Results tagged ‘ Astros ’

Previewing the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft

The 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft is now less than two weeks away.

Set to air live on MLB Network on June 5th, and continuing through June 7th on MLB.com, the draft has become a bigger focus each and every year as time has gone by. With teams now counting on their first few picks to make it to the big leagues within a couple of years and have an immediate impact, choosing the right player for your organization has become a huge deal. 2014-Draft

While none of last year’s first round draft picks have made the major leagues as of yet, currently, four of the 2012 first round picks have made the majors for at least a brief period of time, being Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman, in addition to Mike Zunino and Michael Wacha who have made the biggest impacts.

With this year’s draft being pitcher heavy, a lot of teams are going to be picking up a possible future ace of their rotation as their first pick. Though there are some good position players in the mix as well, overall, pitchers are the dominant presence, making up seven of the top ten ranked draft prospects who will go quickly come draft day.

As I did last year, I’m planning to blog about the results of the draft, along with a few of my thoughts, the day after the first round takes place. With the first five picks going to the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Twins, it should be interesting to see how teams play things, depending on their overall biggest needs that they need to fill for the future.

Though I’m not going to give any predictions for the order in which the players are chosen (I’m by no means a draft expert) I do want to talk a bit about the “experts'” picks for who will likely be some of the first off the board.

For the number one overall pick, no one can seem to agree who it will be, however, nearly everyone is predicting that it will be one of two left-handed pitchers: Brady Aiken or Carlos Rodon. Untitled

Aiken is one of four high school players ranked in the top ten draft prospects, and is expected to go in the top two, if not number one overall. Possessing some of the best stuff seen out of a high school pitcher in quite a while — set to be the first high school lefty to go in the top five since 2002 — Aiken is one of the younger players in the draft, currently age 17, but he could possibly be one of the most talented.

With a good fastball, as well as a great curveball and changeup, it will be up to the Astros if they want to take a chance on the young pitcher.

Or they could go with Rodon, who began the year as the clear cut first overall pick, but due to a somewhat down year by his standards — he still managed to post a 2.01 ERA despite poor run support leading to a 6-7 record — his stock has fallen a bit.

But with that said, he still has everything you want and expect to see in the number one pick. With a good, hard fastball, a really good slider, and a work in progress change up, Rodon may not be the highest ranked draft prospect, but he may have the most upside.

On the position player side of things, high school catcher Alex Jackson appears to be the favorite to be the first non-pitcher off the board. While not too many of the game’s top catchers produce big time stats at the big league level, many people feel that Jackson has the ability to do just that.

With a cannon for an arm behind the plate, as well as a real power swing that should yield a good deal of power in addition to hitting for average, Jackson will likely become one of the brightest catching prospects in baseball after June 5th.

And therefore, with so much fantastic talent, from pitchers to position players, the 2014 draft could turn out to be one of the best in years.

Better Team In 5 Years: Cubs or Astros?

After starting from a level playing field on Opening Day, there are always certain teams who find themselves falling lower and lower in the standings as a given season goes on. Though it can vary from year to year, with teams having an off season compared to their normal standards, for the last several seasons it has been two main teams: the Cubs and the Astros. Jose Altuve, David DeJesus

Currently sitting dead last in their respective divisions through a fourth of the season played, and with no signs that things will be changing in the near future, even with a good amount of the season left to go, it’s once again not looking too good for either the Cubs or the Astros. However, despite neither having finished with a winning record since 2009, their fortunes could be changing over the coming years. One thing they both have in common is their strong farm systems, which are loaded with top prospects that will be coming up to help out down the road.

For the Cubs, having not reached the postseason since 2008, they currently have prospects such as Javier Baez, who’s off to a rough start to 2014 after dominating last year; Kris Bryant, who’s expected to have 40 home run power in the majors; and Albert Almora, who is a few years away but is likely to have a big impact once he reaches Chicago. Those players, combined with those they have now, should make for a good team beginning around 2016 and continuing for the many years beyond.

To go along with their already decent major league team, the Astros, who haven’t made the postseason since 2005, have a ton of talent coming their way, including Carlos Correa, who is expected to be an all around fantastic player; Mark Appel, who’s likely to get a late season call up if he’s performing well; and Jonathan Singleton, who possesses some above average power. After losing over 100 games and being the worst team in baseball as of late, the Astros could see things turning around very soon.

The only good thing about performing so poorly each season is that you receive a high pick in the following year’s draft, with it looking likely that the Astros will take Carlos Rodon as the number one overall pick in the upcoming 2014 draft (the Cubs have the fourth overall pick.) But even so, your top picks in the draft, which subsequently become your top prospects, don’t always pan out and reach the big league level. And even when they do, for some players, it takes them a bit of time to adjust once they get the call up.

The most recent example of that being George Springer, who has hit a mere .222 with 3 home runs so far this season with the Astros after blasting 37 homers to go along with a .303 batting average as part of their farm system in 2013. Though he’s predicted to still have a great career, sometimes it just takes awhile for players to make the adjustment to big league pitching, no matter how good they are.

