When the Houston Astros drafted Stanford fireballer Mark Appel with the first pick of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the move was not exactly a surprising one. Houston chose to pick the best available player and to many that was Appel.
MLB.com had him ranked as their top draft eligible player, Baseball America had him second behind fellow righty Jonathan Gray and not a single mock draft board across the country had Appel falling lower than the third overall pick.
But the Astros chose not to go with Gray or the best bat in the draft, belonging to Kris Bryant. They made Appel their pick and by many estimates, it might not be long until the Astros are reaping the benefits of this decision.
This is not to say that Gray and Bryant weren’t incredible talents, because both were. The thing about Appel is, after playing four full years at Stanford, he has been called the most polished and most major league ready player in the 2013 pool.
And that is not untrue. Appel spent four years developing his pitches, perfecting his mechanics and truly refining every little imperfection. In fact in his senior season, Appel showed his best results of his career with a 2.56 ERA and 9.51 K/9 rate.
As a result, Appel, who was drafted eighth overall just a year ago by the Pittsburgh Pirates, rose to the top of many boards in 2013.
Appel graded out as an average college player but what is compelling are his future scouting grades, which are more accurate to the type of pitcher the Stanford grad really is. Appel is expected to develop an above average slider, an above average changeup and a plus a fastball that already has good movement and sits in the mid-90s on the gun.
But the key is development. Appel could come up and play for the Astros tomorrow as their rotation could surely use it. And he’d be pretty good. But Houston would be cheating themselves and doing Appel a disservice if they just let him be mediocre when he has the chance to be baseball’s next young ace.
In fact, some think that with the Astros struggles, he could get his first taste of big league hitting as early as July. I would project more likely he comes up as a September call-up with an invitation to spring training next season.
So yes, Appel could see the majors this season, but the real question is should he? And further still, will the Astros risk it?
Look at what the Washington Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg. It could be entirely possible that by promoting Strasburg so early, perhaps before he was ready, that the Nationals have affected what could have been a spectacular career. The young phenom has already undergone Tommy John surgery and has landed back on the DL for a lat strain in his back.
The jury is still out on the young Strasburg but it hasn’t even taken to session for Appel. The Astros have the chance to have a phenomenal ace and they won’t want to risk that to gain a few weeks of national publicity.