45 Prospects in 45 Days: Houston’s Mark Appel
Reporting on prospects is a somewhat dicey proposition for a self-appointed sabermetrician. The big league game is dependent upon numbers while the prospect world is dependent on scouting reports and first person accounting. So, when I report on prospects I often report of what others have said about the player. This makes life difficult because most prospects have their defenders and their detractors and Mark Appel is no different. Appel already caused waves when he became the only first round pick not to sign in 2012. The Pittsburgh Pirates selected him eighth overall and did not have enough in there entire bonus pool to give him the contract he was looking for.
Returning to Stanford for his senior season ended up working in his favor. Appel worked on his game and ended up increasing his strikeout rate in the process. That silenced some of his critics as those critics had been wondering why Appel wasn’t more dominant than he was. After all, somone that would end up being the number one overall pick should be blowing through collegiate batting orders quite easily. His defenders would point out that the PAC-12 is one of the more competitive conferences in college baseball.
Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has Appel rated as the Astros fourth best prospect overall and their best pitching prospect. He rates as Mayo’s 25th best prospect in all of baseball. Mayo says Appel is a “complete package as a pitcher, combining stuff, size, and pitchability.” If we translate that into plain English it says that Appel is already a polished pitcher that has a chance to move through the Astros chain rather quickly. While he may not have the upside that Jonathan Gray does, he probably has a better chance of having a solid big league career.
The Astros system is a lot deeper than it used to be. ESPN.com has the Astros system ranked number one overall. Not all professional scouts agree as Jason Parks of baseballprospectus.com had them number nine overall last year. Either way, they are good enough to where they don’t have to rush Appel. He mixes a fastball that sits in the mid-90s with a solid slider and changeup. None of the offerings are what you would call electric, but they are all good pitches that will likely succeed at the big league level. Everyone in the minors can hit a mid 90s fastball, so Appel will likely have some outings where he looks rather ordinary. The question is how he will battle through those outings.
The good news is that Appel issued only two walks per nine innings in limited duty last season. His combined FIP was also under 3.00. That and a couple of bucks will buy you a cup of coffee. 38 minor league innings aren’t enough to base anything on. The Astros front office has been non-commital about their plans with Appel this season. If he blows everyone away in Spring Training he could end up opening the season in Corpus Christi and coming up to the big leagues around the all-star break. If he shows some signs of struggle he could start in Lancaster and spend the year on the farm. It’s really hard to say what to expect from Appel as a fantasy owner this season. Personally, I think a September call up is an outside possibility, but the Astros have enough minor league arms ahead of Appel that they don’t have to start the arbitration clock in 2014.