And therefore, while I’m not saying either the Astros or the Cubs will be winning the World Series in the coming years, I do feel that with their high level of talent from the minors on its way they will become much more competitive than they currently are, having to settle with last place finishes year after year.

With it being nearly equal in terms of current talent, and taking prospect depth into consideration, it’s somewhat difficult to predict which of the teams will be the best half a decade from now. But if I had to choose, I’d likely go with the Cubs, even though the Astros should be a lot better as well. It’s truly too close to call, and that’s something to look forward to if you’re a fan of either team — or just a baseball fan in general.

Who do you think will be the better team in five years?

Top Prospects Ready to Make MLB Impact

There are numerous top prospects set to make an impact in the major leagues this season, as I wrote about a few months ago, but for this particular post, I’m only focusing on the players who are ready right now to get a callup to the big leagues, but are yet to for one reason or another. Keep in mind as you’re reading, the players (in no particular order) I’ve included are yet to play a single game in the majors:13067210

Archie Bradley is the first player on my list, as he nearly made the Diamondback’s rotation out of Spring Training. Going 14-5, with a 1.84 ERA last season, Bradley is one of those players who is sure to make an immediate impact upon his first callup to the majors. Though it could be awhile longer before Bradley gets his first big league start, he’s ready now, nonetheless, to show off his stuff on the highest level.

Another player who nearly made the majors out of Spring Training, and likely should have, is George Springer. Blasting the second-most home runs of any player in the minors last season, with a total of 37, Springer is sure to be one of the key pieces for the Astros moving forward, whenever his callup takes place. With the Astros’ outfield struggling, besides Dexter Fowler, bringing up Springer would be a smart thing to do.

Gregory Polanco could end up being as big of a difference maker for the Pirates as Andrew McCutchen. Though he’s yet to prove his ability on the major league level, there are a lot of people who feel Polanco is experienced enough to make the jump. Currently in Triple-A, it will likely be a bit of time before Polanco is called up, however, his combination of speed, power, and ability to hit for average should help him stick.

Joc Pederson is more than ready to make his major league debut, but there’s a big problem he faces: he’s an outfielder in the Dodgers’ organization. With a current outfield of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, Pederson simply has nowhere to go. While it could be a good bit of time before the Dodgers’ figure out a solution to the situation they have with Pederson, he should be up before too long.

Currently battling an injury, Addison Russell can’t technically be called up to the major leagues until he fully recovers, which likely means more minor league time, however, he is nearly ready. Russell is coined to be the next great all around shortstop, and many people feel he has the potential to win multiple Gold Glove awards. With the Athletics’ contract to their current shortstop, Jed Lowrie, almost up, Russell will be up fairly soon.

Some honorable mentions, of player who are getting close to being major league ready but aren’t quite, include Oscar Taveras, Javier Baez, Noah Syndergaard, Alex Meyer, Eddie Butler, Jonathan Singleton, Garin Cecchini and Stephen Piscotty.

All are showing tons of major league potential, and the majority of those players should see time in the major leagues at some point in the second half of this season. The remaining few will get their first glimpse of the majors in the early part of 2015.

American League Predictions for 2014

For the third season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I picked the Red Sox to finish last in 2013 and they won the World Series), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.

I’ll be posting my predictions for the National League in the next few days, but for now, I’m going to give my predictions for the American League (along with my reasoning), starting with the American League East:

EAST

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Rays

4. Orioles

5. Blue Jays

Originally, I had the Yankees winning the division, but the more I thought about it the more I second-guessed the choice. The Red Sox are far too good of a team to ignore, and should have just enough to beat out every other team in the American League East. What really puts them over the Yankees when it comes to deciding first and second place is their pitching depth. Not just their starting rotation, but their bullpen as well. From Jon Lester, Jake Peavy and John Lackey, to a top of the line closer in Koji Uehara, there is a ton of talent to keep the opposing teams from scoring runs. As far as their own lineup goes, it’s one of the best in the division, with a good mix of veterans — David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, A.J. Pierzynski — as well as young future stars — Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks. And therefore, they should be able to win the division, yet again.

The Yankees did a lot of things right this past offseason, and I really feel confident in them for the coming year, but I can’t quite see them placing first. They lost their All-Star closer, Mariano Rivera, and didn’t really address that by signing another closer to take his place. On the topic of pitching, their starting pitching improved a bit with the addition of Masahiro Tanaka, but it will take a bounce back year from C.C. Sabathia, and the rest of their rotation, for the Yankees to pitch themselves to a lot of wins. But what they lack in pitching, they more than make up for in their lineup. Newcomers Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann will go a long way in helping the offense score runs. Even without their star second baseman, Robinson Cano, to provide a major power threat, the Yankees still have a chance to go far, in this Derek Jeter’s farewell season.

