First Pitch: Mark Appel Made a Very Common Decision

Mark Appel made his 2013 debut on Friday against Austin Kubitza -- who, like Appel, didn't sign with the Pirates. Image Courtesy: Pittsburgh Pirates

Mark Appel made his 2013 debut on Friday against Austin Kubitza — who, like Appel, didn’t sign with the Pirates. Image Courtesy: Pittsburgh Pirates

Friday night saw the 2013 college season debut of a former Pittsburgh Pirates draft pick. This pick is a pitcher, and passed on signing with the Pirates over money. He held to his high asking price, and when the Pirates decided they couldn’t meet that price they moved on to some later round players. The pitcher decided to try his luck again in the 2013 draft, hoping to get the money that he couldn’t get the first time around.

If you think I’m talking about Mark Appel, you’re wrong. Well, technically you’re right. That’s what happened with Appel. But in this case I’m talking about Austin Kubitza.

Kubitza was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 draft. The right-hander wanted $2 M, which is a very high price for a seventh rounder, even under the old system. The Pirates didn’t match that, and Kubitza decided to go to Rice. He’s had an up and down career so far. He looked like a potential first rounder after his freshman year. Last year he dealt with some inconsistent performances, and saw his draft stock drop. On Friday night he coincidentally went up against Mark Appel, and out-pitched the 2012 first round pick. Kubitza threw six shutout innings, striking out 12.

Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game was there, and seemed to be impressed with Kubitza.

The matchup between Kubitza and Appel got me thinking. Well, the matchup and some of the comments I saw this weekend from Pirates fans about Appel. Pirates fans didn’t react well when Appel decided to go back to college. Appel wanted more money, the Pirates didn’t pay him that money, and he decided to go back to school. But isn’t that the same thing that happened with Kubitza? He wanted more money than the Pirates were willing to pay, and ended up going to college.

It was the same thing with 2010 sixth round pick Jason Hursh, who also had a good 2013 debut on Friday.

Kent Emanuel is another player from that 2010 draft who decided to go to college. Emanuel opened the year with a 106 pitch complete game shutout.

So why was and is there so much ire towards Appel, but nothing against those other picks? They all decided to go to college because the Pirates weren’t meeting their asking price.

Appel is different in a few ways. First, there’s the talent. He’s ranked higher than those three in every ranking. His upside is much greater. Plus, in 2010 people weren’t focused on Kubitza, Hursh, and Emanuel not signing. They were focused on Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie deciding to sign. In 2012 the main focus was on Appel, which only magnified his decision to go back to school. Kubitza, Hursh, or Emanuel would have been the third or fourth most important player from that draft, while Appel was the top player in his draft.

There’s also the new draft system. The Pirates might have been able to offer more money to the 2010 picks. Looking at their history, you can’t really argue that they were cheap in any way. They only set records the following year for the biggest bonus outside of the first round (Josh Bell) and the biggest bonus in the ninth round (Clay Holmes). That wasn’t the case with Appel. The Pirates couldn’t offer any more, unless they wanted to focus the entire draft around Appel, or wanted to face some strict penalties.

The Scott Boras factor probably plays here too. Then there’s the fact that the Pirates would have taken David Dahl — a top 50 prospect — if it wasn’t for Appel falling to them. There’s also the fact that guys like Kubitza and Hursh had the chance to move up much higher, while Appel could only move up a few spots.

When you get down to the basics, Appel didn’t get the money he wanted and decided to go back to school and try again in 2013. That’s the same thing Kubitza, Hursh, and Emanuel did. The circumstances and the talent surrounding those players just made Appel more important, which led to a bigger backlash. It’s kind of an ironic situation. If the Pirates selected one of the 2010 prep pitchers in 2013, I think most Pirates fans would be fine with it, even though technically those pitchers chose not to sign for the same reasons Appel didn’t sign.

That’s not saying Pirates fans should treat those three the same as Appel. It’s just noting that they were in the same situation as Appel, but the reaction to each situation has been extremely different. I’m actually saying Appel should be treated like those three. Sure, he meant more to the Pirates, and no one likes his agent, and he’s probably not signing the waiver to get drafted by the Pirates again (no clue if the other three have signed that waiver). In the end he made the exact same choice as the 2010 prep pitchers: go to college and re-enter the draft trying to get his asking price. I personally think it’s foolish on his part, but that’s his decision.

