The easiest thing for the Cubs to do would have been to let the Astros make their pick for them. But it's a disappointing night at the theater when easy stands in for best, and President Theo Epstein's stable of scouts doesn't work 20-hour days to go through the motions at show time.
Assuming the Astros played it straight and took Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray in the draft, no one would have flinched if the Cubs then settled for leftovers. Both of the college pitchers could grow into big-league aces and, with apologies to Jeff Samardzija, the Cubs need an ace to build around.
Once the Astros took Stanford's Appel in the coveted 1-1 slot, it would have been so easy for the Cubs to take Gray 1-2. But, as I wrote 10 days ago, that wouldn't have been the right move.
They got it right in taking University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, the best hitter in the draft.
Bryant, who is expected to be advised by Scott Boras, probably made himself a cool $1 million when he went to the Cubs rather than the Rockies, who made Gray the third pick. But the bigger issue is that Team Theo added a guy to hit next to Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler in 2015 and maybe, in that perfect world that seems so distant to Chicago baseball fans at the moment, in 2025.
John Hart, the primary architect of the Indians teams from the Manny Ramirez/Albert Belle/Jim Thome/Kenny Lofton era, is among those who believes Gray presented a much bigger risk than Bryant, who led the nation with 31 home runs in 66 games for the Toreros. He called Bryant "probably the safest pick in this draft.''
Jim Bowden, who was the Nationals' general manager when they drafted third baseman Ryan Zimmerman from the University of Virginia, believes the Astros should have taken Bryant first overall rather than risk the attrition that comes with pitching prospects.
It took Zimmerman 67 minor league games to get to the big leagues. Bowden says Bryant "is a better hitter at the same stage with significantly more power,'' and believes he could hold his own with the Cubs as early as September.
Here's Bowden's scouting report from ESPN.com: "His elite plus power is foul pole to foul pole with consistent sweet-spot contact. He can turn on the inside 95-97 mph fastball, and he is able to take the down-and-away breaking ball to the opposite field. He has an above-average arm, and I think he'll be able to stay at third base. … He has tremendous makeup, is a student of the game and has the ability to adjust and learn quickly.''
You wonder if the Cubs would have taken Bryant if Appel still had been available. Jason McLeod, their vice president for scouting and player development, said Thursday night that they had been focused on Bryant as their guy for the last couple of weeks.
I believe him when he says the Cubs weren't scared away from taking Gray because of his positive test for Adderall in a pre-draft screening. But I think they rated Appel ahead of Gray because of Appel's polish and consistent success — Gray's triple-digit fastball emerged this season and could disappear by next year — and it would have been an agonizing process to choose between Appel and Bryant.
Astros GM/scouting wizard Jeff Luhnow spared them a lot of angst when he took Appel rather than saving money so they also could take Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea or another sliding talent in later rounds. It was the right thing for the Astros to do — Appel was the real deal a year ago, when he slid to eighth overall, and he certainly is after a strong senior year at Stanford – and it made it easier for the Cubs to take Bryant.
Anderson, like 2012 first-rounder Courtney Hawkins, is the type of athlete the Sox were drawn to when Ron Schueler was running the show. They often seemed to draft by need when Ken Williams was trying to operate within Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's tight budgets but it's a different draft now with spending limits.
No one would have blamed the Sox for drafting a college pitcher closer to the big leagues, such as Jacksonville's Chris Anderson or Gonzaga's Marco Gonzales, who were taken with the first two picks after Anderson. But Anderson, like Hawkins, is the high-reward guy and the Cubs aren't the only team in Chicago that is trying to put together a perennial contender.