, Port Arthur, Texas

June 6, 2013

Astros select Appel first


David Coleman
The Port Arthur News

HOUSTON — Pitching dominated the conversation leading up to the 2013 MLB Draft and the Astros proved all that talk correct.

Houston took Stanford right-hander Mark Appel with the top overall pick this year and then got UC-Irvine right-hander Andrew Thurman with the top pick in the second round on Thursday.

For Appel, it’s the second time he’s been linked to the Astros at the top of the draft, after the team came close to taking the 6-foot-4 senior last season.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that this came to a conclusion today and that we selected Mark Appel with the first selection in the draft,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “We believe he is a premium talent and we see him as a future potential ace. He’s exactly the type of player that we need to be adding to the organization. He makes us significantly better and we believe this is a special player that is going to be a part of our championship team someday.”

Appel was a candidate to be drafted with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, but the Astros chose Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa instead. Appel then fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 8, but did not sign with the club in a contentious negotiation involving the Pirates’ harsh minor league training program for pitchers and the amount of money the club could offer him.

So, Appel went back to Stanford and turned himself into the top pick once again.

“I don’t think I necessarily had an end goal in mind when I turned down the Pirates’ offer,” Appel said. “My goals were to finish my degree, to become a better baseball player, a better person and better teammate. As far as that goes, I think I accomplished those things. No matter what happened in the Draft, I knew I had done everything that was in my control to put myself in the best situation possible.”

Appel blossomed in his senior year on the mound. There had never been questions about his stuff, as his mid-90’s fastball and power slider/change were there since his sophomore season. But, for much of his junior season, scouts questioned why his excellent arsenal didn’t show itself more in his results.

That changed this season, as Appel developed a plus-plus changeup, commanded his fastball better and began to dominate his college competition. He struck out 130 batters in 106 innings this season, going 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA. He’s not only one of the few pitchers in the 2013 draft who could turn into a true staff ace, but is also one of the most advanced players. That means Astros fans may not have to wait long to see Appel pitching in Houston.

When he does find his way to the big leagues, Appel will be making a homecoming of sorts, as the 21-year old grew up in the Houston area as an Astros fan.

“I have a lot of great memories. I do remember going to a few games in the Astrodome,” Appel said. “My dad’s work had season tickets they split up between a number of people and we got to go to a few games every year. I even remember when Minute Maid Park opened and how great of a ballpark that is. I remember playing Little League baseball at Post Oak Little League and the great summers I had with a bunch of great friends. I’ve gotten some calls and texts from those guys and kept in touch. The friendships and memories I created while I was in Houston were great and still even when I’m back to visit family, new memories have been created every single time.”

Under the new collective bargaining agreement in baseball, the Astros have $7.2 million to spend on the No. 1 overall pick and just over $11 million to spend on the top 10 picks. Houston can exceed the slot value for any pick, as long as they’ve saved money in other places. Teams that spend more than five percent over their draft pool face stiff penalties, including fines and loss of future draft picks.

Appel’s agent is Scott Boras, who has a reputation for driving tough negotiations. However, Houston took and signed two Boras advisees in last year’s draft in high schooler right-hander Lance McCullers, Jr. and third baseman Rio Riuz, both of whom signed with the Astros.

Thurman is a big right-hander at 6-3, 200 pounds who throws in the low 90’s with great command and a solid changeup, plus a 12-6 curveball that has flashed as a quality pitch in the past. The Astros brass see Thurman as a mid-rotation starter at the major league level, similar to current prospect Nick Tropeano, who’s at Double-A Corpus Christi.

The last time Houston took two right-handed pitchers with its first two picks in the draft was in 1998, when the Astros tabbed Brad Lidge with the 17th overall pick and Mike Nannini in the supplemental first round.