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Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray's strong performance in the Big 12 conference tournament increased the likelihood that the Astros will pick him No. 1 overall, ESPN.com's Christopher Crawford writes (Insider-only). Crawford also quotes a scout who says that Indiana State's Sean Manaea — thought to be a top pick before the season — is "not a first-round prospect to me," and suggests Manaea may be best served by not signing and returning to school. Manaea was pulled from a recent start with shoulder tightness. Crawford's piece also contains details about Mark Appel and many of this draft class' top hitters. Here are more notes on the draft.
- Indiana high-schooler Trey Ball tops the list of two-way players available in this year's draft, Baseball America's Jim Callis says. Teams now prefer Ball as a pitcher, and it looks likely he'll be selected in the first 10 picks or so. Another two-way player is Cal State-Fullerton's Michael Lorenzen, who will be drafted as a center fielder, Callis says.
- If the Twins wish to avoid Scott Boras with the No. 4 overall pick in the upcoming draft, their best bets are high school pitcher Kohl Stewart or high school catcher Reese McGuire, ESPN1500's Darren Wolfson tweets. Stewart is being advised by Derek Braunecker and McGuire by Matt Sosnick, Wolfson says.
Matt Garza made his second start since being activated from the disabled list, but it didn't go as well as his five shutout innings in his season debut last Tuesday versus the Pirates. Garza, number eight on MLBTR's 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, needed 92 pitches (52 for strikes) to cover four innings against the Reds. The right-hander struck out seven but allowed four runs on four hits with four walks (one intentional), one HBP, and a wild pitch. Garza received a no-decision as the Cubs rallied for a 5-4 victory in 10 innings snapping their six-game losing streak. In other North Side news:
- The present for the Cubs has fallen into the abyss and the future is flush with questions, opines Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Sullivan points to no hints ownership will increase payroll and a farm system which remains bereft of pitching talent at the upper levels and that would-be stars such as outfielder Brett Jackson and third baseman Josh Vitters have yet to pan out.
- Within the same piece, Sullivan writes there's no chance manager Dale Sveum will be fired, as team President Theo Epstein believes the coaching staff has done a "fine" job.
- The Cubs will have the second overall selection in the June 6 amateur draft, but Epstein warns not to pin the hopes of the franchise on that player. "There are some promising players on the way, but we have a lot of work to do," Epstein told Sullivan. "The No. 2 pick is a great opportunity, but one player by himself cannot make a system."
- The Cubs are eyeing pitchers Jonathan Gray of Oklahoma and Mark Appel of Stanford and third basemen Kris Bryant of San Diego and Colin Moran of North Carolina with that pick, reports MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. Manager Dale Sveum has been watching video of the quartet and provides Muskat with a brief scouting report on each.
- With the Crosstown Classic against the White Sox beginning tomorrow, former South Side manager Ozzie Guillen said recently he would be willing to be a coach for the Cubs. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times tweeted Sveum's response, "I don't have no openings on my staff."
Kevin Gausman, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 draft, made his Major League debut for the Orioles last night. In a poll on Wednesday, roughly 39 percent of MLBTR readers agreed that Michael Wacha of the Cardinals would be the next first-round pick from last year's draft to make the leap to the big leagues. There are less than two weeks until the 2013 draft, and we'll keep track of today's draft-related news here…
- The first mock draft from Jim Callis of Baseball America had the Astros taking Mark Appel No. 1 overall, but his newest version has the Astros taking Jonathan Gray. That leaves Appel to go to the Cubs at No. 2, but it's not clear right now who the Cubs would take between the two pitchers if Houston winds up taking a hitter instead.
- Callis views Sean Manaea as a complete wild card in this year's draft (Twitter link). He likens the Indiana State lefty to Lucas Giolito, who the Nationals drafted 16th overall last year. Like Giolito, Manaea was once considered a possible No. 1 overall selection, but injuries have caused his stock to fall and it's highly difficult to predict where he'll land.
