Ask BA: What Leverage Does Appel Have?

The Michael Roth story just keeps getting better and better. An anonymous middle reliever for most of his first two seasons at South Carolina, he sparked the Gamecocks’ first national championship in 2010 by shutting out Clemson in an emergency start. The next year, he led NCAA Division I in victories (14-3) and ERA (1.06) and won the College World Series clincher as South Carolina successfully defended its title.

Roth led the Gamecocks back to the CWS finals again in 2012, though this time Arizona prevailed. He went 26-6, 1.91 in his four seasons at South Carolina, setting CWS records for career starts (eight) and innings (60) while ranking second in wins (four) and fifth in ERA (1.49). But because he was a 22-year-old lefty with a mid-80s fastball and a reliance on command and deception, he lasted until the ninth round of the 2012 draft and received only a $20,000 bonus.

Roth already has made good on that investment. After just 27 innings in the minors—and only five above Rookie ball—the Angels summoned him on Saturday. In his big league debut, he struck out four Astros in two scoreless innings and earned the victory. He’s the second player from last year’s draft to make the majors, following Dodgers second-rounder Paco Rodriguez, a fellow Southeastern Conference lefthander.

Roth barely snuck into the 2013 Prospect Handbook, ranking 30th on the Top 30 Prospects list of the worst farm system in the game. It’s hard to envision him having long-term major league success with below-average stuff, but it’s also difficult to discount his ability to find a way to get it done.

I don’t quite understand a statement you made regarding Stanford righthander Mark Appel during your last draft chat. You said, “Appel isn’t going to have to take a deep discount” because “If Houston passes on him, the next few teams in line would all love to have him.” I acknowledge that I may not understand what you mean by a deep discount. At the same time, I don’t understand how the likelihood that Appel will go in the top three picks changes the fact that, unlike last year, he doesn’t have more college eligibility remaining. If the Astros or Cubs were to draft him, draw a hard line and offer no more than the $4.8 million that No. 1 overall choice Carlos Correa got last year, does Appel have any other reasonable alternative but to sign?

Levi Portillo
Houston

Mark Appel

Mark Appel (Photo by Larry Goren)

Appel and Oklahoma righthander Jonathan Gray have established themselves as the top two prospects in the 2012 draft. While Appel has less leverage than he did a year ago, his talent still gives him plenty of negotiating power. He should get much more than the $3.8 million he turned down from the Pirates after sliding to the No. 8 overall pick a year ago.

Appel’s situation isn’t really analogous to Correa’s. If Correa hadn’t gone No. 1 overall to the Astros, where the assigned pick value was $7.2 million, the perception was that he would have lasted until the Cubs at No. 6 ($3.25 million) or the Padres at No. 7 ($3 million). So it made sense for him to take a discount that still paid him more than he would have gotten otherwise, though I’ve since learned that had Houston taken Byron Buxton, the Twins might have chosen Correa at No. 2.

The best-case scenario for the Astros is a repeat of 2012, when they land a player worth of the No. 1 selection but save enough money to do a lot of damage in later rounds. This year, Houston’s assigned pick value is $7,790,400. If the Astros pass on Appel, he very well could be at the top of the Cubs’ draft board at No. 2, where the value is $6,708,400. The Rockies (No. 3, $5,626,400) and Twins (No. 4, $4,544,400) probably would be thrilled to have Appel and willing to move money around to add to their pick value. So he should clear well north of $4.8 million.

There are two good reasons that a team won’t take a hard line with Appel. First, he’s advised by the Boras Corp. Clubs legitimately fear that draftees, even college seniors, will walk away from a deal that Scott Boras doesn’t like.

Second, Appel could take a hard line with a club. Let’s say the Astros choose him and make him a take-it-or-leave-it $5 million offer. I agree, it would be silly to turn that much money down to re-enter the 2014 draft.

But Appel could decide not to sign until right before the July 13 signing deadline of 5 p.m. ET. Houston couldn’t risk spending the $2,790,400 they saved on his bonus to land other players until he was in the fold. (Update: Actually, as @jeremynygaard reminded me on Twitter, the signing deadline doesn’t apply to Appel, making it even easier for him to hold a team’s bonus pool hostage.) If the Astros spent the savings before Appel signed, they’d risk losing their next two first-round selections, including the possible No. 1 overall choice in 2014.

Ultimately, clubs give up leverage to draftees because they want to sign the best players available. If Houston rates Appel and Gray evenly, then it makes sense to select the guy who will accept a more team-friendly deal. But if the Astros like Appel more than any other 2013 draft prospect, I think they’ll take him and give him a bonus of $6 million or more.

