Blanchat: Luck and Appel could be first pair of first picks

Jan. 26, 2012, 1:45 a.m.

We at Stanford are used to doing things that have never been done before. Things that students at other schools dream of — starting billion-dollar companies, competing in the Olympics or becoming an influential politician — are all somewhat common for Stanford grads.


But this year, two Stanford students could achieve something that has never been done before: be the first pair of classmates picked first in both the NFL and MLB drafts.


It’s pretty obvious to everyone who has watched Andrew Luck play football that he will (and should) be the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but he may not be the only No. 1 pick on campus this season.


After an excellent sophomore year and a phenomenal performance this summer in the elite Cape Cod league, junior righthanded pitcher Mark Appel is widely considered to be the best prospect for this year’s MLB draft. And if the Astros decide that they want an ace righty to help them struggle through their switch to the American League in 2013, it will be the first time in history that one school has had the first picks in the NFL and MLB drafts.


This feat is particularly impressive because MLB teams can (and often do) draft prospects straight out of high school, so they don’t have to always take the most talented college player available. The draft pool for the MLB draft is larger than any other professional sports league, so having a player from your school picked first overall is far less likely to happen in the MLB than in any other professional sports league.


Perhaps the only fly in the ointment for the Stanford, though, is that if Luck and Appel both go first overall, it wouldn’t be the first time in sports history that two students from the same school were the first picks overall for two professional sports leagues. The first school to achieve this feat was the University of Utah back in 2005, when the Milwaukee Bucks selected forward Andrew Bogut with the first pick in the NBA draft and the San Francisco 49ers made quarterback Alex Smith the first pick in the NFL draft.


The Colts have already come out and said that they definitely will choose Luck with the first pick on April 26. Thankfully, the Colts have their heads on straight, so that leaves just one question: how likely are the Astros to pick Appel and complete the first-pick duo?


Appel’s measurable statistics are pretty darn impressive. He’s 6-foot-5, throws a fastball that reaches 99 miles an hour and has two other nasty pitches with a low-80s changeup and a high-80s slider. As the Friday night starter last season — pitching against every team’s best starter every week — he compiled a 6-7 record with a 3.02 ERA and struck out 86 batters compared to just 29 walks in 110.1 innings of work. And after spending a summer playing with Team USA and in the Cape Cod baseball league, he’s put together a body of work that many major league teams covet.


Aside from those stats, though, Appel should have special appeal to the Astros, making him very likely to be the first overall pick even if he should struggle this season. Appel has ties to Houston — he lives in Houston, his grandparents live in Houston and his uncle is the dean of the architecture school at Rice University.


Additionally, the Astros have a recent history of picking Stanford players. In 2008, the Astros took Cardinal catcher Jason Castro with the 10th overall pick in the draft, and it would provide some synergy in the battery if both the ace pitcher and the guy behind the plate could bond about spending three years under the rule of head coach Mark Marquess.


It seems like the only things that could swing the Astros away from picking Appel are that four of their top 10 prospects are right-handed pitchers or the nightmare case that Appel gets injured in 2012.


But should Appel stay healthy and put together another good season — which seems likely considering the Cardinal returns its top eight hitters — he and Luck could make a pair that’s never been seen before. And even for a place like Stanford, which is used to greatness, that’d be pretty dang impressive.


Jack Blanchat can’t throw 99 mph and has never been really known for his pocket poise. But if you need someone to partner with, Jack definitely can bowl a mean game of bocce ball. Send your requests to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jmblanchat.

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