Over the weekend, Stanford and Mark Appel visited Arizona State. Since the ESPN family of networks aired the game, I was able to watch. Keith Law was in attendance, as were three of the Cubs front office brass. Since I finally got to watch him, I can finally comment on what I actually saw, not just what I have read.
With Appel, a college hitter has to turn into a guess hitter. His mid-to-high 90s fastball is possibly the easiest to hit of his three offerings. It tends to be a bit straight, still. But 96 is 96. When a college hitter sits on his heater, Appel's slider tends to make them look foolish, as the 6-5 righty doesn't tip off when it's coming. Appel's third solid pitch is his improving change. Against ASU, he was throwing all three for strikes early. In only one inning was he hit hard. That was when he had a nice lead, and the opponents were swinging aggressively, and guessing correctly. Appel still hasn't given up an earned run after the fifth inning this year. Stanford won 5-3 Friday night.
If Appel is on the board for the No. 2 overall choice, the Cubs will take him. The Houston Astros, who draft before the Cubs, had four people at the game. Appel hit one batter, walked one, and fanned 13 over 122 pitches. As much of a Jonathan Gray fan as I've become, I'm perfectly happy with either choice.
Speaking of Jonathan Gray, the flame-throwing Oklahoma Sooner, how about some recent video? As a fan of hockey, I quickly noticed the Captain's C, which Gray probably earned before he was hitting triple digits every week. In Gray's most recent outing against West Virginia, he struggled early, but drew a Justin Verlander comp on keeping his velocity until the end of the 111-pitch outing. It sounded like he struggled with command early, but was at his best late.
Among the interesting things about Gray is that his delivery/mechanics don't seem very special. If something can be done to help him tweak his motion, he could possibly get better. By the way, I'm really happy Colorado whupped the Cubs in that late-2012 series. I'm glad that, off of a horrible year like last season, the second pick is the reward. The second selection looks much better than a hollow win by Justin Germano in September, 2012, and the third selection.
As far as the rest of the draft, Through The Fence Baseball did some research on who they'd like to see the Cubs take with the picks after Appel or Gray. While it may come as a surprise to some, I really wouldn't be too upset going with a balance of arms. Last year's draft was so heavy with prep pitchers many of them will never reach High-A ball. Whether due to injuries, lack of control, command, or secondary offerings, the floor on the high school pitcher is legitimately nothing. A college arm can be quickly brought into the system, and be a legitimate Double-A (or trade bait) option in a year and a month. By that point, the best-case scenario for a high school arm is Boise and short-season ball. The same risk exists for catchers, especially. If the player is that good, then by all means, gamble. However, grabbing a quality SEC veteran backstop with an early pick (Spencer Navin from Vanderbilt, for instance. I'm calling it.) can have you a player ready to contribute when the team becomes a division contender in 2015 (?).
A bit on the David Price trade rumors, as there have been enough separate posts about them. Since it has ancillary overlap with the draft, I'll throw it here. What pleases me the most is that the current line is that the Cubs and Texas Rangers are pretty much the only two contenders now. Many teams simply don't have the financial interest in signing Price long-term. Even today, the Cubs can't. But as the details on Wrigley expansion and TV deals progress, the Cubs certainly should be able to afford him in the near future.
Some of the teams that would love to buy him in free agency (Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and even the St. Louis Cardinals, perhaps), won't have the prospects to pull it off. How can I include the Cardinals, with the top system in baseball, in that category? Many of their prospects will be no longer prospects when the deal gets made. They could still attempt a blockbuster trade for Price, but it doesn't fit their M.O.
If only two suitors exist, and I'm hearing caveats regarding Texas' prospects, Tampa's Andrew Friedman won't have that many teams to play one-side-against-the-other with. I imagine Javier Baez or Albert Almora might be the starting point. If there were six legitimate suitors, Friedman might require both. However, with so few competitors in the sweepstakes, the hang-up button on Theo Epstein's phone is his friend. Since the Rays haven't developed first basemen well, Dan Vogelbach or Rock Shoulders will be in play. I expect Pierce Johnson to be in the discussion, along with a Matt Szczur or Logan Watkins type. I really don't know that Texas (or anyone else) would offer more than that. To add a pitcher of Price's ability, that may (or may not) be a reasonable amount to send. Remember, though, fewer than five teams are vying for him, likely.
Even if you think that's too much to offer for a pitcher who will demand a pricey six-year deal, the Cubs are approaching that sweet spot of development. If a team has a quality player that is getting well-paid, and they want to trade him, the Cubs are one of the best trade partners around. If Toronto is still in fifth in a month, if GM Alex Anthopolous wants to shed some salary (after all, Jose Reyes is around somewhere), the Cubs will be in the discussion. A Mark Buehrle might be sent to a contender, but if talent in return is important, Team Theo can offer more than most. If, of course, salary numbers are reasonable.
While trade prospects for the Cubs will usually go 'the other way' (outgoing vet for prospects) this year, once the finances get sorted out more, bringing in veteran talent with team control may be an option sooner than later. Which is another reason to seriously consider collegiate options over high school players in some cases. The way I'd put it, I'd want the player at 41 (the second round selection) with the highest likelihood to have a 25 WAR career. Or the highest 'The Will to Win' factor. (Kidding.)