In a little over a month, spring training begins for Major League Baseball. With this comes the next step in Theo Epstein’s plan to build a foundation for sustained success on the North Side. Granted, the Cubs did make a few splashes in the free agent market with the signings of pitchers like Scott Baker, Kyuji Fujikawa and Edwin Jackson, but the North Siders still have a ways to go before they even think about the playoffs. Yes, their pitching has the potential to be much better than it was last season, but there are other players that still need to develop. There are a lot of young guys in the farm system that still need to improve and mature before we talk about playoffs for the Cubs. In addition, not only do Theo and Jed Hoyer need to succeed in the free agent market, they need to be successful in the first year player draft, which takes place this year from June 6th-8th.
I spoke with Conor Glassey from Baseball America about the 2013 draft and he said this is a rather weak draft compared to other classes. There is not a Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg-type of prospect in this draft, but there are some good players who do have some big time potential.
In the draft, the Cubs will have the second overall pick behind only the Houston Astros and it is widely expected that they will look to add pitching with the majority of their selections. Here is a look at the top prospects that should be under consideration come draft day:
1. Mark Appel (RHP) - This is not Appel’s first time entering the draft. He was originally drafted by the Tigers out of high school but opted to go to college. Last year, he was drafted 8th overall by the Pirates but he turned down $3.3 million to keep pitching at Stanford. In three years at Stanford, Appel has gone 18-10 with a 3.22 ERA. He has 242 strikeouts compared to 78 walks in 271.1 innings of work. He does not allow home runs, either, surrendering only three in 110 innings last season. Appel has drawn comparisons to Tampa Bay Rays star David Price and at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, Glassey describes Appel as a big, physical workhorse. His fastball can reach the upper-90s with solid movement to it and he has a hard mid-80s breaking ball to go with it. His career has been filled with ups and downs at Stanford and these struggles lead to the big question: Why haven’t the results matched the package? At times, Appel’s fastball tends to straighten out and in order to be a big time pitcher in the majors, his command must improve. He cannot throw around the plate as much as he does and he needs to mix up his pitches. If he can accomplish this, he can easily be an ace for a team. If he doesn’t, he will be a No. 3 or 4 at best, according to the scouts that I spoke with.
2. Ryne Stanek (RHP) - Last year, in his sophomore season at Arkansas, Stanek started 17 games and accumulated a record of 8-4 with a 2.82 ERA while striking out 82 batters in 92.2 innings. He was originally drafted 99th overall out of high school by the Mariners, but he optioned to attend college. Stanek throws a fastball in the mid-90s and he maintains that velocity throughout his starts. He also throws a slider which stays in the mid-80s and a changeup. Scouts say that his command is good, but with a three-quarters arm delivery and a tendency to overthrow at times has some wondering if his arm action is a cause for concern. There is no question that the guy has a big, powerful arm, but if he does not fix his command and mechanics, Stanek may have a career as a relief pitcher.
3. Austin Meadows (OF/1B) - Meadows is considered one of the top two prospects coming out of high school. He has the potential to be a great five-tool player and his body frame is one that shows a potential for power. If he grows into it, he has the skill set to be a player similar to Josh Hamilton. Solid bats are scarce in this draft, which makes Meadows' draft stock even higher. He can hit to all fields and has speed to go with it, he has a nice arm and good range when it comes to covering the outfield, which will allow him to play all three spots. Meadows has a short, quick swing but it has a slight uppercut to it, which can lead to frequent pop-ups. The power for Meadows is off the charts and when he gets a hold of it, the ball jumps off of his bat. If he continues to develop, Meadows can be a 30 HR type of player.
4. Sean Manaea (LHP) - Manaea is not as polished as Stanek or Appel, but he is still very attractive to scouts because as a 6-foot-5 lefty, he lights up the radar gun with a fastball that reaches 96 mph. He has a slurve to go with it, but it is not as consistent of a pitch as it will need to be in the big leagues. Manaea burst onto the scene last summer while playing in the Cape Cod League. In eight starts, he went 5-1 with a 1.22 ERA and 85 strikeouts in only 57.1 innings of work. Being a lefty with a low three-quarters delivery, Manaea has drawn comparisons to Chris Sale, according to Glassey. The big question mark in evaluations of him is that the big lefty burst onto the scene late, which means he is still raw and he is not as much of a proven talent like some of the other prospects at the top of the draft boards. Glassey said, “Manaea has a low level track record. Pitching at Indiana State puts a little bit of a question mark around his projections.” Whoever picks Manaea is taking a little bit of a gamble, but if it works out it can pay off big time as he has tremendous long-term potential.
