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Cubs plan to use No. 2 pick on Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray

MIAMI — Baseball’s amateur draft is six weeks away, but the pitching-hungry Cubs already have narrowed their focus for the No. 2 overall pick to the top two college pitchers in the draft: Stanford’s Mark Appel and Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray.

Team sources have said for weeks that they expect one of those power pitchers will be the Cubs’ selection — possibly coming down to whichever one isn’t selected by the Houston Astros with the No. 1 pick.

Manager Dale Sveum confirmed as much Thursday when talking about the film he has watched of the Cubs’ top 10 candidates for that pick and his conversations with the front office.

‘‘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,’’ Sveum said.

It would be the second time the Cubs have drafted a pitcher that high, having also selected Mark Prior at No. 2 in 2001.

Appel, a senior represented by tough negotiator Scott Boras, was considered the top pitcher in last year’s draft but refused to sign after falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 8, turning down a $3.8 million offer.

New, strict bonus-pool limitations for teams give the Cubs about $10.6 million to sign this year’s draft picks before overspending penalties kick in, with more than $6 million allotted to the first-round pick.

The 6-5 Appel has a mid-90s fastball, slider and changeup. The 6-4, 245-pound Gray, who has been drafted in the 13th and 10th rounds previously, has hit triple digits with his fastball and throws a good slider.

Bench for Stewart?

Sveum said he’s making no guarantees that Ian Stewart (quadriceps) will be the starting third baseman when he returns from the disabled list, presumably sometime in the next week or so.

‘‘He’s got to earn it,’’ said Sveum, who called third base fill-in Luis Valbuena ‘‘one of our most consistent players right now. So it’s going to be very difficult to move [him] out of a spot.’’

Stewart was 2-for-24 (.083) in his minor-league rehab stint at Class AAA Iowa entering play Thursday.

Garza improving

Matt Garza (strained latissimus dorsi), whose minor-league rehab start this week was scratched because of arm soreness, is improving, Sveum said, and is expected to resume throwing by Saturday, with a rescheduled rehab start possibly coming by the end of next week.

‘‘It sounds like it’s just soreness, just normal stuff,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘Hopefully that continues.’’



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