MLB’s Rule 4 Draft is in just 20 days. Our Houston Astros will have the top pick and unlike most recent years, there isn’t a clear cut favorite to go first overall. Some of the names being discussed are Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, Florida catcher Mike Zunino, and outfielder Byron “Buck” Buxton of Appling County High School. There are other names but these are the three finalists, in my opinion, to go number one overall. The Astros farm system is finally back to respectability thanks in large part to the Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn trades last July, so any of those three guys would be a great addition to the team and to its future. However, as the draft gets closer, more and more rumors are persisting that Mark Appel will likely be the Astros choice with the first pick.
Mark Appel is arguably the top collegiate pitcher and if selected, would be the third collegiate pitcher selected in the past four years, joining Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole. His fastball can hit 97 mph and he has prototypical size and a couple of promising breaking pitches to go along with his power stuff.
Mike Zunino is an offensive powerhouse and earned SEC Player of the Year honors after a 2011 season in which he hit .371 with 19 homers and 67 RBIs. He is a great hitter with excellent power and is pretty good defensively too. Finally there is Byron Buxton. As a Junior in High School last year, Buxton hit .597 with 10 homers and 42 RBI while stealing ten bases.
In Keith Law’s mock draft, he has the Astros selecting Appel and gives this thought:
“The Astros’ decision is still apparently up in the air, but the general feeling is that they’ll take the college arm over the higher-upside, higher-risk outfielder, Byron Buxton … or that they’ll take the best player who’ll cut a deal below the $7.2 million slot figure and transfer the money to later picks.”
Those who like to bash the team and cite cheapness as their primary reason will read that last sentence and throw their hands in the air. The fact is, this is the first draft under the new CBA. No longer can teams throws crazy money at players selected in later rounds. The Astros will have the most amount of money to spend since they were the worst team in baseball in 2011. If they can get a great talent such as Appel to sign for less than the projected $7.2 mil and save that money for their compensatory first round selection, they could select a player that most believe wouldn’t sign (Lucas Giolito, Trey Williams, Nick Williams) by offering more money. (I’m not saying any of those three will be available but just for an example.)
Jim Callis of Baseball America also did a mock draft a few days ago and he too has the Astros selecting Mark Appel. He writes:
1. ASTROS: Houston is focusing on Buxton, Zunino and the three best college pitchers (Stanford’s Mark Appel, Louisiana State’s Kevin Gausman and San Francisco’s Kyle Zimmer). Scouting director Bobby Heck has taken an up-the-middle position player with his top pick in each of his four drafts, and he and his staff are believed to favor Buxton, a five-tool center fielder. Rumors persist that the Astros’ higher-ups—new owner Jim Crane and new general manager Jeff Luhnow—prefer an arm who could help soon and fit at the front of their rotation.
Projected Pick: MARK APPEL.
I am a huge Mark Appel fan. I have been following him since last season and if I were running the Astros, I would select Mark Appel with Mike Zunino being a close second. I recently tweeted Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com and asked him where Mark Appel would slot into last year’s draft in regards to SP’s had he chose to enter the draft. He replied that he would have been just a hair behind Gerrit Cole who went first overall to Pittsburgh. Mark Appel has drawn comparisons to Justin Verlander and could be a guy that could anchor the rotation for a decade.
Appel, Zunino or Buxton would all be terrific choices for the hometown nine. My only knock on Buxton is that he is a very raw, very toolsy, high school player. I won’t knock the pick if they select him but a lot can happen between high school and the pro’s. If we were picking later, even the second or third pick, I’d love to get Buxton, but to me, I’d rather not take such a question mark with the top overall pick. Sure Appel or Zunino could flame out as well, but I’ll take my chances with Mark Appel or Mike Zunino who have done it at high school and college and figure to get to the big leagues quicker.
My projected pick for the Astros: Mark Appel SP, Stanford