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Scouting Update (with Video): Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford (2013 Draft)

May 1, 2013

And with the second pick of the 2013 draft, the Chicago Cubs select Mark Appel and hope he’s not Mark Prior. That’s my guess at least, we’ll see if I’m right. As for Appel, this is the third consecutive year I have seen him, and here’s what I think this time. I bet he’s getting sick of signing all those Team USA cards though, even if he’s too nice of a guy to admit it.

I think this is the best I have seen him. His body looks better – still strong, but in better shape, less dumpy and more durable. He’s easier, looser and smoother. He’s less max-effort. I’ve never been a tremendous fan of the way he naturally throws the ball, but he’s more efficient now than he used to be, less violent, and that should put a little bit longer of a life span on his elbow before he meets the inevitable blade. These are factors that I identify, which I sincerely doubt a club drafting him will care about. They’re not going to sign him for tomorrow, they’ll want him for right now, and he’ll learn most of what he’s going to learn against major league hitters. That can really stunt a guy and make him try to do too much. It almost always gets a guy hurt. Or it leads to a very short period of success instead of a prolonged productive career.

All they will care about are the two “S” factors: Stuff and Signability. I can’t speak for his signability, and for all I know, he’ll visit the Independent Leagues or some other league in some other place before he actually signs. I hope Appel gets it over with quickly this time. He shouldn’t be in college anyhow, he badly needs pro instruction and development, and he’s not getting any younger. It’s a bit like watching a guy with a major league arm facing a lot of high school hitters. What’s the point? There’s supposed to be a spot on the scouting card marked “competition,” and you should temper what you see from him by considering what he is facing. Most Pac-12 teams do not have a Ryon Healy or a Brian Ragira or a Michael Conforto in the middle of the lineup. So in my mind, for every inning a guy pitches against players that can’t hurt him, he’ll need two in pro ball against hitters who can hurt him, so he learns the difference between what he can do, what he can’t do, what he can get away with, and what he cannot. And they’re not paying for development here, they’re buying finished products. So as I have always said, he’ll never get that time he needs to catch up, because he does need to catch up. Again, these are factors that I am pretty sure a club selecting him won’t care about. And if they do, this is an ownership sign, which means this kid is going to be considered a hedge fund, not a human being.

Let’s talk about stuff. Appel is big and strong. He reminds me of Virgil Trucks, but he’s probably going to end up looking like Chad Billingsley. You cannot question his strength and his arm strength. This is where his value is. I think he’s a stronger guy than Strasburg was. Appel’s got a big arm, but he’s got a bigger ass and thighs, and this is where his power comes from, the lower half. Mechanically, he pushes a lot less than he used to, and the ball gets downhill with a lot less effort and comes out of his hand a lot nicer than it used to. The end result is a 93-97 fastball that generally pitches at 94, but the lack of consistent movement and control makes his fastball play down a notch. So he has 70/70 velocity, but I’d say 50/60 movement and 50/55 control. Those are all actually pretty good grades for a power arm. His fastball is generally straight, but he will occasionally flash sink and tail. He has some really nice moments of full extension, but not enough of them yet. He’s around the plate but don’t ask him to flash Satchel Paige or Greg Maddux plus-plus-plus control, because you won’t get it. The best part is the strength to make the velocity hold, and he can give you 94 or 95 100 pitches deep into an outing. That’s pretty valuable.

His slider stinks. It’s basically a hard slurve, a push pitch, 85-87. You look at the gun and say, “Holy Number Nine, an 85 slider!” But, alas, the gun is a crutch, and so is Appel’s slurvy breaking ball. This is not a major league weapon. This is a thumb slider thrown by a guy who is very strong. This comes back to Appel’s natural arm action. He basically is mid ¾, which is going to make it hard for him to get on top of a slider or a curveball, because he doesn’t have the time to turn his hand over. So he’s on the side of it and pushing. You can’t give him a curveball, because he’ll have the same problem. You don’t really see this as a weakness in college, but you will in the majors, because it threatens to make him a two-pitch guy. And that second pitch is…

The change-up. Where the hell did this thing come from, because it wasn’t there last year and it wasn’t there the year before? That’s a 60 change for me. People used to gush last year about how good Wacha’s change was, I think Appel’s was better. 83-85 with late, hard sink. He’s developed a nice feel for selling it out of the hand. He doesn’t fear using it as a strikeout pitch. But there’s no speed separation between that slider and this change, and that will be an issue down the line.

Warren Spahn once said a pitcher only needs two pitches: one that pitches to a pitcher’s strength and one that pitches to a hitter’s weakness. Of course, Spahn threw 84 miles per hour from the left side and was a masterful junk ball pitcher with perfect control. That ain’t Appel. But it raises the question. How many two-pitch starters do you know in the major leagues, because I don’t know any. So he’s either a closer or a starter who needs to develop a better third pitch. How you gonna do that with this arm slot? He needs to find a slider that works more with his arm action than against it. It’s there somewhere, but it ain’t gonna be found on the Farm. Which takes me to this…

The pitch calling in Stanford has really stunted him. Nobody wants to see a 6-foot-5 horse pitching backwards. It creates a lot of bad impressions, namely that somebody doesn’t trust his fastball. Which is lame. Dance with the lady who brought you to the dance, and if she trips and falls, or somebody doubles off it, so be it. But I get disheartened when I see this guy nibble in big spots rather than just say, “Here, hit this.” Because now, as a scout, I can’t predict how this guy will respond in major spots in the major leagues, because he’s had his hand held through college. And that is a great detriment to this young man, just as much as essentially repeating the level. I want him to be Virgil Trucks because he should be Virgil Trucks, but he’s not going to be Virgil Trucks if he doesn’t develop a more intrinsic and more intellectually developed approach to attacking hitters. He’s been in college for four years and he still hasn’t learned this and he’s still not on his own? OK, let me put this in simpler terms: It’s like signing a 21-year old high school pitcher. He’s going to be rushed, used incorrectly, and he’s going to have a hard time learning fast against older, faster, stronger and wiser hitters. I really, really, really want to be right about my Virgil Trucks comp, because I’m never wrong on my historical comps, right Ewell Blackwell?

The best thing he might have going for him is also the worst thing he might have going for him – blissful ignorance. And in that case, you say, if the guy just follows instructions, then here’s the check, give him to us, and we’ll see if we can pro him up. We’ll pay the price to see if we can pro him up and give him a third pitch. You work for a club, you take that chance, and you see what you get.

But until Appel slows this down and takes in some more complete information, in my opinion, he’s just going to be rushed on the assembly belt and he won’t be as good as he can be, through no fault of his own. Readers here know how that always breaks my heart.


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