Early MLB Draft Preview: The college arms

Early MLB Draft Preview: The college arms
Mark Appel

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...

Top Tier

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.

Second Tier

  • 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.

Third Tier

  • 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.




Filed under: Analysis, MLB Draft



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  • I'm always intrigued by hard throwing lefty starters as I'm sure everyone is. Is there any pitcher past or present that you would compare Sean Manaea to? I hate to sound like some of the fans wanting the Cubs to lose games to solidify their draft position, but I'd hate to see them fall out of the top 3. Maybe the Astros, Twins, and Rockies can all go on big winning streaks so we can cheer for Cub victories and still maintain top 3 status.....

  • In reply to Larry H:

    There are also two top position players in Austin Wilson and Austin Meadows, so it's possible the Cubs could still get a pitcher with the 5th pick, but definitely would feel better having a top 3 pick this draft.

  • John,

    Can't give you enough props for all of your work here. Top shelf stuff.

    I'm curious though, since the Cubs aren't expecting to compete until 2015/2016. Which of these arms would be your #1 pick? I know Appel grades out as the likely #1. Seems like that's mostly due to the polish of his #2 & #3 pitches. But my point is, with another year or two to develop, isn't Stanek/Manea likely to have just as much polish and as good/better stuff? If so, I think being a power LHP would make Manea a much more desirable commodity. If memory serves me correctly, David Price could touch 98 and had an off/on slider but didn't learn his change-up until he got into the Rays system and he turned out pretty good.....

    Also if Appel doesn't go #1, does sign-ability come into play? I know he'll sign this year, but he may cost us other picks.....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thanks Hoosier!

    If the draft were held today, I'd pick Appel but there's still a whole college season to go. Maybe Appel gets overworked again, maybe Stanek and Manea add some polish.

    We don't always know for certain if guys will pick up that secondary and/or offspeed pitch (and command it well). If a guy can already do it all and his arm strength is every bit as good as the more raw guys, you have to take the polished guy.

    But yeah, if one of them takes a leap forward in terms of their secondaries and command, you have to definitely re-evaluate.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I think if Appel falls out of the top 3 things start to get real dicey with him. You'll probably have to pool some money from other picks. But as I said yesterday, you have to do it if you want that impact pitcher. You don't want to pass it up so that you can sign a "maybe" guy in the later rounds.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Nice article here on Manaea.

    Seems he's scrapped that circle change and has learned a split-finger to go with his FB & Slider. So if you look at him, 2 yrs ago, he was a skinny kid from Valparaiso, IN who didn't know how to pitch or work-out and look what ISU coaches have done with him.... Now he's a 6'5" Lefty throwing 98, learning to command his secondary stuff, seems just about un-hittable and reportedly has a wicked pick-off move to boot.... Seems like a higher ceiling than Appel and maybe his floor is higher than orignally thought. I say: YES PLEASE!

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thanks for the link!

    Would love to get Manea and his ceiling could well be higher than Appel's, but Appel's ceiling is as a frontline starter, eve a #1, so it's pretty high too. The difference is Appel more likely to reach it at this point in time.

    Would be happy to get either (or Stanek).

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed... This draft will be "waves of pitching" phase two. It'd be nice to get a headliner at the top. But really if the FO brain thrust thinks the BPA is a HS positional player, I'm okay with that. I'm sure the next Mike Trout would fetch a nice front line starter......

    Lots of Baseball to play between now & then.... lots will change. Always appreciate your respect your spin on these things John.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thanks. I appreciate the kinds words and the feedback. And I'm glad there's people out there who appreciate the amateur game as much as I do!

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    Great stuff John!

    I do wonder though if signability issues won't have Appel falling again.

    BTW, it's great to have my desktop back.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Thanks. That will be the question with Appel. Wonder if Houston will take the same strategy they tried last time. I have a feeling they pick him this time around.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I am so on the fence about Appel. I don't think any prospect is worth losing a future draft pick for, and I think that is what Boras was hoping for. He gambled that Appel would fall to the Yankees or Dodgers, and that one of them would be willing to do so. Then the Pirates threw a monkey wrench into the works. The question is will that be Boras' strategy for Appel the second time around.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Agreed, I wouldn't want to lose a future pick, but I'd be willing to lose a later round pick to pool the money toward Appel.

