Stanford ace Mark Appel is projected to be one of the top picks in the 2013 MLB Draft next month. His teammate Austin Wilson will also likely be a first-round pick.

Dave Perkin of Sports Illustrated has Appel going second to the Chicago Cubs and Wilson going 28th in his mock draft. Keith Law of ESPN also has the Cubs taking Appel with the second pick and Wilson going later in the first round in his mock draft (subscription required).

I was on hand to watch Appel and Wilson on Friday night against California.

Appel allowed nine hits, five runs, one home run, one walk and one hit batsman over seven innings of work. He also struck out 11 of the 34 hitters he faced.

Most of Appel‘s strikeouts on Friday night came on his slider, which is his best pitch right now. Whenever he gets in trouble, he leans on it heavily. He has excellent command of his slider and he changes speeds effectively with it.

Appel‘s slider sat between 83-88 miles per hour. He throws straight over the top, so it looks like an extremely hard curveball more than a typical slider.He can throw it to steal strikes early in the count and he can also throw it below the zone to put hitters away in two-strike counts. He can throw it effectively against both righties and lefties. 

He did throw a few hangers on Friday night—one of which was blasted for a home run by Cal catcher Andrew Knapp. Even though Appel made a few mistakes with the slider, it’s clearly his best pitch. It’s currently worthy of a 60 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale, with a chance for more improvement as he gains additional experience. 

His changeup was erratic on Friday night. He didn’t use the pitch very often. When he did throw it, he tended to bounce it too far in front of the plate or cast it off well above and beyond the strike zone. He did throw a few good ones to induce some swing-throughs, but it wasn’t a pitch he could count on consistently. 

After seeing Appel pitch three times this year, it’s clear to me that his changeup is still a work in progress. It’s currently worthy of a 45 grade. The improvement of his changeup in the minor leagues will go a long way towards determining whether or not he becomes a future ace.

His fastball velocity was outstanding. His four-seam fastball sat between 94-97 miles per hour. It also looked like he was mixing in a 92-94 mile-per-hour two-seam fastball.

He did a good job of pounding lefties in on the hands with fastballs to set up his back-foot slider. He was able to change the hitters’ sight lines by throwing the fastball down in the zone and then going above the letters with high heaters.

He showed very good control of all of his pitches. He only walked one hitter on Friday night and he’s only walked 21 for the entire year. However, his command of the fastball within the strike zone was a problem. Thus, despite the velocity on his fastball, it only grades out as a 55 right now—slightly above-average.

He had a hard time throwing his four-seam fastball to his arm-side—away from lefties. He gave up a double to Knapp on a fastball right down the middle with his catcher setting up on the outside corner. His lack of fastball command was part of the reason why Cal hitters only swung and missed against it a few times all game.

Appel‘s lack of dominance with the fastball was the most disconcerting aspect of his outing. He was throwing his fastball in the mid-90s all night, but he wasn’t dominating the Cal hitters with that exceptional velocity. He lacks command of the fastball within the zone at times and he doesn’t get a lot of movement on it unless he goes to the two-seamer. His over-the-top delivery doesn’t seem to create much deception, either.

There’s a lot to like about Appel. His slider would play in the big leagues right now. He has exceptional velocity. He has a developing changeup that will flash at times. He’s a big kid that maintains his velocity deep into the game.

However, he’s simply not as dominant in his final collegiate season as some recent top draft picks like Stephen Strasburg and Tim Lincecum.

Strasburg struck out 195 hitters in 109 innings in his final year in college. Tim Lincecum struck out 199 hitters in 125.1 innings in his final year at Washington. In comparison, Appel has struck out 121 in 98.1 innings so far this season.

He has elite velocity, but he’s not quite as dominant as he should be given his tremendous stuff. The development of his changeup and fastball command will be the keys to determining whether or not he ultimately reaches his high ceiling. 

Cal was careful with Stanford’s other projected first round pick, Austin Wilson. He hit into a double play, lined a single to left and then walked in each of his final three plate appearances. He got out of the box slowly on the double play, but later showed excellent speed going first-to-third on a single and then scoring on a sacrifice fly.

Wilson has an impressive .333/.436/.570 slash line so far this season. He’s hit seven doubles and five home runs in 25 games. He’s shown good control of the strike zone by walking 12 times against 15 strikeouts.

Wilson has all of the tools: power, size (6’5″, 240 pounds), speed, patience, arm strength and hitting ability. However, he suffered an elbow injury earlier in the year that probably caused his draft stock to drop some.

He shows legitimate power in batting practice but that pop doesn’t always carry over into games. He’s struggled with breaking balls away in both of the games that I’ve seen him in this year. His ability to take breaking balls the other way instead of rolling over on them will be a key factor in his future development.

Stanford has two of the most impressive prospects in this draft. Appel has the tools to be a future ace and Wilson has the talent to be a middle-of-the-order run-producer.

However, both players will still have things upon which to improve in the minor leagues after their names are called in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft next month.


(All scouting grades on Appel‘s pitches in this article are the author’s).

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