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Starting Nine: Evaluating Appel vs. Bryant

Kris Bryant may have made his MLB debut first, but evaluating Houston's decision to pick Appel likely can't be done for awhile.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When can we evaluate the decision to draft Mark Appel over Kris Bryant?

There's this week's Starting Nine question. If you choose to do so now, then yes, the Chicago Cubs have gotten the better end of the draw. In the 2013 MLB Draft, Houston selected the right-hander from Stanford, Appel, with the first overall pick. The Cubs took Bryant, a slugger from the University of San Diego, at No. 2.

In 2014, while Appel struggled to get healthy, and then also get batters out at High-A Lancaster,  Bryant mashed. In 138 games between AA and AAA, Bryant hit .325/.438/.661 with 43 home runs and 110 RBI. Appel did pitch better -- a 3.69 ERA in 39 innings with AA Corpus Christi -- following his promotion, but it doesn't come close to matching what Bryant did. Now Bryant is in the big leagues after his promotion to Chicago on Friday. Appel has allowed one run in two starts (10 innings) with Corpus.

Of course, there's plenty of time for Appel to catch up, but the Astros are an easy target because the top of the draft is under a much bigger microscope. Even the casual baseball fan knows Appel went one and Bryant two. Bryant is the consensus top prospect in baseball while questions surround Appel's abilities. So what did TCB have to say? Once again:

When can we evaluate the decision to draft Mark Appel over Kris Bryant?

Alex Goodwin

Not until the end of 2017, by which time both of them will have played at least two seasons, barring injury. Bryant does seem like the better choice right now, but one major league game is all Bryant's played. Put it this way: If everything turns out how I think it will, this discussion will continue for a long time with no clear winner.

Matthew Hall

It depends on the goal. If we want certainty and fairness in our judgment, then we could wait until both of their careers are over. If we only want to have fun since it's just a game, then right this instant will work fine. Why not? Who you got? I got Bryant. If we want something that splits the difference then just begin all judgments with the phrase "As of now...".

>Otherwise, it's very difficult to know. Even in football, where draft picks can start from game one, you need a few years to properly judge a draft pick with anything resembling confidence. With baseball it can take several years for a player to provide the tiniest sliver of WAR.


The fairest answer is to evaluate the decision without hindsight—based on the information and knowledge at the time of the draft. We have read that the Cubs had Appel ranked 1 and Bryant at 2 on their draft board. I suspect that Appel was No. 1 on most teams' draft boards. I was happy with the decision to draft Appel at the time; he was a safe pick for the No. 1 slot. It is rare for corner infielders to be drafted in the top spot. The Astros did it once—Phil Nevin.

If you want to evaluate the decision with the benefit of hindsight, then you probably have to wait a considerable number of years into their major league careers. Unless one of them has a critical injury or quickly goes bust, at least 4 or 5 years (covering most of the period of team control). A lot can happen. One or both of them might be traded. (Phil Nevin was traded pretty quickly after he made it to the majors.) One of them could take a few years to reach a high level of production, but then have a hall of fame career after that. It's folly to say we know the answer right now. An interesting fact is that both players have Scott Boras as their agent. Will either one enter into a contract extension which allows the Cubs or Astros to continue team control past 6 years? That could be a factor in their value to the team.

Brian Stevenson

Everyone else has said about all that needs saying. In reality, a complete evaluation can't be made until both careers conclude. But one certainly cannot be made at this point. Bryant has one game in the Majors, and Appel has none. There is no comparison to be made yet. If you want an arbitrary point, though, I would say three seasons. Even if the first is a breakout, there is often a sophomore slump which must be recovered from in the third year. So let's say once Appel has 90 MLB starts and Bryant has 1,650 MLB plate appearances. That's when.

Terri Schlather

I think you can't evaluate that...ever. I'm not saying people won't, but there are so many variables that can make the comparison apples to oranges. Imagine a world where the players each went to the opposite team. Do we think they will still have the same career path? The coaches, the teammates, the culture of an organization all have an impact on a player's development, so to think that they'd be the same long term regardless of what team drafted them seems a bit silly to me.

Now, with that said, I know my opinion is in the vast minority and people are going to compare the two and decide whether the Astros did or did not do the right thing. When they do it, I hope for this - that the comparison of the two be based on a similar metric of playing time and that it be a minimum of 4 seasons, that injuries are adjusted for in the comparison, and number of trades.

But still, I have a hard time making this evaluation at all in the future because, well, they're just so different and being groomed by very different organizations that place value on different things.

Chris Perry

As much as I'd love to give a long and thoughtful answer to this, the obvious answer is, "after one of them clearly busts," or, "after they both retire". That said, I think it's fair to continue to project which will be better, and I'll take Appel. Bryant has some red flags in his game and Appel doesn't, as far as we can tell at this point. Bryant's production in the minors comes with the caveat that it's despite issues that will be more readily exploited in the major leagues. Meanwhile, Appel's poorer production was despite peripherals that indicate future success. And Appel is off to no less hot a start in 2015 than Bryant was before his call-up. Bryant looks more and more every day like his best comparable is Mark Trumbo, whereas Appel's perhaps is James Shields or Roy Oswalt.