There were a lot of rumors this offseason that the Rays’ 2012 Cy Young winner, David Price, was going to be traded. But that didn’t happen, which is what will help them barely beat out the Orioles, in my opinion. If Price can return to form, combined with Chris Archer, Matt Moore and the remaining players of their entire pitching staff, including newly acquired Grant Balfour to fill their closer role they lost when Fernando Rodney left, the Rays will be good to go. Their lineup is decent, with Evan Longoria and Wil Myers being the standouts, and with James Loney and Ben Zobrist likely being good yet again, their overall lineup should be good enough to compete. Towards the end of the 2013 season, the Rays went on a run, and if they can do that at the right times throughout this year, they could surprise some people.

The Orioles have the ability to beat out the Rays for third, but I don’t think they’ll be quite good enough to get there. I have them finishing next to last, as despite adding Nelson Cruz to go along with Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis as the big impact players in their lineup, they don’t have the best pitching. Signing Ubaldo Jimenez will go a long way in making them a good team if he is able to have a breakout year, but losing their All-Star closer, Jim Johnson, to the Athletics, will hurt them at the end of games, as they have no true replacement for him. If everyone up and down the lineup and all throughout the bullpen can get going, the Orioles could move up the division ranks, and make a push. But I don’t see that happening until their top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are full time members sometime next season.

Last season after signing so many impact players in the winter months, many had the Blue Jays making the playoffs, with some going as far as to predict a World Series championship for Toronto. I thought those predictions were a little far fetched, and I predicted a fourth place finish for them, despite having some veteran proven pitchers such as R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. After they disappointed many by finishing dead last in the AL East last season, I’m putting the Blue Jays last again. They didn’t do a whole lot this offseason, and if anything they got a little worse by losing some players to free agency. It would take a near perfect and injury free season by their star players Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, as well as perfect years by all of their starting pitchers, for them to compete in their division. To me, that’s an awful lot to ask out of the Jays.

CENTRAL

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

There’s no reason why the Tigers shouldn’t run away with things in the American League Central. Although they lost one of the biggest bats in the game, Prince Fielder, trading him away for Ian Kinsler, who will play second, freed up their options. Meaning 2012 Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, will now move back to first, with top prospect, Nick Castellanos, taking over his spot at third base. With Jose Iglesias at shortstop, who could pick up a Gold Glove this season, there really aren’t any holes in their infield, or anywhere in their entire lineup for that matter. And that continues with their pitching staff. The Tigers have a superb starting rotation, with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, and strengthened the back end of their bullpen by signing proven closer, Joe Nathan. Everything combined together, the Tigers could have a magical season.

This is finally the year for the Royals, in my mind. They made a strong push towards the end of last season, with their first baseman, Eric Hosmer, beginning to play like many predicted he was capable of, but they came up just short. This season, however, the Royals have enough to finish second if they can get everything to come together. Their starting rotation won’t dominate, but it will do fairly well, from James Shields to rookie Yordano Ventura. They have one of the best, under the radar, closers, Greg Holland, and he should have a great year again. In addition, their consistent players such as Billy Butler and Alex Gordon will continue to perform, but it will take production from players like Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante and Mike Moustakas (he has something to prove this season) for the Royals to make any sort of a deep playoff push.

The Indians made the playoffs last season via the Wild Card, quickly being eliminated, but I don’t see them getting back this year. I have them finishing third, but a down year by the Royals could see them moving up a spot. Their rotation has the potential to be good, with Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar leading the way, but they lost Scott Kazmir, and need Trevor Bauer to finally come through for them more than ever. As far as their lineup goes, it’s pretty good. Yan Gomes will likely be their catcher, with Carlos Santana transitioning to third, and Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis will contribute both offensively and defensively, along with Jason Giambi providing the Indians some pop. Francisco Lindor, their top prospect, could see major league time towards the end of the season, but it likely won’t be enough to push them over the edge.

While the White Sox probably won’t do much this season, finishing next to last in my book, they will have a slightly better season than the one they had last year. Chris Sale, one of the best players on the team, will be the leader of their starting rotation, which is good but no where near great. Another spot where they have a ton of holes is their lineup, however, Jose Abreu is set to be the next big, power hitter out of Cuba, so it will be interesting to see how he does. If he can perform well, along with Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, who have been known for years for their power, the Sox should have a decent year. One of the biggest things that will hurt them is the loss of their overpowering closer, Addison Reed, who was great at finishing out games for them. With so many question marks and missing pieces, it will take a lot for the White Sox to finish any better than fourth.

I have the Twins finishing last again, but it will likely be the final year for awhile. They have numerous top prospects coming up in the next few years, including Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, and those players will definitely have an incredible impact. But with the players they have for this season, they will likely have a subpar year. With a rotation of Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, and Phil Hughes, among others, the Twins don’t have a true ace of their pitching staff like a lot of teams do. They also no longer have Justin Morneau at first base, losing him in the second half of last year, and the rest of their infield is a question mark. One of their stronger points is their outfield, with Aaron Hicks and Josh Willingham, as well as newly signed catcher, Kurt Suzuki, but those players alone won’t be enough to win the Twins many games in 2014.

