Breaking Down the Top Prospects in the 2013 MLB Draft: Stanford RHP Mark Appel


Stanford right hander Mark Appel is the consensus top player available in the June draft. Image: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 MLB Draft is a little over a month away now and the blocks are beginning to fall into place. The Houston Astros will select first overall once again to begin another exciting draft composed of the players who will emerge as the future of baseball and the idols of fans everywhere in the coming years. Who are these players and just how good do they have the ability to be? Let’s start finding that out by evaluating some of the top prospects in this year’s draft, a process that will be culminated by our first ever Grading on the Curve mock draft after years of mock drafts when the site was known as Seedlings to Stars. Today we’ll start with one of the favorites to be the Astros’ selection when the draft begins, Mark Appel.

Mark Appel (RHP, Stanford University)

Information: 6’5″, 215 pounds, turns 22 in July, previously selected 1st round (8th overall) by Pirates in 2012 and 15th round by Tigers in 2009

2013 Stats: 7-3, 1.49 ERA, 10.6 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, and 4 CG in 10 starts and 78.2 IP

Scouting Overview: Appel took a huge risk last summer, declining $3.8MM from the Pittsburgh Pirates after they selected him 8th overall to return to Stanford for his senior season. Appel had been a favorite to go first overall to the Astros last year, but they had instead decided on shortstop Carlos Correa, sending Appel into free-fall thanks to his bonus demands. Bud Selig finally called his name when the Pirates’ selection came around, but Appel refused to accept anything less than the $4.8MM Correa received and he could not agree to terms with Pittsburgh.

It could have been viewed at the time as Appel showing a bloating ego and a refusal to compromise even in favorable situation, but he has gone out on a mission this season and appears to have made the right decision.

Appel’s repertoire contains the same three offerings that it did last season, a fastball, a slider, and a changeup, but he has tied his arsenal together around the edges and college hitters have been overmatched against him nearly every time out.

Appel’s fastball stays in the mid-90’s, touching as high as 99 MPH, with sink and run away from right-handed hitters when he’s going well. His slider out of the same arm slot is a devastating pitch with acute downward action, and his changeup has emerged as a strong third offering with good late sink.

Appel has made strides on his secondary pitches, but his real breakthrough has been with his delivery.

Despite his electric stuff, Appel had a penchant for getting hit hard at times the previous two years as his command had lapses and he left too many pitches up in the zone. This season, though, he made a slight adjustment, lowering his arm slot just slightly from an almost over-the-top type of delivery to more high three-quarters, and the results of that have been spectacular.

As a pitcher, you want to get on top of the ball and drive it into the bottom of the zone. Throwing the ball relatively straight down sounds like a good way to do that, but it has the opposite effect, causing the ball to come out flatter out of the pitcher’s hand and taking more effort for him to get the ball down. Switching to a high three-quarters motion has allowed Appel to make more use of his height to get a great downward angle on the ball and get better sink and run on his fastball more often.

The change has also been a major reason why his breaking ball and changeup have improved as well.

Appel’s slider got slurvy and hanged up in the zone too frequently last season, leading to much more hard contact than Appel would have liked. Now, he’s keeping it down and getting dynamic, two-plane break on it a higher percentage of the time. At 85-88 MPH, Appel has the ability to both throw it for strikes down in the zone and use it as a put-away pitch, and it has looked like a plus-plus offering at times this season. For his changeup, Appel had decent arm action on it in the past, but he’s doing a better job getting sink on it and that has been a key to its emergence. Appel’s arm slot has also helped him hide the ball a little better than previously, just giving Appel another advantage as he attacks hitters.

Last year at this time, Mark Appel had outstanding stuff but carried risk as he needed refinement on all his pitches. Now, however, Appel is combining his overbearing arsenal with the polish he will need to dominate at higher levels, and he looks to zoom through the minor leagues and be an impact major league pitcher as soon as the middle of 2014.

Appel is a sure bet for one of the draft’s top three picks pending injury, and after turning him down last year, the Astros may like Appel too much to pass up again after seeing just how much he has improved.