  • Appel has no more leverage. It's sign for the draft slot or go to an independent league for at least one year (maybe 2?) I can't remember the exact FA rules if you don't sign with the team that drafted you as a college senior.

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    No doubt he loses leverage every year but I wouldn't say no leverage. He still has the leverage of being the best player in the draft and a guy who can probably help you by 2014, if not sooner. A team that picks him and doesn't sign him loses too. Tough to have a good draft without your top guy considering the overall strength of this year's crop isn't very good.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I would think if he is chosen #1 or #2 he signs. With $6-7mm slot he would be REALLY be taking a risk of going into the '14 draft of falling below that & losing out on cash & another year of professional baseball.

    John, question for you... What is the sandwich round going to look like this year? Or is there even one? Last year saw 29 picks, with the new CBA its going to be a lot less correct?

  • In reply to Cub Fan Dan:

    It will probably be smaller due to tighter CBA restrictions. You won't get comp picks for guys you don't really want (because you have to make a top offer) or players acquired midseason. That's good for the Cubs since they won't have one this year and they'll have an early 2nd round pick.

  • At this point I would be happy with either Appel or Manaea, Stanek seems more like a flash in the pan for me. Like you said John, the guy to keep an eye on is Whitson.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Keep an eye on Florida and the SEC. Lots of potential top 10 SPs (Whitson, Crawford, Stanek, Wahl). Whitson has a lot to prove, though. Needs to stay healthy and regain his velocity.

  • Currently the Cubs have the second worst winning percentage, so if all the worst teams can stay the course the Cubs will net the second pick.
    Winning Percentages:
    Astros - .305
    Cubs - .385
    Twins - .405
    Rockies - .411
    Indians - .420

    In their last ten games, the Twins are 2-8, so they're taking a run at the Cubs for that second pick. The Rockies are on a 7-3 fun-run in their last ten, so they're winning their way out of the top three sweepstakes.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    20 of our next 23 games are against playoff contenders. By the time we go to Denver on the 25th, If we're still locked in to #2 or #3, then I'd be okay with less than 100% balls out to win. until then, I say we play to win. 6 of our last Nine are against Houston & Colorado.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    There's a pretty good chance right now they end in that "top 3". It's always possible they could get hot, but it's hard to imagine them doing that with the extreme youth/inexperience they're running out there right now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yes, and this is another reason to shut down Shark now. Doubling him up on his innings max from last year serves no purpose other than putting a warm body on the mound who can spare Russell's and Camp's arms from falling off. The Cubs need to bring up some meat from AAA to pitch, even though they're not ready, in order to preserve the current ML arms that we'll be depending on next season. Bench Shark and Russell and bring in the no-names.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    I'd be okay with that. I don't think the innings jump is as worrisome with an older pitcher like Shark as it is with guys like Strasburg and Sale, but agree that it still doesn't seem like a risk they should take.

  • John - do you have any information on what overseas signings the Cubs had for the year ending June 30, 2012? I have seen summaries for the year 2011, but very little for anything after that, other than the big name signings like Soler, Concepcion, Paniagua and DeLaRosa. It would be great if we could get some sort of recap of the major signings.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    I haven't heard of any major signings -- that is, no guys considered among the top 20 like Paniagua and De La Rosa. Cubs MO will likely be more about volume. Given the high risk scouting 16 year old players, they'll spend their allotment on a couple of guys they like ad then probably over a larger number of players and hope they find more hidden gems like Castro.

  • John, following up on DaveP's question, have the Cubs announced the signing of ANY international free agents other than de la Rosa and Paniagua in the signing period that began on July 2, 2012? They still have $845,000 to spend and two DSL rosters to fill, plus the various exceptions to work with.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    Haven't really heard anything on signings. Tough to dig up info on this. I'll see if I can find out.

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