WEST

1. Rangers

2. Athletics

3. Mariners

4. Angels

5. Astros

Trading away Ian Kinsler in exchange for Prince Fielder will really go a long way in helping the Rangers beat out the Athletics for the number one spot in the AL West. Adding Fielder to an already great infield of Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, will give the Rangers their first production from first base since Mark Teixeira left in 2007. The only thing that could hurt the Rangers is their pitching, as Derek Holland will miss the first portion of the season, along with a few other of their key pieces. Yu Darvish will be dominant again, and Tommy Hanson, Martin Perez and Robbie Ross will help a bit, but the loss of their closer, Joe Nathan, will have somewhat of an effect. If newcomer Shin-Soo Choo can produce from the leadoff spot the same as he was able to do in 2013, the Rangers, and several players on their team, could have an amazing year.

As far as the Athletics go, although they’ve won the division the past two seasons and made some fairly good moves this offseason as they seem to always do, they don’t have the lineup threats that the Rangers do. They do, however, have an overall better pitching staff (especially in the bullpen) with young stars Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily leading the rotation. A pickup of Scott Kazmir and closer Jim Johnson will have a great impact on their success throughout the coming season, as will Coco Crisp and Eric Sogard, who really broke out in 2013. But it will take great seasons from Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick for the A’s to make a run at beating out the Rangers. With the seasons they’ve been able to put together without any superstars on the team, however, it wouldn’t be all that difficult for the Athletics to surprise me.

The Mariners, with all of the offseason moves they made, could potentially place better than third place, but I’m projecting them to disappoint a lot of people. The biggest signing they made was undeniably the top free agent of the offseason, Robinson Cano, for the next ten years. He will go a long way in turning the Mariners back around. But other than Cano, and possibly Corey Hart who they signed as well, there’s no major power threat in the lineup. Logan Morrison will add some average hitting, and young players such as Mike Zunino, Kyle Seager and Brad Miller will be decent. The one player that needs to produce is Dustin Ackley, but you never know with him. Their pitching should be excellent, with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, etc., as well as new closer, Fernando Rodney, but if they don’t produce a ton offensively, it won’t do them much good.

After really disappointed a lot of people last season, the Angels could very well could do so again this year, finishing next to last in my opinion, as they didn’t do a lot to get much better this offseason. Their rotation doesn’t extend much past Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, though they did pick up promising prospect Tyler Skaggs. While Mike Trout is going to be amazingly good, as he has proven he can be, and I feel Albert Pujols will have a bounce back year, Josh Hamilton isn’t really looking all that promising. Also, although they picked up David Freese this offseason, they lost a huge impact bat in Mark Trumbo, and really don’t have any other major impact players to place in their lineup. While they certainly have the pieces to surprise many people this year if everything goes right, I just don’t see it happening for the Angels.

It’s becoming routine for the Astros to finish dead last, and they will likely do so again this season, but on a brighter note, they could possibly finish with fewer than 100 losses, which they haven’t been able to do since 2010. The Astros don’t have any impact players to speak of for their rotation or lineup, but one of their top prospects, George Springer, if called up soon enough, could play a big role in the outfield. Jarred Cosart will likely be their best starting pitcher, with players such as Jose Altuve, Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez making some noise with their bats. However, it won’t be enough to do any better than fifth. But it shouldn’t be long until the Astros are moving up in their division, as they have several fantastic prospects coming up in the next year or two. From Mark Appel to Carlos Correa, the Astros could have a very formidable team in the very near future.

Leave a comment below with whether or not you agree with my predictions.

3/8/14: NC State Vs. Notre Dame

Normally, I don’t blog about college baseball games that I attend. They simply don’t have the same talent level that comes with a Major League Baseball game — or even a minor league game, for that matter — and it’s not usually worth writing about. But the NC State versus Notre Dame game that my dad and I went to on Saturday was a bit different.

First of all, the projected number one overall 2014 draft pick, Carlos Rodon, was scheduled to make the start for State, and with his previous track record — going 10-3 with a 2.99 ERA last season — Rodon certainly goes a long way in making this year’s NC State team something special. But Rodon isn’t the only standout on the team.

In addition, Trea Turner, who’s predicted to be a top ten pick in the upcoming draft, adds excitement to each and every game, none more so than with his above average speed. With both Rodon and Turner, this year’s State team is a must see.

Which is why I found myself out at the ballpark on Saturday afternoon. I wanted to witness it all for myself before they both leave following this season.

While Carlos Rodon is usually NC State’s Friday starter, as most college aces are, a rainout on Friday forced the game to be made up as part of a double header with visiting Notre Dame on Saturday, with Rodon pitching game one:

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Although he hadn’t started off the year too well, going 1-2, I was optimistic that Rodon would turn things around in his first warm start of the season.

