Owning the second overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft in June, the Chicago Cubs will have the opportunity to land one of the top amateur talents on the board yet again.
Therefore, with roughly two months until the draft—held annually on June 6-8—team president Theo Epstein and the rest of the front office have narrowed down their choices to a half-dozen players, according to Karrie Muskat of MLB.com.
But with the Houston Astros set to make the inaugural pick for the second straight season, it makes sense for the Cubs to explore more than just six players.
As Muskat noted, Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod were in attendance for a recent matchup between this year’s top prep prospects, outfielders Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier.
At 6’3”, 200 pounds, Meadows (Grayson HS, Ga.) is an excellent athlete with a projectable frame and impressive tools. A left-handed hitter, he has a quiet swing with quick hands and good balance throughout, which suggests the potential for an above-average hit tool at maturity.
And while he’s yet to showcase consistent power, it’s easy to envision it emerging as he matures physically and makes a few adjustments to his swing. In the outfield, Meadows exhibits plus speed with long strides that cater to his overall range, as well as arm strength ideal for the position.
Meanwhile, Frazier (Loganville HS, Ga.) offers less to dream on at 6’1”, 190 pounds, though his tools are much louder than Meadows’. What separates Frazier from the rest of the draft class is his blinding bat speed, which is without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen at the high school level.
With a simple flick of his wrists, the right-handed hitter generates explosive, plus raw power to all fields and barrels the ball with consistency; his bat alone will make him a high draft pick. And even though he plays center field for his high school squad, Frazier’s speed, range and arm strength are a cleaner fit at a corner position—which in turn will place additional pressure on his bat.
However, with a farm system that’s already front-loaded with top-ranked position prospects such as Javier Baez, Almora and Jorge Soler, does it really make sense for the Cubs to target another young hitter with the second overall pick?
While the idea is certainly intriguing and could open the door for a trade in future seasons, the organization is in desperate need of an impact pitching prospect.
Luckily, there are plenty of options in this year’s crop of college arms.
Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
According to Muskat, Epstein and crew were also in attendance for one of Mark Appel’s recent starts.
Headed into the 2012 draft, many expected Appel to be selected first overall by the Astros. However, due to his lofty bonus demands, the Stanford right-hander fell all the way to the Pirates with the eighth pick. And because both sides failed to reach an agreement by the signing deadline, Appel ultimately returned to school for his senior season.
Overall, he’s looked better this spring than he did a year ago. Although his fastball velocity has fluctuated between the low and high-90s, he’s throwing the pitch with more confidence. Additionally, Appel is throwing considerably less unnecessary secondary offerings compared to last season. And even though he’s struggled with the command of the slider and changeup at times, both pitches remain very projectable at the next level.
Ryne Stanek, RHP, Arkansas
Even though Ryne Stanek’s prospect stock has taken a hit this spring, the Arkansas right-hander could easily find himself back in the mix by early June. Although his fastball has registered in the low-90s a bit too often, there have also been times when he’s popped 95-97 mph. Meanwhile, his slider is still a plus offering capable of inducing whiffs at any level, but his excessive use of the pitch is reason for some scouts to keep their distance.
Sean Manaea, LHP, Indiana St.
Sean Manaea (Indiana St.) should be the southpaw representative at the top of this year’s class, though the drop-off in his stuff relative to what he showcased over the summer in the Cape Cod League is somewhat disconcerting. Still, his fastball has shown plenty of life this spring in the low-to-mid-90s with some arm-side action. Similarly, even though his slider command has been inconsistent, the pitch still projects to miss plenty of bats.
Jonathan Gray, RHP, Oklahoma
That being said, no prospect has seen his stock rise more this spring than Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray. At 6’4”, 240 pounds, the right-hander runs his fastball into the mid-to-high-90s—he’s reached triple-digits on several occasions this spring—and has a feel for working it throughout the strike zone. Meanwhile, his high-80s slider is a legitimate plus pitch with late, wipeout break, and he’s comfortable throwing it in any count. Gray’s changeup has also had its moments this spring, and flashes the potential to be at least an above-average offering at maturity.
As is the case every year, anything can happen between now and the draft. Therefore, the Cubs would be wise to keep all their options open. And while they may be tempted to target the top position player on the board, whether that be Meadows or Frazier, landing the best available arm should be of the utmost priority.