Source: Cubs down to 2 college arms and may be leaning toward Gray

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.

Gordon Wittenmeyer confirmed this info in his article today.  And you can read more here from CSN’s Patrick Mooney.

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.

Edge: Gray


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.

Edge: Push


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.

Edge: Appel

Track Record

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.

Edge: Appel

Fresh Arm

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.

Edge: Gray


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.

Edge: Appel


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.

Edge: Push

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.


Filed under: MLB Draft

Tags: Jonathan Gray, Mark Appel


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  • fb_avatar

    It's intriguing to me that they're leaning Gray. I'm wondering if the fear is workload on Appel or that they genuinely think the Gray fastball plays better against major league hitters than Appel's. Or something else.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Could also be a smoke screen. I never really believe what anyone says heading into draft time.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    w/o having seen Gray pitch, Id like to see if hes a max effort thrower or more of a easy delivery type before Id decide which one Id like. Max effort guys like Kerry Wood was dont seem to stay healthy, while a more easier delivery, like a Nolan Ryan or a Tom Seaver, seem to have productive, healthy careers. Statiscally they seem to be a wash.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I've posted video of each at different times. I'll have to hunt them down. I wouldn't call either a max effort guy. Both have good deliveries. Appel's to me is a bit more fluid/athletic but I think otherwise neither will be an issue.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Everyone said that Prior had an easy delivery coming out of college. I still think with the investment put into him from day 1, that the Cubs should have hired Tom House to be his personal coach.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    On a side note, I remember saying in one of our discussions last year that the difference between #2 and #3 pick not that huge.

    I guess I was wrong. I would not like to have the #3 pick this year.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Yes, that 3 game sweep in Colorado is looming huge in both teams' futures.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    And, in all honesty, I'm not sure *anyone* could have foreseen just how huge the drop off in talent was going to be after #2 this year.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I certainly didn't expect -- of course, there will be a good pick made after #2 at some point, but it's nice having this security right now.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    You never know, Houston might draft someone off the wall again that nobody was thinking would go 1st. We're already thinking they won't take Appel, perhaps they pass on Gray for one of the other guys and we get our choice of either.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Very true. Everybody thought Houston's choice last year was between Appel and Buxton and they opted for none of the above.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't know, John. Maybe getting Bryant by default with the 3rd pick would be a blessing in disguise.

    BTW and belatedly: Happy Birthday!

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    That's true. We don't know how things will turn out 10 years from now. If we did, we'd be insanely wealthy people.

  • I will settle for the one Houston does not draft. If they draft a position player then Appel as a slightly better gamble.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    It's hard to lose with either pitcher. I, too, lean Appel but as noted, that may not be what the Cubs are thinking.

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    The Athleticism, delivery, track record, and 3rd pitch pretty much solidify it for me. Appel is the choice. It's similar to the Buxton/Almora situation last year. Buxton has the better tools and standout abilities but Almora had better everything else and most expect him to be in the bigs before Buxton.

    If all things are equal i'm going with the guy most likely to make an impact at the major league level and that guy is Appel. There's still a good deal of risk with Gray, he's only got one year of this pedigree . Appel is as sure-thing as it gets in this draft.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I'm big on athleticism in pitchers because I think it's easier for them to consistently sustain command. That, and the fact that Appel is simply closer to the majors make me lean Appel over what may be a slightly higher ceiling for Gray.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm still waiting for Almora to make an appearance in the minors this year.

  • Man this is like choosing which kid is your favorite LOL. I will take either one, but I like Gray better because he has less mileage on his arm( Appel just reminds me too much of Mark Prior)

  • In reply to Paris:

    Haha. Its a good position to be in. Would really be sweating it out if the Cubs had the 3rd pick this year.

  • I'd be more upset if they are in fact leaking which direction/player they want to go.....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I think that part of is just speculation on the source's part. Could be a leak, a planted leak...who knows what to believe during draft time?

