And now for the highly anticipated second part of the series: Here are my top five Astros stories of 2013.
Mark Appel (Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports)
#5. Astros select Mark Appel with first overall pick in 2013 draft
Drafting from the top spot for the second consecutive year, the Astros tabbed Stanford pitcher Mark Appel as their future ace. The Astros wasted little time in signing Appel, giving the right-hander a $6.35 million signing bonus less than two weeks after the draft.
The 2013 draft wasn’t exactly Appel’s first rodeo. He had been drafted out of high school by the Detroit Tigers but didn’t sign. After his junior year at Stanford, Appel was selected by the Pirates with the eighth overall pick. But Mark decided to return to Palo Alto for his senior season, hoping to raise his value and land a bigger signing bonus.
It worked. The bonus paid by the Astros was nearly twice as much as the Pirates had offered. Appel was also happy to sign with his hometown team. Mark was born in Houston and played Little League ball there before moving to California with his family.
The Astros were rumored to be considering drafting Appel a year earlier. In hindsight, passing on the collegiate pitcher in favor of 17-year old shortstop prospect Carlos Correa may have been a stroke of genius. Not only did the Astros 2012 draft rate out as one of the best in the league, they eventually ended up getting Appel anyway. Now everyone is happy, especially the fans.
Appel has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter in the big leagues. His arsenal includes a high nineties 2-seam fastball, a plus slider, and a changeup that is considered by many to be his best pitch. Appel is also working to develop a 4-seam fastball.
The extra year of college means Appel is a more polished pitcher and could move quickly through the Astros minor league system. Appel made two appearances for Tri-City and eight more for Quad Cities before being shut down for the 2013 season. He is expected to be pitching at the AA level for most of the 2014 season.