In 1992, the Houston Astros selected Phil Nevin, a third baseman from Cal State Fullerton with the No. 1 overall pick—ahead of a certain high school shortstop named Derek Jeter, who was picked sixth overall by the New York Yankees. Nevin wound up playing just 18 games for the Astros, while Jeter has over 3,000 career hits for the Yankees and is a lock for the Hall of Fame when he retires.
Two decades later, the Astros have the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft once again, and they will attempt not to make the same mistake again.
Stanford pitcher Mark Appel has been projected to be the first pick for most of the season, and ESPN’s Jim Bowden tweeted the following on Sunday afternoon, citing an unnamed source:
According to source the Houston Astros are expected to select Stanford RHP Mark Appel with the first over all selection in tomorrows draft.— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) June 3, 2012
If these rumors hold true, and the Astros do indeed select Appel first overall, the Cardinal would have the distinction of producing No. 1 selections in three professional sports this year (Andrew Luck to the NFL and Nneka Ogwumike to the WNBA are the other two).
But success didn’t come without hard work and struggles for Appel, who coincidentally was an Astros’ fan growing up in Houston, Texas, before moving to the Bay Area when he was 12.
He played baseball for Monta Vista High School in San Ramon, where he was relegated to a bullpen role during his senior year, as other pitchers who were perceived to have more talent were in the starting rotation. He was selected in the 15th round (450th overall) in 2009 by the Detroit Tigers, but instead chose to attend Stanford on a scholarship.
Appel continued to pitch out of the bullpen in his freshmen year at Stanford, finishing with just 26 strikeouts in 38 innings and a 5.92 ERA.
Stanford pitching coach Rusty Filter cited Appel’s lack of an arsenal of pitches for his mediocre freshman season, telling Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game USA:
[T]his guy didn’t even start for his high school team. In my system, we’re always pitching to contact, and you have to throw strikes to be effective. He didn’t have good command on his breaking ball and changeup as a freshman and that cost him dearly. Mark was a one-pitch guy as a freshman, and it’s something we talked a lot about.
So Appel worked hard during the summer, and set a goal to be in the starting rotation in his sophomore campaign. He spent some time in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, working on developing his pitches.
“I went into the summer focusing on getting a lot of innings and creating a starter’s mentality,” Appel said. “Everything I was doing all summer and winter, I was preparing to be a starter. I wanted to be the Friday night guy for this team.”
He finished the summer going 6-1 with a 1.43 ERA in 43 innings in the NECBL, and was named to the starting rotation in his sophomore year at Stanford. His performance was much improved, as he finished the sophomore campaign with a 6-7 record and a 3.07 ERA, and eventually did become the Friday night starter.
In an interview with Jessica Quiroli in March of 2011, Appel acknowledged that his success as a starter was largely because of his much improved repertoire.
The offspeed stuff is coming along just fine. The slider has been one of my better pitches throughout high school and college and right now I’m working on location and setting hitters up with the fastball to punch them out with the slider. My changeup has improved greatly from last year. I threw it a lot this summer in the NECBL, and I now feel comfortable throwing it in any count. Having three pitches has allowed me to be efficient to let me go deep into games and keep the hitters off balance.
However, the journey to success was just starting for Appel, who had a career year as a junior. This season, he went 9-1 with a 2.37 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 116/24 K/BB ratio over 110 innings this season. Toss out his two starts against Fresno State and Arizona, in which he gave up a combined 13 runs over 16 innings, and he would have a 1.21 ERA over his other 97 innings. He had seven games with at least 10 strikeouts, and averaged 7.9 innings per start.
Scouts are salivating about his potential, and were impressed with his arsenal of pitches this year. Wes Yee of Project Prospect noted Appel’s outstanding fastball, devastating curveball, and above-average changeup in this report.
And that’s where Mark Appel’s incredible journey has led him. But what might be the most incredible moment of all could be tonight, when the Houston Astros, his hometown team, selects Appel with the first pick of the 2012 MLB Draft.
This article first appeared on baysportsnet.com.