And for the most part, I was right.

Rodon appeared to be locked in out of the gate, as he gave up just one hit, and struck out two (one of which was Craig Biggio’s son, Cavan Biggio) through the first two innings. In the third, however, Rodon lost a bit of his composure, allowing three hits, but impressed me with his ability to keep things from getting too out of hand, allowing only one run.

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But while Rodon had a great start to the game, he didn’t receive any run support, as State failed to get a man across the plate through the first four innings, due to the equally strong start from Notre Dame’s Sean Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald finally struggled enough in the fifth to allow a single run, bringing the score to 1-1.

At that point in time, I made my way around from the third base side to the first base side, which is where I spent the rest of the game, just so I could get a glimpse from a different angle of Carlos Rodon . . . . :

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. . . . and Trea Turner:

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When I first found my way over to that side of the ballpark, I heard of a rumor that Craig Biggio was actually in attendance to watch his son play. But since I never actually saw him, I can’t say for sure that it was true. But I digress. Back to the game.

Both pitchers continued to do well until the sixth, when each allowed two runs to the opposing squad, raising the score to 3 runs apiece. Fitzgerald was replaced after the sixth, but Rodon was left in, which would turn out to be huge for State.

Recording what would be the game winning hit in the eighth, State’s Jake Armstrong proved to be the difference maker, as he singled in Bubby Riley and Trea Turner, whose speed likely aided in his ability to score, making it 5-3, State.

Rodon finished out the game a bit shaky, allowing two hits in the ninth, but promptly got a game ending double play to lock up the fifth complete game of his career:

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Rodon received the win, bringing his win-loss record up to 2-2, to go along with a 2.40 ERA on the season, striking out seven and allowing 10 scattered hits on 121 pitches. My overall impression was that Rodon was good, but not overly fantastic in this particular game, but that’s not meant to take anything away from Rodon. He’s a great pitcher, and will undoubtedly be a star in the majors at some point down the road (as will Trea Turner, who went 1-4 on the day).

As you may have inferred, I didn’t try for any autographs at this game as I usually do every time I go to a baseball game, but that’s simply because I’m going to be seeing NC State again next month, when they take on UNC at the newly renovated Durham Bulls Athletic Park on April 15th. Rodon isn’t scheduled to pitch, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get him to sign for me, along with Trea Turner. But either way, it’s sure to be a fun time, as always.

2014 Final MLB Standings Predictions

We’re quickly approaching the opening-series of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, down in Australia on March 22nd, and so begins the predictions of where each team will finish in the coming year. Most of the time there’s a team or two that comes along and completely throws off your predictions, but that’s what makes it fun.

I’m going to be doing a separate couple of blog posts on my predictions for how I feel each team will fare this season sometime in the next week or two, but for now, I want to hear what you all think. Cast your vote below for which team you feel is most likely to win each division in 2014:

Voting ends on March 22nd.

Q and A With Mark Appel

Mark Appel was drafted out of high school by the Tigers in the 15th round of the 2009 draft. However, due to his commitment to Stanford University, Appel didn’t sign, and instead went to pitch at college.

At Standford, Appel began as a relief pitcher, only receiving three starts his freshman year, where he posted a 5.92 ERA over 38 innings. Once he was made a full time starter again the next season, Appel excelled, lowering his ERA down to 3.02 for the year. In his junior year of college, after he went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA, Appel was once again drafted, this time by the Pirates as the eighth overall pick. Many felt that Appel would begin his professional baseball career, but he decided to return to college to finish out his baseball career (and degree) at Stanford.

BBM-BeesvQCBandits-Appel-118Despite some flak from people around the baseball world for returning to college, Appel showed just how good of a pitcher he is, improving to have his best season at Stanford; setting the all-time collective strikeout record, in which he went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA. After such a successful final year, Appel was drafted yet again, for the third time, by the Astros as the first overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Beginning his professional baseball career with Low-A Tri-City, Appel made it up to Single-A Quad Cities in 2013, going a combined 3-1 with a 3.79 ERA. Due to the 106 innings Appel had already pitched in 2013 at Stanford, he was shut down after just 38 professional innings pitched, bringing his innings up to roughly 144 for the season.

Appel has an average, to slightly above average, fastball, ranging from the lower to mid nineties, but he can crank it up to upper nineties when needed. He also possesses a good slider and a work in progress changeup that many think will come along.

Heading into his first major league Spring Training, it’s been reported that Appel could, potentially, make the big leagues out of camp “if he is one of the best five pitchers out of Spring Training”. However, as many people feel, it will likely be later in 2014, or early 2015, when Houston — his hometown — gets its first glimpse of Appel. But no matter when that is, with all of the other top prospects in the Astros’ farm system, the future would appear to be bright for them as an organization moving forward, with Appel soon to be leading the way.

