The decision will be remembered much differently if Jonathan Gray becomes the next Justin Verlander and performs at a Cy Young and MVP level.
But the Cubs stuck to their philosophy with the No. 2 overall pick on Thursday night, calculating the inherent risk that comes with pitching and recognizing that the best bets at the top of the draft are made on position players. They project University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant will be a middle-of-the-order force for years to come.
So team president Theo Epstein, scouting/player development chief Jason McLeod and their staff passed on the 100 mph velocity shown by Gray, the University of Oklahoma right-hander who landed with the Colorado Rockies at No. 3.
It became Bryant vs. Gray when the Houston Astros took Mark Appel with the first overall pick, though there were signals that the Cubs weren’t completely sold on the Stanford University right-hander or convinced that his ceiling would be close enough to a No. 1 starter.
[WATCH: Dan Plesac breaks down Kris Bryant selection]
“We felt the best player for the Cubs long-term looking at those two players was Kris Bryant,” McLeod said. “Don’t get me wrong: We thought all three of those guys were very talented players who deserved to go 1-2-3 in the draft.
“We just made the pick that we felt was right for this organization for now and for the long-term.”
In the final analysis, Gray’s positive test for the stimulant Adderall may have called a college kid’s judgment into question, but it wasn’t a deciding factor once the story went viral in the media.
“We looked pretty deep into that and ultimately it didn’t effect how we felt about him as a player and as a person,” McLeod said. “That really had no bearing on it, other than we had to do more due diligence and figure more things out. We certainly wish health and success to Jon. He was very open with us and the Rockies got themselves a very talented player.”
The Rockies hope they made a franchise-altering decision, like the Detroit Tigers did in 2004 when they took Verlander out of Old Dominion University with the No. 2 overall pick. But history shows Verlander is an outlier, the data revealing that pitching can come from all over the draft.
The Cubs began loading up on arms by taking University of Missouri lefty Rob Zastryzny in the second round. The 41st overall pick went 2-9 with a 3.38 ERA in 13 starts, putting up 82 strikeouts against 24 walks in 90.2 innings.
Look for the Cubs to draft in volume this weekend to address the organization’s biggest need.
[WATCH: Who is the pressure on now in the Cubs' organization?]
Gray burst onto the national scene with a dominant junior season (10-2, 1.59 ERA), a big arm with more potential upside and less polish than Appel (10-4, 2.12 ERA). Both looked like good bets for the Cubs at various checkpoints throughout the scouting season.
But for this front office, a pitcher at No. 2 would have had to create clear separation from the best position player.
The Cubs couldn’t ignore Bryant, who began the season viewed as a potential top-10 pick but soared up the draft board, and into the North Side rebuilding plan, after generating 31 homers and 62 RBI in 62 games for the Toreros.
“We were never going to go into a draft to draft on need,” McLeod said. “We talked a lot about acquiring pitching and getting power pitching and certainly those players are out there in this draft and they went (No.) 1 and (No.) 3. But ultimately we’re going to make the decisions that we feel are best for this organization, both in the short- and long-term, and Kris Bryant was the player for us."