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Continued: Twins face tough draft decision

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 28, 2012 - 8:21 AM

LOS ANGELES - Stanford pitcher Mark Appel would seem to be everything a team could want in next week's amateur draft, especially a club as desperate for pitching as the Twins, who hold the No. 2 pick.

Appel is a 6-5 righthander with a fastball that reaches 99 miles per hour. He developed a slider and changeup under Stanford pitching coach Rusty Filter, the same guy who coached Stephen Strasburg at San Diego State before the Nationals made Strasburg the No. 1 pick in 2009.

"Characterwise and work ethicwise, they're very similar," Filter said this month before a game at UCLA. "They're both really nice young men. Stephen was very, very competitive earlier on -- almost to a fault -- where Mark has learned as he's gone on to get more competitive fire."

That's one concern scouts have about Appel. He might be too nice. It's taken some convincing to get him to pitch inside, for example, because he never wanted to hit anyone.

"His stuff is good enough, but what always was questioned was the heart, the ability to finish," said longtime Stanford associate head coach Dean Stotz. "He's such a good kid off the field -- I mean, he's Tim Tebow off the field -- that you want to know if there's this innate competitive toughness."

Many wonder if Appel has the tenacity to develop into a true major league ace. Like the other top players in this year's draft class, he still has some perceived flaws, which is why no consensus No. 1 choice has emerged.

Appel is a Houston native, so the Astros are a good bet to take him at No. 1, but experts agree that the player with the most ceiling in this draft is Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton.

If Houston takes Buxton, Appel might be sitting there for the Twins at No. 2, but there are indications they are just as excited about University of San Francisco righthander Kyle Zimmer.

"There's just no easy choice this year," Baseball America's John Manuel said.

Houston roots

Appel lived in Houston until his parents moved to Northern California when he was 12. He has vivid memories of going to the Astrodome, cheering for Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, and now there's a strong chance the favorite team from his childhood will make him the top pick in the draft.

"It definitely has crossed my mind, and that would just be a huge blessing if God gave me that opportunity," Appel said. "But I understand that I want to play professional baseball no matter where it is, and Houston would just kind of be the cherry on top of that."

Appel, 20, has come a long way over the past two years. He was mostly a reliever at Monte Vista High School, where he also excelled in basketball. But with a promising arm and good grades, he went to Stanford, where he spent his first season pitching out of the bullpen.

After his freshman year, Appel went to the New England Collegiate Baseball League -- a step below the Cape Cod League -- and concentrated on developing his off-speed pitches. He returned with a brand new changeup and a refined slider that set him up to be Stanford's No. 1 starter as a sophomore.

Appel was a late bloomer, but then again so was Strasburg, who served as San Diego State's closer his freshman year. Filter once introduced the two righthanders, pointing out all the things they had in common.

"It was really cool because every time [Strasburg] pitches, he's just a beast on the mound," Appel said. "And seeing him as a person -- how quiet, how soft-spoken, how humble he was -- was really kind of encouraging. I like to think of myself as a high-character guy, and that's something we've worked on is kind of being a jerk on the mound."

The lessons appear to be sticking. Scouts wanted to see more dominance, and in his past seven starts he is 5-0 with a 1.36 ERA, including 61 strikeouts and only eight walks in 53 innings.

"He'll show you three above-average to plus pitches, and he'll hold his stuff deep into games," said ESPN draft analyst Keith Law. "He's a really bright kid. He's pretty athletic. He's got most of the things teams are looking for.

"If he dominated, I think it would be a no-brainer that he'd go first, and he may anyway, but I think the only reason we're even talking about him is the performance had never quite matched the full scouting report."

Solid makeup

Many scouts don't believe any of the players in this year's draft class would have been picked in the top seven last year, when a host of frontline pitchers were available, including UCLA's Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, Virginia's Danny Hultzen and Oklahoma high school phenom Dylan Bundy.

This year, the pitcher with the most upside might be Lucas Giolito from Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) High School, but he sprained the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in early March. He avoided surgery, and the Twins are among the teams attending his current throwing sessions, but they are unlikely to gamble on his elbow at No. 2.

"Coming into the draft, I thought the Twins and Lucas Giolito were a match made in heaven, and then Lucas Giolito gets hurt," Manuel said.

For now, Appel appears to be the most polished pitcher available, but he will have to overcome the industry's stigma about Stanford. For all the school's on-field success, the Cardinal has produced some first-round pitching duds.

Yes, Stanford alumni include Jack McDowell (1987), Mike Mussina (1990), Rick Helling (1992), Jeremy Guthrie (2002) and Drew Storen (2009), but among its first-round flops are Jeff Austin (fourth overall pick by the Royals in 1998), Justin Wayne (fourth overall by the Expos in 2000) and Greg Reynolds (second overall by the Rockies in 2006).

On April 13, Stanford let Appel throw 149 pitches in a complete-game victory against Oregon. That immediately raised red flags for teams such as the Twins, who keep pitch limits closer to 100 in hopes of avoiding injuries.

"We took a lot of abuse for that, but he wasn't coming out of that game," Stotz said. "In hindsight, we probably wish we wouldn't have done it, but for a scout, everything that you questioned about him was answered in that event."

It speaks to Appel's toughness, but there's another important variable to the Twins -- Appel's adviser, Scott Boras, a notoriously tough negotiator who helped Strasburg get a record four-year, $15.1 million contract out of the 2009 draft.

Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement has severe penalties for teams that outspend the commissioner's recommended slot bonuses. But if Appel falls to the Twins, Boras could still push for them to spend more than the allotted $6.2 million, even if it cuts into how much they can spend on other draft picks.

At least Appel fits the Twins profile. Historically, they have been drawn to players who are good people off the field, and as General Manager Terry Ryan said, "Makeup is the separator any year."

Appel is a management science and engineering major who has definite plans to finish his degree, as most Stanford players do. He's also deeply religious.

"We were at Washington, and he's on the bench reading the Bible because he's got three hours to do this, and that's what he enjoys doing," Stotz said. "I think he's totally at peace because he senses whatever the Lord's will is, is ultimately going to happen."

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Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
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Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 10 FINAL
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Cleveland - WP: C. Kluber 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: A. Swarzak 2
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 5
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 3 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 8
Los Angeles - WP: C. Perez 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5
Texas - WP: S. Tolleson 2 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Street 1
Philadelphia - LP: M. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Oakland - WP: S. Doolittle 8
San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: I. Kennedy 8
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 3 FINAL
Colorado - WP: C. Bergman 8
Cincinnati - WP: A. Simon 7 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: L. Lynn 2
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 20 FINAL
Seattle 26
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 37 FINAL
Carolina 19
Chicago 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Washington 1
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Calgary 1 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Edmonton 0 FINAL
Calgary 1
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
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Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
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(13) So Carolina
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Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Toronto FC 3
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
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