- Prep catcher Reese McGuire will have to make a tough choice between attending college and going pro, but he's eager for the draft nonetheless, writes MLB.com's Doug Miller. While McGuire has a great opportunity to play ball at the University of San Diego, he might not be able to resist the pull of the majors if goes as high as he is projected to. MLB.com currently has the catcher going No. 11 to the Mets.
- McGuire isn't the only high school catcher who is drawing interest from clubs at the top of the draft, writes Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com. Behind him are Jon Denney from Oklahoma and South Carolina's Nick Ciuffo.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo was asked on Twitter where high school outfielder Clint Frazier, whom many expect to go in the Top 10 of the MLB Draft, ranks in comparison to high school talents from previous drafts. Mayo notes that it's hard to ignore hindsight and view players in the same light as he did when they were amateurs, but he ranked Frazier as the eighth-best talent among 36 high school hitters selected in the first round dating back to 2009. Here's more on the draft…
- The Astros have six players on their draft board but Frazier looks to be edging out Austin Meadows, leaving them with Frazier, Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray, Kris Bryant and Colin Moran, according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. Bryant and Frazier are seen as dark horses if the team decides Appel and Gray aren't worth the money they're asking. Should Scott Boras and Appel highball the Astros, money will become an issue. Smith notes that it's very close between Appel and Gray, adding that Gray has ties to the Astros and is open to negotiating (All links to Smith's Twitter account).
- Cubs president Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, top scouting/player development executive Jason McLeod and amateur scouting director Jaron Madison are currently in Oklahoma City to meet with Gray, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. The Cubs are still expected to take either Gray or Appel at No. 2 overall.
- Bill Kiser of MLB.com profiles prep right-hander Hunter Harvey, whose stock has risen enough that he's considered a likely first-rounder. Harvey is the son of former MLB closer Bryan Harvey, who saved an AL-best 46 saves in 1991 and made two All-Star teams. The younger Harvey has a 0.38 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 54 2/3 high school innings this season. Harvey, whose fastball sits in the mid-90s and has touched 97, also features a solid curveball. Mayo had him going 25th to the Giants in his mock draft, while John Sickels of Minorleagueball.com has him going 30th to the Rangers and ESPN's Keith Law (Insider req'd) has him at No. 24 to the Athletics.
The Astros, Cubs, and Rockies have the first three picks in the 2013 amateur draft, which takes place Thursday, June 6th. Draft gurus expect college righties Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray and college third baseman Kris Bryant to go within those first three picks, though the order seems tough to pin down at this point. The latest on the draft:
- Conor Glassey of Baseball America takes a look at the age spectrum among this year's BA Top 250 by splitting the list into high school and college players and examining the youngest and oldest in each group.
- Baseball America's Jim Callis asked four "top-level scouting executives" whether they preferred Appel or Gray. Three of them chose Appel, though it was interesting to hear that two of them questioned his makeup.
- MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo talked to Nevada righty Braden Shipley, a converted shortstop. ESPN's Keith Law ranks Shipley the No. 6 talent in the draft, and predicted the Marlins will indeed take him in that sixth spot. Baseball America ranks him eighth, and predicted he'd go fifth to the Indians. Mayo went with eighth to the Royals.
- Mayo also writes that Shipley has elevated his stock thanks to consistent performance this season, while Indiana State lefty Sean Manaea and Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek have seen their stocks fall. Manaea has been bothered by a hip issue that has led to diminished results, while Stanek has had an up-and-down season as well. A scouting director told Mayo that he thinks Stanek will be the third pitcher selected in the draft. The upcoming conference tournaments will serve as a showcase for these college arms to gain some last-minute draft helium.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.
