A few draft notes before heading to today's main points:
- Manny Ramirez's son is a high school senior. Since you'll insist, here is an article about him. I'd enjoy the Cubs taking a flier on him, but only because that would mean his character questions are limited.
- A New York high school shortstop is being denied a chance to play.
- Here is a list of 40 top college pitchers. Some of the names are rather unfamiliar. I'm content with who the front office selects, and I'll scrutinize them when I see them. It does, however, beg an interesting question. Should college arms be a bigger part of the 2013 draft? The Cubs selected a string of high school arms in 2012. While high school arms will be a part of any Theo Epstein draft class, is it time to rush the rebuild with college arms? A top-notch high school draftee in 2013 may well start 2014 in short season ball in Boise in June. A college veteran may already be in High-A Daytona by then. If you want a pitching draftee chipping in by 2016, he'd probably better be a college veteran.
Now, on to today's feature (spoken in a Hitchcockian verbal slant).
Leading up to this year's draft prep series, I've always said one thing that has turned out to be true. The priority list of players would change many times before draft day. That list will change many more times in the next two-and-change months. Whichever way you slice it, the Cubs are benefited very much by players vaulting to the top of the collective draft boards. Not only will the team catch the second pick in the first round, but the 39 others, as well.
The latest names to get prominently run up the flagpole are University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant and Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray. Both were well-known quantities in high school, so they aren't new to the 'being scouted' game. Bryant is a power hitter, Gray a hard-thrower. Bryant has hit 12 homers this season in just 73 at bats. That's also done with more realistic bats than the NCAA had been using a few years ago. A dozen homers is a very good season now -- Bryant is there in just over 20 games. I still doubt Bryant is the pick, as I don't think the Cubs brass buy his defense at third. If they select him, though, then obviously they do. They'd also have to like his character (makeup), conditioning, ability to play left if he has to go there, and answer any other questions. There won't be a Matt Bush at 1.2 (the notation used for the second pick in the first round). If there are questions about health, makeup, or anything else, Theo Epstein will turn the page, and go another way.
In Norman, Oklahoma, the Big Thing was supposed to be Dillon Overton this season. Overton is a lefty, and a good one. He gives up about a hit an inning, but fans roughly the same amount. His walks aren't a problem. Overton will make a nice pro, which isn't top say he'll be a lead-pipe cinch big leaguer, but he will do well through at least High-A ball. Overton was supposed to be the Sooners' Friday night guy, and started the season as such. However...
A couple weeks back, Gray's velocity started approaching, and hitting, triple digits. Now, it's routine for him to hit 100 on the gun. Not every fastball, mind you. He usually sits in the high nineties, with 97 being the default. Through six starts, Gray has pitched a tick under 45 innings. He's fanned 51, and walked just nine. His walk numbers are skewed by an early four-walk performance (over seven innings) before he 'figured things out'. In his most recent outing, he went nine innings, giving up two runs (one earned), one walk, and fanned his 12th and final hitter on a 97 mile per hour fastball. In the ninth inning.
I've seen two gurus place Gray right now in their top five. Of course, if he falls apart, that could drop. However, if he strikes out a dozen and walks one in the competitive Big 12, the difference between Gray and Stanford's Mark Appel gets really blurry.
So how does this help the Cubs? For whatever reasons, pitchers Ryne Stanek from Arkansas (wildness) and Sean Manaea from Indiana State (noted below) have fallen behind just a bit. When you're picking second, it's nice to have three-to-five options to cross-check for a few months. Not only has the brass been eyeballing the above-mentioned college players, Georgia prep outfielders Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier have been drawing rave reviews. Epstein and crew can take a very fine-toothed comb to each candidates name, and disqualify them on any uncertainties.
I've been a Manaea fan this draft run. I listened to him mow through the Minnesota squad, sounding all the time like a high pick. He will be. However, unless something changes, Manaea won't be the Cubs first selection. In the game I heard (small sample size alert), his pitching wasn't the problem. He seemed to be throwing in the mid-90's with ease. The problem was elsewhere. Minnesota bunted on him, rather successfully. He threw away a throw to first. He gave up a bunt hit this weekend.(in which Manaea went seven scoreless, fanning eight and walking two, earning the win). No, giving up bunt hits isn't a fatal flaw, but as the second pick, the competition becomes fierce.
I have no idea what the Astros will use for their strategy for the No. 1 pick. Will they draft best available? Are they going to undercut the slotting process to upgrade their later picks? Do they value Meadows or Frazier? Will the Cubs consider offering Bryant or Gray somewhat over third pick value for the opportunity to get selected second? Right now, I'm not even concerned. Epstein will select a player following in the Albert Almora vein: a solid base of skills, with the potential of being an MLB All-Star. With so many players excelling this season, the second pick will be in line to be very worthwhile as well.
If only David DeJesus can net the team Kansas City's competitive balance selection in the thirties as well.