This is pretty, pretty, pre-tty big, Cubs.

Decisions, decisions, decisions... (http://aarongleeman.com/)

Decisions, decisions, decisions… (http://aarongleeman.com/)

Today is the first day of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. At 40 rounds long with 39 picks slated for the first round (7 awarded due to the free agent compensation rules), the draft will conclude on Saturday. The Houston Astros have the first pick in this year’s draft. Last year, the Astros selected Puerto Rican prep shortstop Carlos Correa with the first pick and the year before, the Pittsburgh Pirates tabbed UCLA northpaw Gerrit Cole with the first selection in the draft. While baseball bloodlines run deep in this draft, it doesn’t seem that this is a draft full of franchise players. Nevertheless, there is plenty of talent available. A few players expected to go in the first round are Stanford RHP Mark Appel, Oklahoma RHP Jonathan Gray, San Diego 3B Kris Bryant, Georgia high school OF Clint Frazier and Samford OF Phillip Ervin.

Thanks to finishing 61-101 in 2012, the Chicago Cubs possess this year’s second pick in the draft. The last time the Cubs were drafting this high, they took RHP Mark Prior out of USC. That, obviously, didn’t work out too well for both parties, ultimately. In last year’s draft, the Cubs took a Florida high school OF, Albert Almora, with the sixth pick. Over 12 games in 2013 with the Cubs Class A affiliate, the Kane County Cougars, Almora has a triple slash of .429/.481/1.033 and in 45 career games as a pro has a triple slash of .349/.372/.859.

It’s no secret that the Cubs have a need for good, young starting pitching. At the major league level, there are only Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza that come close to fitting the bill. Despite the fact that when healthy, these two form a rather formidable 1-2 in the rotation, I have a few concerns. Samardzija is 28, which isn’t exactly “young,” and he is in only his second full season as a starter. Garza will be 30 in November and has dealt with a few bouts of inconsistency here and there as well as several injuries that have landed him on the disabled list. In addition, Samardzija will be eligible for arbitration after this season and Garza will be a free agent. While the Cubs have given long-term extensions to both SS Starlin Castro and 1B Anthony Rizzo, neither are yet 24 years of age and possess much more upside than Samardzija and Garza. 29 year-old RHP Edwin Jackson has been…not great…and I don’t think anyone expects 26 year-old LHP Travis Wood to finish 2013 with a sub-3 ERA and WHIP barely above 1. To summarize once again, the Cubs need good, young starting pitching.

Enter Stanford’s Appel and Oklahoma’s Gray. I’ve had the opportunity to see both pitch several times and like that they have major league frames as well as pitch repertoires. Appel is a bit more polished, where Gray is more overpowering. It’s possible that a recent positive result for Adderall could scare some teams away from Gray, even though Adderall isn’t a performance-enhancing drug. Just as there are some clubs weary of taking a chance on Gray, you’d better believe that Appel, a client of agent Scott Boras, has his detractors, too. Appel was selected 8th overall by the Pirates in last year’s draft, but didn’t sign and instead returned to Stanford for his senior year. With new rules limiting the amount teams can spend on draft picks, some have opined that Appel decided he would be better off returning and improving his draft stock, thus earning more money. I really don’t care what Appel’s reasoning was. As long as he shows up every fifth day ready to pitch, his motives are honestly, his motives.

The Houston Astros are expected to pick either Appel or Gray, although they could go their own route and take a “lesser” player, allowing them to spend more money later in the draft. Bryant could be taken #1, or maybe the ‘Stros would select a high school player, like Texas P Kohl Stewart or Georgia prep OF Austin Meadows. UNC 3B Colin Moran is also a sleeper #1 pick. If Houston were to select Gray, which I think they will, the Cubs would almost have to draft Appel. Right?

One great thing about selecting a pitcher like Appel, with four years of collegiate experience, would be that you probably wouldn’t have to wait very long to see him on the Cubs major league roster. Don’t expect a repeat of Mike Leake, who went straight from Arizona State University to the Reds major league club in 2009. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Appel facing big league hitters when the rosters are expanded in September, and would be less surprised to see him compete for a spot in the rotation next spring training.

Granted, the Cubs have a few good arms in the minors (Arodys Vizcaino, Pierce Johnson, Duane Underwood, etc.), but some of them belong to guys who are currently rehabbing (Vizcaino) or are several years away from being a MLer (teenage Underwood). Still, this doesn’t mean they literally have to take Appel or Gray. The Cubs have holes all over the diamond, basically. I’m a part-time member of the Luis Valbuena Fan Club, but I’d abandon all loyalties if the Cubs drafted Bryant. Meadows and Frazier must have piqued the Cubs’ interest, I’m sure, even though the Cubs currently have outfielders Brett Jackson, Jorge Soler and Almora in their farm system. Maybe the Cubs will decide to take a pitching prospect after all, saving money and selecting Indiana prep LHP, Trey Ball.

This is Year 2 of the Theoyerleod Project, and it won’t be long before Cubs fans want to see some of that wunderkind genius show up on the field and not in press conference and interview quotes. The Cubs will more than likely finish 2013 in the neighborhood of 100 losses, ensuring them of a top-5 pick in next year’s draft. In spite of this knowledge, so many feel that this is a very important draft for the Cubs primarily because of Appel, Gray, and for some, Bryant (I kind of have a thing for 6’5″, power-hitting, strong-armed third basemen, too). Bryant would make Cubs fans forget all about poor old Steve Buechele, but it’s the first two who myself and others feel would have the biggest impact on the organization, especially in the near future. So far, Almora has played well in the minors and I hope the first round success continues in 2013. Go. Cubs.

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