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updated: 6/2/2013 1:19 AM

Cubs should grab ace in the hole

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  • Oklahoma starter Jonathan Gray (above) and Stanford's Mark Appel could turn into the next Justin Verlander or Josh Beckett. Matt Spiegel says it would be tough for the Cubs to pass up either one with the second pick of the MLB draft Thursday.

      Oklahoma starter Jonathan Gray (above) and Stanford's Mark Appel could turn into the next Justin Verlander or Josh Beckett. Matt Spiegel says it would be tough for the Cubs to pass up either one with the second pick of the MLB draft Thursday.
    Associated Press

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Take the pitcher.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have spoken openly about their general philosophy at the top of an MLB draft many times. History tells them position players are a more dependable investment.

But if there's a dominant starting pitcher available for the Cubs at No. 2 overall in Thursday's first round, they have to take him.

There will be.

After the Astros go first, Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray and/or Stanford's Mark Appel be available, leaving the Cubs with a jewel.

It's looking more conceivable that University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant will go to Houston. But even if he doesn't, I implore Epstoyer to take the pitcher over Bryant.

Consider it this way -- if you could be guaranteed either the first 10 years of Evan Longoria's career, or that of Justin Verlander, which one would you pick?

There is nothing more valuable than a true ace at the front of your rotation. If Gray or Appel appear capable of such things, don't let them pass.

The Padres whiffed by taking high school shortstop Matt Bush over the collegian Verlander in 2004.

Josh Hamilton has to be called a miss for the Rays in 1999, though he eventually navigated a circuitous, drug-filled path. No. 2 pick Josh Beckett was a World Series winning ace twice by 2007.

Cy Young winner David Price is infinitely more valuable than the Royals' Mike Moustakas, and they went 1-2 in 2007. It's painful to remind yourself that Josh Vitters went third.

There are of course examples on the flip side.

One is when the Twins took Joe Mauer in 2001 because of signability concerns with Mark Prior. Prior's disastrous injuries and Mauer's continued excellence make that pick look good.

Either Appel or Gray could impact the Cubs' major-league team as soon as 2014.

We remember Chris Sale pitching with the White Sox a mere two months after being drafted in 2010. Sale is one of only five players in history to debut in the same year as his draft.

But getting quick benefits from a highly selected college pitcher happens with frequency now.

There are four from the 2012 draft helping their big-league team in impact roles right now, less than a year later.

Fourth overall pick Kevin Gausman will make his third start for the Orioles this week.

The 19th pick, Michael Wacha, was brilliant in his first start for the Cardinals on Thursday night.

Paco Rodriguez (No. 82) is a lefty in the Dodgers' bullpen, having reached the majors last September.

And Alex Wood (No. 85) is a late-innings lefty in the Braves' bullpen, though he's slated to transition back to starting next year in the same way Sale did.

Appel or Gray could conceivably be used in relief in 2014, if a pennant race magically materialized, but a more realistic timetable sees either as rotation-ready by Opening Day 2015.

Cubs starting pitchers at the big-league level have been outstanding, with the sixth-best ERA in the majors.

But the target years for title contention -- 2015 and beyond -- are going to need ace-caliber arms. Matt Garza is almost assuredly going to be dealt for prospects in July. Scott Feldman could be headed for a sign-and-flip Cubs experience like Paul Maholm's last year.

Gray or Appel will slide right into that void.

One enormous, imperative disclaimer: if Theo, Jed and Jason McLeod look at Gray and/or Appel closely, and decide they don't trust them as individuals, well, that's a different story. Maybe there are mechanical red flags they've scouted and I have not. Maybe there are character concerns or other legitimate reasons to back away.

But if it comes down to a simple philosophical debate, be unafraid to go against your own beliefs.

Don't let the next Verlander or Beckett go by.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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