Jack Mosbacher was a member of the Stanford baseball team from 2008-2011. Each week, he takes a look at the Cardinal’s ups and downs on its road to the College World Series.
For nearly a year, Stanford junior and starting pitcher Mark Appel has been listed among the elite prospects in this year’s Major League Baseball draft, which will begin on June 4. Based on his overpowering stuff, prototypical build and strong performance while wearing the red, white and blue for Team USA this past summer, Appel is one of the most sought-after athletes in the amateur baseball ranks. Come draft day, he is sure to hear his name called early–perhaps as early as first overall.
This year, the coveted number one pick in the draft belongs to Appel’s hometown team, the Houston Astros. I’m not normally big in the prediction business, but I feel comfortable making one here: if the Astros don’t take Mark Appel, they’ll be making a huge mistake.
Some experiences have a way of solidifying a place in your mind, and I will never forget the first time I saw Mark Appel throw a baseball. To be clear, I had seen a few guys throw as hard, but never before had I seen such fluidity and grace coupled with such power and torque. It was simply spectacular.
“That,” I remember thinking, “is how it is supposed to be done.”
All scouts agree that Appel has the stuff to make it to the big leagues, matching a dominant fastball with a devastating slider and quality changeup. More importantly, Mark has never been injured–a huge advantage in a market that depends upon shoulder and elbow health. Based on his stuff and stamina, few doubt that he will become, at the least, a quality starter for a Major League team.
That said, Appel’s stuff alone–although undeniably impressive–has not conclusively separated him from the rest of the pack in his draft class. Admittedly, he still has several areas in which he needs to improve. In my opinion, he needs to work a little more deception into his uber-smooth motion and make better use of his overpowering stuff in two-strike counts. Unlike the drafts of the last two years, in which the Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were obvious runaways for the top pick, this year’s draft has no clear favorite. Some scouts aren’t even convinced that Appel is the best pitcher in the college ranks, listing Louisiana State University’s Kevin Gausman and University of San Francisco’s Kyle Zimmer as his top competitors.
I’m not here to argue that Mark’s stuff is superior to Gausman’s or Zimmer’s–I’ve only seen Gausman on TV and have never seen Zimmer’s stuff. However, I have one advantage over all of the scouts: I know both Mark Appel the pitcher and Mark Appel the person, and when it comes to the latter, he is simply peerless.
Mark Appel the person is a mixture of seemingly contradictory elements. He is a man of strong faith and unshakable competitiveness. He is a relentlessly aggressive athlete with an unfailingly warm heart. He’s far from perfect but perfectly honest about his own faults. Simply put, he’s an A-plus human being.
And that is why I think that the Astros would regret not making Mark Appel the first pick next Monday. The organization has the opportunity to bring back a hometown kid–Mark spent most of his childhood in Houston before moving to the Bay Area–and have the type of player that most teams can only dream about: a star player that children will adore and fans will love to root for. He’s a winner, a competitor and a class act. Of course, I am not writing from an unbiased position as I consider Mark, a former teammate, one of my best friends.
With that said, I feel obligated to warn the Astros of Mark’s one glaring flaw as a baseball player: he is, without question, the worst hitter I have ever seen. Playing in the National League, he will eventually have to hit for himself if (and when) he makes it to the Majors. Honestly, there is a conceivable chance that he’ll never get a hit.
So, let this be a formal endorsement of Mark Appel by one member of the Stanford community. The only reason I don’t want Mark to go number one overall is that Stanford will miss him so much on the Farm for one more year. But if Mark is called first on June 4, as I think he should be, hopefully his career as a Cardinal can end a few weeks later in Omaha with a title trophy in his hands.