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2021 MLB Draft preview: Who will the Cubs select with the 21st overall pick?

The draft has moved back to July and tomorrow night, it finally starts. The Cubs hold the 21st pick and here are some possibilities.

Jack Leiter
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Baseball Draft starts Sunday night at 6 p.m. Central time and the Pittsburgh Pirates are on the clock with the first pick in the draft. The Cubs have the 21st pick in the first round. You can watch the Draft on MLB Network or on ESPN, as both will be televising it. There will be a one-hour preview before the broadcasts.

The Draft was moved back to the All-Star Break this year as part of MLB’s restructuring of the minor leagues and player development. Moving the draft to July means that all college players will have finished their season before the draft and MLB teams will get more looks at potential draftees and more time to gather information. After last year’s abbreviated five-round draft, this year’s draft will be 20 rounds conducted over three days. That’s still a lot fewer than the 40 rounds of 2019 and before.

This year’s draft is a tough one for teams and fans as the pandemic has disrupted play over the past two years. At least most high school and college teams did get a season of some length in this year. That means MLB teams did have the opportunity to get multiple recent looks at players, unlike they did in 2020.

But the other reason why this year’s draft is tough is that there doesn’t appear to be a lot of top talent. There is no consensus as to who the best player is and there especially isn’t a consensus on who should go in the top five. That’s not to say that it’s a weak draft. It’s a deep draft with few sure things but a lot of possibilities. In short, it’s not a bad draft to have a pick in the bottom third of the first round like the Cubs do.

The general consensus is that the Pirates will take San Diego-area high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer with the first pick. He went to the same high school, Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, that retired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez attended. So if Mayer is the Pirates’ choice, Eastlake will be the first high school to ever have two number-one overall picks in the MLB Draft.

But the Pirates are not a sure thing to take Mayer and they have other options. Even if they do go according to form and take Mayer, the next few picks are still unpredictable. The Rangers pick second and the biggest name on the board is Vanderbilt right-handed pitcher Jack Leiter, the son of former All-Star and MLB Network commentator Al Leiter. But the Rangers could also be tempted by a local high school star, shortstop Jordan Lawlor, who attends Dallas Jesuit High School. The Pirates could also end up taking Lawlor with the first pick as well.

Back in 2019, we all were expecting this to be the Kumar Rocker draft, after the Vanderbilt rotation mate of Leiter tore up the SEC as a freshman. But while Rocker has still been a good pitcher, many observers think the right-handed pitcher hasn’t progressed much since his freshman season and they don’t think there’s much room for growth in the already big frame. Rocker could go as high as number two (unlikely but possible) or as low as eight or nine.

Other players with a chance to go in the top five picks are Louisville catcher Henry Davis, Oklahoma HS RHP Jackson Jobe, and Georgia HS shortstop Brady House. That’s seven players who could go in the top five and obviously at least two of them are going to slide.

In case you are asking yourself “Could any of them slide to the Cubs at 21?”, the answer is “no.” All of those players will be off the board by the time the Cubs pick. But you can dream if you want.

So who might the Cubs take with the 21st pick in the first round? It’s hard to predict. This is the first year that Team President Jed Hoyer is in charge and while Hoyer was always there when Theo Epstein ran the Cubs, this is the first time he has the final call. Additionally, this is only the second draft for Cubs scouting director Dan Kantrovitz. Kantrovitz was behind the pick of high school shortstop Ed Howard last season, which would indicate that he likes raw, toolsy players with a lot risk and a lot of upside. Except when Kantrovitz was in charge of the Cardinals drafts in the previous decade, he selected more polished college arms like Michael Wacha and Marco Gonzales in the first round. But he also selected high school pitcher Jack Flaherty, who was a higher-risk/higher-upside type. The Cubs would be happy to get a player of the quality of any of those three with the 21st pick.

So I don’t think we know enough about the current front office to make a generalization on their tendencies. Recent comments by Hoyer indicating that he’s not looking to start a 2012-2014 style rebuild indicate to me that they may go with a college player who could reach the majors more quickly. But perhaps that’s just me seeing things that aren’t there.

Here are a few names that the mock drafts and the baseball insiders have connected to the Cubs in the first round. I don’t know that they’ll take any of them, but it should serve as a quick introduction as to the type of player the Cubs are likely targeting.

One thing I should warn you is to not get hung up on the “rankings” that you’ll find on-line. After the first 15 or so players, there’s a huge collection of pretty interchangeable talent between 20 and maybe 60. The player you seen ranked at 50 in MLB Pipeline is probably not really that different in talent from a player ranked 20th. A lot of it comes down to an individual team’s preferences.

RHP Michael McGreevy. UC Santa Barbara

McGreevy gets compared a lot to Cleveland pitcher Shane Bieber, because Bieber also pitched for the Gauchos and like Bieber, he relies more on control and location than overpowering stuff. McGreevy isn’t likely to be that good, but he’s certainly a type of pitcher that the Cubs like (see Kyle Hendricks and Alec Mills) and several mock drafts have the Cubs calling McGreevy’s name tomorrow.

McGreevy has a four-pitch arsenal with a fastball in the 91-93 mph range but with good movement and good control. His curve ball could be a plus pitch and his slider and change up project out to be at least average. He’s a big guy at 6’4” and no one doubts his ability to be a starter at the major league level. He’s also young for this draft class as he just turned 21 on Thursday.

McGreevy isn’t likely to be an ace, but he’s got a solid chance to be a mid-rotation starter and relatively quickly. He’s the name I seen thrown out the most as a possible pick for the Cubs at 21.

