Coming in to the 2012 Draft, every mock draft had the same seven players going in the first seven picks. A few mock drafts mentioned the possibility of some players falling — mainly Mike Zunino and Albert Almora — but no one expected Mark Appel to fall. But he fell, and fell, and landed with the Pittsburgh Pirates with the eighth overall pick.
“We said we were going to stay true to the board. We said we’d take the best player available on the board. And we’ve done that in big, strong, physical right-hander Mark Appel,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said. “He brings us a quality combination of stuff, of size, of strength, of abilities, obviously strong background. We’re very pleased he was sitting there when it was our selection at No. 8 in the country. Another great start to which is going to be another deep and talented draft for the Pirates.”
No one really expected Appel to fall to the Pirates. The Stanford right-hander entered the year as the near unanimous top prospect on the draft boards, and was considered a candidate to go first overall, and no later than the top four. Baseball America had him rated as the third best prospect in the draft in their final rankings. His fall was unexpected, but that doesn’t mean the Pirates didn’t prepare.
“One of the beautiful parts about going through the process is to attack every player as if they’re going to be available at your pick,” Huntington said. “You do the work. You do the preparation. You do the study so that when the player comes available, you like him, you take him. We projected much like the rest of the industry that he would go earlier, but we feel very comfortable with the selection and we took the best remaining player available.”
The Pirates didn’t just casually scout Appel either. They’ve been following him closely since high school.
“I’m not sure there was a start this year that we missed,” Huntington said. “I think we had one, if not multiple people at every one of his starts. We’ve followed him in high school. We followed him all through his freshman year, all through his sophomore year, all through his junior year. There isn’t much that he’s done that we haven’t had someone watching the team that he was playing for or especially him.”
Signability Concerns and the New CBA Changes
The new collective bargaining agreement brought some major changes to the draft this year. The biggest change is the “hard slotting” that exists in the draft. Teams have a bonus pool for all of their picks in the first ten rounds, plus any bonus in rounds 11-40 that is over $100 K. If a team goes over that amount, the penalties can be harsh, with lost draft picks, and taxes on the overage.
Appel could have received $6.2-7.2 M if he would have gone in the top two picks. The slot price for the fourth pick was $4.2 M. In previous years, under the old rules, Appel would still have a shot at getting $6-7 M, even with his fall to eighth overall. It’s also likely that he wouldn’t have fallen in that case. But the strict penalties on going over-slot mean that Appel’s fall also translates to a loss in a few million dollars.
Adding to the situation is that Appel is advised by Scott Boras. It’s hard to say how Boras could manipulate the new draft rules, but if there is a way, Boras will find it. That could make negotiations difficult, and could mean an over-slot signing. But the Pirates aren’t planning on structuring their draft around that possibility.
“With the pool the way it is, we’re looking to put together a deep and talented draft. We’re looking to put together a group of players,” Huntington said. “I don’t envision one player taking an enormous chunk of our pool. There’s a system in place, there’s a process in place. We’re very optimistic. We have a legitimate shot to sign Mark and add him to our system. We’ve taken tough signed players before and been able to get them signed. Our worse case scenario is the ninth pick in next years draft. Our best case scenario is Mark Appel. Joins Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and all that pitching we’ve got coming though our system.”
“We’re going to take each player. We’re going to take each pick and take the right players that we believe fits for us for the right reasons. Some of those may be players that are ‘over slot value’. Some of those may be under slot that are valued. We’re going to attack this draft to get a deep and talented draft class. This draft class is not about one player. This draft class is about adding as many quality players to the system as we can.”
Considering Appel is represented by Boras, we should be set for a month of each side standing their ground. Huntington already issued the “best case-worst case” comment. The games may have already started from the Boras side. Mark Appel declined an interview with the Pittsburgh media tonight, instead issuing the following statement, which one could speculate sounds like it was crafted by Boras:
“I’m currently concentrating on winning a national championship and finishing my academic endeavors at Stanford. I will address the possibility of a professional career in due time.”
Appel may get more than the $2.9 M slot price for the eighth overall pick. However, he doesn’t have a lot of bargaining power under the new system. If he doesn’t sign, he’d have a hard time getting more money in next year’s draft. He’d have to go in the top four to get significantly more than the slot price for the 8th overall pick this year. Next year’s class is also much stronger than this year. Appel fell in a weak draft class. The odds of him going top four in a strong draft class seem slim. And it’s not like he can do much to improve his draft stock in that one year. There’s a bigger risk of him hurting his stock with an injury or a down year.
Finally, the Pirates would get a compensation pick if Appel didn’t sign — the ninth pick in the 2013 draft — but that compensation pick is protected. In previous years, if you didn’t sign the compensation pick, you didn’t get one the following year. That lowered the value of the pick, and in most cases teams went with signable guys who were rated lower. The new CBA makes the compensation pick protected, with the ability to get a second compensation pick if the first one doesn’t sign. So the risk for the Pirates isn’t as strong as before, especially with a strong draft class next year.
Appel seems like a strong bet to sign, considering all the factors. But the Pirates can’t consider going over their bonus pool to make that happen. Here is a breakdown of the harsh penalties under the new CBA for going over the bonus pool amounts.
**If a team outspends their pool by 0-5%, they will face a 75% tax on the overage.
**If a team outspends their pool by 5-10%, they will face a 75% tax on the overage, and lose their first round pick in the next draft.
**If a team outspends their pool by 10-15%, they will face a 100% tax on the overage, and lose their first and second round picks in the next draft.
**If a team outspends their pool by 15% or more, they will face a 100% tax on the overage, and lose their next two first round picks.
