While I can't wait for the Major League season to start, I'm blessed this year to be living in an area flush with amateur talent. Northern California historically takes a backseat to Southern California, but this year, two of the best pitchers in the draft class are within an hour of the city by the bay. USF's Kyle Zimmer has seen his stock rise as a result of increased velocity. He joins the Mark Appel, the subject of this report, as a name to look out for at the top of the June draft.
Appel, a righthanded pitcher at Stanford, has received national attention as a potential first overall pick in the draft since a strong showing last summer. As the ace on one of the country's elite teams, he's under an even greater microscope. In his first four starts he's faced Vanderbilt, Texas, Fresno State and in the game that I saw, #4 Rice. The tall righthander struck out an impressive 14 and allowed just two hits after a shaky first inning.
Appel didn't have his best fastball early in the game, mainly as a result of a laborious first inning where he allowed his only two runs of the game. He sat in the 90-92 MPH range while in the stretch early on. As he settled in, he seemed to grow stronger and stronger, touching 95 MPH multiple times in the middle innings and sitting at 93-94. Against the heart of the Rice order, he led with his offspeed and went to his reachback fastball in strikeout situations. He showed outstanding command of the fastball and was able to locate it both vertically and horizontally with authority. Most impressively, he held his velocity, finishing his outing with a 96 MPH strikeout in the 9th. In the video below, he throws back to back challenge fastballs to a lefthanded hitter and comes away with an impressive strikeout.
I was extremely impressed by the peak movement on Appel's curveball and changeup. The curve is a true 11-5 breaker with violent finish. He absolutely embarassed a number of hitters with it. He had no problem throwing it to hitters from both sides of the plate and was able to use it effectively both in and out of the strike zone.
It's a devastating pitch that, when right, projects to be a plus hammer in professional ball. In the video below, you'll see one of his best curves of the night. You'll also hear the reaction of my college teammates who accompanied me to the game. As you can tell, we were impressed.
Appel's changeup is more of a work in progress. He threw some (like the one in the video below) with full armspeed and outstanding finish. When he did, the pitch possessed incredible late life and armside run. On other occasions, it showed more vertical movement and was not as deceptive. If Appel is able to improve the consistency of this pitch, it too could be an above-average offering.
Mechanics and Projection
Appel has the classic pitcher's build. He's 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. Much of his mass is in his hips and trunk, giving him a solid base for a delivery that made some in attendence think of Matt Cain. He has great balance and an outstanding follow through. It's easy to visualize him becoming an innings-eater capable of anchoring a rotation.
He showed great composure despite the pressure of facing a College World Series caliber team. The fact that he struck out 14 in this appearance is more a testament to his stuff, rather than his approach. Appel pounds the strike zone and works quickly. While he could grow and add even more velocity than he already has, it's more likely that he'll mature into a #2 type of arm. Many of his strikeouts came inside the strikezone, and while the quality is outstanding at the college level, it's more difficult to see those rates holding against professional competition. If his changeup develops further, that could change.
After the rough first inning, Appel was a man amongst boys. On the mound, he's a composed presence capable of controlling the tempo of a game. He warrants serious consideration at the very top of the draft in June, and looks like he could be ready for the major leagues as soon as 2013.
Follow Wes on Twitter @WesYee