SECAUCUS, N.J. — Mark Appel was passed over by the Houston Astros a year ago.
Not this time.
The hard-throwing pitcher from Stanford was taken by the Astros with the No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball draft Thursday night, exactly where many expected him to end up a year ago.
“No matter what happened in the draft,” Appel said, “I knew I had done everything that was in my control to put myself in the best situation possible.”
Appel was considered a possible first selection last year by the Astros, but they instead chose 17-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa from Puerto Rico. Appel, who grew up in Houston before moving to California when he was 12, slid to Pittsburgh at No. 8 last year but turned down a $3.8 million offer and returned to Stanford for his senior season.
The move paid off.
After going 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 106 1-3 innings this season for the Cardinal, the 6-foot-4 right-hander is expected to fetch about double the amount he passed up from the Pirates.
“I don’t think I necessarily had an end goal in mind when I turned down the Pirates’ offer,” said Appel, who complements his mid-90s (mph) fastball with a nasty slider and improving changeup. “My goals were to finish my degree and become a better baseball player and better person and better teammate. As far as that goes, I think I accomplished those things.
And, a year later, the Astros have a potential future ace.
“I talked to him and told him: ‘Welcome home,’” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “It’s a kid’s dream to go first in the country, first in the draft and to be taken by your hometown team. It just doesn’t get any better than that. It’s also really a great opportunity for us.”
The deadline for teams to sign draft picks is July 12, but that doesn’t apply to Appel because he is a college senior.
“I’m very confident that Mark Appel is going to put on an Astros uniform,” Luhnow said. “He’s from here. He wants to play here. He’s been selected first in the draft. All the indicators are pointing in the same direction, so I assume it will be a fairly straightforward discussion and that he’ll sign sometime this summer.”
The draft, which is held over three days and 40 rounds, started Thursday night with the first two rounds at MLB Network Studios. Nine prospects attended and sat in makeshift dugouts as they waited for their names to be called by Commissioner Bud Selig in an event that has grown dramatically over the last few years.
Only one of the players on site — Oklahoma high school catcher Jon Denney — was not drafted during the first night. The draft was scheduled to resume at 12:30 p.m. Friday via conference calls with teams.
With the No. 2 pick, the Chicago Cubs selected University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, who led Division I college players with 31 home runs this season. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior is a Golden Spikes finalist and Collegiate Baseball magazine’s national player of year.
“I obviously think I could play in the big leagues now,” Bryant said on a conference call. “I have that type of confidence in myself, but, like I said, that’s not my decision. I’ll leave that up to the guys in charge.”
Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray went third overall to the Colorado Rockies. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound flamethrower helped pitched the Sooners into the super regionals of the NCAA tournament, going 10-2 with a 1.59 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 119 innings.
“I’ve had nothing but love for Colorado,” Gray said. “Tomorrow, I have to go out and try to win a super regional and get to Omaha.”
Colorado apparently was not scared off by published reports that cited unidentified sources who said Gray tested positive for the medication Adderall during baseball’s predraft drug testing program.
“I’m not going to talk about that right now,” Gray said. “There will be a time for that. Right now, I’m just happy to be selected by the Rockies.”
The first high school player picked was pitcher Kohl Stewart, who went to the Minnesota Twins at No. 4. A right-hander from Tomball, Texas, Stewart has signed to play baseball and football at Texas A&M — where he would likely be a backup to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at quarterback.
The Cleveland Indians followed by grabbing Clint Frazier, a high school outfielder from Georgia who was in the studio to hear his name called by Selig.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me I’m going to be a fan favorite because of my red hair,” Frazier said. “People put me on a pedestal, like no one else has red hair.”
Of the draft prospects in attendance, Frazier was the first to be selected. The second came when the New York Mets chose sweet-swinging California high school first baseman Dominic Smith at No. 11.
Five picks later, Philadelphia took Smith’s close buddy, California high school shortstop J.P. Crawford — cousin of Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford — who was also at MLB Network Studios.
North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran, the nephew of former big league All-Star B.J. Surhoff — the No. 1 overall pick in 1985 by Milwaukee — went sixth overall to the Miami Marlins.
A few other players with famous bloodlines went in the opening round: University of Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley, cousin of Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Jordan Shipley, went 15th to Arizona; and North Carolina high school righty Hunter Harvey, son of former big league closer Bryan Harvey, was selected 22nd by Baltimore.
Boston, picking as high as seventh for the first time since drafting Trot Nixon in the same spot in 1993, took Indiana high school lefty Trey Ball. Stephen F. Austin slugging shortstop Hunter Dozier was the No. 8 overall pick by the Kansas City Royals, who surprised some by taking a player expected to go much later in the opening or second round.
“As we got in the room and put things together,” Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said, “he became our favorite player.”
Pittsburgh, with the No. 9 pick it got as compensation for not signing Appel last year, selected Georgia high school outfielder Austin Meadows. He grew up playing travel ball with Frazier, but the two went to different high schools a few miles apart in the same town of Loganville.
“He’s one of my best friends and we’ve been through this process together since we were like 9 years old,” Frazier said.
Rounding out the top 10 picks, Toronto chose California high school right-hander Phil Bickford.
The New York Yankees had the most first-round picks with three and selected Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo at No. 26, 6-foot-7 Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge at No. 32 and California high school left-hander Ian Clarkin to wrap up the round at No. 33.
“I was hoping,” Judge said. “Everyone wants to be a Yankee, so I was happy to hear my name called.”