Stanford righty Appel has makings of top pick
Houston-area native could be selected No. 1 by Astros in Draft
There are almost too many storylines for it not to happen, too many signs pointing to Mark Appel being the No. 1 overall pick in Monday's First-Year Player Draft.
First, Stanford University is celebrating the year of being No. 1 -- not in terms of team ranking, but individual accomplishment. Andrew Luck, Stanford's star quarterback, was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft last month. That was shortly after Stanford forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike was taken first overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks. Appel, a junior right-hander, would make it a trifecta.
"I think it's more a tribute to the type of student-athletes Stanford gets on the campus," Appel said. "It's more of a recognition for Stanford athletics. This would be another great addition to the long list of successes."
Coverage of the opening round and Compensation Round A of Major League Baseball's Draft will be aired by MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com on Monday at 7 p.m. ET. Rounds 2-40 will also be streamed live on MLB.com on June 5-6.
MLB.com's coverage, sponsored by CenturyLink, will include Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
In addition to the Stanford factor, Appel grew up in the Houston area, went to Astros games as a kid, before his family relocated to Northern California. Houston holds the first pick. The local boy coming home theme is fitting and it has crossed Appel's mind.
"I don't know how it couldn't have," admitted Appel, who will get one last pre-Draft start when Stanford hosts Fresno State in an NCAA Regional on Friday. "It's an opportunity to play for your hometown team, the team you grew up watching games. When I take a step back and look at everything that transpired -- I was able to come here, I've had some successful years here, the Astros had a bad year last year. I can't help but think, that's such a God thing.
"Even if I don't end up in Houston, it's still such a blessing to play professional baseball. I know so many people wish they could be in my shoes."
Appel's humility and faith are clearly contributors to how he's dealt with all the attention received by a presumed top Draft pick. He tends to steer clear from reading about himself, understanding how volatile the Draft market can be. The Stanford program has had more than its fair share of top prospects and Appel gives them a lot of credit for shielding him from distractions. Having other teammates in the same boat -- Stephen Piscotty, for one, is also expected to be a first-round pick -- has also made the ride a little bit easier.
But truly, the ability to handle the process calmly comes from within, from a maturity that has allowed Appel to embrace all that a Draft season can bring. Having been through it as a high schooler didn't hurt, either, with Appel knowing both a little bit what to expect and the people he'd be dealing with.
"Honestly, it was all so new and exciting, we kind of enjoyed it," Appel said of the high school experience. "We didn't see it as pressure because we had Stanford in our back pocket. We took it as a learning experience. Going to high school in the Bay Area, then Stanford in the Bay Area, I know some of the area scouts."
That's helped, especially since he is kind of flying solo this time around. His father, Patrick, works for Chevron and was relocated to Beijing. His parents have managed several times to see Appel pitch, but it's still not quite like having mom and dad around during one of the biggest years of your life. Appel admits he initially was hesitant about the move, but knew his father had to for his career, and after family meetings to discuss it, he knew it was the right thing.
"The biggest difference is figuring out what time it is over there so I don't call them in the middle of the night," Appel said. "They've been very supportive through it all and I've tried to be supportive of them because it hasn't been easy for them. It's been a tough transition.
"I'm more excited to go over there at some point. Hopefully, depending on the Draft and everything and which team takes me, what transpires, I hope to go this summer. If I'm out playing, then after the pro season, before classes start again in the fall."
Appel is determined to get his degree in management and engineering, something he can do in time. First he has to see what the hand the Draft deals him, whether he'll be going home to Houston or to one of the other teams picking high in the Draft. He was solid in his junior season, especially down the stretch, yet there has seemed to be some hesitation to embrace him as a true No. 1-type prospect.
Sometimes he wasn't as consistent with his stuff, it was whispered, and some of his results early in the season were less than inspired. Byron Buxton, a high school outfielder from Georgia, has been considered the sexier pick, the guy the Astros would take if they truly were taking the top talent.
Yet here is a 6-foot-5 right-hander with a fastball he can run up to 98 mph, a nasty slider and a very good changeup, a guy who's taken the ball as Stanford's Friday starter for two years. According to one scout who's seen Appel frequently, the complaints are much ado about nothing.
"He's a quality kid," the scout said. "He has three Major League plus pitches. He has a body that's projectable and there are things you can work with him on to make him better. He pitches on Friday nights for one of the best teams in the country. His innings to hits to walks to strikeouts is as good as any other pitcher in the country. What's there not to like?"