In addition, any team that goes over their bonus pool wouldn’t qualify for the competitive balance picks in future drafts, awarded through a new lottery system. So even if a team goes over by less than five percent, they’re still forfeiting potential draft picks.
“The value of the competitive balance picks is tremendous,” Huntington said. “It’s an extra pick for us in a year that there’s not 30 compensation picks. So that is going to be a significant consideration. The value of the forfeited picks if someone goes over the pool, that’s a significant consideration for us. There’s a system in place. We like the player. We’re committed to signing the player, but we’re going to go through the process the right way.”
When the 5:00 PM deadline rolls around on July 13th, chances are Appel will be signed. It only makes sense for both parties. But expect a fun month of negotiations.
Appel Joins Cole and Taillon in a Stocked System
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus did a survey on prospects with number one starter upside. The consensus was that there are five to fifteen true number one prospects in baseball. The Pirates already had two, with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon both being considered top ten overall prospects in the game. Appel gives the Pirates a third, which is a huge luxury.
“Gerrit and Jameson are developing very well in our system,” Huntington said. “They’ve both taken huge strides forward since the day we’ve drafted, signed and gotten them going in our system and we’re very pleased with where they are at this point in time. Our hope and expectation is have Mark join them. It will be a nice trio of arms to go along with some of our other young guys that we drafted and are developing. We’re creating a depth of pitching. You can never have enough pitching. The potential to have three starters with their abilities –near top of the first round picks. Those are three pretty good arms. And three pretty good pedigrees to run through our system.”
All three are different pitchers, but Appel draws a closer comparison to Cole, simply because there are a lot of similarities. Appel had a 2.37 ERA in 110 innings this year, along with a 9.5 K/9 and a 4.8 K/BB ratio. Cole had similar secondary numbers last year, with a 9.4 K/9 and a 4.9 K/BB ratio, although he had a 3.31 ERA. Both are college right-handers who entered their draft years as the top pitching prospects on the board. Both throw an upper-90s fastball, a hard slider, and a good changeup. Both pitchers improved that changeup during their junior year of college, and both use the slider as an out pitch. Both pitchers also have the tendency to get hit hard by opposing hitters, which shouldn’t happen with their stuff. For Appel, that’s because of a slow delivery, which allows opposing hitters to see the ball earlier, plus a lack of movement on his fastball.
There are a lot of similarities, but the Pirates feel they’re two different pitchers.
“We love Gerrit Cole,” Huntington said. “We loved him in last years draft. We took him one in the country. They’re both physical right-handers but there’s some separation there. No disrespect. There’s some separation there between.”
A few of the differences are that Cole can touch triple digits, while Appel usually tops out at 98. Cole’s slider is better, and his changeup is a plus pitch at times. Cole also throws a two-seam fastball and a curveball which acts more like a slurve. Appel doesn’t have a lot of movement on his fastball, while Cole has movement on every pitch, making every pitch look like a slider. Cole might be better, but Appel is also a special pitcher who has shown a lot of improvements from the time he was drafted in the 15th round in 2009, to the point where he was a consensus top prospect in the draft.
“The command has improved. The stuff has improved. The breaking ball’s improved. The changeup’s improved,” Huntington said. “It’s a package of improvement overall. Overall he’s developed and progressed very nicely.”
Assuming he signs, Appel would most likely go to Bradenton to start his career. By that point, Gerrit Cole will probably have moved on to Bradenton, but there could be the chance of Appel pitching on the same team as Jameson Taillon. Ideally all three will be pitching on the same team in Pittsburgh one day. For Appel, the big first step to that goal will be getting adjusted to pro ball.
“He’s a college pitcher. He goes about it very well. He has knowledge on the mound. He uses his stuff very well. There is an adjustment from Collegiate baseball to professional baseball,” Huntington said. “Jameson has been able to make it from the high school to the pro level very well. Gerrit, first couple starts scuffled a little bit but he turned the corner and is moving in the right direction. We wish it were 100 percent conversion rate but some guys get it quicker, some guys it takes some time. He certainly has the stuff to progress through our system and that’s why he’s so highly thought of.”
In a best case scenario, Cole could arrive in the majors at some point in 2013, with Appel and Taillon joining him in 2014. Prospects aren’t guaranteed, so imagining a home-grown super rotation with those three and James McDonald seems really optimistic. But adding Appel to Cole and Taillon makes it a near-guarantee that the Pirates will come away with at least one top of the rotation starter, and makes it more likely that two of those guys could live up to their potential. Pitching is a game of attrition, and the more potential number one guys you have, the more likely it will be that you end up with a number one guy in the majors.
Barrett Barnes in the Compensation Round
In the first round the Pirates added to their already strong pitching depth. In the compensation round the Pirates added Barrett Barnes to their already strong outfield depth. The Texas Tech outfielder has plus power from the right-handed side of the plate, and has the possibility to stick in center field. If he moves to a corner it would be left field, due to a lack of arm strength.
Barnes is a pull hitter, so PNC Park might eventually diminish his power if he makes it to the majors. Barnes hit for a .325/.419/.597 line in 206 at-bats this year, with nine homers. He led his Texas Tech team in homers and slugging percentage, while also showing off some speed with six triples and 19 steals in 20 attempts. In his career he was 50-for-56 in stolen base attempts. He also has good plate patience, with the willingness to take a walk. Barnes has drawn comparisons to Marlon Byrd.
The slot price for the 45th overall pick is $1,136,400. Barnes probably wouldn’t command the full amount, which means that this move could also create some money to pay Mark Appel an over-slot bonus.