5. Clint Frazier (OF) - All of the things said about Meadows, you can say about Frazier, minus the size. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Frazier is not as big but he still has power because of his electric bat speed. He is very aggressive at the plate and loads his hands in a way that simply looks like he wants to kill the baseball. The ball explodes off of his bat when he gets a hold of it. During his junior season, Frazier hit .424 with 24 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 118 at-bats. Despite his size, he can still be a middle-of-the-lineup type of hitter. To go along with his bat, Frazier has an attractive arm. He was clocked at 98 mph when throwing from center field and scouts have compared him to Mike Trout. Meadows and Frazier grew up in the same town in Georgia, but they went to different schools so when they meet up this upcoming season you can bet hundreds of scouts will head down there to watch these two.
6. Kohl Stewart (RHP/OF/3B) - Stewart is the best high school pitcher in this year’s draft. The question is what sport is he going to play? Stewart has committed to Texas A&M to play football and baseball. His health is also a small concern because he is a Type 1 diabetic. If Stewart sticks with baseball, it will probably be as a pitcher. I spoke with Jonathan Mayo from MLB.com and he said, “There is a lot to like because the kid can flat out throw.” He throws a fastball in the mid-90s with sinking and tailing action along with a slider that stays between 84 and 86 mph. His third pitch is a changeup that he mixes in well. Stewart tends to hang his slider at times, but it has the potential to develop along with his fastball and changeup. Mayo added that Stewart has the most upside of any high school pitcher, but again, the only thing that scouts need to find out is which sport it is that he wants to play.
7. Kris Bryant (3B) - Teams looking for the best power bat out of college should not look past Kris Bryant. He led Team USA this past summer in slugging percentage and has easy plus power to go along with the ability to hit the ball to all fields. There is some question as to whether or not he will have to move to first when he advances to the major league level, but Mayo feels that since he has a strong arm he will be a more intriguing prospect if he stays at the hot corner. Just like many power hitters, Bryant does swing and miss a lot, but he does have a good idea of what he is doing at the plate and he can draw walks with 40-homer potential. In his sophomore year at San Diego, he hit .366 with 17 doubles, 14 home runs and 56 runs batted in. With the potential power that he presents, there is no doubt a team will take a chance on him early in the draft.
8. Trey Ball (LHP/OF) - With Trey Ball, whoever drafts him gets two options for the price of one. He can hit and he has potential power if he matures. He has a smooth swing and can hit to the opposite field. He gets compared to Shawn Green as a hitter. As a pitcher, he has a loose, quick delivery with his fastball reaching the low-90s with a little sink. The changeup is his best second pitch, but he also throws a slow curve and a harder slider which reaches the mid-80s. He is the top two-way prospect in the draft, but according to Mayo, scouts may have to wait until spring to see which way he goes. Right now, he has more value as a pitcher.
9. Austin Wilson (OF) - One of the best college bats in the class behind Bryant. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he resembles Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. He does not have Stanton’s power, but he can prove to be as every bit of a valuable talent if he can reach his potential. As a freshman at Stanford, Wilson hit .311 with 5 homers and 30 RBIs. He struggled his sophomore year as his average dropped to .283. He did do better in other aspects. Wilson hit 10 home runs, drew 24 walks and showed better discipline at the plate while cutting down on his strikeouts, but it still needs to improve. Wilson’s swing is simple and clean and it generates some good bat speed. His arm was clocked at 98 mph out of the outfield. At the next level, Wilson would be a corner outfielder. As long as his batting average doesn’t continue to drop and the BB:K ratio improves, Wilson can be a special talent.
10. Colin Moran (3B) - Moran is a big, strong, left-handed hitting third baseman out of Chapel Hill. He is a pure hitter and has the tools to succeed, he just needs to develop them as he matures. As a freshman at North Carolina, he hit .335 with 71 RBIs on his way to Baseball America's Freshman of the Year and First-Team All-American. In 2012, he hit .365 but he only hit three home runs compared to nine his freshman year. Despite the “slump”, he still showed solid patience at the plate with a 21:24 BB:K ratio. In his second straight summer in the Cape Cod League, he led the league in runs batted in with 42 and was selected to his second Cape Cod League All-Star Game. With Moran, it is all about the bat. He will be an average fielder at the next level. If he shows the power he had his freshman year, Moran will not have to wait long to hear his name in the draft come June.
Looking at all of these prospects, it is obvious the Cubs have a lot to choose from. Should they go with a pitcher or a potential power hitter? Then when they choose which way they want to go, they have to decipher between which guy they think will pan out the best, which is extremely tough to do at times. Look at a guy like Mark Prior. He was expected to be a top pitcher for the Cubs for year, but things didn't exactly turn out that way.
No doubt Theo’s job is tough. But that is why the Cubs brought in him here. They need him to make the big decisions like this so that down the line, one of these prospects will hopefully be part of the formula that will finally bring a World Series to the North Side.
Jordan Carstens contributed to this article.