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Cubs Thu Jun 06 2013

Cubs Honing In On Three Players At No. 2

Cubs_200.pngThe MLB Draft doesn't get the kind of notoriety that its NFL and NBA counterparts do. It mostly comes down to college and high school baseball not being as ridiculously popular as college football and basketball are, but it also stems from the fact that most players taken are years away from having an impact. Examples: just one player from the top three rounds of the 2012 draft has appeared in the majors, and only eight from the 2011 draft have debuted, with none of them possessing higher than a 0.7 WAR (wins above replacement).

It's even worse when there isn't a superstar prospect like Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, or Ken Griffey Jr. to hang your hat on for some easy publicity. In fact, the 2013 draft is being considered one of the weakest in years. But despite the lack of abundant talent, the Cubs are sitting in a great spot to land a top prospect with the No. 2 overall pick.

The list of guys the Cubs are looking at is short, and they've admittedly been spending a lot more time on their second and third round picks because it's nearly impossible to predict who will be on the board at that point. The second pick gets all the hype because of the player's expected impact and high bonus figure. Here are the three guys the team is looking at with the No. 2 pick tonight:

Mark Appel (RHP), Stanford, Age: 21

He's pretty clearly the best player in this class, yet probably won't go to the Houston Astros with the first pick because they'll be looking to save a bit of money (MLB has weird/moronic rules for signing bonuses given to players in the first 10 rounds - read about them here). He was drafted eighth overall by the Pirates last year, but didn't sign because they weren't offering what he believed he was worth (they didn't lowball him, they offered more than what they were 'slotted' for). Usually a top prospect going back to school turns out to be a disaster (see: Zeller, Cody and Barkley, Matt), but for Appel, it turned out great. He improved his aggressiveness and command without losing any velocity or movement on his pitches, and it will likely net him over a million dollars in offered cash this year. He doesn't have a lot of negotiating power since he's a college senior (he either has to sign, or not play baseball for a year), but I don't see that being a road block to getting him signed.

He's basically ready for the major leagues now, and a team (the Cubs, for instance), could give him a wink, wink, nudge, nudge and tell him that they'll call him up to the majors this year (and get paid the prorated major league minimum) if he settles for a bit less on his signing bonus. As for his skills -- they are second to none among draft eligible pitchers. His fastball is 93-96 throughout his starts with a great downward plane, repeatable delivery, great control, and can run it up to 98 if he needs to. Add in devastating slider and real good changeup, and he's basically a No. 3 pitcher in MLB right now -- with the potential to be an ace. A talent with that type of floor doesn't come along too often, and the Cubs would likely regret not taking him if he's there.

Jonathan Gray (RHP), Oklahoma, Age: 21

He's been drafted twice before (out of high school and junior college), but he never had the hype of being a potential first overall pick until he came out of the gate throwing in the mid to high-90s consistently, even touching 100 in many of his starts this season. He's got a great frame and a wipe out slider, but his changeup and curveball aren't average yet. He's probably got a higher potential ceiling than Appel, but a lesser chance at reaching it, therefore, more bust potential. He still needs to work on his command a touch as well. If Appel goes to Houston, Gray is probably the pick for the Cubs, who is a major favorite of Theo Epstein's. A report this week that he tested positive for the amphetamine Adderall without a prescription is disappointing, but doesn't hurt his prospect status. It may hurt the bonus money he gets offered though.

Kris Bryant (3B), San Diego, Bats: R, Throws: R, Age: 21

He tore up collegiate pitching this year by bashing 31 homers in 62 games, which is a lot harder to do these days with the tamed down aluminum bats (though still inflated as opposed to wood). He probably won't hit for a high average when he reaches his highest level, but there's little doubt the power will still be around. He also may have to move off third base because of his size (6'5", 215lbs) and lack of quick twitch mobility needed at third base in the majors. That raises the bar offensively if he moves to first base or a corner outfield, but still is hard to argue with the power. He's the least likely out of the three to be selected by the Cubs, but they've done their due diligence on him after the monster season he's posted.

 
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