OF Jud Fabian. Florida

The other player that I’ve seen connected with the Cubs the most is Fabian, and he’s quite different from McGreevy in many ways. He’s also one of the more controversial players in the draft with some thinking that he has the talent to go in the top 10 picks and others thinking he’s not worth a first-round choice. A lot of people try to split the difference and have him go somewhere around where the Cubs pick.

Fabian, a right-handed hitter and left-handed thrower, showed tremendous power in his junior season at Florida, hitting 20 home runs in 57 games. He also has demonstrated terrific defensive skills in center field. While his speed is probably a 55 (slightly above average on the 20-80 scale), he gets tremendous jumps on defense in center. He also has a strong arm that ranks out as plus. The Cubs have struggled to find a great defensive center fielder over the years and Fabian could fit that bill.

Of course, there has to be a catch or he wouldn’t still be available with the 21st pick. Fabian has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. He has trouble making consistent contact at the plate and many think he’ll struggle to hit upper-level pitching. In some ways, his scouting report reminds me of a college version of what we read about Javier Baez a decade ago.

Fabian is also young for a college player, as he graduated high school early and enrolled early at Florida. He doesn’t turn 21 until September. That means he may have room to grow yet, but it also means he has a lot of leverage in negotiations and there is the slight possibility that he doesn’t sign.

SS Colson Montgomery. Southridge HS (Huntington, IN)

The Cubs took a slick-fielding high school shortstop from Illinois last summer, so many think they could take a slick-fielding high school shortstop from neighboring Indiana this year. Colson is a bit bigger (6’4”) than Ed Howard, and most scouts think he’ll grow out of shortstop but that he could be a pretty terrific defensive third baseman with great instincts, good hands and a solid arm.

But Montgomery’s left-handed bat is what has scouts the most intrigued. He’s already shown good power and many think his frame would allow him to add more muscle and more power in the future. But he also has a long swing and he struggled to make contact at a few showcase events.

Montgomery is also pretty old for a high school draftee, having turned 19 back in February. So that may be an issue for the Cubs or other teams. He would also only have to spend two years in college before being draft-eligible again, so that would give him some leverage in negotiations.

SS Trey Sweeney. Eastern Illinois

Sweeney is the kind of player who gets knocked because he doesn’t really have the athleticism to stay at shortstop and he probably won’t have the power that you’d want in a third baseman. What he can do is make contact at the plate and hit. He’s a left-handed hitter who sprays the ball to all fields, can draw a walk and doesn’t strike out much. Despite playing for Eastern Illinois, he hasn’t looked overmatched when he’s gone up against tougher college programs.

Sweeney has a big leg kick that the Cubs would likely try to tamp down if they drafted him. They had success with a similar profile player in Nico Hoerner, although Hoerner came out of a much tougher college program.

Sweeney doesn’t run well, so he’s probably not a middle of the infield player. But if the Cubs want a potential on-base machine at an infield corner or left field, Sweeney could be the choice.

C Joe Mack. Williamsville East HS (East Amherst, NY)

High school catchers are among the riskiest of draft picks, as well are high school players from the Northeast. But Mack has demonstrated a sweet left-handed batting stroke at showcase events. His bat speed is also above average which could lead to more power as he ages.

Defensively, Mack is raw, like almost every high school catcher, but most think Mack has the skills to stay behind the plate. He has a strong arm.

Mack hasn’t played much over the past two years because of the pandemic, but fortunately he’s been on scouts’ radar since his freshman year as they saw him when scouting his brother, a sixth-round pick of the Twins in 2018. Still, a team would have to have a lot of faith in his tools to take him in the first round. One team probably will and it might be the Cubs.

OF Will Taylor. Dutch Fork HS (Irmo, SC)

The Athletic’s Keith Law says that the Cubs are very interested in Taylor, but he also thinks that Taylor will be long gone by the 21st pick. But just in case, you should know that Taylor is a two-sport athlete with a scholarship offer to play slot receiver at Clemson. (He also was all-state in wrestling, so he’s really a three-sport athlete.)

As you can imagine from that description, Taylor is a terrific athlete with blazing speed. He’s raw as he has never really devoted himself to baseball full-time. He probably needs to adjust his swing to succeed as a professional, but most seem to think he has that ability. His power potential is debatable. Some think he could hit around 15 home runs a year, but others see him as more of a singles hitter.

Defensively, Taylor is also raw but has all the tools to be a superior defensive center fielder with plus range and an above-average arm.

The other issue, of course, is that Taylor has an offer to play football and baseball at Clemson. He’s going to want a lot of money to forgo that. Probably more money than the slot value at 21. The Cubs would likely have to take budget picks in later rounds if they want to sign Taylor. It sounds as if they like him enough to do that if he slides to the 21st pick.

LHP Anthony Solomento. Bishop Eustace Prep (Pennsauken, NJ)

Solomento is a big (6’5”) left-handed arm with a delivery that everyone says reminds them of Madison Bumgarner’s. That’s not to say that they expect him to pitch as well as Bumgarner, but there are some similarities.

Solomento’s funky delivery hides the ball well and allows his 90-94 mph fastball to play a little faster. He has good control of the pitch, even with the complicated delivery. His slider may be even better, a low-80s pitch that he can paint the bottom of the zone (or lower) with. His change and curve ball are both rough at the moment, but there is potential for one or both of them to become a solid third pitch.

Even though he’s another one of those Northeastern high schoolers that haven’t played much lately, Solemento has impressed in showcase events against top high school hitters.

One of these seven players could be the newest Cub by tomorrow evening. Or it could be one of dozens others. This is a very unpredictable draft and that makes for some pretty compelling viewing. We’ll have an open draft thread tomorrow where you can discuss it as it is happening.