The key position the Cubs lack true depth in their farm system is pitching. Most of their pitching talent, prospect-wise, lies in the lower levels of minor league baseball, within the arms of babes.
They do have Arodys Vizcaino—whom they received in the August trade with Atlanta and should be considered their best pitching prospect—but he had Tommy John surgery in March, leaving the club’s hopes of stocking their pitching staff with players from within the organization still a few years away.
The Cubs will need to focus on college pitching prospects so they can have talent to develop at Iowa in 2014, rather than rushing the development of their current young pitching prospects.
Luckily—or unluckily, depending on how you would like to view it—the Cubs have the second pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, due to having the second-worst record in the league. They should come away with at least one pitching prospect that they could immediately assign to Iowa.
The Cubs will essentially have the second pick in every round with the exception of the Compensatory round. The proceeding list will cover three options the Cubs should consider with their first-round pick—which turned out to be the same top three 2013 draft prospects named by Baseball America in August, which I didn't realize until researching Sean Manea—as well as two players to look at with their second-round selection, which will be projected to be around the No. 57 to No. 64 pick.
Mark Appel would have been the top pick in this past June’s MLB draft, but by all accounts, he and his agent, Scott Boras, priced Appel out of the top spot in 2012—held by the Astros—until the Pittsburgh Pirates decided to select him with their first pick, eighth overall.
Unwilling to sign a $3.8 million contract offered by the Pirates (who were the second team to have drafted Appel in his career, after the Detroit Tigers in 2009), Appel enters the 2013 draft as the top draft prospect.
To say that Mark Appel is a stud pitcher would not be hyperbole. At 6’5" and 215 pounds, Appel has a four-seamer that averages 95 mph, but has been clocked in the high 90s. He has a plus changeup that, with further development, could be as good as his fastball in getting batters to swing and miss.
His slider is already nasty enough that BaseballNewsHound.com declares it to be MLB-ready.
“Primarily using it to wipeout right-handers, he spins his slider with strong two-plane break in the low 80′s. With hissing spin, the pitch runs down and away from right-handed hitters with late break. He also snaps it off against lefties and can drop it in the strikezone for called strikes when necessary. He does a nice job of staying on top of it, and he rarely hangs it up in the zone. Already solid-average, with more power behind his breaking ball, it could develop into a legitimate strikeout pitch in the MLB.”
Ryan Kelly, the author of the BNH article, also believes Appel’s two-seam fastball to be a better pitch than his four-seamer.
“[H]is two-seamer actually shows above-average tail and run. The tall righty releases the ball with a rock-n-fire, over-the-top delivery and his long fingers and arm extension add extra life. His free-and-easy delivery, with an arm action that’s long in the back and quick in the front, makes his fastball hop out of his hand. With velocity that already sits in the 93-96 MPH range, it’s not hard to see Appel’s heater sniffing triple digits one day soon.”
His good pitch command can be improved to exceptional after receiving major league instruction.
Hopefully for the Cubs, his price will again be too steep for the Houston Astros, who are sitting with the first selection, as it was—and as the Astros were in the 2012 draft. If that’s the case, Appel would be a great fit for the Cubs.
It would not take long for Appel to become MLB-ready, which is why the Cubs will be ready, willing and able to sign the star righty if they find him falling into their laps this upcoming June.
Ryne Stanek appears to be less MLB-ready than Mark Appel, in both size and stuff. However, at 6’4" and 180 pounds, he resembles Chris Sale with about the same tools, if just not as developed as Sale’s.
And like Sale, Stanek has a hard slider in the range of 84-87 mph that is a plus-pitch.
Like Sale, Stanek has a plus-pitch in his hard-slider in the mid- to upper-80s that regularly hits 87 mph. He has a decent fastball that can top 96 mph, but according to ESPN’s baseball scouting guru, Keith Law, Stanek still needs to develop consistency pitching off his fastball if he wants his power-slider to be a true “out” pitch.
An effective fastball is essential to any pitcher who relies on a dominant slider as his “out” pitch.