I don’t see a reason why Pirates fans should hold a grudge against Appel for that decision. They’ve got talented pitchers, so they weren’t relying on him. They also get a compensation pick this year, so they didn’t miss out on adding a first round talent. I say all of this on the same week that a San Diego Padres blog became infamous for celebrating the Karsten Whitson injury. That reminded me of some of the horrible reactions to Appel right after the signing deadline, and Appel getting a question earlier this year about Pirates fans booing him. That’s probably going to be inevitable throughout his career. But I don’t think it should be.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. The 2013 Annual is also available for pre-sales. Go to the products page of the site and order your 2013 books today!

**Draft Prospect Watch: Austin Wilson Suffers Minor Injury.

**Pirates Sign A Minor League Catcher.

**Pirates Add Two Minor League Free Agents.

**Contract Notes: Karstens, J. Sanchez, G. Sanchez, Hawpe, Inge.

**From Friday Night: Draft Prospect Watch: College Schedule Starts With Appel/Kubitza Match-Up

**FanGraphs Releases Their Top 15 Pirates Prospects.

**Baseball Prospectus Predicts 79 Wins For the Pirates.

**Gerrit Cole Rated As a Top Impact Prospect for 2013.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://atung.net/ Steve Zielinski

    I don’t have a grudge against Appel. His refusal to sign makes me happy. For the money Appel wanted in 2012, the Pirates could have signed Kubitza, Hursh and Emanuel in 2010. If Appel profile had him becoming a #1 starter….

  • Cocktailsfor2

    There’s also a BIG difference in expectation between being pick # 1.4 and Round 6 or 7.

    • http://twitter.com/MichaelVelaTTU MichaelVelaTTU

      This pretty much right here

  • http://twitter.com/Spazaru Spazaru

    I think it was just the feeling that if it wasn’t the Pirates drafting him, he would have signed. Also, the average guy in the street just can’t understand a person turning down that kind of money just because it was half of what he would have been offered if he had gone first to the Astros. We’re all struggling out here and sports offers and escape. Then you see some guy who seemed poised to sign with a major league team after his junior season until it’s the Pirates who draft him and “only” can offer 3 million. Stanford is a great school, but it’s hard to relate to someone who can turn that down. I have to say I’m not rooting for him to have a good season. I know that’s not a great attitude, but I can’t help it. I guess the question I have is, if it had been a perennial contender, would he have turned it down? The Pirates have earned that rep I know, but don’t these guys want to play and accept the challenge of showing what they can do to help a team (Michael Jordan and Payton Manning went to losers and helped turn them around)?

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      Appel has never said it was about the Pirates.

      It’s only fans and bloggers that have speculated that.

      I never felt that it was anything personal. Boras said that we could’ve signed him if we would’ve put more money out there for him.

      • Y2JGQ2

        Well the new system doesn’t LET teams put more money out there. I don’t even think Washington would have taken the change on strasburg for the amount of penalties that exist currently under the new CBA. Boras needs to wake up, and last year was a win for it. If his stock drops significantly more from mediocre results this year, it further helps the cause to drop the agent’s amount of power for draftees. Draftees will see less upside, know what the actual difference in dollars is….and be less likely to do stupid crap like appel did. Boras’s stupid BS games might still work for lower drafted players, but at the top of the board…..it is what it is and he needs to realize that.

    • joe g.

      You can help it. : )
      Everyone knew that the pick was a risky move for the Pirates in terms of signing the player. It’s not like Appel surprised us with his choice. This was a strategic move by the Pirates. They believed that 2013 was a stronger draft class. A highly coveted player in Appel, projected to go #1 fell to them. If they signed him, it was a bonus. If not, they knew the #9 pick would be theirs in a 2013 class that was projected to be stronger than 2012.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    I have NO problem with wishing ill for Mr Appel.

    :) :)

    .

  • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

    The Appel fiasco, which it was at least that, I think we all can agree; was a decision that Appel must have really felt strongly about, because I find it either really selfish on Appel’s part or really obstinant on Boras’s.
    First from the Pirates perspective, you may have given it some thought that Appel may drop, but not really that much. It had to have been a shocker for the brass, and then they did the right thing(S). They picked him (1), and they offered him the maximum $(2). I can’t recall any other players in the 2012 draft who went overslot to the point of losing another draft pick, so no other team proved any superiority to the Pirates. Every other team would have offered the max, and just the max too. So is it Appel, or a Boras/P-Brass issue?
    If it is Appel, then his character in my opinion is the kind of garbage I don’t want anywhere near my clubhouse.
    If it is, and likely is the Boras v. Bucs relationship, then that is a bigger issue. The deal should have been a done deal, Boras could have and should have made that happen. He wants to take what is clearly the best leverage he’ll ever have, to break the ‘new system cap in year 1′ and set precedent. Additioinally, he reps a lot of players including some of our own like Pedro – so at some point the team and Scott have to work some things out so we can move forward.
    All that said I wasn’t impressed with Appel in the first place. His stuff was over-rated. I kept hearing about upper 90’s heat?… maybe in a relief appearance. His stuff was low to mid 90’s every time I saw him. He was no Strasburg or Cole is all I’m sayin.

  • http://www.facebook.com/yo.derama Yo Derama

    Oh yeah, I have a grudge against Appel.The difference between him and the other guys that you mentioned is that they were HS guys who were drafted in the lower rounds. If I was an HS pitcher who was drafted #345 overall (for example) and had a full-ride scholarship on the table, I’d go for college because I’d have the college paid for and I’d think that I’d have a good chance of improving my position among the top 345 players in that time.

    But even with elite talent, how do you improve your position among the top 8 players in the country? The slightest thing…a sore arm, an unlucky outing…getting dominated by Austin Kubitza in a head-to-head match up could drop you several positions, let alone if you get injured. It’s an absolutely huge risk to take, the kind of tiny gain vs. huge loss potential that anyone would be labeled a fool to take in any other profession.

    The guy’s going to Stanford, so my guess is that he’s not a fool. So, my opinion is that he’d rather risk millions of dollars than play for the Pirates in particular. Of course, he’s not going to say that publicly. But I don’t know why someone would toss a $2+ mil contract when chances are you won’t even earn that amount in the next draft.

    • duckwoes

      Quite right. It’s not unusual for a college player to return for his senior year after being drafted as a junior. But it is almost unheard of for a player to make this choice when he is drafted in the first round, especially in the top half of the first round. Oh well, we shall see how it plays out

    • capirate

      Good point about the difference between Appel being a college senior vs the others being in high school.

      I don’t think it mattered at all that the Pirates drafted him. I really think it was solely about the money.

      I don’t want Appel to get injured, but I hope his performance is poor enough that he is still available when the Pirates draft at #9.

  • TNBucs

    It’s not that I would wish an injury to Appel but simply that he falls to at least #9 this year. And that’s based on my general perspective of not wanting to see a decision based on poor logic work out. For a relatively small increase in a bonus Appel with his Stanford education chose to

    1. Put himself at risk of injury and losing much more than he stands to gain;

    2. Lose negotiating power as a college senior;

    3. Delay time to arbitration and free agency which could more than make up the difference in any additional bonus he receives this year.

    Society is at risk when bad decisions lead to good results ;-), so therefore I want to see Appel struggle enough that the result of his decision matches the logic behind it.

    There is some reasonable logic to the HS pitchers’ decisions as a case can be made for wanting to experience college baseball (though Whitson’s injury clearly shows why Taillon made a wise decision).

  • esd4

    Oh yeah I definitely hold a grudge . . . against the Pirates. Tim’s completely right: it’s not just Appel. They didn’t sign their fourth round pick, Brandon Thomas, last year either. In the Kubitza/Hursh/Emanuel 2010 draft, they failed to sign four of their top ten picks. And Huntington admitted at PirateFest this year that he’s not going to change his draft strategy at all to address the fact that he’s wasting so many picks by taking unsignable players. Under the old draft rules, you could argue that it was a good strategy because the team could offer absurd amounts of money to a guy like Josh Bell in order to get him to change his mind. But under the new draft rules, the team doesn’t have that option, so it’s critical that they properly assess signability and stop wasting picks on guys they can’t sign. But they’ve publicly stated that they won’t do that.