Mark Appel — top pitching prospect in the Astros’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I first became interested in baseball when I was very young. For as long as I can remember, I have been playing some version of the sport. Growing up, my parents, as well as certain coaches throughout the years, really influenced me and encouraged me to pursue my dream of playing baseball as a way to educate myself in college and professionally.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

Nolan Ryan was one of the all-time great pitchers and the player I looked up to the most as far as what I wanted to be on the field. He was a fierce competitor who gave his all every single time he got the ball. He competed no matter the score, circumstance, or previous result. Win or lose, you knew he was going to go out and compete again the next time he got the ball.

3.) You were drafted by the Astros in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

The draft process is very interesting. As someone who has gone through it three different times in three unique situations, I feel like I have seen it all. Someone expected to get drafted goes through “interviews”, both on and off the field. In my situation, I spoke with general managers and scouting directors, as well as the local area scouts. Answering their questions off the field is important for their evaluation process so they can have a good understanding of the type of person you are. But the factor that matters most is the results on the field — how good you are at playing baseball.

The Astros and I had a number of conversations leading up to the draft and on the day of the draft, as well as a few other teams. When the time came for the pick to be made, I felt peace in knowing that I would be exactly where God wanted me to be, whether it was Houston or another team. Bud Selig announced my name and my friends and family who came to visit California (I was preparing for graduation the following week) all celebrated! It was a surreal feeling, knowing that I would be able to have a chance to play in my hometown and the team I grew up rooting for was now the same organization I was a part of. God’s grace is too great.

4.) Before being the number one overall pick in 2013, you were drafted by the Tigers in 2009, and the Pirates, eighth overall, in 2012. What made you decide to attend college instead of going pro out of high school? Why did you decide to return for your senior year at Stanford in 2012 after the Pirates drafted you so high?  

Like I said, I have been drafted three times and each were unique situations.

appelIn high school the Tigers drafted me in the 15th round, even though I told all the area scouts I spoke with that I was planning on attending Stanford. Dreaming about being a pro baseball player, it was fun to entertain the thought of signing as a senior in high school, but I knew that Stanford was where I needed to be for my future, both in baseball and in life. Unsure if I was ready to play minor league baseball, I knew college would allow me to grow up, become a man, and still play baseball at a very high level.

In 2012 the Pirates drafted me with the 8th pick in the draft. The decision to return to school for my senior season was the toughest I have ever had to make. There are a number of factors that go into a decision of that magnitude: baseball development and career, education, regrets (I will explain this one later), desires, and money. Also, as a follower of Jesus, relationships with my coaches, teammates and fans, combined with being a part of what God is doing in this world, is very important to me.

For the baseball development, I did not see an advantage to either signing or returning to school. Development really comes down to how badly you want to get better as a player. I knew that I would be able to improve both at Stanford and in the Pirates’ organization. As far as education went, it was a no-brainer to return to school. Playing my senior year allowed me to finish my degree in Management Science and Engineering. As far as regrets go, when I made my decision, I did not want to have any regrets. I didn’t want to spend my idle time thinking about what it would have been like if I chose the other option. Going back to Stanford meant I would have a chance to play in Omaha (which we didn’t achieve), finish my degree before starting a professional career, and continue to be involved in campus ministries that I had been involved with the past three years.

Those are some things that I would have wondered about a lot if I had signed. When it came down to it, money out of the question, I wanted to go back to school, not for the lack of things signing professionally had to offer (which wasn’t much), but for the mlb_a_appel_cr_400opportunities I had during my senior year at Stanford.

But, as everyone knows, money was involved. And it was a lot of money. There are two somewhat conflicting things going on with my situation. On one hand, I was offered a lot of money, and I mean a lot. And on the other hand, I wasn’t offered what I believed my value for my talents was in the draft market under the current rules. So do I stick to principle and go back to school, or do I chase the money and sign? It was a tough question to comprehend.

There are financial benefits to both options, as well as financial risks (well, maybe there were only risks for returning to school). If money was the most important thing to me, I would have signed 100 percent. I knew by returning to school, I would give up 3.8 million dollars. I also knew there were a few things that could go wrong: injury and underperformance were the two main risks. I also knew there were benefits: education, relationships, the opportunity to get better, and a potential financial gain. The thing most people don’t realize is that I had zero regrets. No matter the outcome of my senior season and the draft that followed, I would have been extremely happy with the decision.

As confirmation that I was exactly where God wanted me to be, within the first two weeks of being back at school four members from the Stanford baseball team had accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior through the team bible study! It was so cool to be a part of the work of the Holy Spirit!

5.) In your senior year of high school, you were a part time relief pitcher and didn’t become a full time starter again until your sophomore year of college. Having been both a starting and relief pitcher, which did you find more challenging?

