SECAUCUS, N.J.: This time, the Houston Astros couldn’t resist drafting Mark Appel with the No. 1 pick.
The Astros selected the hard-throwing Stanford pitcher with the top choice in the Major League Baseball Draft Thursday night, a year after passing on the hometown kid and instead choosing 17-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa from Puerto Rico.
“For us, we felt like it was the best move,” Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow said in an interview on MLB Network. “Last year was a different circumstance.”
Appel, who grew up in Houston before moving to California when he was 12, slid to the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 8 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 106⅓ innings this season for the Cardinal, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Appel is expected to fetch about $2 million more than he passed on with the Pirates.
“This is just a surreal moment for me and my family,” said Appel, who complements his mid-90s [mph] fastball with a nasty slider and improving change-up. “Just knowing that I’m going back home is a real honor.”
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. 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,” Luhnow said.
“I talked to him and told him: ‘Welcome home.’ 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 draft, which is held over three days and 40 rounds, started Thursday night with the first two rounds at MLB Network Studios.
It was the second consecutive season that the first pick was uncertain going into the draft, with Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray and two college third basemen — North Carolina’s Colin Moran and San Diego’s Kris Bryant — thought to be in the mix for the Astros.
It was the fourth time the Astros had the No. 1 pick, and they joined the Tampa Bay Rays (2007-08) and Washington Nationals (2009-10) as teams to have the top selection in consecutive years. The draft order is determined by reverse finish in the overall standings from last season.
With the No. 2 pick, the Chicago Cubs selected 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. He leads the nation with 66 walks, 80 runs scored and an .820 slugging percentage.
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. He throws a fastball in the mid- to upper-90s, reaching 100 mph at times with an effortless delivery.
The Rockies apparently were 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.
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 Indians then picked Clint Frazier, a high school outfielder from Georgia and the Miami Marlins took Moran with the sixth pick.