Tomorrow the Astros have a difficult decision to make, one that will affect the future of this organization significantly. Tomorrow, Bud Selig will meander up to his podium and will say these words: "With the first selection of the 2012 first year player draft, the Houston Astros select..." and then we will hear the name of the player that the Astros organization feels is the best player out of all the players in the draft. Will it be youngsters Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, or college players Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, Mike Zunino, or Mark Appel? We cannot accurately predict the direction that the Astros will go, all we can do is state the facts and opinions that are widely held over these players and make an educated guess. Today you will learn about the last 5 and most important players that have yet to be covered before tomorrow's draft. I have Mark Appel.
With Mark Appel, there is considerable desire to get him into the Astros farm system. He's a right-handed pitcher who projects to be a front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, and since he's a college arm, his development is considerably better than a high school arm, and his floor is considered higher. He would have the chance to fly through the Astros system and make the majors by 2014, at which time our offensive powerhouse would be much stronger with the addition of Jon Singleton and George Springer, but at a time when our pitching staff is less certain. Not only with a chance to provide a well needed arm for the rotation, he could anchor the rotation.
While drafting for need at the first pick is frowned upon by many, drafting the best player available tomorrow could satisfy multiple purposes. On the surface, Mark Appel has great mound presence and good mechanics, with consistent velocity that lasts through the later innings in all of his starts. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, touching the upper 90s at times and is thrown with excellent command. Movement on the pitch is good most of the time, but Appel doesn't always get the same movement if his arm angle changes and the pitch sometimes flattens out. He uses his fastball in conjunction with his hard-biting slider that he throws around 82-83 mph. Appel sometimes has trouble commanding his slider, often leaving it and his change-up up in the zone for hitters to take advantage of. He will have to get better at locating those two pitches at the next level when he faces higher competition. His third pitch, while needing more development, is a change-up that has improved significantly since Appel was in high school. The change would be a weapon against left-handed hitters if he can locate it better and improve the pitch's break. Appel has shown a good feel for a change-up, and still has time to refine the pitch and make it better. In total, Appel has three above average to plus plus pitches.
Appel will most likely reach the majors rather than not and could follow a similar path to Bud Norris, who also throws a fastball and a slider, but not really advancing his change-up enough to make it a 3rd pitch that is used often. Appel has the durability and mound presence to stay as a starter, so I don't see any move to the bullpen in his future.
Mark Appel is a durable starting pitcher with repeatable mechanics with just a few problems commanding his off-speed stuff. If he reaches his potential, some scouts have compared him to Justin Verlander, but I see a more improved version of Bud Norris, which wouldn't be such a bad thing. Appel's fastball velocity while already pretty good, could improve in the future as he fills out, making him even more deadly on the mound.
Projected to a be a top-5 pick all around the board. I like Appel as a player and the fact that is not very far from reaching the majors compared to Buxton and Correa is better chance that he doesn't flop as a prospect.
Potential for three pitches that grade at least 60 on the 20-80 scale. Has command projection with all three pitches. Solid understanding of the nuances of the game. Quick feet on pickoff move and gets off the mound well to field his position. Strong competitor that attacks with his best stuff. Improved consistency and pitching intelligence that should come with experience could vault him to another level. Once stuff and command come together, he has an outside chance to become a top of the rotation starter and consistent All-Star caliber pitcher.
Appel was 95-97 early in his outing and pitched at 94-95 even later in the game, at times showing a plus changeup and an above-average slider. But his location was inconsistent on all three pitches, and his tendency to leave the two offspeed offerings up in the zone was behind most of the 12 hits Appel gave up in 8-plus innings of work. (He never should have gone out for the ninth, but eight innings is only a half-day's work in the minds of Stanford's coaching staff.) He did throw several changeups in the 80-82 range with good tumble, but when he doesn't finish the pitch and get it down in the zone, it's like a BP fastball, and Arizona hitters had no trouble turning on it.
Appel has the complete package of size, stuff and ability to throw strikes. His fastball is a plus pitch now, which sits comfortably in the mid-90s and the scary thing is there might be room for a little bit more as he matures and fills out. The ball explodes out of his hand with a free and easy delivery and his fastball has above-average movement to boot. He's got an outstanding hard slider with late tilt that he can bury down in the strike zone and his circle changeup is at above-average as well, bottoming out when his mechanics are right. He can throw all three for strikes and gets very high marks for his poise and aggressiveness. There are few negatives to Appel's game at this point, though he'll occasionally overthrow his fastball, which elevates it and straightens it out. He'll rush his delivery from time to time. But that's really just nitpicking as Appel profiles as a top of the rotation starter with three above-average to plus out pitches.