Both relieving and starting have their challenges. I have much more experience as a starter, and at higher levels of competition, I have only started. Personally, I think the difference is the mentality and routine. A reliever needs to mentally prepare himself to pitch 1-2 innings every single night, in general. A starter must prepare mentally to pitch five or more innings once every five days. The two are difficult to compare. With that being said, I would say that starting has been more challenging for me, probably due to the difference in talent level between high school and college, but also because there is so much to learn as a starter. I feel like I learn something new every single day.

6.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Life on the road can be very difficult. There are many things that, as a Christian, I need to prepare for. Wherever you go, you will have decisions to make from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed that will affect both how you play and how your teammates see you — as a man of integrity or a hypocrite. From how I spend my time in the hotel room to where I go and what I do after the games, there will be temptations of various kinds; whether it is alcohol, drugs, etc. For me, reading is something that I enjoy doing, starting with the Bible, but also books for entertainment purposes. Reading engages the mind to learn and grow, especially when playing baseball every day can get repetitive and mundane at times.

Spending time with teammates is a great way to spend your free time. These are the guys that you hope to win a championship with, and in my opinion, the better the team knows and respects each other off the field the more we will play together as a unit. I also believe that building relationships is the first step to discipleship, what Jesus has called us to do as believers. Coming along side people and meeting them where they are, encouraging them and building them up, investing in their lives speaks a lot louder than just telling them about an alternative lifestyle through knowing Jesus that would be better for them. Actions always speak louder than words.

7.) The Astros haven’t been doing well lately, finishing with over 100 losses the past two seasons, but they have great talent down in their farm system. With players such as yourself, Carlos Correa and George Springer, among others, how do you see the teamMark Appel faring over the next few years?

Being a part of the Astros’ organization is an incredible blessing. Not only are they my hometown team, but I believe they are a team that will be good quickly and good for a long time. Buying in to the system now and getting to know all the players right now will build a foundation for the future of the organization at the big league level.

I believe that the Astros will be the most improved team this year, and will continue to improve year after year. As we develop and add new players to the major league team, the chances we win more and more games only increases.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2013? What are your goals for 2014?

My 2013 pro season was great. I’m not necessarily pleased with the end of year statistics as a whole, but I do believe I continued to improve and to learn about professional baseball and what to expect for my 2014 season.

This season my goals are simply to work as hard as I can every single day and allow God to take care of the rest. I am not going to worry about which level I start out at or when I make it to Houston this year (if at all). The great thing about being a disciple of Jesus is knowing that wherever I am in life, I have purpose and there is work to be done for the kingdom of God. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to work with all that I have in order to reach the big leagues, but while I’m working, I’m not going to worry, and I’ll have some fun!

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite TV show: Currently, ‘Parks and Recreation’. I can really identify with Ron Swanson. Favorite food: Steak.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice to kids hoping to play pro ball is to work hard in school, first and foremost. Secondly, have fun while you are playing. Don’t let the fun of the game be overshadowed by the worry and fear of not achieving the goals that you have for yourself. Baseball is a fun game, and I have seen too many players in college and pro ball not enjoy it because they want to be the best so badly that their desire for perfection has removed the joy they once had while playing the game. Don’t lose that childlike spirit.

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Big thanks to Mark Appel for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @MAppel26

Pitchers & Catchers Report; 2014 Autograph Requests

Due to the Dodgers’ and Diamondbacks’ opening-series that’s set to take place on March 22nd and 23rd in Australia, Spring Training action is beginning a bit earlier than usual this year. The Diamondbacks have their pitchers and catchers reporting today, with the UntitledDodgers’ pitchers and catchers reporting on Saturday. Therefore, for the first time since the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series over three months ago, baseball is finally back.

But while the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are getting started this week, the remainder of the teams won’t begin reporting until next week, anywhere from the 11th to the 17th: The Indians report date is set for Tuesday; the Cardinals and Mariners will begin on Wednesday; the Braves, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Nationals, Angels and Padres report Thursday; the Tigers, Yankees, Rays, Cubs, Reds, Royals and Athletics arrive on Friday; the Red Sox, Astros, Mets, White Sox, Rockies, Brewers and Giants on Saturday; the Marlins, Twins and Rangers report on Sunday; and the Blue Jays begin on Monday. (The rest of the players for all the teams will report anywhere from 3 to 7 days after their respective pitchers and catchers.)

Once all of the pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training on February 17th, there will be a mere 33 days until the 2014 Major League Baseball season gets underway in Australia. I, for one, can’t wait.

But I’m not quite ready to jump ahead to the start of the regular season just yet, as I still have a lot I want to talk about in the coming weeks. Therefore, for the time being, I’d like to take a minute to discuss something I love to do this time of year (besides watch Spring Training games on TV.) Every Spring Training, for the past two or three years, I’ve sent out a handful of through the mail (TTM) autograph requests to different players around the league. This year, I’m going to be sending out a dozen, or so, TTM’s, with the best player being Clayton Kershaw.

201303271540564290038-p2While that might seem like a long shot — and it very well may be — Kershaw, surprisingly, has been known to sign through the mail over the past few years; the only downside being that it takes over a year for him to return it to you.

