Astros Finally Get Their Man In Appel

It’s likely no other player chosen No. 1 overall has been as dissected and thoroughly vetted as Mark Appel.

The Stanford righthander was a 15th-round pick out of high school in Houston in 2009, so he arrived in college as a known commodity. After his freshman year in 2010, he ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the New England Collegiate League (behind Stanford teammate Kenny Diekroeger), and the next summer he ranked No. 1 among the players on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team.

He entered the 2012 draft ranked fourth on the BA 500 and was in the mix until the end as the hometown Astros selected with the first overall pick. When the Astros decided to take Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa instead, Appel fell to the eighth overall selection, where the Pirates took a shot at him.

Appel spurned the Pirates’ $3.8 million offer and went back to Stanford, and went through the process again. Along the way, he became the Cardinal’s career strikeouts leader and kept improving. His continued improvement, to go with his consistency and polish, landed the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder atop Houston’s draft board again. And this time, the Astros made him their man, selecting him No. 1 overall in the 2013 draft.

“This guy was under the microscope for two years,” scouting director Mike Elias said. “He took every turn. You could set your watch to him, he was so consistent in how he gave Stanford quality start after quality start. The enormity of his consistency really stood out.

“Plus he got better. As has been documented, he raised the angle of his arm a little bit, and that helped his fastball have more life when it was down, more angle, gave it a little run. His secondary stuff also took a step forward.”

Appel became the first Cardinal player to go No. 1 overall in the draft. He already has his degree in management, science and engineering, but now he finally can move into his chosen profession—baseball—and in his hometown. As he tweeted after being selected, echoing the Skylar Grey song, “I’m coming home, I’m coming home! Tell the world, I’m coming home!”

"Our program could not be happier for Mark Appel," Stanford head coach Mark Marquess said. "Mark ranks right up there with the elite pitchers to play for Stanford. He has not only been an incredible performer and leader on the field, but a great human being off the field.

"In Mark's decision to return to Stanford for his senior season, he wanted to earn his degree and improve as a pitcher. He was able to do both, which is a testament to his work ethic and dedication to being a true student-athlete."

Getting Appel off the board helped the first round go in a fairly straightforward manner, with few surprises. The top three players on the board for most clubs went in the first three picks, with the Cubs surprising many by taking San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant instead of a pitcher. That left Oklahoma’s flamethrowing ace, Jonathan Gray, for the Rockies at No. 3, as his testing positive for the banned stimulant Adderall didn’t knock him down draft boards.

The surprises of the first round were minor rather than jaw-dropping. The Royals made the first eyebrow-raising move by selecting Stephen F. Austin shortstop Hunter Dozier with the eighth selection, but it made more sense when they complemented it by taking one of the top talents to slide out of the first round, Indiana State lefty Sean Manaea, with the 34th overall pick. Manaea was had battled injuries all spring and has a torn labrum in his hip that may require surgery to repair.

“Obviously we have 41 selections,” general manager Dayton Moore told reporters, “and we’re going to try to maximize the allotted dollar amount that we received based on our slot . . . the best we can.”

Assistant GM J.J. Picollo told reporters that the Royals had Manaea “at the very top of our board” entering the year, after he dominated the Cape Cod League last summer. And if the Royals had taken Manaea eighth overall and Dozier at No. 34, no one in the industry would have batted an eye. Taking Dozier first and presumably signing him at a discount cuts the Royals’ risk with Manaea, because if he doesn’t sign out of the No. 34 slot then it’s a much less severe hit to their allocated signing budget.

There was a bit more surprise at the Giants selecting Florida prep shortstop Christian Arroyo with the 25th overall pick, as Arroyo checked in at No. 102 on the BA 500. But the Giants long have marched to their own beat, and club sources indicated the organization’s scouts have deep conviction in Arroyo’s ability to hit. They will figure out where the 6-foot, 185-pounder fits defensively later, though the University of Florida recruit has indicated a strong desire to play shortstop.

Other highlights from the draft’s first day:

• Two college righthanders who were thought to be targets in the first 12 picks wound up falling a bit but remained in the first round. The Diamondbacks popped Nevada righty Braden Shipley—reportedly in the mix as high as No. 5 to Cleveland—with the 15th overall pick. Arkansas righty Ryne Stanek stayed in the first round but took a tumble, winding up at No. 29 to the Rays. Stanek was part of an intriguing first-day haul for the Rays, along with South Carolina prep catcher Nick Ciuffo and Arizona prep shortstop Riley Unroe.

• The Peterson brothers missed becoming the first brother tandem drafted in the same first round since J.D. and Tim Drew in 1997, but not by much. New Mexico corner bat D.J. Peterson went 12th overall to the Mariners,  while younger brother Dustin was the 50th overall pick to the Padres. They should see plenty of each other in pro ball, as the Padres and Mariners share a spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz.

• Several clubs had extra selections, none more than the Yankees with three picks at the back of the first round. At No. 26, New York got one of its rumored targets in Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo, a lefthanded hitter with power who fits the third-base profile well. Then the Yanks drafted Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge, the 6-foot-7 physical specimen, and prep lefthander Ian Clarkin from the San Diego area. The Yankees went off the board a bit in the second round with California prep second baseman Gosuke Katoh, a UCLA signee who had late helium despite his tough profile.

• The Cardinals had two first-rounders and checked in with a pair of lefthanders in Gonzaga’s Marco Gonzales at No. 20 and New Jersey prep Rob Kaminsky at No. 28. The Cardinals also got a projected first-rounder in Florida prep shortstop Oscar Mercado at No. 57 overall in the second round. Mercado’s stock had fallen after a poor spring with the bat, as he hit .280.

• The Brewers lacked a first-round pick but had an intriguing first day with two high-risk, high-reward picks. In the second round they took Missouri prep righty Devin Williams, a Missouri signee, and then oft-injured Florida prep infielder Tucker Neuhaus in the third round. Neuhaus looked like a possible first-rounder in the fall but had a rough spring that included a burst eardrum and quad pull, making him tough to see.

• Nine first-round picks were on hand at MLB Network’s Studio 42 for the draft, and though there was no memorable moment to rival Courtney Hawkins’ backflip when the White Sox drafted him last year, the show went off without a hitch. The baseball draft as a TV product continues to mature and grow, with a ways to go but improvements year after year.

“This,” commissioner Bud Selig told, “is what we had in mind.”