Mark My Words: Appel to pitch for ‘Cats Friday

By Matt Appel (@mattappel)

On July 4th, fireworks will be set off, hot dogs and hamburgers will be grilled and consumed en masse, and a beer or two will be enjoyed. The occasion? Mark Appel’s much anticipated-arrival in Tri-City, of course. Did you have something else in mind?

On Thursday, the 1st overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft will be present at The Joe, as he begins his professional career with the ValleyCats. Appel is slated to start on Friday against the Lowell Spinners, which will be the first appearance of what has the potential to be a long and memorable career. The 6’5″, 215 pound righty went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA with four complete games and two shutouts. He struck out 130 hitters and held the opposition to a .203 batting average.

Appel will become the highest-drafted player (obviously) to ever play for the ValleyCats. The other Houston first round picks that have been assigned to Tri-City in the team’s tenure in Troy are Brian Bogusevic (now with the Cubs) in 2005, Jason Castro and Jordan Lyles in 2008, and George Springer in 2011. Once Springer gets a call up from AAA Oklahoma City, a move that might happen before year’s end, all of those players will have reached the Majors, a streak that Appel will aim to keep going.

What does Appel’s assignment to Tri-City mean for the ValleyCats? Well, it puts them at the center of the Astros universe for at least a night, as the potential future ace of the organization begins his path to Houston. While he will reportedly be on a very strict pitch count on Friday, Appel’s start will be one not soon forgotten for all in attendance, which should be quite a few.

Appel shaking hands with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow at the righty's introductory press conference on June 19th

Appel shaking hands with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow at the righty’s introductory press conference on June 19th

For those not familiar with Appel on the mound, he is one of the more polished pitchers to emerge from the college ranks in recent memory. A First-Team All-Pac 12 selection in 2012 and 2013, Appel also holds the Stanford record for strikeouts, with 370. A smooth delivery from the righty allows a fastball that tops out at 98 MPH to often jump at hitters. A slider that has improved tremendously since arriving at Stanford is an out pitch that can generate many swings and misses. Appel’s third pitch is a changeup, that while it still requires some tweaking, projects as at least an average pitch, according to Baseball America’s scouting report. Before he takes the mound on Friday, make sure you check out Appel’s official prospect video from Steve Fiorindo.

The player comparison that has been made most often for Appel is another right-hander named Mark from a California college; Mark Prior. While Prior’s career, by almost all accounts, was an unfulfilled disappointment, the amount of potential he showed (and executed on, early in his career) is encouraging for Astros fans to have Appel compared to. Prior would most likely still have been a top-of-the rotation starter will multiple All-Star appearances and maybe even a Cy Young nod, if not for a most unfortunate string of injuries, that have stalled him even to this day. If Appel can reach the level, even on a semi-consistant basis, that Prior did in 2003, when the Cubs righty went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA, then the pick will be a clear-cut success for Houston.

2013 marked the third time Appel, a Houston native (yes, how perfect is that), was drafted. In 2009, the Tigers took him with their 15th round selection, but he opted to go through on his commitment to Stanford. Then, in 2012, when Appel was expected by almost everyone to be picked 1st overall by Houston, he slid to 8th overall because of a perceived tough negotiation process with agent Scott Boras. After opting to return to Palo Alto for his senior year, the calculated risk has appeared to pay off, as Appel became the first Cardinal player to go first overall in the MLB Draft. The Astros simply could not afford to pass on him twice.

By the time Appel fires his first pitch Friday night at The Joe, it will have been 42 days since he last threw in a game that mattered. That last start came on May 24th against UCLA, a 2-1 Stanford victory, in which Appel received his 10th win of the season, and became the Cardinal strikeout king. So, don’t be surprised if there is a little rust. Don’t be surprised if Appel doesn’t strike out every batter he faces on three pitches. Rather, pay attention to mechanics, velocity, movement, and the beginning of what should be a fruitful and achievement-laced career.

Mark Appel might very well go on to be the most successful ValleyCat in the Major Leagues of all time, and could arrive (for real, not just for a press conference) at Minute Maid Park as early as next season. He has the potential to join the ranks of Pence, Zobrist, even Jeter and Rivera, as very accomplished MLB players whose path there included a stop in the Capital District. His ceiling is that of a #1 or very, very good #2 starter. He has learned from the same pitching coach that made Stephen Strasburg the pitching talent of a generation. There is certainly a great deal of pressure on Appel, who is expected to be at the forefront of the Astros’ return to competitiveness. However, all that matters for right now is the reality of the player deemed “the best” in the most recent draft will begin his career wearing a Tri-City ValleyCats jersey. Doesn’t get much exciting than that, folks.

(And no, there is no known relation between myself and Mark. And if there is, then I certainly got robbed of any and all athletic genes.)

1 Comment

Excellent article. However I would like to add that in 2006 the Astros assigned their #1 draft pick (26th overall) to the ValleyCats. Catcher Max Sapp was a likable kid who never reached his potential and has had health issues including meningitis.

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