Mark Appel’s fall ranks as draft’s top surprise

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

Before this week, there was some chatter that Stanford University might boast of producing the top drafted player in the NFL, MLB and the WNBA this year.

But after Cardinal pitcher Mark Appel fell all the way to the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 8 in Monday night's baseball draft, only Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and Nnemkadi Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks will stand together as Stanford's No. 1 picks in 2012.

It's not exactly surprising that the righthanded junior wasn't selected by the Houston Astros with the No. 1 pick. Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton also attracted a lot of pre-draft attention as a possible No. 1  and it was hard to fault Astros GM Jeff Luhnow for swinging for the fences with his eventual pick of talented high school shortstop Carlos Correa.

Still, almost no one expected Appel to last all the way until the Pirates, who promptly added him to a pitching-rich minor-league system that already includes last year's overall No. 1 Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, the No. 2 pick from the 2010 draft.

It's clear, though, that Appel was hampered by the fact that he was not a no-doubt-about-it No. 1 pick like, say, Stephen Strasburg in 2009. The new collective bargaining agreement has required that teams operate under a draft spending limit and it's not likely that the teams who passed Appel wanted to eat up any of their allocated dollars by dealing with his agent Scott Boras. Not when some analysts have doubted Appel's ability to eventually become a franchise-elevating  ace and not when many of them had sold themselves on the players they've been courting in recent weeks. (The Cubs' drafting of high school outfielder Albert Amora with the sixth pick serves as a good example.)

Boras' challenge now becomes extracting top money out of the Pirates despite his client being a lot closer to double digits than he might have thought. Appel, meanwhile, will have to take the slight and turn it into motivation for his career after Stanford finishes its season. Not only did he not become the third No. 1 pick at his school this season, but he wasn't even the highest pitcher selected from the Bay Area — that honor went to University of San Francisco righthander Kyle Zimmer, who went fifth to the Kansas City Royals.

Update: It doesn't sound like Appel is too happy about the night's happenings. He passed on conducting the traditional conference call with Pirates beat reporters, though the team released a statement saying he was concentrating on his studies and winning a national title at Stanford.

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