Q&A: Mark Appel

Stanford ace Mark Appel has been projected to be taken with the first pick of the June 2012 Major League Baseball draft by his hometown team, the Houston Astros. The hard-throwing junior boasts an 8-1 record while leading the Pac-12 in strikeouts. He recently joined Stanford baseball broadcasters David Lombardi, Sam Fisher, and John Treat for some friendly baseball banter.

Mark Appel, even though the Pac-12 title is a longshot at this point, this Stanford team's goal still has to be to make it all the way to Omaha, right?

Absolutely, our sights are set on Omaha. That's what we're focusing each and every day. These are all big games for our postseason seeding. Whether we play at home or on the road, our goal is to make it to Omaha and win a national championship.

You're leading the Pac-12 in strikeouts and overpowering many hitters. But over the last two seasons, you've really managed to mix off-speed pitches in effectively. Who has played the biggest role in your development as a pitcher and not just a flamethrower?

Coach [Rusty] Filter has had a big role, along with our other coaches. Honestly, it's been learning from them. They haven't given me grips for the fastball and the slider, but they've taught me how to mix and match those pitches. So I'm learning how to pitch. I don't just try to throw it by guys anymore.

Last year, your club's season ended three time zones away in North Carolina. How important is it for your postseason chances to avoid a trip that long in the Super Regionals this season?

It's very important. One of the toughest things to do, even in the Regionals, is winning on the road. Winning twice in back-to-back weekends is even harder. We didn't make it last year, so at least hosting a Regional is a goal of ours this season. I don't know if one of the eight national seeds is still available. But if we can host a regional, you never know what can happen with an upset in another Regional. Then we can host a Super Regional too. Winning every game is a goal of ours.

What has been the driving force behind the stamina that you've shown this year? You seem to have gotten better even as your pitch count has gotten high in games.

Pitching on Fridays, I know I have all the guys in the bullpen fresh to back me up. But I also want to help those guys out by going deep in the game in case they're needed Saturday and Sunday to close out our opponent. So there's confidence working both ways, and the coaches believe in me too, which is huge. There have been a few games where the pitch count went a bit too high, but I feel great. I don't think there will be any backlash.

You're a big, strong guy. What were you like as a hitter, back when you had a chance to wield the bat?

Well, I was actually voted the worst hitting pitcher on the [Stanford] team, so that kind of hurt me a bit, because I used to handle the bat decently well in Little League. In high school, I didn't get to hit much. [Note: Mark did later acknowledge that he delivered an RBI single in high school.]

Well, you scare some opposing broadcasters who aren't familiar with Coach Marquess' tendency to initially put a pitcher into the DH slot before pinch-hitting for him when his spot comes. When they initially see the lineup card, they're afraid that you're going to come back and get them at the plate. Is it disappointing for you when you're ultimately not allowed to hit?

The most disappointing part of it is that I can't come back into the game. If we go 18, 19 innings, and we need a pitcher to come in and take some swings, I know I'll never be able to do that. That's what is most disappointing.

What did you think of Cole Hamels' declaration to the media that he intentionally hit [19 year-old Washington Nationals rookie] Bryce Harper?

It wasn't very savvy. I've never been a guy who would intentionally hit somebody. I was surprised. Harper just seems like one of those guys who always hustles and gets extra bases. When I saw him, I thought that Coach Marquess would love to have this guy on his team.

He probably would love to have him. A lot of baseball players and insiders take note of Harper's ‘swag'. Who was the most swag on this 2012 team?

It's definitely Austin Wilson. We were sitting in the airport after UCLA, and he was going over the video of some of his at-bats. One of the videos was his home run, and he just completely pimps it. He said, "Oops, didn't mean to do that." But I said, "Of course you did, man." It's so funny. He's the guy who has the most swag but he won't admit it. It's so funny, because he tries to point out other people being super big league.

If someone pimped a home run against you, would you try to go inside the next time around?

[Laughs] Maybe I'd try to work inside, but I would rather make them look silly on a slider away or something like that.

The combination of hard inside and off-speed outside has been effective for you recently. Has that been a point of focus?

Over my last three starts, going in has been more relevant. I feel like scouting reports about me often say that Appel likes to work away. So guys were starting to get right on the plate. So, if I can start working in and let them know, yeah, I can locate in there, it makes my off-speed pitches more effective. It's all about establishing inside.

You've relied a lot more this season on a third pitch, your changeup. Has this three-pitch attack fueled the way that you've been dominating hitters?

Absolutely. I wouldn't say it's made me dominant, but it has definitely helped me be successful. The more you can make the hitter think, the more success you're going to have. Freshman year, hitters would think, "Yup, I'm getting a fastball here." And they would crush it. But, if you can throw a changeup for a strike, they'll think, "Now what I am going to get?" It keeps them off balance.

You grew up in Houston, and the Astros have the first pick the June 2012 MLB Draft. How would you feel about joining fellow Houston natives and Stanford athletes Andrew Luck and Nneka Ogwumike in becoming a first pick?

When I saw mock drafts and I saw Houston had the worst record first pick, I was like, man, that can't be a coincidence. I can definitely see God's hand in that. I'm not saying it's a lock. I may not even go top five, or I may not even go in the first round. But if going and playing in Houston isn't motivation enough to play well, I don't know what will get you going.

About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.

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