There hasn't been a lot of mystery at the top of the draft lately. The Cubs are believed by some to be big fans of Mark Appel and that it was just a matter of who would emerge as an alternate candidate should the Astros pick him. Would it be Indiana State Sean Manaea? One of the Georgia prep outfielders, Austin Meadows or Clint Frazier? Would it be a college hitter, traditionally the safest bet in the draft? Kris Bryant and Colin Moran top that list.
Manaea failed to show the same stuff he showed in the Cape Cod League and has since dropped in the rankings. The prep outfielders are intriguing, but not as talented or advanced as last year's high school outfielders, Byron Buxton and Albert Almora. Bryant and Moran have had good years, but they are not elite bats that would go top five in most drafts. Yesterday, however, I speculated that Bryant could be creeping up the boards and suggested he may be as high as 3rd on the Cubs' list.
Our Tom Loxas has spoken to a source and says that although the Cubs have monitored Bryant, the sense in the organization is that the Cubs will take a pitcher and that it will be one of the top two college arms. Surprisingly, the source said that the Cubs may not yet be sold on Mark Appel.
As we all know by now, the second arm that has emerged is Oklahoma RHP Jonathan Gray. He was considered a late round pick when the year started. He has always had a strong arm, but his secondary stuff and command was inconsistent. Physically, he was a little soft, and some wondered whether he'd have the stamina to sustain velocity in start after start.
Well, Gray entered the season in great physical condition and it has paid off handsomely. He is sustaining high 90s velocity late into the games. Even more impressive, he has improved his secondaries. His slider is a wipeout pitch and his change is already fringe MLB average, and could be solid average or better with a little fine tuning. So when you talk about two plus-plus pitches, plus command, and a 3rd solid offering, you're talking front line starter. Now it appears that if given the choice, the Cubs may be leaning slightly toward Gray.
How does he compare to Appel?
Appel can bring it. He'll consistently pitch 94-95 and often reaches 97 mph. He sustains that velocity through 9 innings. Gray throws even harder than Appel. He has reached triple digits in the first half of games and sustains velocity, as high as 98 mph, in the late innings.
As good as both pitchers' fastballs are, both often use their sliders as their knockout punch. I think this one is too close too call.
Gray's change-up has improved significantly this season and as said, could be a solid major league offering in time. Appel's change is already there and still has room to improve into the plus category.
As far as the top of the draft goes, Appel has been on scouts' radars since the day he enrolled at Stanford. Gray was not always considered the best pitching prospect on his own team. That distinction once belonged to Dillon Overton. Gray has come a long way, but doesn't have as long a proven history as Appel.
Sometimes being heralded from day one comes with a price in that your team depends on you heavily from day one. Appel has been an integral part of the Stanford staff for 4 years and has had some pretty high pitch counts, though they have done a much better job this year. Gray has really emerged this season and his coaching staff has done a good job of limiting his pitch counts around 100.
Appel is the better natural athlete and consistently has been in great shape while Gray is a bit more stiff and may have to work to keep himself in prime condition.
Though some may not like that he didn't sign and think of him as greedy because of it, Appel is often lauded for his mental makeup and character. Gray is also lauded for his makeup and the work he did to improve this season.
By the Numbers
College stats don't really translate to professional ball well, but here they are for comparison's sake. Both pitchers have faced top competition.
Appel: 7-2, 1.54 ERA, 70.1 IP, 48 hits, 12 walks, 84 strikeouts
Gray: 7-1, 1.09 ERA, 74.1 IP, 40 hits, 13 walks, 91 strikeouts
Edge: I think this is pretty much a push, though Gray's numbers are slightly better.