CHICAGO -- Getting ready to make an organizational decision that will have impact for years to come, the Chicago Cubs have a big choice to make on Thursday night when they pick No. 2 overall in the draft.
By now you know the players who could be available, including two stud pitchers -- Mark Appel of Stanford and Jonathan Gray of Oklahoma. Appel might be the bigger name considering he's represented by Scott Boras and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates eighth overall last year, before going back to Stanford for his senior season. By many accounts he got better.
"When he came back he was under a microscope every single time he went out (pitched)," Stanford associate head coach Dean Stotz said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "Every single time. And to perform what he did given that circumstance. You've got the ‘it' factor for me."
It's the reason Stotz believes Appel would be a "perfect" fit for the Cubs considering the attention he would garner compared to Houston, which picks No. 1, even though that's where Appel grew up.
"I think he'd be a great fit, I really do," Stotz said of Chicago. "I think he would be on a fast track."
It's hard to know if the Cubs care about Appel being on a fast track, not with a total rebuild going on within the organization. But they must like his makeup and his numbers. Appel was 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA for the Cardinal. He struck out 130 in 106 innings his senior year after turning down $3.8 million from the Pirates last summer.
"I don't know if he's a No. 1 or 2 in the big leagues but he could step in right now and not embarrass himself because he's a strike thrower with all three pitches," Stotz said.
But it's Appel's makeup that has impressed his coach as much as anything. Whether it's turning down the money to stay in school or getting better as a person and pitcher with so much scrutiny, Stotz is a believer. And, again, his situation in returning to Stanford has him battle-tested for professional ball.
"When you look at the other guys in the draft, they're not under nearly as much pressure as he was under," Stotz said. "It's like Andrew Luck returning for football.
"Stanford affiliate athletes won 12 gold medals in the Olympics. Tiger Woods was here. You learn to cope with those things. Will he do it? I don't know but he's as well prepared to do it as anyone out there."
Every player is a risk -- is Appel less of one than most?
ESPN draft guru Keith Law believes coming back for another year at college has sharpened Appel's game. Law writes:
- The aggressiveness that was lacking last year is there now, and his off-speed stuff is better, making the decision look extremely sound, as he's well-positioned to receive more than the $3.8 million he turned down from the Pirates. Appel will sit 92-97 mph frequently and has hit 99 in the past, holding his velocity deep into games and commanding the heck out of it, especially when he tries to work down in the zone.
Stotz acknowledged that the presence of Cubs president Theo Epstein and some of his top lieutenants at Appel's most recent starts -- before Stanford's season ended -- means the team is serious. We knew that already considering the lack of impact pitchers the Cubs have on the horizon. Appel would fit that bill.
Turning down the money was impressive but other athletes have done the same. Stotz has even higher praise for his former pitcher.
"If he married your daughter you'd get on your hands and knees and thank God for it," Stotz said.