2013 MLB draft: Chicago Cubs targets after the first round

Theo Epstein will be looking to load up on pitching in the 2013 draft.

With the second-overall selection in the 2013 MLB draft, it has become fairly obvious to most that only a handful of players will be considered by the Chicago Cubs. Depending on what the Houston Astros do, and honestly, most people have no idea at this point which direction the Astros will go, the players who merit being picked at the top of the draft are as follows:

Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford

Appel was drafted eighth overall by the Pirates last year but opted to go back to school for his senior season and help the Cardinal to a National Championship. The 6’-5” right-hander went 10-2 as a junior with a 2.56 ERA and 130 K/30 BB over 123 innings. He features three solid pitches: a mid-90s fastball, a swing-and-miss slider and a change-up with late fade. His 7.7 innings-per-start show the kind of stamina he possesses, and his mound presence separates him from most on this list. He is a big-game pitcher with sound mechanics, but his pitch selection can get frustrating at times. Should be no worse than a number-three starter in the majors.

Ryne Stanek, RHP, Arkansas

A lot of people have Stanek rated higher than Appel as he seems to have a higher ceiling. The 6’-4” right-hander went 7-4 as a sophomore with a 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 80 K/33 BB over 86.2 innings. His fastball can touch 97 mph and sits in the 91-94 range. His curveball sits in the low 80s and his change-up in the mid 80s with good deception. He doesn’t have the control Appel does, but his frame suggests he could add about 20 pounds, which could add even more velocity to his fastball, as well as improve his stamina. Like Appel, he has a great presence on the mound.

Sean Manaea, LHP, Indiana State

Manaea, a 6’-5” southpaw, will most likely have more eyes on him than any other player in the draft this season. After a strong performance his sophomore season, going 5-3 with a 3.34 ERA and 115 K/37 BB over 105 innings, he simply dominated the Cape Cod League. Over 52.2 innings for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, he went 5-1 with a 1.20 ERA and 87 K/7 BB. He had four double-digit strikeout games, including 15 over seven shutout innings on July 19, allowing just two hits to no walks. His fastball sat in the 93-96 mph range and his slider was filthy, sitting around 80-83 mph with hard downward action.

Austin Meadows, OF, Grayson HS (GA)

The 6’-4”, 200-pound left-hander is a five-tool player whom I have going first overall to the Astros in my latest mock draft. He is one of the youngest players in the draft and already has a major league body. He has a plus arm, exceptional bat speed and is an above-average runner. There’s much to like about his potential at the next level.

Clint Frazier, OF, Loganville HS (GA)

Frazier, along with best friend Meadows, is one of the top two prep players in the country. His bat speed is ridiculous and so is his love for the game. Often gets the Mike Trout comp for his style of play and size. He has plus speed, an arm that was recently clocked at an absurd 104 mph from the outfield and power to all fields. Even if that radar gun was off by 10 mph, his arm is still a canon. He hit .424 with 24 home runs and stole 14 bases over 118 at-bats as a junior.

Bobby Wahl, RHP, Ole Miss

The only other player I can see in the conversation for the top two picks is Wahl, a 6’-3” flamethrower who can dial his fastball up to 95 mph. He also features a low-80s slider that has true plus potential and a low-80s change-up with late fade. He went 7-4 with a 2.55 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 104 K/32 BB over 99 innings as a sophomore last season. He worked out of the pen in the 2011 Cape Cod League, going 1-1 with a 1.23 ERA and 38 K/11 BB over 22 innings, allowing just 15 hits while collecting six saves.

One of these players will almost certainly be selected by the Cubs on June 4.

Other than those six players, I just don’t see anyone else making the jump to the top of the draft, especially given the fact the Cubs are in dire need of pitching in their farm system. With position players like Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler leading the way, offense doesn’t seem to be a problem for the future on the North Side of Chicago. They also have players like Logan Watkins, Jeimer Candelario, Gioskar Amaya, Arismendy Alcantara and Marco Hernandez who are all interchangeable in the infield.

Pitching is where the cupboard starts to look empty. They do have some quality arms, particularly Arodys Vizcaino, a power righty acquired from the Braves in the offseason. He is coming off Tommy John surgery, however, and it remains to be seen if he can handle the load of being a fulltime starter at the next level. Dillon Maples, another power righty the Cubs selected in the 2011 draft, has the potential to be an ace. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and his hammer curve was one of the best in the draft. He needs to fix his control problems, however, which could stem from what some would call “funky mechanics.” Pierce Johnson, a 2012 draft pick out of Missouri State, is also a promising prospect. The 6’-3” righty is also a power arm whose lively fastball can touch 96 mph and sits in the 91-94 range. He also features a hammer curve, a developing change-up and a mid-80s cutter.