    If you're Houston, you should filter out this noise and just pick the guy you want most.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I assume it's "planted". I think most would agree that Theo/Jed are among the smartest in the game. Smart people don't advertise to competitors what they're really going to do in a draft.

    After the trade fiasco's we experienced last year, I suspect they are even more sensitive to unintentional "leaks", hence my original comment.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Unless they think Houston knows they are going to plant a rumor, and...

    It's a battle of wits..

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    And both elbows are to fall off. But Theo has spent the past few years building up an immunity to Tommy John surgeries.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:


  • All things appearing very equal, I would pick Gray so as not having to deal with Scott Boras. He has played too many games over the years, and the Cubs don't need a lengthy holdout.

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    In reply to Bucky:

    Boras represented Almora last year....Didn't turn out too bad. And Theo n Co have been said to have a good working relationship with Boras, or at least better than than the White Sox(swore never to sign any of his players again)

  • In reply to Bucky:

    I can't agree. I think you always take the guy you like better.

    Another thing to consider, Gray's agent is a former employee of the Boras corporation -- so that may not be a whole lot easier anyway.

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    Right now, I'll be happy with Appel, Gray or Bryant. I'm just hoping we can suck bad enough to get a chance to draft Carlos Rodon in 2014.

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    In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Out of curiosity, just how good is this Rodon guy? I hear people talk about him as if he's going #1 in this years draft. Is he better than Appel or Gray? Are we talking about a Strasburg, Harper level prospect? I havn't seen him at all.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    He's still missing a lot of bats -- 95 strikeouts in 60.1 innings pitched. But his star has dimmed a bit. He's also walked 27 and given up 45 hits. At this point, if he were in this year's draft, I think he'd go third. But he still has a year to put together an Appel type season, and the swing and miss stuff is absolutely there.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Stuff wise think CC Sabathia on Rodon although Rodon has worked really hard on conditioning and is said to have the leg drive and strength of a bull. Another top arm is Tyler Beede Vandy . Rodon hasnt put up the same results as last year tho his k/ bb rate is similar .

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    In reply to Bryan Craven:

    Beede is the one I don't get. Looking at his strikeout/walk totals, he doesn't appear to be anything special. But the numbers are pretty good. Is this a case of the whole adding up to more than the sum of its parts?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Beede just flat out knows how to pitch , stuff not near Rodons but very advanced pitchability , Probably a 2nd starter type

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I'm not sure he's any better than Appel or Gray right now. His command is not as sharp as either (27 walks in 60 innings). He can really miss bats, though (95 strikeouts).

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Short of injury or disaster, he's a sure fire #1. Big guy with great stuff.

  • Wow, good article John... What a hard decision... These guys are as close as I can imagine... They definitely look like 1-2...

    I also think the fact that Appel is a Houston native will play a huge role in the draft.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Thanks, and maybe -- but I can say that Appel has no intention of giving a hometown discount.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Well yeah, it's hard to think Boras will negotiate like that... I think the #1 overall could easily go one way or the other.

  • In reply to Caps:

    I agree.

  • Where is Gerardo Concepcion these days?

  • In reply to vincenlou:

    I think he's in Ext ST with limited activity after a bout with mono.

  • Last year everybody thought I wanted the Cubs to lose to get a
    better draft pick. That was not the case. 2nd looks better than 3rd.
    This year I hope they turn things around for Theo and the fans.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    It looks like it's going to work out this year.

  • Who do people speculate Houston will take? Or is it basically all over the map?

    If they go the signability route again, I'd imagine one of the high school OF's?

  • In reply to MrBillySir:

    It is a tough one to call. Houston went slightly off the board last year with Correa because he signed for so much less. That could happen again this year if they decide to go with someone like Bryant or Frazier.

    I think they do take one of the college arms, though.

  • I lean appel but im really hoping Houston makes the choice for us, it looks like were in a win win situation right now.

