Chicago Cubs Draft Preview: What Data Says About 5 High School Hitters Who Could Be Cubs Targets
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing sense of comfort with video scouting, MLB teams have downsized their scouting departments ($). To compensate, teams have placed greater reliance on incorporating data in various calculations called draft models. These models assist in identifying ideal draft targets, with each target demographic (high school vs. college; position player vs. pitcher) carrying particular data points that individual teams weigh more heavily into their calculations.
These draft models have far surpassed the historic Moneyball view of identifying on-base percentage monsters. They now feature batted-ball and biomechanical data, among many other proprietary features depending on the individual team.
Comparing statistical results between high school players who compete against vastly different levels of competition is futile, so scouts need a way to compare apples to oranges. That comes via the showcase circuit, a series of organized tournaments and other events in which high school players can participate to be evaluated by scouts.
Here we dive into limited batted-ball data — max exit velocity, contact rate, and chase rate; definitions at the end — made available to me by some of those scouts. It should be noted that this data is from before the 2021 season and that scouts don’t evaluate hitters based on three statistics, but these numbers can help to inform an opinion and guide additional in-person scouting.
Lonnie White, OF, Malvern Prep (HS)
Max exit velocity: 113 mph
Contact rate: 75%
Chase rate: 23%
Report: White shows off some of the best-batted ball data in the high school class and he’s clocked as a plus-plus runner. He shows a stronger grade for hit power than his hit ability. Part of the appeal is that White is a multisport athlete, so scouts feel he can improve on his swing-and-miss once he commits to baseball.
James Triantos, SS, Madison (HS)
Max exit velocity: 101 mph
Contact rate: 94%
Chase rate: 23%
Report: An under-the-radar name to watch in this year’s draft, Triantos hails from Cubs area scout Billy Swoop’s territory and he’s rising on draft boards. In addition to his impressive bat, Triantos also pitches and was electric (9-0, 1.18 ERA, 62 K, 14 BB) this past season. Ultimately, more scouts view him as a SS/3B long-term. He may be the best high school hitter to come out of Virginia in the past five years, according to Prospects Live’s Draft Director, Joe Doyle.
Colson Montgomery, SS, Southridge (HS)
Max exit velocity: 102 mph
Contact rate: 80%
Chase rate: 17%
Report: Montgomery is an exciting high school shortstop who appears to be on the rise. In showcases last summer, Montgomery showed off the rare combined traits of high contact and low chase rates while also hitting the ball hard. Scouts are mixed as to whether he can stick at shortstop, but he has more than enough arm if he needed to move to third base. He also shows off enough defensive instincts to allow a team to send him out at SS in pro ball.
Harry Ford, C, North Cobb (HS)
Max exit velocity: 102 mph
Contact rate: 81%
Chase rate: 17%
Report: Ford is a better athlete than most catchers, leading to a belief he could succeed all around the diamond. He uses a very narrow stance at the plaate but then gets himself in a good set hitting position more often than not. Though he shows a hit-over-power profile right now, it looks like he could have above-average power down the line. Behind the dish, he uses that athleticism to jump out of his crouch to try to throw runners out. His catching technique, specifically framing, is surprisingly strong for his level. High school catchers are not prioritized historically, but Ford’s athleticism gives him a strong chance of being drafted early.
Joshua Baez, OF/RHP, Dexter Southfield (HS)
Max exit velocity: 107 mph
Contact rate: 67%
Chase rate: 14%
Report: When Baez connects, he launches baseballs a long way and at times he looks the part of a future regular or even All-Star right fielder. However, his significant contact issues can lead to him looking lost at the plate and he’ll get beat sometimes over and over in the same spot. The swing and miss may be correctable, and some teams will likely gamble on the intriguing talent. This Vanderbilt commit is also a two-way player who can throw in the upper 90s. His arm should be an asset at the next level regardless of his future role.
White (Prospects Live) and Montgomery (MLB Pipeline, Prospects Live, and Ivy Futures) have now both been linked to the Cubs in recent mock drafts. Triantos is another name to watch who may rank relatively high on the Cubs board because he fits their recent drafting tendencies. Baez and others with similar profiles have created concerns in the past few weeks, though all the players mentioned above are premier talents who should hear their names called early in the draft.
A fascinating aspect of this year’s Cubs draft is seeing what a full complement of selections looks like under VP of scouting Dan Kantrovitz, who joined the organization prior to the 2020 season. His only draft so far was the severely truncated effort last year that saw the Cubs make only five selections.
Kantrovitz showed during previous tenures with St. Louis and Oakland that he was willing to gamble on higher upside. With the Cubs now being linked to more high school players, look for an exciting 20-round draft this year.
Max exit velocity: The highest exit velocity of a baseball recorded in a given amount of time. For this discussion, the time is either during the entire “showcase circuit.”
Contact rate: the percentage of times the particular batter makes contact with the ball. It does not account for whether the hitter is successful in recording a hit or not.
Chase rate: the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone at which a hitter swings. These pitches are often bad pitches for the hitter to try to make contact.