MIAMI – This is an inexact science, but two names have emerged for the Cubs at the top of their draft board: Stanford’s Mark Appel and Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray.
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The Cubs hope to find their Justin Verlander, the big college pitcher (Old Dominion) the Detroit Tigers grabbed with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft. The future Cy Young/MVP winner changed the franchise’s direction.
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Manager Dale Sveum didn’t sit in on last week’s midpoint meetings in Chicago, but he does have a sense of the scouting department’s focus across the next six weeks.
“We obviously talked about a lot of the guys and watched video on the top-10 guys,” Sveum said Thursday at Marlins Park. “I watched all of them on video. (I) watched, obviously, the two big boys – Appel and Gray. So if those guys keep (it up), the velocity stays where it is and everything’s going good, I think it’s hard not to take one of those guys.”
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For all the breathless NFL draft coverage leading up to the prime-time show, those players have to be three seasons beyond their high school graduation. They’ve played in front of huge crowds and national television audiences. They’ve (maybe) become socialized in college and more comfortable dealing with the media.
It would be so much easier if the Cubs had access to a scouting combine and didn’t have to worry about sign-ability. But there’s still a consensus forming around right-handers Appel (7-2, 1.54 ERA) and Gray (7-1, 1.09 ERA) as the top two prospects in the June draft.
Appel – who has 84 strikeouts against 12 walks in 70.1 innings – erased the doubts after turning down the Pittsburgh Pirates and returning to Stanford for his senior season.
The Kansas City Royals drafted Gray in the 13th round in 2010. A year later, the New York Yankees selected him in the 10th round. His stock has soared during a junior season in which he’s racked up 91 strikeouts against 13 walks through 74.1 innings.
Earlier this month, around the time the Cubs played a weekend series at Turner Field against the Atlanta Braves, team officials held workouts and in-depth meetings with Georgia high school outfielders Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows. San Diego’s Kris Bryant – a premier college hitter – and Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea have also been on the radar.
Philosophically, the front office believes the star position players are taken in the first round, while pitching can be found all over the draft. But Appel and Gray have shown they could have high-enough ceilings to warrant being taken second overall.
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The Cubs are scheduled to have at least one representative at every start Appel and Gray will make before the June 6 draft. The Houston Astros are on the clock.
“You go right up until the end,” team president Theo Epstein said recently. “And then we won’t know until literally five minutes before we pick because we pick second. We don’t know what’s going to be available to us.
“But the draft class is rounding into shape where there are a couple elite starting pitchers up on top of the draft and some interesting high school position players. I’d say there’s about half-a-dozen guys who have the potential to go first overall even, so we’ll see what happens.”