“A pitcher with an average fastball might apt to become overly reliant on the slider, but for it truly to be effective, it must be intelligently mixed in with the fastball. A good slider that gets the hitter thinking about it, timing his bats for it, will make ones fastball, even an average one more potent.”
And while he has good action and speed with his fastball, his hard throwing style tends to cause his “Uncle Charlie” to range between 77 and 84 mph. This can allow for a less-controlled pitch, although he has good overall command regardless.
Ryne’s current repertoire—slider, changeup, curve\slurve and fastball—would slot him as a No. 3 starter, but if his changeup develops—and given his high three-quarter arm angle, it should—he could have his second plus-pitch and end up becoming a No. 2.
And who knows—he could become the second greatest Ryne in Cubs history.
Sean Manaea is the first lefty on the list, and was the winner of both the “Top Pitcher” and “Most Outstanding Pro Prospect” awards in the 2012 Cape Cod Baseball League.
“Manaea was excellent this summer, posting an 85:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51.2 innings for Hyannis over nine appearances (including eight starts)… according to the whole internet, he was sitting at 92-96 mph this summer and topping out at 98.”
Manaea also went the entire month of July without issuing a walk with Hyannis—an entire month!
But as well as he performed in the Cape Cod league, Manaea is still fairly raw. His stuff could allow him to become anything from a No. 1 starter to a bullpen door-closer.
His fastball ranges from 91 to 94 mph and touched 96 in the Cape Cod league, but maintaining a high velocity has been troublesome.
His off-speed pitches still need work. According to BigLeagueFutures.net, Manaea has a good slider, but is inconsistent with it. Also, his changeup still needs development.
If everything turns out well for Sean Manaea, he could become one Manaea-cal opposing pitcher.
Coming out of high school in 2010, some scouts believed that John Simms would work himself into the MLB at some point, and were impressed by his closed mechanics and ability to land squarely despite throwing across his body.
Another three-quarter pitcher, John Simms holds a low-velocity fastball that lives in the upper-80s and low-90s that he can locate well, with a little life and sink at the end.
His off-speed stuff still needs development, with his curve showing more potential than his slider\slurve.
Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt noted in a May college weekend preview the potential of Simms’ curve:
“His split-finger fastball is an out pitch against righties as well as lefties, and Taylor (Rice Owls’ pitching coach) said he has rediscovered the quality curveball that made him so dominant in the Cape Cod League last summer (2011).”
Much like John Simms, scouting reports about Andrew Mitchell were few and far between. But Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt’s, as usual, gave the best summation of an otherwise hard-to-find report.
In this case, Mr. Fitt outlined Andrew Mitchell’s stuff in a February posting for BA:
“Mitchell has a pair of plus offerings in a fastball that sat 93-94 early Friday before settling into the 90-92 range later, and a devastating power breaking ball in the 79-82 range… He has learned to manipulate the break on the pitch at times, throwing it with a bit more lateral movement to act more like a slider when he needs to throw it for a strike, and using it as a 12-to-6 hammer curveball when he needs to use it as a chase pitch.”
He also noted that continued development of his changeup is required if he wants to smell a starting rotation. But he also noted that, if the changeup never materializes, his fastball and slider are good enough to be a power reliever. And in another posting, he labeled Mitchell’s overall command to be erratic.
Some of the Cubs' proposed draft targets were not groundbreaking choices, you shall be granted that, but given the position they are in, any other choices would have been the move of an osteocephalic.
The Cubs are in a unique position with the second overall pick in the upcoming June MLB Draft.
Will there be a prototypical pitcher who should be MLB-ready by late 2014 that falls into their lap? Or will there be a pitcher with great off-speed stuff who, while perhaps needing more time in the minors, can be as equally dominating, sitting and waiting for them? Perhaps will they surprise us all and select a pitcher that needs more tutoring, but is accustomed to surprising observers and could develop electric stuff in the future?
Whomever they decide to choose, we'll just have to wait until June to see who it is.