    I'm hoping the cubs can snag Overton as well, I don't think hes having the best year but I like the potential

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    Ha! That way I guess the Cubs won't have to regret taking the wrong one ;)

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    I like Overton but he most likely has the ceiling of a #3 but more likely a 4 or 5.

  • fb_avatar

    I would take Gray because of the lower mileage on his arm and that little extra velocity.

  • In reply to Zachary Myers:

    I would have to say that those are the 2 major arguments to take Gray.

  • so this means the cubs are taking meadows or bryant. theo and jed arent ones to tip their hand.

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    Haha! I don't think they need to blow that much smoke. They do have the second pick after all, and those 2 are the highest ranked in this draft.

  • Lets think out of the box on Gray for a minute here.

    The Cubs have Samardzija, EJax, Villanueva, and hopefully Vizcaino. That is a pretty solid front 4 with some others that could fill in the rotation.

    Seeing that Gray throws so hard and has also mastered only 2 pitches at this point, and you look at the fact there doesn't seem to be anyone coming up from the Minors that could close, could the Cubs be looking at Gray to be someone like Aroldis Chapman and be the closer in 2014?

    I know you don't necessarily like to use the #2 pick for a closer, but it certainly has proven to be an issue for this team the last two years.

    Just a thought....

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    I think Vizcaino's durability issues make him far more likely than Gray to be the closer.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    His change up isn't terrible. It needs some would but could be an above average pitch with work.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    Agreed. In fact, I heard it's pretty close to being average already -- maybe fringe average. Shouldn't be too big a leap for that to be a solid pitch for him at MLB level.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    You wouldn't use the #2 pick for a closer, but it comes into play when you're looking at a player's floor. That said, if the Cubs pick Gray, he's going to be a starter until he absolutely proves he can't.

  • Covering the amateur ranks like I do I find myself in a position that I normally don't. I am torn I look at Appel and see a front of the rotation starter. But something in my gut tells me to not be so high on him. I am not saying he won't be a front end starter. I am a big Gray fan missed him live but my business partner saw him and loved him. I still think Bryant is still a possibility and believe he should be. That's my 2cents

  • In reply to KGallo:

    Whatever direction, it's a great position to be in for this particular draft. I lean pitcher but I would want one of those 3 guys more than any other and the Cubs are assured of having their pick of two of them.

  • fb_avatar

    Gray and Appel are so close stuff wise, I wonder if it comes down to which agent Hoyer would rather deal with. The last thing they need is to have this pick be wasted by an agent like boras that plays such hardball that they walk away empty handed.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    I don't believe the Cubs would let signability affect their choice, though that may be a legit factor with the Astros, who are always looking to sign overslot players lower in the draft.

  • Fresh arm I think is just one of the reasons why the Cubs would be learn toward Gray. The other is Appel's agent Scott Boras.

    I was quite surprised the other day when I read that Appel has been throwing 120+ per start. Nothing like burning out an arm doing that at such a young age. Appel is destine to end up with arm surgery in the not too distant future at those pitch counts.

  • In reply to JeffK:

    Appel's pitch count this season (not counting 5ip first game):

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    They have done a better job of monitoring that his year. Last year they let a couple of games get away from them as far as pitch count -- but he does seem fine.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Gray has also started twice the number of games as Appel this year.
    If I had time right now, I'd compare Gray's pitch counts/innings this yr versus Appel's last year.

  • I have read and remember KLaw saying whoever drafts Appel should be able to have him pitch in the majors this year, but how long would it take for Gray? If the Cubs want to at least pretend to compete next year, adding a starter with upside would be a big help.

  • In reply to DoubleM:

    I think Gray is a bit further away as a starter until he refines his changeup.

    I think IF Cubs were to pick Appel and promote him, they'll put him in relief (to cut down innings) and as part of a wink-wink deal to circumvent the ban against MLB deals. Promoting would put him on the 40 man roster and start his clock sooner.

