Beyond the Boxscore

Mark Appel is a no brainer: Astros somehow school baseball with deft draft games

Mark Appel is a no brainer: Astros school baseball with draft games

Mark Appel
The Houston Astros had another chance to draft hometown kid Mark Appel No. 1 — and they grabbed it.
Colin Moran
Colin Moran's insisted on being an all-around hitter rather than concentrating on upping his power numbers. North Carolina
Jonathan Gray
Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray brings serious heat — and some questions. Oklahoma
Carlos Correa field
Carlos Correa was the Astros No. 1 pick in 2012.
Astro Wives Gala,  Jeff Luhnow, Gina Luhnow, Aug. 2012
Jeff Luhnow is gambling with his reputation. Jeff Luhnow , Gina Luhnow Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
Mark Appel
Colin Moran
Jonathan Gray
Carlos Correa field
Astro Wives Gala,  Jeff Luhnow, Gina Luhnow, Aug. 2012

It worked out so perfectly for the Houston Astros and general manager Jeff Luhnow that you almost have to wonder if it somehow was the plan all along.

The Astros still get Mark Appel, the hometown kid with the Stanford pedigree (not to mention that mid-90s fastball), at the very top of the Major League Baseball Draft. They just do it a year later than everyone expected — after managing to add another No. 1 pick (shortstop Carlos Correa) and another first-round worthy selection (Lance McCullers Jr.) in 2012.

"It's been such a surreal moment for me and my family," is how Appel puts it on national TV after going No. 1 overall to the Astros.

You can bet it feels a little surreal to the Pittsburgh Pirates too. It sure looks Pittsburgh got schooled. One year after the Pirates drafted the free-falling Appel with the eighth overall pick and watched him turn down almost $4 million to return to Stanford, the right hander lands right back with the Astros.

 It hardly could have worked out better for the Astros if Luhnow had scripted it.  

Of course, Luhnow still has to sign Appel. But despite their ultra light Major League payroll, the Astros of Luhnow have shown they are anything but scared of Scott Boras clients. Appel will be signed.

"Last year was a different circumstance," Luhnow says.

Still, it hardly could have worked out better for the Astros if Luhnow had scripted it. They now have premium talents at shortstop and pitcher in their system.

"Hopefully both these players are going to be part of an Astros championship team someday," Luhnow says.

The Astros could have screwed this up of course. Luhnow could have outsmarted himself. He could have tried to get too cute. He could have passed on Appel again.

But he didn't. And the Astros have emerged from holding the No. 1 pick in two straight drafts without a superstar phenom about as well as they could have. 

There was no Bryce Harper. No Stephen Strasburg. No clear, no-doubt No. 1.

Last year, the Astros surprised by going in a direction no one expected with Correa. This year they surprised by largely sticking to the convention everyone thought they would defy. Try and pigeonhole Jeff Luhnow at your own risk. 

Even the Astros players got into the guessing game — and failed. After throwing seven innings against the Orioles in a 3-1 loss at Minute Maid, Bud Norris took time to tweet "#Grayismyguess."

Nope, the big Oklahoma right hander Jonathan Gray went No. 3 to the Colorado Rockies.

The Astros took Correa No. 1 last June when everyone expected Appel or high school outfielder Byron Buxton. Buxton is already drawing major raves in the Minneapolis Twins farm system. Appel was thought to be No. 1 worthy two years running. Another player would have to completely blow the Astros away to dislodge Appel from the top perch on their draft board. No one did.

Luhnow couldn't pass on him again.

"We have a lot of history with Mark," Luhnow tells the MLB Network.

 Try and pigeonhole Jeff Luhnow at your own risk. 

Enough history that Luhnow felt comfortable saying "Welcome home" when he called Appel to inform him of the pick. Appel's family lived in Houston until he was 12 and they've always rooted for H-Town's sports teams. It can seem like everyone in the world — with the exception of Major League Baseball players — is jumping on the Houston is the place to be bandwagon.

But Appel is the mold breaker. He's a premium prospect who only wants to be in Houston.

MLB analyst Harold Reynolds made the crazy claim that the 21-year-old Appel could be pitching at Minute Maid Park this July (as in a month from now), but that's never happening. Luhnow and the Astros are much too committed to development to rush a No. 1 overall pick (a guy who is likely to be a near $7 million investment on Jim Crane's watch) just for the sake of some short term buzz.

Mark Appel is a long termer. Much like the Astros' fortuitous draft planning.