Gray challenging Appel for No. 1

Right-hander Jonathan Gray struck out 12 batters while walking only one against Kansas last week. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

This week's schedule was a little on the crazy side because of the Easter weekend, but there was still plenty of quality baseball to behold, including the best tournament, talent-wise, of the 2013 season. The battle for No. 1 on the board may be getting tighter, and the potential return of one of the best hitters in the class could add some much needed depth to this year's draft.

• Once again, both Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray were outstanding in their starts, with each going on Thursday because of the holiday.
Appel shut out a solid Washington State lineup, going the distance for the third time in six games with 10 strikeouts and just one walk. The Stanford right-hander did hit three batters, but gave up only four hits and threw just 110 pitches.

Gray faced a Kansas club that wasn't close to as good as the Cougar lineup Appel faced -- and that's putting it nicely -- but once again, the Sooner right-hander was close to unhittable. Gray gave up one run and two hits in his nine innings, with one walk and 12 strikeouts in a tidy 105 pitches against the Jayhawks.

Last week, the scout I talked to considered Appel to be the best player in the draft. This week, I got a different response.

"I like Appel, but at this point, Gray would be (first) on my board," an AL scout said. "I'll take the triple-digit fastball and the wipeout slider any day of the week. There have been times that I've heard Mark was just a little too fastball heavy without elite command. I don't hear that about Gray very often, I think he's going to be a star."

This is one of the first reports I've heard of a scout preferring Gray to Appel, but don't be surprised if this battle tightens as we get closer to June.

• While Gray and Appel continue to rise up draft boards, Sean Manaea continues to slip. The Indiana State left-hander was less than dominant in his start Friday against Missouri State, giving up three runs (two earned) in his 7 1/3 innings, giving up six hits and three walks, and striking out just five. The Sycamore's defense has let him down all year, but the southpaw hasn't looked like a potential top-five pick for most of the 2013 season.

• It was a bit of a mixed bag for Jacksonville right-hander Chris Anderson in his start on Friday night. Anderson gave up 8 earned runs and 11 hits in his six innings, but the Dolphin ace struck out 10 hitters and walked no one in a 13-5 loss to Mercer. Anderson was pitching in a stadium that is extremely hitter friendly, and the aggressiveness of the Mercer hitters worked against Anderson on Friday. Obviously, not his most dominating effort, but a good example of why scouting a box score doesn't work.

The National High School Invitational took place in Cary, North Carolina this weekend, and while it was the best collection of prep teams anyone will see all year, the overall talent was down from a year before and the pitching was disappointing overall.

Stephen Gonsalves (Cathedral Catholic HS, San Diego) was one of the higher rated left-handers coming into 2013, but the results this year haven't lived up to that standard. Gonsalves gave up just two runs in his four innings of work in the tournament, but the left-hander didn't show the projection nor flash the plus breaking-ball that he did over the summer.

"He's regressed this year," an NL scout said. "When what you like about a kid is his projection, regression is a bad thing. There's time, but if I'm Gonsalves, I probably go to college and try to improve my stock."


While the pitching wasn't impressive in Cary, there were some hitters who stood out in the 16-team tournament.

Lexington (S.C.) High School's Nick Ciuffo hasn't received the attention that some of the other high school catchers have this year, but he was one of the most impressive players over the weekend. The left-handed hitting backstop showed impressive pop from the left side and improving catch-and-throw skills.

"I think he's a guy who should get drafted on the first day," an AL scout said. "We talked a lot of about how good the prep catching class was this year, but the only three that I'd consider in that range are Jon Denney, Reese McGuire and (Ciuffo). He's a work in progress behind the plate, but if he had to move to first base I think the bat would be okay."

Austin Meadows has received plenty of attention -- for good reason -- this year, and he was solid if unspectacular over his three days. Meadows went 3-for-3 against Gonsalves and looked good in the outfield. Meadows did make one snafu on the bases, but I haven't heard many question Meadows baseball aptitude.

• Coming into the year, Stanford's Austin Wilson was considered a first-round lock with the potential to go in the top five. Few players have his combination of size and speed, and a solid summer had scouts greatly anticipating his 2013 campaign.

Unfortunately, Wilson's year has essentially been lost due to a stress reaction in his elbow, and the Cardinal right-fielder has had only three plate appearances this season. Originally, Wilson was scheduled to miss only two-to-four weeks, but we've now passed that plateau and there's still no word on when he'll be back.

"The class could really use him, with all due respect" said an AL front-office member. "The class is just so mediocre in terms of hitting, so his return is vital. I don't know if I'd consider him in the top 10 at this point, but if he looks healthy, he's got a chance. That says more about the year than Wilson, though."

More information about Wilson is scheduled to come out later today from the Stanford camp.

• While Wilson continues to sit, Kris Bryant continues to dominate. The San Diego third baseman was solid once again this weekend against Oregon State, picking up two more extra-base hits. Bryant now has a cartoonish line of .370/.533/.900 over the year, and any debate on who the best collegiate hitter in the class has been put to bed.