There are few prospects in the Houston Astros farm system that have generated as much discussion in recent years as Mark Appel, the 2013 first overall pick in the major league draft. The second of three consecutive #1 Overalls for Houston, and the last one to actually sign, Appel’s strengths and weaknesses have been cussed and discussed since he was also a potential #1 draft pick in the 2012 draft before being bumped in favor of Carlos Correa. Let me state up front that I am a huge proponent of Mark Appel, and I hope he stays in the Astros system. He has the makings of a quality big-league pitcher, and he is a quality person, too.
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With the struggles of the big club the last couple of years, more attention was turned on the prospects. This was especially true of Appel, as a preseason bout of appendicitis coupled with batting-practice numbers accumulated in Lancaster led many of us in the Astros circle of supporters to be convinced that the sky was falling, and not even the retractable roof at MMP could save him. Batting practice numbers are good if you are batting, but not when you are the BP pitcher. A change of scenery in Corpus with more realistically expected numbers and a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League have rejuvenated hope in Astroland that Mr. Appel may yet make us proud.
And it is precisely for this reason that he is now emerging as possible trade bait.
With any potential trade for a marquee player, it will take a lot to get a lot. Others have discussed years of team control, player value, etc. – I want to look at what might replace Appel on the farm. Here are three possible reasons Mark Appel could be traded:
1. Michael Matualla (Duke) Depending on whom you believe, he is either 6’-6” or 6’-7”, and 225-230 pounds, & owner of a consensus mid-90’s heater, a quality curveball and slider. It is likely that he would be in for a fairly short stay on the farm. Most pre-draft projections have him toward the front end of the top 5.
2. Phil Bickford – a stud wherever he has pitched, he has already turned down #10 money when drafted by Toronto in 2013. At 6’-4” and 185 pounds, he is going the juco route this spring to be eligible for the 2015 draft. Not a unanimous Top 5 pick by prognosticators, but my sleeper to make some team very happy.
3. Walker Buehler (Vanderbilt) – Can’t every pitcher from Vandy pitch? Even if he is a slight 6’-1” 160-pounder, he is generally regarded as the top college lefty in the draft. Plus, I can’t stop saying his name. Buehler. Buehler. Buehler.
A lot of this is pure conjecture, but if the Astros did trade Appel in a deal for Cole Hamels (if the Padres don’t trade for him first), would you be okay if a new phenom took an extra year or two to make it to The Show? Are any of these guys suitable replacements in “the plan” for you? Do the actions of the Padres, White Sox, Marlins, or even Kansas City this offseason make you feel a little froggy? At what point do the Astros jump? Finally, would you rather have Mark Appel and one of the three other pitchers listed in a future Houston rotation or Cole Hamels and your pick from those above?