By The Baseball Beginnings Guy
May 2, 2012
I had my second look this season at the Stanford right-hander in his outing at UCLA. Overall, it’s the third time I’ve seen Mark Appel in the past two years. This was his best look in my opinion and probably the one that got him signed, sealed, and delivered as the 1/1 to the Astros with Luhnow sitting there for all seven innings. Good thing for Appel, too – he was far better here than he was when I saw him a few weeks earlier pitching in the thin Tucson air against a better lineup. That Marine Layer at UCLA is a real mother and their lineup isn’t as deep as Arizona’s, so Appel had everything he needed to look his best.
First of all, Appel reminds me of Mark Prior in some ways and Gerrit Cole in others. He’s got the same body, the same frame, the same big lower half, with similarities in his mechanics and delivery that remind me of Prior. Appel is not a consistent quality strike-thrower, which makes him like Cole. I don’t think Appel’s slider is as hard and sharp as Cole’s was in college. I don’t think either guy is terribly loose, athletic or balanced. I think they are both grunters. I think Cole had the better arm. I think they are both 5-inning, 100-pitch, 4.00 ERA-ish Major League starters — great arms with inconsistencies until proven otherwise.
I keep seeing people putting fat grades on Appel and I think it’s wrong. He’s not an 80 — just because your fastball velocity is an 8 (to say nothing of movement and location) doesn’t mean the whole package is an 8. He’s not a 7, either. Let’s be realistic and fair to the guy. He’s in that 60 range on the low side and 65 on the high side. You might think I’m a strict grader, but it ain’t about projecting his abilities against college boys, it’s about doing it against major league hitters. It may not be as sexy, but it’s still an enormous grade and easily enough to get you popped 1/1.
I’m not going to get into the specifics, because the truth is that the people who will be signing him don’t care how he does what he does as long as he does it. It used to be about scouting projection, but when it comes to signing guys like this, the business is entirely about scouting performance. The bottom line is your grandma could scout him — he’s a hard thrower, period. He’s a lump of clay. That said, if I’ve got the 1/1, I’ll take a 20-year old college guy over a reportedly 19-year old high school guy all day long, if those are the two choices I have.
Fastball 94-97 early, comfortable 94-95 with occasional power lapses depending on what his delivery looks like that day. I personally have found his fastball to be mostly straight with about half the downhill plane he really needs to be as dominant in the major leagues as he is in college. He’ll flash late sink and did so more consistently in this look. This was one of my worries in my previous story. He was better in this look and you saw many fewer fastballs starting up in the strike zone.
His slider and change-up were better here than they were in Tucson. Appel is not an over-the-top or even high ¾ guy, he’s more of a mid ¾ guy who asks his elbow to do an awful lot of work. I won’t even call it a true slider, it’s more of a hard slurve, 86. If all you see is high school guys all the time, it looks nasty. It has its moments and he was more consistent with it in this look, but he needs more nights like this with it because he needs this to be a strikeout pitch. He’s got to get more consistent with that fastball to get this weapon into counts sooner.
The change-up was 83-87, sometimes overthrown and straightening out, but best around 84, and more importantly, showing some late sink and occasional hard dive.
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One thing Appel was doing in this start that he was not in Arizona was marking off his strides before he threw a pitch. That’s a good adjustment, it means he was getting that front foot down faster this time and consequently commanding better and getting more power. Someone also needs to teach him a slide step that better allows him to throw consistent strikes. I do not envision this guy ever being a control pitcher at the major league level, but he’s got to add the pro polish to consistently have more nights like this. His college looks have been marked by too many bad counts. He may throw hard, but velocity can only save you so many times in the big leagues.
Overall, a good night and a good step for him – just don’t ask me to slap a 7 in front of his name, though, because I won’t. He is what he is. He is pretty much a strong thrower who will probably be rushed before he learns to be a pitcher. In that way, he’s another thrower getting paid for the radar gun. As I said before, everyone wants to be 1/1, but be careful what you wish for and remember that the gun never tells the whole story. Enjoy Lancaster, where the wind blows out.