In a recent two-part series for 1500 ESPN, Phil Mackey profiled Twins top prospect Byron Buxton and noted that Buxton's path to the Majors could be on a more accelerated timetable than most people think. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Buxton has obliterated Class-A Cedar Rapids similarly to Mike Trout, who played there two years ago when Cedar Rapids was an Angels affiliate. Buxton is hitting .368/.485/.632 with five homers and 13 steals in 29 games for the Kernels. Mackey adds that the Twins, who typically move prospects slowly, have been aggressive in the past with the likes of Joe Mauer, David Ortiz and Matt Garza. Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks are two current Twins who skipped Triple-A. In addition to that group, Oswaldo Arcia received only 10 games at Triple-A this season before being called up at the age of 21. Here's more on the Twins from Mackey's colleague, Darren Wolfson…
- Wolfson talked with Twins VP of player personnel Mike Radcliff about the upcoming draft, and Radcliff conceded that they're down to about four players they're eyeing with the No. 4 overall pick. Radcliff added that the Twins are likely to draft at a position of need, but that they still need to take the best player available at that position. That seemingly clashes with yesterday's report that they may cut a deal with prep catcher Reese McGuire and spend more heavily later in the draft.
- It's no surprise that two of the four players on the Twins list are Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray, although as the favorites to go No. 1 and No. 2 overall, neither college right-hander may be there.
- The Twins have had eight scouts evaluate Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier, and there's a 50/50 split amongst those scouts on which is the better prospect.
- Radcliff says the Twins aren't worried about dealing with Scott Boras if they select one of his advisees: "…he tells us what the deal is. We'll know (what it'll take to sign the player)."
- Radcliff praised San Diego third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant's versatility and power and also noted that Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea's injury battles this Spring "has to be a factor." Both have been considered Top 5 talents, though Manaea's stock has fallen, as Radcliff noted.
- When Wolfson mentioned comparisons between Buxton and B.J. Upton, Radcliff replied that he feels Buxton will be "a way better hitter" than Upton and added: "Upton is a nice player, a plus defender. … But Buxton has a swing that will allow him to hit for average. It's the fastest, quickest, most direct swing you'll see."
- Top prospect Kyle Gibson seems close to Major League ready following Tommy John surgery in late 2011, but Radcliff said Gibson is not quite ready to join the Major League rotation yet. Gibson, whose last start was an eight-strikeout shutout, is still a bit "uneven," according to Radcliff.
The Cubs are 12-20 on the season, good for the second-worst record in the National League. On the plus side, four of their five starting pitchers have performed well, and the team has shown surprising power in the early going. The latest on the North Siders:
- Scott Feldman is a name to keep in mind leading up to the trade deadline and in free agency after the season, writes ESPN's Buster Olney, after the 30-year-old pitched seven strong innings to defeat his former Rangers teammates last night. Feldman has a 2.70 ERA through his first six starts, but should his peripheral stats remain steady, SIERA suggests something around 4.30 would be a better bet moving forward.
- The Cubs have not missed a start from college righties Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray, but they have expanded their search beyond those two, GM Jed Hoyer told Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM yesterday. The Cubs draft second overall next month, and despite Hoyer's lip service, they're widely expected to take Appel or Gray after the Astros pick.
- Asked by reporters why reliever Carlos Marmol continues to get chances, Hoyer instead offered that Marmol has been "ridden hard by a number of managers here" as an explanation for the former closer's struggles (via Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com). Given his $9.8MM guaranteed salary, the Cubs are presumably reluctant to release Marmol.
- Asked whether $52MM man Edwin Jackson is a candidate for the bullpen when Matt Garza returns, Hoyer ducked the question, noting that surplus starting pitching "always seems to take care of itself and we're a ways away from having to deal with that kind of issue." Rogers feels that allowing Jackson to stay in the rotation due to his contract, at the expense of a better-performing starter, sends a poor message to the team. I wonder, though, what kind of message would be sent to future free agents if the Cubs make a large four-year commitment to a pitcher and demote him to the bullpen after fewer than ten starts. Regarding Hoyer's comment, the Cubs are really only two healthy weeks away from having to deal with the rotation surplus, as Garza should be ready to return after two more rehab starts.
- "An apparent lack of commitment" is behind Ian Stewart taking his allowed 72 hours to report to the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa team on his optional assignment, since Stewart had already been playing with the club on his rehab assignment, opines Rogers. Stewart, earning $2MM this year, recently finished rehabbing a left quad injury. UPDATE: Stewart did report back with Iowa yesterday, tweets Rogers.
