On Friday night, Stanford ace Mark Appel beat Utah in front of a contingent of eagle-eyed scouts who were closely watching Appel in preparation for the 2013 MLB draft.
Appel was also one of the top prospects in last year's draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates took him with the eighth pick of the draft and ultimately offered him a $3.8 million signing bonus, which was nearly one million dollars above the slot recommendation. Appel rejected the Pirates' offer and returned to Stanford for his senior season.
Appel recently explained his decision to George Dohrmann of Sports Illustrated by saying:
When I made that decision, people only looked at the money. I also factored in that I would get to be here at Stanford, which is like home, for another year, and I would get another chance to help my team get to [the College World Series], and I would get my degree.
ESPN draft analyst Keith Law currently ranks Appel has the top overall prospect (subscription required) in this year's June draft. Last year, many projected that the Houston Astros would take Appel with the top overall pick and award him the $7.2 million bonus that was recommended for that slot.
However, the Astros decided to select shortstop Carlos Correa and give him a below-slot bonus in order to spread out their allotted draft money on high-upside prospects during subsequent rounds. The rebuilding Astros have the top pick again this year, and they could once again pass on Appel to follow the same strategy they used last season. That would give the pitching-needy Chicago Cubs a chance to select Appel with the second pick.
On Friday night, Appel featured a three-pitch mix including a fastball that sat between 93-96 miles per hour, an 85-88 mile-per-hour slider and an 82-85 mile-per-hour changeup. He allowed six hits, two runs, one walk and one home run while striking out 11 of the 33 batters he faced over eight innings of work.
His slider was his main out pitch against Utah. It's definitely a plus pitch for him, but it actually looks more like a very hard curveball than a true slider because it has an earlier and wider break than the typical slider. His changeup is still a work in progress, but he can also miss bats with it—particularly against lefties.
His fastball has outstanding velocity that he is able to maintain deep into games and he can throw strikes with it to both sides of the plate. He also mixes in a two-seam fastball with movement to his armside to complement the four-seamer. He has outstanding control of his fastball and slider, but he has a harder time consistently controlling the changeup.
His fastball command is a little behind his control, as he'll have stretches in each start where he'll get the fastball up and out over the middle of the plate. Stanford pitching coach Rusty Filter told Dohrmann that he's been working with Appel to increase the downward angle of his fastball after a rough outing to open the season against Rice,
The opener against Rice was just a game where the ball was up...We made some adjustments, and he has kept the ball down. People will look at the strikeouts, but whenever he keeps the ball down he is pretty difficult to hit.
Appel is now 3-2 with a 1.18 ERA over five starts this season. He's allowed only 23 hits, seven walks (1.65 walks per nine) and one home run while striking out 54 (12.78 K/9) in 38 innings of work.
Last season, he went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA over 16 starts. He allowed 97 hits, 30 walks (2.19 BB/9) and three home runs while striking out 130 (9.50 K/9) over 123 innings.
Whoever selects Appel in a few months will be getting a 6'5" workhorse who has the velocity, control and secondary pitches to succeed at the top of a rotation. He also has the experience to move quickly through any minor league system after spending the last four years at one of the best baseball programs in the country.
This time, the team that drafts Appel won't have to deal with the possibility of him staying at Stanford for another year. That should ensure that he goes within the top few picks of this year's draft to help rebuild the rotation of the Astros, Cubs or Rockies in the near future.