Cubs Go Heavy on High School Picks as MLB Draft Concludes
Teams employed very different strategies on Day 3 of the new 20-round MLB Draft. The Angels infamously chose pitchers with each of their 20 picks, presumably because they expect to need only Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in the field. Other organizations focused mostly on college juniors and seniors given the financial restrictions of the new format.
The Cubs took their shot with seven high school players. After taking aggressive prep picks in with their second and third selections, it’s hard to determine right now whether the Cubs will be in a position to sign more than one to two of these players. But if you’re into dreaming on upside, then Cubs VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz’s strategy was just for you.
11th round pick (334th overall) Gage Ziehl, RHP, Penfield HS (NY)
After an entire 10 rounds of targeting left-handers, the Cubs pivoted to a consensus top 500 prospect in Ziehl. The prep pitcher from New York showcases some impressive stuff on the mound with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a low-80s slider featured pominently. Both are considered high-spin (fastball in the 2500s, slider in the 2900s). Prospects Live offers up a note that his fastball peaks at 95 mph.
Trackman Tale of the Tape 🥊
2021 RHP & @CanesBaseball commit Gage Ziehl (Penfield) at yesterday’s #super60 in Wisconsin.
⛽️ 93-94 MPH
🔄 2594 avg
SL↙️ 81-82 MPH
🔁 2907 avg
⬅️ 12.7” avg@prepbaseball @TrackManBB @DanCevette pic.twitter.com/oqzhsJhps1
— PBR New York (@PBRNewYork) February 8, 2021
According to Baseball America, however, Ziehl’s repertoire includes “a curveball and a changeup, though he’s mainly a fastball/slider pitcher right now.”
Ziehl is not very projectable and scouts describe as already “physically mature,” but the pitches he flashes provide optimism that time in the Cubs’ pitch lab could unleash a high-level pitcher. He is committed to Miami University.
12th round pick (364th overall) Teo Banks, OF, Permian HS (TX)
Standing 6-foot-3 with broad shoulders at a strapping 190 pounds, Banks exudes athleticism. Already a high school star in baseball, football, and track, he is committed to Tulane. The righthanded hitter has a pronounced bat waggle as he waits for the pitch, but nothing in his motion is a long-term concern.
HAVE A DAY 3️⃣ for 3️⃣, 3️⃣💣💣💣 #mbpallamerican @teobanks_42 @TulaneBaseball #commit @mbpallamerican #minoritybaseballprospects #mlbdraft2021 💤 #er pic.twitter.com/2STSjVYU0y
— Minority Baseball Prospects (@MBPTakeover) March 17, 2021
According to Baseball America, who ranked him No. 434 on their board, Banks “has a chance to develop into a well-rounded outfielder with plus power potential, above-average speed and a strong arm (he’s been clocked at 91-92 mph off the mound). He’s relatively young for the class as he turns 18 the day before the draft.”
13th round pick (394th overall) Erian Rodriguez, RHP, Georgia Premier Academy (GA)
Rodriguez brings a live right arm and that sits 93-95 mph and touches 97 according to Prospects Live, which had Rodriguez ranked 308 on their board. He is committed to Northwest Florida State College but may be the most likely of any of the high school draftees to sign.
Perhaps equally exciting for the organization, this is the first draft pick for new area scout Gregory Gerard, who was brought over from Perfect Game this past winter.
14th round selection (424th overall) Frankie Scalzo, RHP, Grand Canyon University
The first college player on Day 3, Scalzo served as GCU’s closer. The fireballer compiled a 2.12 ERA with 31 strikeouts and 11 walks in 29 2/3 innings for the WAC champions. According to Scalzo via direct message, he pitches with a fastball and spike curve. At this point in the draft, finding a solid relief prospect is immensely valuable and Scalzo has a profile that has attracted the Cubs organization in recent years.
He appears more than capable of handling the big moments required of a relief pitcher, as you can see from the way he closed out the WAC championship for GCU.