A couple of other guys with great promise are Paul Blackburn and Juan Carlos Paniagua. Blackburn was a 2012 draft pick out of Heritage HS in California, where he went 10-3 with a 0.93 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 100 K/18 BB over 83 innings as a senior. A superb command pitcher, he was shooting up draft boards heading into the draft because of his strong spring and three above-average pitches. His fastball can reach the mid 90s, and both his curve and change-up have big-time potential. He is also a great athlete, and his smooth delivery allows him to stay within the strike zone, a great sign for future success. Paniagua is a 22-year-old right-hander acquired from the Diamondbacks on August 24. He features a mid-90s fastball that has reached 98 in the past, as well as an above-average change-up and a mid-80s slider that is developing quickly. He hasn’t pitched above rookie ball, however, so we will have to wait and see how he performs against better competition to get a good read on his prospects as a starter.

As you can see, there is plenty of potential. There are also a lot of question marks, too. With pitching being a top priority to Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, I fully expect them to load up on pitchers in the 2013 draft. While this year’s draft has been deemed weak by a lot of people, there is plenty of pitching available — both at the high school and college levels. With the Cubs currently owning the 39th and 76th overall picks, here are some names who should be available at both of those selections:

39th pick

Kevin Ziomek is one of the best left-handers in the draft.

Kevin Ziomek, LHP, Vanderbilt

Ziomek, a 6’3”, 200-pound southpaw, went 5-6 with a 5.22 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and 79K/39 BB over 79.1 innings for Vandy as a sophomore. He then dominated the Cape Cod League, going 3-0 with a 1.27 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 36 K/6 BB over 28.1 innings. His fastball sits in the low 90s with late life, his change-up looks plus at times and sits in the low 80s, and his curveball is still developing but has promise. A strong junior season will likely land him in the first round, but if he is available here, the Cubs could jump at him, especially given the signing of former Vanderbilt pitching coach, Derek Johnson, as minor league pitching coordinator.

Corey Littrell, LHP, Kentucky

A 6’-3” left-hander, Littrell went 9-2 as a sophomore with a 2.74 ERA, 1.31 ERA and 87 K/25 BB over 98.2 innings for the Wildcats. In the Cape Cod League, he had 45K/11 BB over 32 innings playing for the Harwich Mariners. He features an 89-92 mph fastball that is deceptively fast and a consistent 80-82 mph change-up with nice fade, but both his slider and curveball need some refining. He also won the Rawlings Gold Glove for his position in 2012. His delivery is slow and may need some fine tuning, but if he puts it all together this season, he could be a hot name come June.

Adam Plutko, RHP, UCLA

Plutko put his name out there as one to watch after a freshman season in which he posted a 2.01 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and had 92 K/24 BB over 107.2 innings. As a sophomore, he went 12-3 with a 2.48 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 99 K/47 BB over a team-high 119.2 innings. His 6.7 innings-per-start show very good stamina, but he had some command issues that need to be addressed. The 6’-3”, 195-pound right-hander features an 88-92 mph fastball, a low-80s change that looks plus at times and an upper-70s curveball with nice tailing action. The stuff is there, he just needs to harness it and refine his pitches.

Austin Kubitza, RHP, Rice

A 6’-5”, 205-pound right-hander, Kubitza has two pitches that grade out to plus. His sinking fastball has great movement and sits in the 88-92 mph range. His slider has sharp break and is a true out-pitch. His change-up is still developing but looks to be a solid offering. He went 6-5 as a sophomore with a 2.69 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 73 K/38 BB over 80.1 innings, allowing just 60 hits. His control can get the best of him at times and, if he makes great strides in that area, he could be gone by this selection.

Derik Beauprez, RHP, Cherry Creek HS (CO)

At 6’-5” and 220 pounds, Beauprez is a right-hander with a lot of projection on the mound. Mostly a hitter throughout his high school career, he went 3-1 last season with a 2.62 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 30 K/12 BB over 24 innings. He took the mound in the state title game against Legend HS and tossed a one-hitter over seven shutout innings, striking out nine while maintaining 90+ mph on his fastball late in the game. He also has solid offspeed stuff. Still raw on the mound, a full season as a senior could open eyes and propel him into the top 40 picks.

John Simms, RHP, Rice

Simms starred for 2010 U18 Team USA, going 4-0 with a 0.96 ERA and 37 strikeouts over 28 innings. He dominated the Cape Cod League in 2011, striking out 37 batters to just six walks over 24.2 scoreless innings, allowing just nine hits and recording 10 saves in the process. As a sophomore last season, he went 6-0 with a 2.56 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 59 K/22 BB over 63.1 innings, working mostly out of the pen. The 6’-3”, 210-pound right-hander has a deceptive delivery and his best pitch is an 88-92 mph sinker. His curveball and change-up are both developing, but his curve looks to be the better offering. He will be a starter this season and, with added improvements on his pitches, should be another hot name come June.

Ben Lively, RHP, Central Florida

The 6’-4”, 210-pound right-hander went 9-2 as a sophomore with a 3.00 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 84 K/45 BB over 81 innings. He showed off his live arm during the Cape Cod League, striking out 43 over 30.1 innings, including a 15 strikeout performance on July 27 in which he only walked one over seven innings. He features a plus mid-90s fastball with late life. He also adds a curveball, slider and change-up that are all solid offerings. He has a good feel for pitching and, if he irons out some command issues this season, should be another hot name come June.

