For the third consecutive summer, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected a right-hander with their first draft pick. Though they didn’t hold the number-one overall slot like they did last June, when they drafted Gerrit Cole out of UCLA, the Pirates still managed to get their hands on Mark Appel, the draft’s top pitcher.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Overall Future Potential: 59
This year’s crop of premier arms is thinner than in recent drafts, but it has plenty of future big league starters nonetheless. Appel is arguably the safest bet, of any of this class’s pitchers, to assume a role at the front of a big league rotation. His ceiling probably falls just short of a David Price or Dylan Bundy, but his floor shouldn’t be any lower than a solid mid-rotation guy. Though he wasn’t an elite-level talent, Appel has been on scout’s radars since his Monte Vista high school career. He was a two-sport star on both the basketball court and baseball diamond, and was named the Contra Costa Times Prep Athlete of the Year in 2009. After leading Monte Vista to a Division-I North Coast Sectional state championship as a power forward, he finished his senior season by tossing 31 innings of 0.90 ERA baseball on the baseball field. With a fastball that was already reaching 91-92 MPH regularly, he ended his high school career riding a 24 inning scoreless streak and even tossed a no-hitter against a rival program. Academically dedicated, he was drafted in the 15th round by the Tigers, but instead decided to attent Stanford.
Throughout his three-season Cardinal career, Appel has developed from a lanky reliever in to a fireballing power-starter with a big league destiny. After posting a so-so freshman campaign mostly out of the bullpen, he put together a break-out sophomore season. With a fastball that often reached the high 90′s, he assumed his post as the club’s Friday night starter. As the point man, he posted a 3.02 ERA through seventeen starts. Over the following summer, he then boosted his draft stock by showing off premium heat in the Cape Cod League and mowing down the nation’s best amateur hitters. This season, he’s solidified his place atop the college ranks with the best baseball of his amateur career. He’s put together a tremendous 9-1 record and a sparkling 2.37 ERA through 110 innings pitched. His body has broadened and filled out further. More importantly, his feel for pitching appears to have to taken a leap forward as well. He’s throwing with more confidence and going right after hitters this season. More than just a hard-thrower, Appel has proven better than the vast majority of pitchers his age at using his entire repertoire and challenging hitters.
Appel’s go-to pitch is his mid 90′s heater. While many scouts have complained about the pitch’s lack of movement– he’s developed this reputation after proving hittable throughout his Cardinal career– his two-seamer actually shows above-average tail and run. The tall righty releases the ball with a rock-n-fire, over-the-top delivery and his long fingers and arm extension add extra life. His free-and-easy delivery, with an arm action that’s long in the back and quick in the front, makes his fastball hop out of his hand. With velocity that already sits in the 93-96 MPH range, it’s not hard to see Appel’s heater sniffing triple digits one day soon.
Appel’s frisbee slider is already ready for the Major Leagues. Primarily using it to wipeout right-handers, he spins his slider with strong two-plane break in the low 80′s. With hissing spin, the pitch runs down and away from right-handed hitters with late break. He also snaps it off against lefties and can drop it in the strikezone for called strikes when necessary. He does a nice job of staying on top of it, and he rarely hangs it up in the zone. Already solid-average, with more power behind his breaking ball, it could develop into a legitimate strikeout pitch in the MLB. His circle-changeup is promising as well, and he’s done a much better job of commanding it this Spring. With more work, his change should be a big league average offering.
Appel has no trouble throwing strikes, and his command and feel for pitching have improved drastically during his final two seasons at Stanford. This year, he’s walked just twenty-four batters in 110 innings pitched and of the eighty-eight hits he’s allowed, only three have left the park. He does a nice job of working both sides of the plate with his fastball, through he’s prone to leaving it out over the plate when he’s in trouble. He can throw his slider and changeup for strikes as well, and should have above-average command once he plays professionally and works with pro coaches. His delivery is pretty clean and repeatable, but because he’s mediocre athlete, he’ll need to work on strengthening his trunk to improve his balance and release. He does give a long look to opposing hitters, and left-handers might give him more trouble as he climbs the professional latter.
Pitching for one of the nation’s most historically successful programs, and in a very competitive conference, Appel put together a very impressive college career. Stanford hasn’t produced an overwhelming number of big leaguers, but it’s list includes plenty of brand-names– with Mike Mussina, Jack McDowell and Drew Storen headlining the list. Boasting premium fastball velocity and advanced command over two solid offspeed pitches, Appel has as much talent as any of them. The Astros, who hold the draft’s number-one overall pick, are in the market for an advanced arm and will likely call Appel’s name on June 4th.