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Cubs’ No. 2 pick may be most important in more than decade

FILE - This May 11 2012 file phoshows Stanford pitcher Mark Appel throwing during an NCAA college baseball game Stanford

FILE - This May 11, 2012 file photo shows Stanford pitcher Mark Appel throwing during an NCAA college baseball game at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. The Houston Astros have the No. 1 pick in the baseball draft, Monday night June 4, 2012 in Secaucus, N.J. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

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Updated: July 7, 2013 1:03PM



ANAHEIM, Calif. — The best pitcher in the organization, the biggest impact arm, the most accomplished guy on the staff, faced down a $472 million lineup into the seventh inning Wednesday to outperform the Los Angeles Angels on the road.

Matt Garza wasn’t involved in the decision, however, as the Cubs beat the Angels 8-6 in 10 innings. Anthony Rizzo hit a three-run double in the 10th.

But in the process, Garza reminded anyone following the Cubs the last 18 months why the team’s No. 2 overall pick in Thursday’s draft might be the franchise’s most important selection in a decade or more.

Depending on what team honcho you talk to on what day, the Cubs are mulling one of the top pitchers in the draft — Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray and Stanford’s Mark Appel — or University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant for their top pick. North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran also has been thrown in as a fourth lower-cost possibility.

What’s clear is they must get this pick right if the organizational overhaul is going to progress beyond a snail’s pace into its third season next year.

“You just want the guy to be an impact player,” said manager Dale Sveum, who has filed his reports on the top four considerations for the first pick and hasn’t heard much back from the hunkered-down front office in the last week or so.

“Nothing’s guaranteed, we all know that.”

Nothing except this:

If the Cubs plan to contend before Theo Epstein’s five-year contract runs out, they need young, impact starting pitching.

And they’re not likely to find it anywhere else, any time soon.

And outside of budding ace Jeff Samardzija, elbow-challenged righty Arodys Vizcaino and possibly 2012 supplemental first-rounder Pierce Johnson, they don’t have it in stock.

Even Garza is more likely to be gone by the July 31 trading deadline than in a Cubs uniform next year.

With players getting locked up to long-term contracts earlier in their careers than ever before, those players aren’t reaching the free-agent market. Teams aren’t trading them away. And the Cubs’ debt-burdened ownership isn’t allowing aggressive, big-market bidding for international pitchers (the Cubs’ bids for Yu Darvish and Hyun-Jin Ryu getting swamped by the competition).

That makes the must-have of the draft for the Cubs either:

† Gray, who has the more powerful fastball but comes with recent revelations of a positive Adderall test (more a judgment concern than a performance-enhancing issue) and a late-developing commitment to conditioning;

† Or Appel, the more polished power pitcher who has the rare distinction of entering a second straight draft as the top-rated pitcher after having turned down $3.8 million from the Pittsburgh Pirates following last year’s No. 8 overall selection. The Cubs have $6.7 million allotted by MLB for their top pick (out of a $10.6 million top-10 budget).

“Gray’s the guy that improved a lot since last year and has a huge fastball,” said Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, who watched video of both for the front office. “I think both could have fairly quick impacts. The overall consensus is Appel’s probably closer because he has more innings. Appel’s been in that limelight, the Friday Night Special guy. He’s been on that big stage, big spot.”

Until recently, sources said to expect the Cubs to take whichever pitcher the Houston Astros didn’t take with the No. 1 overall pick.

That changed some with Houston considering Moran as a way to get a guy for a below-slot bonus and spread their overall bonus budget across more potential impact players deeper in the draft.

Along the way, Bryant has raised his stature with 31 homers in 62 games for San Diego but figures to come at no discount with Scott Boras as his adviser (same as Appel).

What hasn’t changed is the Cubs’ greatest need by far in the organization — best filled Thursday by Gray or Appel.

“I’ll take both,” Bosio said.



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