For over a year, he's been caught on the emotional roller coaster of the most unpredictable draft in professional sports, so Thursday's announcement from MLB commissioner Bud Selig certainly brought a tremendous feeling.
The Houston Astros selected Stanford pitcher Mark Appel with the first pick in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft, bringing a stressful selection journey full circle with the senior right hander -- a Houston native -- on top.
"When I saw Houston had the first pick, I was like, man, that can't be a coincidence," Mark Appel told The Bootleg in an interview before last year's MLB Draft, in which he was projected to be picked by the Astros at No. 1. "I can definitely see God's hand in that."
It turns out that Appel was not picked first in that 2012 draft. He wasn't selected second, either, or even third. The flamethrower became a victim of several prearranged deals that were sparked by the MLB's new collective bargaining agreement rules, and he fell all the way to the Pittsburgh Pirates at no. 8.
Appel ultimately turned down the big money to return to Stanford and graduate, taking heat from scores of disgruntled fans in the process.
"The bottom line is, I turned down $3.8 million to get my college degree," Appel told ESPN.com's Tom Keown before the draft. "If you want to criticize me for that, so be it."
It's impossible to rationally fault him now. The hometown Astros have selected Appel No. 1 overall, after all. This is the first time ever that a Stanford baseball player has been taken with the first pick of the MLB Draft. It just happened one year later than many expected.
"Last year was a different circumstance," Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "We couldn't pass on the opportunity this time."
Prior to today's selection, Appel executed his return to school with perfection. On the strength of improved fastball location and further refinement of his slider and change-up (a third plus pitch), he improved statistically in 2013. Appel posted a 2.12 ERA this past season while striking out a career-best 130 batters and walking only 23. He broke Stanford's career strikeout record, finishing with 372 on his college career. To add icing onto the cake, he will receive his Stanford diploma in Management Science and Engineering 10 days from now.
"My goals were to finish my degree, become a better baseball player, person and teammate," Appel said. "I accomplished those things."
After living his early life in Houston, Appel moved to Danville, CA and attended Monte Vista High School, where he was basketball teammates with Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, who was recently drafted in the second round by the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. Appel improved remarkably over the course of his college career, evolving from bullpen work his freshman year to his position as the NCAA's most dominant starting pitcher as a senior.
Mark Appel: Four Years of Steady Improvement
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Now that he's been selected, Appel's monetary reward can also be examined: $7,790,400 dollars are slotted for the 2013 MLB Draft's no. 1 pick. That's nearly $4 million more than the amount Appel turned down after the 2012 Draft.
"This is a surreal moment for me," he said. "Knowing I'm going back home [to Houston]."
The fairytale ride likely won't end here: Several experts have publicly stated that Appel is already ready for big league action. His journey is only beginning.
Stanford's hot streak, meanwhile, is only seeing its temperature increase. Appel becomes the third Cardinal athlete to be selected as a top draft pick in the past 60 weeks. Andrew Luck (NFL) and Nneka Ogwumike (WNBA) were both selected no. 1 overall last year. Remarkably, both are also from the Houston area.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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