  • Something else to consider: with Gray being a Junior, he has decent leverage wrt a team making an offer. There isn't anything keeping him from going back to college another year.
    Except that dump truck loaded with cash, that is...

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    Ha! That dump truck can be tough to ignore.

    Appel is supposedly already wealthy (well, his family is), so maybe easier for him to pass on that truck.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Perhaps, but stiffing two prom dates in a row won't do him any favors at the next fancy dance.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, excellent article as usual!

    From either a baseball perspective or monetarily, I can't see what Appel has gained by going back to college for another year. He has lost a year of development/competition at the MLB level. It is hard to see that he will land on a better baseball team than the Pirates this time around. The CBA being what it is there is no way to regain the money that he lost over this year even if he gets a little higher offer this time around.

    It is hard to imagine Gray not learning from Appel's experience.

  • fb_avatar

    I've heard about Appel being near ready as soon as this year. I was wondering what you guys have heard scouts thing Gray's ETA is? Similar to Appel's or?

  • fb_avatar

    John, do you or anyone else know what the situation is for a fact if Appel were to decide not to sign? Does he go back into the draft a 3rd straight year or would he become an unrestricted free agent (like in hockey). Since he would have no college eligibility left he would have to go play in Independent ball or some such thing to stay sharp. I remember J.D. Drew doing that, but I don't think he refused to sign 2 years in a row, just the one with the Phillies. Has the new CBA changed how this works for repeat offenders, just borrow a term.

  • I wonder how much input Derek Johnson has during this process? I wonder what DJ is up to, if he's got some pet projects or even where he's at these days?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I would think he's in Ext ST or maybe just toggling between minor league affiliates.

  • I believe Appel goes to the Cubs because Houston doesn't want to deal with Boras and will take Gray!

  • fb_avatar

    Which pitcher to take... its like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg.. difficult question John. I think I would still take Appel. Sure there is some risk of higher mileage on his arm, but how many other great pitchers out there have had a similar number of innings in college and gone on to succeed (It could be very few, I really don't know). They're very similar pitchers. Gray is a few MPH faster but that doesn't mean success. I like Appel's proven track record. You know what you are going to get. My biggest fear with Gray is that he has a great year, gets drafted, makes a bunch of money, and then regresses. It isn't likely that this is a fluke year, but it is the only year that he has had numbers this good. What is to say he can keep it up? That said, if the Astros take Appel, I think you still have to take Gray at 2. But I like Appel just a little better.

  • I like Appel. He's pitched like an ace without ever having had the luxury of flying under the radar. So I'd like to think he has mental toughness to take on the Billy Goat...

  • How would you compare Apple or Gray to Samarj today?

  • How do you compare Gray Or Apple to Smarja?

  • fb_avatar

    I'm also in the camp if preventing Gray due to less mileage, and although its technically only a couple mph better, there's just something about a pitcher that can reach back for 100mph.

    And maybe this is just me, but Appel being ready to start right away doesn't actually sound beneficial. We're bad this year and we'll not be great next year. While I don't want to wait forever, this isn't a team that would benefit much from a guy that's THEORETICALLY ready to start.

    And theoretically being the operative word. I don't buy that Theo and Jed would be OK with drafting a pitcher and not making him earn a promotion to the show.
    I realize that their policies on batters doesn't necessarily mirror the policy for pitchers, but a FO that wants batters to have 2000 ABs including 500 at AAA doesn't strike me as the type that would give a pitcher a free pass.

  • What do you do if Sean Manea heats up as the weather heats up and he is throwing like he did last year? Does he enter into the equation?

  • In reply to John57:

    Yep. I think he has to as TOR lefties are anything but a dime-a-dozen.

  • Back to the subject of leaks - I guess I'm missing something or not understanding something. Why would Houston care what the Cubs want with the 2nd pick unless they value Theo/Jud's thinking more than their own? So why would a leak make any difference to anyone?

  • In reply to cubs1969:

    Jed's, not Jud's...LOL!

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