With showcase events like the Area Code Games, the UA All-American Game, and the Cape Cod League there is already some early jockeying for position in the draft. At this level, scouting takes precedence, and if you're a pitcher, it's about what kind of stuff, command, and projectability you have. That evaluation process started even before these showcase events.
While there will be some movement from here until June, teams already have a good idea of who they'll be watching in the 2013 season and while results will play a role, it's more important to see whether a pitcher is able to maintain or improve his stuff, command, and approach on the mound as compared to the earlier reports.
The bad news is that this is going to be a weak draft, perhaps even weaker than last season. The good news is that the draft is rich in one area that will interest both the Cubs and their fans -- college pitching. There are 3 pitchers who are probably at the top tier right now with a couple of others hoping to jump into that category. The pitching class is also deep, so the Cubs may be able to stock up a little early in the draft.
Both Baseball America and Keith Law have already come out with their rankings but we're not ready for that grand a project yet. But I did scrape together some of my old notes and compared it with the latest information to get a handle on some of the top college arms that will be available next June...
1) Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
As of today, Appel is simply the best and most complete pitcher in the draft and you won't find a lot of argument among scouts on this. Appel has the combination of stuff and polish that no other pitcher in college baseball possesses right now. If the draft were held today, it's hard to imagine him not being the first pitcher taken and probably #1 overall. Stuff-wise he's able to touch 98 and maintain mid 90s velocity into the 7th inning. He also has a plus slider and also showed an above average change. Some would like to see him be more aggressive with his power stuff rather than trying to trick hitters. There is no need for him to do that.
2. Ryan Stanek, RHP, Arkansas
Stanek started to make a name for himself late last season as he electrified scouts and fans with a fastball that touches 96 and a slider which may be the best breaking ball in this year's draft. He has yet to develop a good change but at the college level, that's not unusual because he can beat hitters at this level with those two pitches alone, particularly the slider. He's not as polished as Appel, but his raw stuff may be about as good.
3. Sean Manaea, LHP, Indiana State
Manea burst on the season this summer, particularly because of his performance in the Cape Cod League. His secondaries aren't quite as refined as the first two pitchers on this list but lefties who sit in the mid 90s and can touch 98 are rare in baseball. He adds a slider which is off and on, but does have plus potential but not surprisingly, he doesn't have a 3rd pitch that he can rely on right now.
- Jonathan Crawford, RHP, Florida
Scouts worry some about Crawford's unorthodox delivery but there's no doubting his stuff, which includes a mid 90s fastball that peaks in the high 90s, and a good slider. He drew some attention in last year's regionals when he threw a no-hitter. He and Stanek will be facing similar competition his year so it will be interesting to compare the two and see if Crawford can gain any ground. He will have a chance to improve his stock vs. some of the more advanced hitters in college baseball. He's a bit of a wildcard here. His stuff matches up with any of the top tier guys.
- Bobby Wahl, RHP, Mississippi
Another SEC arm, Wahl won't blow you away with his stuff as much as the pitchers ahead of him on this list, but may have more polish than any of them with the exception of Appel. Throws a heavy two-seamer and an above average breaking ball. Led SEC underclassman in strikeouts, not easy when you consider the competition. He'd probably only be considered if the Cubs had a pick outside the top 5 and while he likely won't be a #1 starter, he will move quickly through the system.
- Karsten Whitson, RHP, Florida
Getting the feeling you should keep your eye on Florida and the SEC this year? Whitson started his college career as the favorite to be the first pitcher taken, but injuries have led to a decline in his stuff it has raised some doubts. He's still a first-rounder, but he really needs to bounce back with a big year if he wants to enter that top tier again. When healthy he can touch 96 with his fastball.
- Trevor Williams, RHP, ASU
Williams stuff is better than his results have shown as he throws 4 pitches, led by a 91-95 mph fastball. He's been easier to hit than that repertoire would imply, so there is some concern and it keeps him out of that upper echelon of pitchers for now.
- Ryan Eades, RHP, LSU
Eades had labrum surgery in high school and he may be trying to be cautious, as he did take this summer off. When he did pitch, he showed good stuff but struggled with his command. His stock will really depend on how he does this season for LSU and whether he can show he's healthy and improve his command of his above average stuff.
- AJ Vanegas, RHP, Stanford
Big name pitcher who pitched in relief but will start this season. He was able to throw in the mid 90s during the Cape Cod League. If he can sustain that velocity as a starter, he could move up this list quickly. Second pitch is a curveball which shows some potential.
Others to watch
- Andrew Mitchell, RHP, TCU: Power pitcher with command issues
- Marco Gonzalez, LHP, Gonzaga: More of a command/finesse type with 3 solid offerings, but no true out pitch
- Austin Kubitza, RHP, Rice: Sinker/slider type with good results
- Dylan Covey, RHP, U. of San Diego: Like Whitson, a 2010 1st rd. pick who's been inconsistent in college
Just like last season, I expect the Cubs to take a lot of pitchers early but this year we may see a couple more college pitchers thrown into that mix -- and we have a good chance of seeing the Cubs take one of the top 3 college arms in the 2013 draft.