Much ink has been spilled on Stanford righty and Pirates first-round pick Mark Appel since the draft on Monday. Much of it has been centered around how Appel, a contender for the No. 1 overall pick, slipped to eighth overall and how the new collective bargaining agreement's draft values and Appel's perceived bonus demands might have impacted his slide.
The underreported story is that while Appel might have been the consensus top pitcher in the draft, each team's draft board differs greatly and more than a few teams had Appel fourth in a tightly-packed top group of arms including LSU righty Kevin Gausman (fourth overall to Baltimore), USF righty Kyle Zimmer (fifth overall to Kansas City) and California prep lefty Max Fried (seventh overall to San Diego).
I saw Appel's worst outing of the year Friday night, a 17-1 super regional loss at Florida State where he only lasted four innings, but it wasn't just a tough night-there are negatives to consider going forward. I saw Gausman earlier in the season against a Florida lineup that might be the best in college baseball and would slot Appel behind Gausman.
Appel has a sturdy 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame and looks the part of a frontline pitcher. Indeed, early in the game he looked like the best player in the country. He was 94-97 mph in the first three innings, spotting his fastball effectively at the knees and to both sides of the plate. While Gausman and the other top pitchers in this draft have two reliable pitches and a third that lags behind, Appel brings three pitches to the table that will flash plus along with command that was at least above-average early in the game.
Appel's changeup is hard at 84-85 mph with excellent deception from fastball arm speed with hard late sink and fade. The pitch will flatten up in the zone and he had some trouble throwing it to his glove side, but he has a good chance to make the adjustments to make it a consistent plus pitch. His slider was 86-87 mph early, with 11-to-5 tilt, curveball action, late snap and depth but only flashed plus a few times as he had trouble staying on top and finishing the pitch. It was consistently above-average until later in the outing when he began to lose feel and it looked more like a fringy curveball at 82-84 mph.
Appel started the fourth inning at 93-96 mph and finished it with a pitch count of 98 and his fastball down to the 91-94 mph range. That velocity progression is normal for Appel -- my concern is centered on why Appel got into trouble in the first place. Around 60 pitches, Appel's command disappeared as he walked four, hit two and uncorked a wild pitch in a short stretch all while losing feel for his off-speed offerings. Appel has an aggressive delivery with a long stride that I love to see pitchers use, but I wonder if Appel is athletic enough to repeat it and if this affected his command.
I noticed after a few innings that Appel walks with his shoulders hunched over and has an awkward lumbering posture. I could be making more out of this than I should, but what I'm trying to illustrate is that with these four pitchers grouped so closely on talent, small things that might or might not predict the future can be the difference in a draft room.
Appel also lacks deception and many scouts think that's why he hasn't missed as many bats as they'd like to see. Through the first two innings, Appel got five groundouts, one strikeout and gave up one single on a soft liner. My notes had Appel with a well-above-average groundball rate of 68.8 percent in this game, and Florida State didn't hit a ball hard against him all night. When he wasn't putting people on base, a strong college lineup still couldn't make hard contact against Appel on his worst day.
If Appel can make adjustments, there's still a chance he can be a No. 1 starter, but, for me, he's more likely to be an innings-eating, groundball-inducing No. 2 or No. 3 starter and every team in baseball would take one of those.