of us, get used to the new draft terminology.

Goodness, is there new draft terminology. The language in this mock is relatively slight on "release height," "approach angle," "spin efficiency," and other avant-garde terms, but they're there if you're looking. And front offices worth their job titles are looking. You aren't required to have complete information to have an opinion.

As to the specific pick? The Georgia prep catcher Harry Ford would make for an interesting discussion, if on the board at 21. Catcher in three or four years might not seem an organizational weakness, but Ford seems flexible enough to go elsewhere, as needed. Time spent researching potential choices at 21 both relaxes you on the likelihood of quality there, and screams that the likely quality doesn't stop anywhere near 21. Which is why it's useful to follow a college team until MLB season starts. More teams than you might think are bringing 97 or higher out of the bullpen, late. Oh, to harness some command, as well.

While game times aren't official yet for opening day on February 19 yet, Cincinnati and Clemson seems a nice first jolt of college baseball. A regular field of 64 participant, Clemson had nine players drafted in 2017, seven in 2018, five in 2019 (including infielder Grayson Byrd by the Cubs), and two more in the shortened draft last cycle. If you're watching Clemson play, you're likely watching a few future pros. Drake Batcho figures to start for the Bearcats. Cincinnati is where Ian Happ played his college ball. Batcho is getting rave reviews.

That repertoire against a historically good college team? That seems a fun way to spend three hours, whether Rob Manfred is accurate or not on a full spring training.

With schedules being announced in college ball, the Big Ten is currently still not permitting non-conference play. Conferences are deciding their own limits this season, up to the traditional 56 games. Here’s what some other conferences are doing.

Since the Big Ten isn't playing non-conference games, and Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, and a few other schools are very northern, will those games get played? If so, where? It isn't about regionalism, as Maryland, Rutgers, and Nebraska are Conference foes. How safely will pitchers, specifically, be able to ramp up to six or seven innings for pro scouts to assess them? On McRae's mock, Wolverine pitcher Steven Hajjar is a first-rounder. Tough to assess a pitcher on a truncated season when the other pitchers are getting 11 or 12 starts.

What's your assessment? Are you good with a "50's across the board" prep? Would you prefer a college name? Or a pitcher? Which is your squad for next month's season opener? I'll talk more draft, soon.