Mark Appel seemed destined, if you read Major League Baseball mock drafts, to begin his professional career in Houston. That’s still a distinct possibility now that the Stanford ace has returned to school for his senior season and refused a $3.8 million bonus from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Appel, long pegged as the top pick, slid to the eighth selection amid fears of his signability and the hardline approach of agent Scott Boras. Unless the college righty is frustrated with his representation, neither his asking price or his negotiator are likely to change before the 2013 Draft. His leverage though ceases to exist. As a senior, Appel won’t possess the threat to return to Palo Alto but with status quo production, he’s still a first-round choice.
At 34-56, the Houston Astros own the worst record in baseball. Jettisoning Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and maybe Jed Lowrie won’t make them any better. So, like Washington, Houston may shortly be in position to draft a franchise position player and cornerstone pitcher. Yes, injuries might bite Appel. Sure, he could falter and his numbers shrink as a result of the disappointment he’s still in college. But pundits peg the next draft as weaker than the group in 2012. And with more than $7 million at stake as the top pick in 2013, that should be all the motivation a Stanford-educated hurler requires.
He’d join Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz as elite talents in the Astros farm system, all recently drafted, all necessary to avoid the basement of the American League West. And in Houston’s case, an organization in dire need of starting arms, he’d be an immediate upgrade over the likes of Ross Seaton, Mike Foltynewicz and Jarred Cosart.
It’s an obvious risk for Appel to shun the money and return to college. Any number of factors could deter him from earning more than the $3.8 million he turned down. Houston, his hometown, always appeared the likely locale for the hard-throwing ace. Perhaps it still is, albeit a year late.