Friday night's matchup between Stanford and Arizona State featured a battle of two first-round arms, and it was well-attended as a result, with one GM and at least five scouting directors in the house. Stanford starter Mark Appel came out the victor on the scoreboard and in the scouting report, with Arizona State's Trevor Williams showing flashes of first-round ability but struggling to put Cardinal hitters away.
Appel was dominant for stretches Friday night, missing bats with all three pitches, including the best changeup I've ever seen him throw. He came out sitting 95 in the first inning and held it all night, working 93-96 mph and hitting 97 once while I was behind the plate, which came in the seventh inning. The pitch has a little late life but is effective mostly because he commands the pitch well, working down in the zone most of the time but occasionally throwing it above the zone for swings and misses -- something I'd like to see him do more.
His changeup was a 70 pitch at times, 82-85 with action and great arm speed, a weapon against left- and right-handed batters for six innings until he suddenly lost his feel for it in the seventh. His slider was also plus, best at 84-87 when it had big-time tilt, although it was less sharp when he tried to back-door it to hitters, losing velocity and coming in slurvier.
Appel is a great athlete who repeats his delivery extremely well, getting out over his front side with a late release point and generally clean mechanics. One knock on him last year was that his delivery was so clean that hitters could pick the ball up too easily, but that did not look to be true Friday night. He did have one inning Friday when he seemed to lose the rhythm of his delivery, with some loss of command and a little of bad luck that led to the Sun Devils' first two runs. It was the only significant blemish on the outing, which had to impress the Astros' and Cubs' contingents at the game.
Williams looked as if he would match Appel the first time through the order, showing less pure power but a plus changeup of his own and good command, but he was too fastball-heavy the second time around and started giving up more contact while costing himself with walks. Williams was mostly 90-92, touching 94 a few times, and was willing to pitch inside to batters on both sides of the plate, but the pitch is true and he has to be more precise with his command than he was Friday night. His changeup was a real string-puller, 77-78, very deceptive even when he would throw three in a single at-bat. I'd heard his slider had been better the past few weeks, but it was just average against Stanford, 80-84 and often left up just enough for hitters to make contact. The real problem was the pitch selection, though -- too many fastballs against a lineup that showed it could hit them.
Williams' delivery isn't as pretty as Appel's, but he does repeat it and manages to hit most of the key points along the way, generating some torque through hip rotation and finishing over his front side. He turns his elbow over early in the delivery (good for future health, or so the conventional wisdom goes), and the only oddity is that his back foot is off the rubber earlier than most pitchers' would be, before his front foot is fully planted.
Appel is the top prospect in this draft, and has been so since this past summer, a status he only confirmed with this outing Friday night. Williams has looked like a late first-rounder all spring, which could mean he'll go as high as the late teens or even as late as the early sandwich round, with his fate tied up in the effectiveness of his slider. A better breaking ball will translate quite directly into more money for him.
I'll blog again after Saturday night's game, focusing on the Stanford position players who are prospects for this year's draft.