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A quick, numbered rundown of the opening day of MLB’s June Amateur Draft…
1. The Pittsburgh Pirates had to be absolutely elated when the projected #1 overall pick on most draft boards- Stanford RHP Mark Appel– dropped the whole way to the Bucco’s spot at #8, a fall potentially rooted in Major League Baseball’s new draft slotting system, which severely penalizes teams for exceeding their $$$ draft allocation. Appel has top-of-rotation potential, with a plus fastball that hits 95mph regularly, a complementary hard slider, and serviceable changeup. At 6’4″, 195lb, the Houston native has a great frame, repeatable, smooth delivery, and strong mound presence.
2. Despite the positives, it doesn’t help that Appel is represented by superdou….agent Scott Boras, with whom the Pirates had a hair-raising go around during the 3B Pedro Alvarez signing a few years ago. Feeling slighted by the Pirates’ handling of the negotiations, Boras drew the team out past the signing deadline without reaching a deal. MLB saved the Pirates from themselves, offering a special deadline extension for the team to reach terms with Boras and Alvarez, avoiding a significant PR disaster.
3. While the slotting system affords Boras and Appel far less leverage this time around, Boras has never hesitated to sacrifice a client for the purpose of proving a point to Major League Baseball. If he feels the new slotting system is seriously flawed (and considering the effect it will have on his wallet, how could he not?), the agent could push these negotiations to the July 13th deadline as well.
4. Still, it would be quite a risk on Appel’s part to return for his senior year at Stanford. The drop in signing bonus from the top 5, to Appel’s current spot at 8th overall, only looks to be about $2,000,000. While it is substantial, that’s nothing compared to the dropoffs after previous years’ top selections. When you factor in the higher injury risk of pitchers in general, returning to the Cardinal would be a gamble, even if he’s able to raise his draft stock a few spots.
5. However, Appel certainly didn’t put any of the Pittsburgh sports media at ease, as he quickly refused a conference call. Hopefully, it’s just the first of many postures from the Boras camp. And frankly, you can’t blame the young man for being upset after not being taken #1 overall by his native Astros, then falling to #8, and dropping to a team that hasn’t had a winning season since he was 1 year old.
6. It will be interesting to see how the Pirates’ signability concerns for Appel affect their remaining choices through the first 10 rounds of the draft. If the Pirates exceed their allotted $6,500,000 by even 10%, they must forfeit their following year’s 1st rounder– a brutal consequence that does retain at least some leverage for Boras.
7. However, Pittsburgh showed no sign of aiming for signability picks early on, when they targeted Texas Tech OF Barrett Barnes in the A Compensatory Round. Unlike 2011 selection OF Josh Bell– who dropped to the Pirates for signability reasons- Barnes was projected to be taken in this area, although he’s certainly not a cash-saving signability pick like Pirates’ former 1st rounder C Tony Sanchez. The speedy Red Raider centerfielder has a compact, powerful swing, but is considered more of a raw athlete at this point, which the Pirates’ much-maligned farm system must mold into a future MLB contributor.
8. Overall, Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington deserves credit for not being scared off by MLB’s new slotting system like the 7 GMs before him, and selecting Appel. If he can add Appel to the touted arms arsenal of SP Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole, the Pirates could boast one of the top trios of pitching prospects in all of baseball. But Huntington has to do so while negotiating with an aggressive agent, and avoiding penalizing his organization by exceeding his draft allocation- and still has to draft some quality players in rounds 2-10 to boot.
9. Signing Appel could potentially reverse what’s quickly becoming a very spotty draft record for the GM, especially in light of former SP Stetson Allie’s recent position change to 3B. But on the flip side, failing to sign Appel adds to a growing list of draft mishaps, including the aforementioned Alvarez debacle, and fumbling both the RP Tanner Scheppers and INF Miguel Sano signings.
It should be an interesting month-and-a-half of intrigue, but for now, Pirates’ fans should rest easy. Pittsburgh had the rarest of apples remain on the draft tree longer than expected, and this time, they had the guts to climb a high ladder to nab it. Thanks for reading.