- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
That kind of thinking is not unique among elite Cardinal athletes (see: Luck, Andrew), but it is exceedingly rare among baseball prospects of Appel's caliber, and it led to speculation that Appel was being used by Boras to challenge the new draft guidelines. Appel's father, Patrick, is a lawyer for Chevron, and his son is no dummy. (In his final academic quarter Appel, who will graduate later this month, carried 15 units, including classes on chemical transformations, engineering risk analysis and a senior project on which he does consulting for a fabric company in Los Angeles.) Both men dismiss the notion that Boras manipulated them, as it suggests they were uninformed participants in the process. "I can't imagine anyone thinking that Scott Boras was pulling our strings," says Patrick Appel. "I didn't see that in Mark's relationship with him. The advice wasn't: 'This is what you should do.' It was: 'Here are your options.'"
"It was my decision," says Appel. "It wasn't Scott Boras's decision. He was an adviser. He lays stuff out, and you can choose to accept or not. Once we sat down and looked at everything, this was just the right choice."
Appel is well aware that by returning for his senior season he gave up the leverage he'd had in his negotiations with the Pirates. Without the threat of a return to college, what will stop the next team that drafts him from offering less than Pittsburgh did? "The only leverage you have your senior year is your talent," Appel says. "I guess I am willing to trust my abilities."
Appel struggled in his first start this season, against No. 17 Rice, allowing five runs on seven hits in five innings. Since then he has been almost unhittable: In 25 innings pitched, he's given up just 10 hits and has an ERA of 0.72. "The opener against Rice was just a game where the ball was up," says Stanford pitching coach Rusty Filter. "We made some adjustments, and he has kept the ball down. People will look at the strikeouts, but whenever he keeps the ball down he is pretty difficult to hit."
It is widely believed that a pitcher has nothing to gain by spending another year in college, that delaying the climb up the minor league ladder will only stunt his development. "I think Mark took that as a personal challenge," says his dad. "He believes he can get better this year."
Appel gained about five pounds of muscle in the off-season, and Filter, who coached Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg at San Diego State, has worked with Appel on increasing the downward angle of his fastball. ("But we really are nitpicking here," Filter says.) Appel believes most of his improvement has been in his mental approach. Asked about one National League scout's assessment of his performance thus far, which included the observation that Appel was more aggressive this year, the pitcher says, "Obviously you have to trust your talent and stuff, but you also have to go out there with something to prove. Justin Verlander and David Price don't have anything to prove, but they go out there and pitch like they do. That's where I think I have improved. I am in attack mode, just filling up the [strike] zone."
Appel's family moved from Houston to San Ramon, Calif., in 2003 when he was 12. He was a star basketball player at Monte Vista High in Danville, Calif., but as an underclassman he was overshadowed on the baseball team by several other pitchers who would go on to play in college. Appel was primarily a reliever in high school and in his first year at Stanford, but he moved into the rotation as a sophomore and became the Cardinal's ace. "Everyone knew Mark had the big arm and the body type when he came in," Filter says. "But he was a blank slate, which was great. He had that good fastball but hadn't thrown a lot of off-speed pitches."
In 2011, Appel's father and mother, Sondra, moved to China; a few weeks ago they relocated again to Houston, where they are just getting settled. It has escaped no one that this year the Astros again have the No. 1 selection in the draft, presenting the possibility of a homecoming and a happy ending to Appel's draft saga. But Appel says that's not needed to validate his decision. If he gets picked lower than he did last year, and if he signs for less than $3.8 million, he won't consider his decision to return to Stanford a mistake, even if critics label him a fool for going back to school.
"People dwell on the decision because it is an odd decision in their minds," Appel says. "But I have moved on. In my eyes it has already been a wonderful year, full of memories I've created and memories I hope to still create with my teammates. I'm not going to determine if it was a good decision based on money."