15th round pick (454th overall), B.J. Murray, 3B, Florida Atlantic
With the first and only college hitter on Day 3, the Cubs landed Murray, a switch-hitting third baseman from Florida Atlantic University. Murray struggled offensively until an exceptional 2021 season in which he slashed .311/.424/.534 with 14 home runs. Strangely enough, Murray performed well (1.011 OPS) in the 2019 Futures Collegiate Baseball League, which is a summer league where players use wood bats.
16th round selection (484th overall) Zachary Leigh, RHP, Texas State
Already 23, Leigh is a classic late-round scouting pick after he didn’t perform at a high level for Texas State. In 70 career games (29 starts), he compiled a 4.59 ERA with an 8.3 K/9. In 2021, he finished with a 5.03 ERA and 8.8 K/9 over 15 starts. But the Cubs’ scouts must have seen something and you have to wonder whether they feel they can make a tweak to a pitch to create a different movement pattern or increase spin. He could also be a player who may succeed in the ‘pen better than the rotation.
10 K's for Zach Leigh. We'd say that's a good start. #EatEmUp pic.twitter.com/RZb3XuTtyM
— Texas State Bobcats (@TxStateBobcats) February 20, 2021
17th round selection (514th overall) Christian Olivo SS, Leadership Christian Academy (PR)
The Cubs have done very well in finding high school talent from Puerto Rico in recent years, either drafting or signing a player every year from 2017-20. Olivo is the next player in that line and he is an impressive defensive shortstop. As a 17-year-old in the MLB Draft League, Olivo showed enough bat control to provide optimism that he can grow into a solid offensive player. If he signs with the Cubs, Olivo is a prime candidate to work extensively with the Cubs’ High Performance and Performance Science department.
18th round selection (544th overall) Dominic Hambley RHP, Belmont Secondary School (BC)
Hambley showcases premier stuff on the mound and it could be very hard to sign away from his commitment to Oregon State. He throws in the low 90s with strong life on the fastball and also showcased a high-spin slider. His changeup is a distant third offering, but the tools are there for him to be a featured starter at OSU in short order if he doesn’t sign with Chicago.
.@BeaverBaseball commit Dominic Hambley made his second appearance for the @crosscutters of the @mlbdraftleague today🔥
Sitting 90-93 with the FB and working up to a 2704 Spin rate with his Slider👀 #MLBDraft #RaiseYourStock pic.twitter.com/GGqmC1sNks
— PBR British Columbia (@PrepBaseballBC) May 31, 2021
19th round selection (574th overall) Daniel Avitia RHP, Alhambra HS (AZ)
Avitia is a projectable pitcher at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds with a long arm-action, which hasn’t scared the Cubs off with recent draft picks. He throws three pitches with a high-80s/low 90s fastball, a slider, and a changeup. Avitia is a Grand Canyon University commit, which may bode well for the Cubs’ ability to sign him.
20th round selection (604th overall) Wilson Cunningham LHP JSerra Catholic HS (CA)
Cunningham was a total shocker of a pick who Perfect Game rated as the 498th prep left-hander in the country. But he also pitched for a premier high school program in JSerra Catholic and being teammates with Gage Jump and Cody Schrier, among others, will get you exposure.
Cunningham is an extremely bright kid sporting a 4.7 GPA and is committed to the University of Chicago, which is a member of the Midwest Conference.
The Cubs targeted upside early on Day 2 of the Draft and they clearly had that same plan in the late rounds. The question now is whether they have the ability to sign even a few, let alone the majority, of the 10 players selected Tuesday. To that end, Kantrovitz sounded optimistic when providing his assessment of the final day.
“I didn’t expect for us to be in the mix to potentially sign some of the high school talent that we selected today,” Kantrovitz told the media after the draft concluded. “I still don’t believe that we’re gonna be able to sign all the picks that we took today, but certainly a few of them. That’s a rare position to be in on Day 3, to be able to buy a player out of college and send them immediately to professional baseball.
“That was probably a product of our strategy today, too. If you are strategic about how you’re managing your pool and if you have some flexibility going into Day 3, I think it enables you to be a little bit more aggressive. I think you saw the fruits of that play out today.”
Now comes undrafted free agency, which yielded the Cubs Ben Leeper and several other well-regarded prospects last season. If the draft is any indication, Kantrovitz will continue to seek out players with a great deal of potential that may still be untapped.