Andrew Mitchell, RHP, TCU

The 6’-3”, 225-pound right-hander went 5-3 as a sophomore with a 3.74 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 101 K/46 BB over 77 innings for the Horned Frogs. His 11.8K/9 ranked among the nation’s leaders for starters, and opponents hit just .198 against him. His fastball sits in the 90-93 range, and his curveball flashes plus potential but still needs more consistency. His change-up is a solid offering. Can get wild at times and will need to improve his control, but he has a great mental makeup and feel for the game, which bodes well for improvements.

Chris Oakley, RHP, St. Augustine Prep (NJ)

Oakley has a lot of projection due to his size. At 6’-8” and 220 pounds, the right-hander can dial up his fastball to the mid 90s. He adds a mid-70s curveball that has plus potential and also mixes in a developing split-finger fastball. He has been relying on his upper half to generate power and, once he starts using his lower half more, he could add even more velocity. He has an easy delivery that he repeats well. A strong senior season could land him in the first round.

Casey Shane, RHP, Centennial HS (TX)

Shane is a 6’-4”, 200-pound right-hander with a nasty, sinking fastball that sits in the low 90s. He also features a mid-80s change-up and low-80s curveball that both project to above-average. His mechanics need some work as his hip turn in his delivery may account for his command issues. A lot of projection due to his size and already above-average arsenal.

76th pick

Jonathan Gray, RHP, Oklahoma

A power righty who can dial up his fastball to 97 mph, Gray went 8-4 as a sophomore with a 3.16 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 104 K/42 BB over 102.2 innings for the Sooners. He also features an above-average slider and a developing change-up. He is very inconsistent with his command, but when he is on, he looks like a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Teddy Stankiewicz, RHP, Seminole State (JC)

The 6’-4” right-hander was selected by the Mets in the second-round of the 2012 draft but opted to attend junior college when negotiations broke down. He is known for his great mound presence and superb command. His fastball can touch 94 mph and he also adds three other solid offerings with his slider being the best. At 195 pounds, there is still some projection for added velocity if he adds weight.

Aaron Blair, RHP, Marshall

Blair is a 6’-5”, 220-pound right-hander who is solid across-the-board in his offerings. He features an 88-92 mph fastball with good sink, a mid-70s curveball and a mid-80s change-up. Both his curve and change-up are average to above-average pitches, and he controls all three nicely. Over 14 starts for the Herd last season, he posted a 3.98 ERA, 1.24 WHIP with 82 K/28 BB over 83.2 innings, holding opponents to a .238 batting average. He lead the Cape Cod League with a 1.05 ERA and went 8-0 with 60 K/21 BB over 51.1 innings, allowing just 34 hits. Not a whole lot of projection but a safe bet to be a mid-rotation starter at the next level.

Brandon Gilson, LHP, Prosper HS (TX)

The 6’-5”, 225-pound southpaw  has a lot of projection due to his and easy, controlled delivery. His fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range, and he also adds a mid-70s looping curveball. His change-up is still developing, and he also mixes in a cutter. A strong senior season with improvements on his velocity and secondary offerings could see him taken high in the draft.

Hunter Green, LHP, Warren East HS (KY)

Green is another left-hander with a lot of projection. At 6’-4” and 170 pounds, he already gets his fastball up to 92 mph and will add more velocity once he matures. He adds a deceptive change-up and a power curveball with nice depth. He locates his pitches well and has a good feel for his pitches.

Chris Kohler, LHP, Los Osos HS (CA)

Kohler is a 6’-3”, 195 pound southpaw who is still relatively new to the mound. His fastball can reach 90 mph, but it sits comfortable in the 86-88 range with nice sink. There is a lot of room for added velocity once he works on his mechanics and fills out more. His curveball is his best pitch, a mid-70s looper that he can locate for strikes or use as a chase pitch. His change-up has nice tailing action and sits in the upper 70s. He has a great feel for pitching and commands his pitches well.

Alex Haines, LHP, Seton Hill

Pitching for Seton Hill (not Seton Hall), a Div II school located in Pennsylvania, the 6’-4”, 215-pound southpaw went 7-2 with a 4.24 ERA and 108 strikeouts over 70 innings. He simply overpowered everyone during the New England Collegiate Baseball League, going 5-2 with a 0.90 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 54 K/6 BB over 40 innings, allowing just 24 hits. He mostly relys on his 91-94 mph fastball, but he also features an above-average change-up, as well as a developing curveball and cutter. Knows how to pitch and can locate all of his offerings.

Obviously, there are many more players who will be considered at these selections in the draft. These are just some of the guys I will be keeping an eye on and whom I think have good projections as starting pitchers at the next level.

Feel free to follow on Twitter @DanMKirby for draft updates and prospect news.

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