Luhnow on Appel: 'We're absolutely thrilled'
Mark Appel has all the attributes the Astros are looking for in a pitcher, and someone who they believe is worthy of being the No. 1 overall draft choice.
To the Astros, there was little debate in taking the Stanford right-handed pitcher with the first pick on Thursday in the 2013 baseball draft.
“We’ve seen Mark as the standard to beat,” said Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. “When our name was called (shortly after 6 p.m.) we were ready to make the pick.
“We feel Mark stands a better chance of being a hit than a miss. He pitched deep into games. This is as good as a bet as anybody.”
It looks like a win-win situation for the Astros and Appel, who lived in Houston until he was 12-years-old before moving to California.
In participating in a conference call on Thursday with the Houston media, Appel recalled the good times he had with his teammates playing in the Post Oak Little League. He has fond memories of Houston and can’t wait to get back to the city to pitch.
“It’s very exciting (to be drafted by Houston),” said Appel. “I have a lot of great memories. I have a lot of family in Houston.
“I remember going to a few games in the Astrodome. I remember when Minute Maid Park opened (2010). How great of a ballpark that is.”
The Astros didn’t select Appel No. 1 because he has Houston ties. They felt he was the best player on the board. Astros officials feel signing Appel won’t be a problem. He’s represented by Scott Boras. The pick has a maximum $7.79 million slot value.
“I’m very confident that Mark Appel is going to put on an Astros uniform,” said Luhnow.
Appel, who spent four years at Stanford, was 10-4 his senior season with a 2.12 ERA. He struck out 130 batters in 106 innings.
“We see him as a potential ace,” said Luhnow. “He makes us significantly better. He’s a special player. He’s a premium talent. He continued to dominate in high-level competition.”
Astros scouting director Mike Elias was just as complimentary about Appel as Luhnow.
“We felt he was the best pitcher for us,” said Elias.“His durability and his mechanics speak for someone who can do it for a long time.”
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Appel has a strong arm that the Astros like. His fastball is in the mid-90s range and he hits 88-89 mph on his slider.
As good as Appel was as a junior, he improved his final year at Stanford. Appel increased the angle and downward spin on his fastball by throwing from a higher slot.
“The biggest area (of improvement) was fastball command,” said Appel. “Command to get down in the zone. That made all my other pitches better. I had a better feel for both my off-speed pitches as the season went on.
“But the big focus was fastball command. Once I got that it helped the overall game.”
“He has a bulldog mentality,” said Astros scout Bryan Byrne. “He wants to win, he wants to be great.”
He’ll get his chance with the Astros, who last year passed on picking Appel with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. Instead the Astros selected high school shortstop Carlos Correa.
After not being picked by the Astros in the 2012 draft, Appel slid down to the eighth pick where Pittsburgh drafted him. He didn’t sign with Pittsburgh and opted to remain at Stanford, where he graduated with a degree in management science and engineering.
“He made the steps this year,” said Elias. “More angle on his fastball. His secondary pitch continues to develop. His change-up continues to develop. His command has improved. He’s taken a huge step forward every year.”
How quickly Appel rises through the Astros’ farm system will be interesting to follow.
Major League Baseball analyst Harold Reynolds said on Thursday that he expects Appel to be with the Astros by this July. Luhnow said as much as the Astros like Appel’s upside, don’t expect to see him in the major leagues that soon.
“He’s pitched a lot this year,” said Luhnow. “I don’t see any need to rush (him). We’re not going to rush to the big leagues. He’s a guy that’s capable of moving quickly as far as his experience. “
This marks the fourth time the Astros have had the first overall pick in the draft. In 1976 the Astros took LHP Floyd Bannister. In 1992 they chose infielder Phil Nevin. Last year was Correa, who is hitting .275 at Class A Quad Cities with a club-best 33 RBIs. At 18-years-old, Correa is considered either the No. 1 or No. 2 Astros prospect.
In 1969 with the second overall choice the Astros selected RHP J.R. Richard.