- Padres third baseman Chase Headley "would be perfect for the Cubs," suggests Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The Cubs have three premium position player prospects in Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler, and for me it's difficult to picture a Headley trade without one of them and equally difficult to imagine Hoyer and Theo Epstein parting with one during a non-contending season.
The Astros enter Wednesday tied for eighth in terms of runs scored in the American League, but their pitching has been far and away the worst in baseball thus far (5.42 ERA). Here's more on Houston's team in its first year as a member of the American League…
- Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray are the consensus top two prospects in the 2013 Draft, but Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that there are no guarantees Houston will select either right-hander. Heyman notes that the Astros like the "2 for 1" method they employed last year when they signed Carlos Correa to a below-slot bonus and re-allocated the funds to add high-priced talent with their later picks.
- Manager Bo Porter told Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle that the team isn't afraid to make changes if there aren't improvements in the near future: “We won’t (continue). It’s either these guys are going to get it done, or we’re going to find five that will get it done,” Porter told Smith in regards to Philip Humber, Erik Bedard and Brad Peacock.
- Within that same piece, Smith notes that the tandem starter experiment for the Astros has been discontinued at the Triple-A level.
- The Astros' offseason plan to make risk-reward additions like Bedard and Humber made sense at the time, writes MLB.com's Matthew Leach, but it's started to "look pretty ugly." Leach notes that the team can't punt the season entirely, as losses where they're out of the game before they knew what hit will be a mental grind on the young players.
Major League Baseball's draft is still about six weeks away, but Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that the Cubs are likely to draft either Stanford right-hander Mark Appel or Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray with the No. 2 overall pick. Wittenmyer spoke about the draft to multiple team sources, including manager Dale Sveum who told him:
"Obviously, the two big boys, Appel and Gray, if those guys keep the velocity where it is and everything’s going good, I think it’s hard not to take one of them guys."
Appel and Gray are widely considered to be the top two pitching prospects in this year's draft, but other names such as high school outfielders Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier, as well as San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant and Indiana State lefty Sean Manaea have garnered attention as potential Top 5 selections.
The Cubs will have a bonus pool of roughly $10.6MM, Wittenmyer notes, with around $6MM allocated to the No. 2 overall slot. There has been some question as to what it will take to sign Appel, a Scott Boras client, after he fell to the Pirates at No. 8 last year but refused to sign for their $3.8MM offer.
If the report holds true, this would mark the first time the Cubs have selected a pitcher in the Top 10 since Mark Prior back in 2001. Since that time, the Cubs have had a Top 10 selection on four other occasions. Those picks were used on high school outfielder Ryan Harvey (sixth overall in 2003), high school third baseman Josh Vitters (third overall in 2007), high school shortstop Javier Baez (ninth in 2011) and high school outfielder Albert Almora (sixth overall in 2012).
ESPN's Buster Olney relays (via Twitter) a stat from the Elias Sports Bureau, noting that the Astros have received just 15 1/3 innings from their starters over the past six games — tied for fewest in a six game span in the past 35 years. Offseason acquisition Brad Peacock will look to turn that trend around tonight when he faces a struggling Mariners offense. Here's more on the Astros in their first year in the American League…
- General manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters, including MLB.com's Brian McTaggart, that the team's bullpen can't take much more of the past week's trends: "We can't take too many more hits before we have to go out and make some moves."
- Luhnow has no plans to trade Bud Norris anytime soon, reports McTaggart. Luhnow told McTaggart that Norris is a "critical part of the team" and noted that the constant rumors are unfortunate for all parties involved. Norris hasn't been on the trading block for quite some time, according to Luhnow.
- Luhnow also said that Erik Bedard is basically "going through the finishing touches of Spring Training" (Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle reporting via Sulia). The Astros have limited Bedard to four innings per appearance thus far, which has contributed to the aforementioned 15 1/3 innings stat.
- McTaggart reports that the Astros have sent Roger Clemens out to scout potential No. 1 overall draft picks (Twitter link). The Astros seem to be focused on college players, as McTaggart goes on to list right-hander Mark Appel (Stanford), right-hander Jonathan Gray (Oklahoma), left-hander Sean Manaea (Indiana State) and third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant (San Diego) as players of interest.