Mark Appel got what he wanted when he went first overall in the draft Thursday to Houston. His gamble of going back to Stanford after being selected No. 8 a year ago by the Pirates and then choosing not to take their reported $3.8 million offer apparently paid off. Appel could sign for as much as $7,790,400, the slotted salary for this year's top pick.
The Pirates also have some skin in that gamble, though. Fans and the media will spend the next five to 10 years watching Appel's progress against that of Austin Meadows, a high school outfielder they took with the bonus pick that came back to them in the first round because Appel did not sign. Because of the difference in their levels of experience, Appel can be expected to make the majors well before Meadows. Still, there will come a point where their bodies of work will be put up against each other, just as for years fans followed the progress of Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who the Pirates passed on in 2007 and instead selected a more signable Daniel Moskos,
In Appel's case, the Pirates did not want to risk exceeding the slotted signing amount for the No. 8 pick a year ago and incurring penalties of cash and/or a future draft pick.
Appel is the immediate winner.
"There were a lot of ways he could've gone after his disappointment last year of not being selected where he thought he really should've gone," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said on MLB Network. "But he went out there, put that behind him and just performed better. "
Appel features a mid-90s fastball along with an above-average slider and changeup. He was 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA for Stanford this spring and leaves as the school's career leader in wins and strikeouts.
"He's the most advanced pitcher in this draft and might be the quickest to the big leagues," said MLB Network analyst John Hart.
Luhnow agrees he could be on the fast track. "It's a big difference between the major leagues and college baseball, but I do believe in time Mark Appel will be pitching in Houston and pitching in the top of our rotation," he said.
Whether he or the Pirates -- or both -- will be the ultimate winner in this game won't be known for several years. In the meantime, fans will be watching.