The Houston Astros know there is a blueprint for getting out of the basement . . . make the most out of early picks in the first round of the MLB Draft. In recent years, they’ve seen the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals find talented players early in the draft, develop them in the minor leagues, and then wait for them to emerge as stars in the majors. The Rays did so with third baseman Evan Longoria and left-handed ace David Price, while the Nationals were fortunate to get two once-in-a-generation type talents in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. And while most scouts don’t think there is a transcendent player in the 2013 draft, the Astros think they’ve found a future star in Mark Appel of the Stanford Cardinal.
Appel, a Houston native, was a first-round selection last year, but chose to return to Stanford for one more year. The risk paid off as the Astros took him first overall this year.
In Appel, the Astros will get a very polished pitcher who consistently dominated batters in the tough Pac-12. At 6’5″, 215 pounds, he has the classic size to be a power pitcher in the majors. It also helps that he has a fastball that is consistently in the mid-90s and can touch 97 mph on occasion. In addition, he has a plus slider that he throws between 85-88 mph to both right-handed and left-handed hitters. Finally, he features a quality change-up that he hasn’t used much in college, but certainly will need at the next level.
While some scouts thought Oklahoma Sooners pitcher Jonathan Gray might have better stuff, the Astros went with the safer pick in Appel. Gray’s recent positive test for Adderall was a major red flag for some teams, perhaps helping to make the first pick easier for the Astros.
If the Astros want to get out of the basement and stop picking first, they’ll need to improve in a number of places, especially at starting pitcher. Appel is a seasoned ace who has the body, stuff and work ethic to succeed in Houston. It’s a great first pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.