Oscar Taveras for Jurickson Profar: which GM hangs up first? As much as the Rangers love Profar, they have Elvis (Andrus) in the building for next several years and Ian Kinsler signed long term as well. Rather than including Profar in a package of top prospects for Giancarlo Stanton, who presumably would require a nine-figure contract, wouldn’t Texas be better served upgrading its outfield with Taveras while dealing from a position it could afford to liquidate? From the Cardinals’ perspective, the only thing they seem to be missing is a long-term answer at shortstop. They could put Matt Adams at first base and shift Allen Craig to right field after Carlos Beltran’s inevitable departure as a free agent this offseason.

Robb Davis
Macomb, Ill.

This would be a monster challenge trade if the Rangers gave up Profar (No. 1 on our Top 100 Prospects list and the Cardinals parted with Taveras (No. 3). Prospect-for-prospect deals are exceedingly rare.

The first one that jumps to mind for me happened in January 2002, when the Rangers sent Carlos Pena (No. 5 on our 2002 Top 100) and Mike Venafro to the Athletics for Mario Ramos (No. 49), Jason Hart (No. 59 in 2001), Ryan Ludwick (No. 81 in 2001) and Gerald Laird. Grady Fuson, who had recently joined Texas as assistant GM, had drafted Ramos and Co. as Oakland’s scouting director.

In the last 11 years, only two more prospects ranked in the top five overall have been traded before graduating to the majors with their original organization. And neither Joel Guzman (Dodgers, No. 5 in 2005) and Jesus Montero (Yankees, No. 4 in 2010 and No. 3 in 2011) was involved in an all-prospect transaction. (Clarification: Wil Myers was traded this offseason from the Royals to the Rays, two months before we ranked him as the No. 4 overall prospect.)

Interestingly, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said during a radio interview that he’d have to consider a Profar-for-Taveras trade if the Rangers proposed it. Texas GM Jon Daniels hasn’t commented publicly, but I think he’d be the first to turn down the deal.

While he’s blocked by Andrus, who’s locked up at least through 2018, Profar still offers tremendous value at a position that’s very difficult to fill. He could play second base, allowing Kinsler to fill a void at first base or in the outfield. Perhaps Profar could become the long-term center fielder the Rangers are looking for. Considering that it’s World Series or bust for Texas, he’d be invaluable if Andrus sustained a serious injury and also could help land Stanton or another major league star who came onto the market if the Rangers so desired.

I also don’t believe St. Louis would be in a hurry to give up the best hitting prospect in the minors, even for Profar. Prospects are like children—everyone loves their own more than anyone else’s. The Cardinals seem content to see what they have at shortstop in Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson and Greg Garcia and wait for an opening to develop for Taveras. He can’t match Profar for positional value—I’m not sold that Taveras is a center fielder, either—but has more offensive upside.

The Red Sox seem very deep at shortstop with Stephen Drew in Boston and Jose Iglesias finally starting to hit at the start of the season before getting sent to Triple-A. Xander Bogaerts is one of baseball’s best prospects, and the Red Sox also have Deven Marrero and Jose Vinicio. Who’s the shortstop of the future?

Jason Smith
Enfield, Conn.

Don’t forget Tzu-Wei Lin, who signed for $2.05 million out of Taiwan last June, and slick-fielding Cleuluis Rondon. The Red Sox have quality shortstop prospects for every level of their farm system.

I think they’ll cycle through them from the top until they find a keeper. Drew is signed for just this season, after which Iglesias will get the first chance to claim the job. (That opportunity may come sooner if Drew continues to have problems staying healthy.) Iglesias is a defensive wizard, and if he hits enough, he’ll be Boston’s shortstop.

If Iglesias can’t carry his weight offensively, which is a concern despite his .450/.476/.550 performance while Drew was out with a concussion, then the Red Sox will look to Bogaerts. Though his 6-foot-3 frame makes it possible he’ll outgrow shortstop, Bogaerts has the actions, arm strength and athleticism to play there for a while.

I believe Iglesias will provide enough offense, in the context of his outstanding defense, to be a solid regular. Bogaerts has the bat to be a star at any position, and he may head to right field with Iglesias and Will Middlebrooks manning the left side of Boston’s infield. If Iglesias falters and Bogaerts breaks into the majors at shortstop, he’ll eventually move if Marrero, Vinicio or Lin (the fastest player in the system) show they can do enough with the bat.

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