    As Tim says, this is a persistent problem, and I totally agree that we shouldn’t be angry at Appel or Thomas or Kubitza or any of these players. But we absolutely should be critical of the team that, by its own admission, won’t even call up these guys’ agents beforehand to find out whether or not they’re signable.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      “As Tim says, this is a persistent problem”

      I didn’t say that at all.

      • esd4

        Sorry. I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth. I just meant that the article makes it clear that what Appel did was actually very common. But I am trying to point out also that the Appel situation (or Thomas, Kubitza, et al) isn’t just something that Appel did. It’s also something that the Pirates did, and have done, and will apparently continue to do. Blaming or not blaming Appel or blaming or not blaming Kubitza or Hursh kind of misses the really important point, IMO, which is that the Pirates are equally blameworthy, and they refuse to learn anything from the numerous instances in which this has happened.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          I think that comes with the territory. They were going after difficult signings. There’s a reason that teams passed on those guys. If they were an automatic sign, they wouldn’t have fallen to the Pirates. They did make some difficult signings (Josh Bell being the key move), but if you’re taking players who are deemed difficult to sign, it’s expected that some of them won’t sign.

          • esd4

            The problem, as I see it, is that the Pirates, by their own admission, don’t even bother talking to the agents before drafting these players. It seems remarkably stupid to ditch a pre-draft deal with a guy you like in order to draft a different guy whose signability you have no clue about. It’s not just that he was a tough sign; it’s that the team didn’t bother to do any of the due diligence necessary to determine exactly how tough a sign he was. That’s dumb. And the inability to sign Brandon Thomas and almost half their top ten picks in 2010 suggests to me that this isn’t just a freak accident. This is how the team operates, and it’s incredibly foolish.

            Obviously, some guys aren’t going to sign for reasons beyond the drafting team’s control. I get that. But on the other hand, the drafting team, especially under the new CBA, has to do absolutely everything within its power to make sure it can sign the guys it picks. The Pirates don’t do that. Hell, they seem proud of the fact that they don’t do it. That is a problem, IMO.

            • Kevin_Young

              You’re not even allowed to do that…

              • esd4

                ha ha. good one.

            • cdubb7

              You’re assuming that Mr. Boras would tell you the truth when asking about Appel’s signability beforehand. He is going to tell you whatever gives him leverage in the situation. Drafting signable players got us Daniel Moskos. Nice pick Littlefield!

  • cyphtime

    A thought for an article i’d be interested in after reading this is comparing the prep pitchers that the pirates drafted signed and developed vs. the prep pitchers they’ve drafted been unable to sign and went on to develop in college. After reading about 3 guys from 2010 who are all looking good after not signing with the bucs and developing in college, how are they compared to the pirates over-slot bonus hs pitchers who have panned out much less than we and the pirates had hoped for

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      It would be difficult to get a read on that at this point. As far as stats go, you’d be comparing three years of college with three years of A-ball.

      You’d probably have to compare pitches and projected upsides, but most of these players are too far off for that to be concrete.

      • cyphtime

        For sure you can’t really compare stats. Maybe what I was thinking was comparing perception among people with some knowledge of prospects. For example have guys shown continued to show the projected potential of when they were drafted or are they looking less promising as compared to a guy who went to college after being taken in the 20th round and is now considered a first rounder showing he’s improved his draft stock

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          Probably the best way to compare it would be looking at the BA rankings then and now. It would be hard to go off draft spots, since players fall for reasons other than talent.

          Take Austin Wilson, as an example. He was ranked 27th by BA in 2010. He fell to the 12th round because of signability issues. Now he’s a top ten prospect. So he improved in both measures, but the draft spot doesn’t tell the story. He went from a late first round talent to an early first round talent.

          Guys like Kubitza, Hursh, and Kingham were in the 150-185 range, and ranked in that order. Emanuel wasn’t in the top 200. BA has only released an early top 50 for this year. Emanuel was 47th, so he’s clearly improved his stock. Hursh was ranked as the 37th best college player, and Kubitza was 71st (Emanuel was 21st, for reference). I’d estimate that this would put them as 3rd-4th round talents to start the year when you factor in the prep players. That’s an improvement over where they were drafted previously, and they can still move up.

          It’s hard to say where Kingham would fit in.

