Houston selected him ahead of fellow elite pitching prospects Jonathan Gray and Kohl Stewart, effectively coupling Appel with some lofty expectations for his pro career. As the No. 1 selection, he’ll be expected to have a big impact in his formative years with the team.
But, like many top pitching prospects, Appel probably won’t make an immediate jump to the big league level—especially for a team in the process of a major rebuild. Given a few areas in which Appel must improve to lock down the top of an MLB rotation, that won’t be such a bad thing.
The Astros aren’t in any need of an immediate game-changer, though. Yes, they need some big league talent in a bad way, but there’s also no sense in rushing Appel to the Show before he’s ready.
Big League Stuff
Appel doesn’t have the arm of Oklahoma righty and No. 3 pick Jonathan Gray, but it’s not that far off.
The Stanford product can run his fastball up into the high 90s when needed, but he typically sits in the 94-96 range and never seems to lose velocity as outings wear on. Even at the end of the 2013 season, Appel was dialing up his fastball in the mid-to-high 90s on a consistent basis.
The velocity is there. But what about control?
Arguably the best aspect of Appel’s game, control isn’t an issue for the hurler—especially with his fastball. Appel is phenomenal at locating his heater anywhere he needs to place it and has no problem moving in, out, high and low depending on the situation. When he needs a little extra with two strikes, Appel can elevate his hard stuff as well as anyone in this draft class.
Appel’s next-best pitch is easily his slider which, when he’s dialed in, looks like the hard, biting out pitch you would expect from one of the draft’s best pitchers. It’s absolutely devastating when paired with a changeup that—although still a work in progress—is good enough to throw at any point in the count.
And then there’s production.
Stanford doesn’t exactly face easy competition in its regular-season schedule, but that didn’t bother Appel in 2013. Posting a 10-4 record, 2.12 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 106.1 innings pitched, he proved quality of competition has no effect on his performance.
Along with his impressive raw totals, Appel also struck out 130 batters in 2013 and walked just 23—another indication of his impressive control. There are a handful of pitchers in this class with more velocity, but it’s hard to find one who can command his pitches the way Appel does.
Making Some Adjustments
For all the overwhelming positives to Appel’s game, there are still some areas in which he needs to improve. No prospect is without flaws, though he comes pretty close.
For the Stanford standout to be a truly dominant big league pitcher, he needs to work on developing his changeup as a more consistent out pitch. It’s certainly not a bad pitch as is, but it’s not quite the elite stuff he shows with his heater and slider.
In addition, Appel has shown the tendency to lower his arm slot for his offspeed and breaking stuff, effectively limiting the deception of both pitches. That’s not necessarily something that requires a mechanical overhaul, but it’s an area of his game the Astros can key in on for improving his overall game.
It may seem cliché, but there’s a reason Appel was selected at the top of the first round. He simply doesn’t have a lot of flaws to improve upon. As a result, don’t be surprised to see him make an early appearance in the majors.
There’s absolutely nothing to suggest Appel can’t be a No. 1 starter early in his career. With an extremely high ceiling and very little risk, Houston shouldn’t expect anything less than No. 2 stuff from Appel throughout his major league career.
Appel has the stuff to make the jump almost immediately (perhaps at the end of the current season), but, more likely, Houston will groom him for some work early next season to gauge his pro readiness and future potential. At the very least, Appel should make his debut no later than the start of the 2015 season if all goes right in Houston.
It’s extremely early to be projecting what Appel will do at the MLB level, but he’s not far from making the leap. With that said, here are some projections for the No. 1 pick’s Astros career.
|1||50 innings, 4.12 ERA, 38 Ks||200 innings, 3.20 ERA, 170 Ks|
|2||75 innings, 3.98 ERA, 50 Ks||210 innings, 3.10 ERA, 185 Ks|
|3||110 innings, 3.80 ERA, 80 Ks||215 innings, 3.10 ERA, 190 Ks|
|10-year Career Averages||170 innings, 3.95 ERA, 120 Ks||220 innings, 3.15 ERA, 215 Ks|
Obviously, injuries and organizational factors will play into what Appel can do in his professional career, but we already have a pretty good idea of what to expect given his skill set and college performance. If he isn't rushed into starting at the big league level, he could easily be a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher with high-strikeout potential.