          I don’t think they’ve seen any later round guys from this draft become a first rounder. They may have a second rounder or two. I think Emanuel could go that high, and same with Hursh. I’d say Kingham is about the same level as Hursh.

          Out of all the drafts, I think their best over-slot pick — signed or unsigned — has been Tyler Glasnow. He has the look of a guy who, if he had gone to college while doing the things he’s doing now, would have been a first round talent in 2014. But that’s just based on his stuff, primarily on his velocity increase.

  • JimBibbySweat

    Unfortunately, Appel was the only player of the top 60 draft picks not to sign. Really wish the Pirates had selected David Dahl instead.

    • http://twitter.com/Spazaru Spazaru

      I wish too in hindsight, but I remember more than a few Pirates fans and bloggers saying that the Bucs BETTER not pass on Appel if he’s there. They didn’t and it didn’t work out, unfortunately.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Here’s the thing- It’s not about being sour cause he wouldn’t sign. It IS about people having to pay for being greedy and/or making blatantly stupid decisions. No, and mean zero unbiased advisors would have recommended him to skip out on guaranteed money, have one less year of earning power in his career, and risk the chance of a career ending injury while playing for free, with the extremely low upside of possibly only going up 7 spots. This wasn’t a kid drafted 34th, he was drafted 8th. The difference of the money between #1 and #8 with the new rules just isn’t very much. The earning power on the back end of his career is worth 3-4 times as much as that value he is losing per year at the beginning. Its just a stupid move. People, at some point, have to pay for doing stupid things. That is why we will boo him and secretly, or not secretly, hope he blows out his arm, or turns into Rick Ankiel and forgets where the plate is. It isn’t personal, but someone needs to hit these kids with a dose of reality. I’m hoping personally he just has an awful year and falls to 20th. Then he can take half of what we gave him, and maybe fire Boras…..

  • rburgh

    I’m not sure Appel didn’t do the Pirates a favor. Because he was a risky sign, and they knew it, they drafted some high upside guys later in the draft that seem to have panned out well so far.

    If they had drafted David Dahl, and signed him for slot, they might not have been able to afford Wyatt Mathisen, or John Sandfort, or Adrian Sampson, or some of the others in the draft. Max Moroff might be in college somewhere; Tyler Gaffney might never have signed.

    And the extra pick leaves them in a very strong position for the upcoming draft. If they can sign either of their top two picks for something significantly under slot, they would have considerable money available for later round picks.

    There have been accusations that they drafted Appel and hardballed him intentionally, to do that very thing. While there is considerable evidence to the contrary, as an analysis of their later draft shows. But perhaps this should be a strategy to be followed in the future. Having the potential for a great draft every other year, coupled with the ability to draft and sign a lot of high-risk high-reward picks in rounds 2-10, may well turn out to be a solid plan as teams start to figure out how to work the new rules to their advantage.

    Besides, it would just shatter my fragile little heart to see Scott Boras watch client after client get drafted in the 1st round and not get a penny over slot ever again.

    • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

      Agree with this thought of Boras’s lack of negotiating leverage – which is why I truly believe he was behind Appel not signing. I think he told Appel he’d get him 6-8 mil and when it all fell apart into the 8th round, he pushed for 6-8 mil as he said he would. He felt like a no.1 player should be the caliber of talent to cause a team to buckle. Kudos IMO to the Bucs FO for NOT buckling just because Boras over promised earnings to a kid.
      Also to those who think signability should be the focus of the team, I strongly disagree.
      Talent, and only the best elite talent is what I want the team going after. Signing or not, those are players who can become impact players someday.

  • dcpinpgh

    If I was a prep player I wouldn’t sign unless I got blown away by the offer. . Most people don’t make the bigs. A 100 grand signing bonus afrer taxes is probably less valuable then your scholarship, unless your name is Griffy, Doc, or I guess Machado(all of those guys weren’t picked late). Overall, , instead of riding the buses in the little towns and working. You are in a college town with college girls. Plus if you do well you can make more money as a Junior, if not you can have a degree for free. For most prep players not signing makes more sense

  • C Shint

    Seems like NH started to figure some things out when taking pitchers after his first two drafts (08-09). He failed to sign these guys in 2010 but at least they were targeting the right guys, or so it seems.