Though his recent record breaking contract, and second Cy Young award, may lead to him getting even more fan mail, causing a subsequent stop of him signing for fans that write to him, Kershaw is good enough for me to take a chance on. Even if I don’t get anything back, at least I tried.

Other MLB players I’m sending to include Taijuan Walker (who made his MLB debut in 2013), David Robertson, Kolten Wong, Cody Asche, Mike Napoli and Jake Marisnick. All of these players have been known to be decent TTM signers, with Walker and Robertson being nearly automatic over the past couple years. Asche told me that he tries to sign everything that gets sent his way, so I’m fairly confident I’ll get that one back at least.

I’m also sending to several Minor League players who were invited to Major League Spring Training this year — some for the first time ever. Those players include Archie Bradley, Kyle Zimmer, Mark Appel, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. All five of these players will be in the majors at some point over the next few years, with Bradley likely making his big league debut this season. Bradley, Zimmer and Appel have all told me that they sign TTM, so I feel like I’ll get those back. Almora has been hit and miss recently, and I doubt Bryant will, but I’m sending to both of them anyway, because you never know.

Last year I sent off eleven autograph requests to Spring Training and received back six of them, from Jason Motte, Danny Hultzen, Stephen Romero, Sonny Gray, Tyler Skaggs and Casey Kelly. That’s pretty good as far as TTM’s go. If I get back five or six of the dozen I’m sending off this year — which is what I expect to receive — I’ll be happy.

I’m planning to post a blog entry every time I receive back a couple autographs from the players I’m sending TTM requests to during Spring Training, just as I did last year. Hopefully it won’t be all that terribly long before I start getting them back (maybe a few weeks?). So be sure to check back for that over the course of the next couple months.

February Blogging Plans

I don’t really like to do too many of these type of blog posts. They mainly just serve as fillers when I have nothing else to blog about (like right now), but I suppose they’re also good, in a way, as they let you all know what to expect in the coming month.

As I’m sure you’re aware, today is the first day of February — a month that brings baseball, once again, in the form of Spring Training games. While I’m, unfortunately, not going to be heading down to any games in person, I am going to be blogging about it all, and in addition, am going to be giving my predictions for the coming season between now and the start on March 22nd. (Most of the predictions will come in March, however.)

My first planned post for this month (after this one) will cover the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I’m sending out to players at the different MLB camps. I did the same thing last year, and have been sending out autograph requests for the past few seasons, so I always enjoy talking about it. (I’ll also be posting an update periodically whenever I receive two or three autographs back, whenever that may be.)

After that, things should pick up a bit — including the amount of baseball news.

I have an interview with the 2013 number one overall draft pick, Mark Appel, coming up this month, which is probably one of the most interesting interviews I’ve every done. It was apparent that Appel put a lot of effort into the questions, as he had a ton to say with each answer. (I always appreciate it when guys do that.)

I’ll probably do another interview — more than likely with Phillies third baseman, Cody Asche — towards the end of the month. That’ll leave just one more month (March) with interviews. I’ll be posting either one or two, depending on a few factors that I won’t discuss now.

Other than the interviews, I’ll just be writing about the baseball news as it happens.

Keep in mind, none of this is set in stone. I may rearrange things, or exclude them altogether. It’s just a basic outline to give an overall idea of what to expect in the coming month.

With so many players switching teams in the offseason, and the newcomers such as Masahiro Tanaka making their first official appearance with their teams, it should be an interesting next few weeks.

Spring Training games are now just over three weeks away . . . .

Maddux, Glavine & Thomas Elected to Hall of Fame

For the first time since 1971, there will be six living Hall of Fame inductees enshrined in Cooperstown on July 27th, in this the 75th anniversary of the museum. It was announced on Wednesday that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas would be joining Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, who were elected in December, as part of the 2014 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame class.

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Maddux, Glavine and Thomas — the first player elected to have played the majority of their games as a designated hitter — all received above 80 percent of the vote, and each were elected on their first time on the ballot. This marks the first time since 1999 that three first-ballot nominees (Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount) were elected, and just the second time in history.

Maddux saw the most votes, earning 97.2 percent of the 571 voters’ approval, making him the eighth highest vote getter in Hall of Fame voting history, behind Tony Gwynn (97.61), Hank Aaron (97.83), George Brett (98.19), Ty Cobb (98.23), Cal Ripken Jr.(98.53), Nolan Ryan (98.79) and Tom Seaver (98.84).

All three players were extremely deserving, no doubt about it, but many people feel that a couple of players who were just as “deserving” didn’t get enough recognition.

None more so than Craig Biggio, who received 74.8 percent of the vote, falling a mere two votes shy of the 75 percent necessary for induction. Biggio becomes the third player to miss getting in by two or fewer votes, joining Pie Traynor and Nellie Fox, who both eventually made it into the Hall of Fame.

Mike Piazza is another player that didn’t earn enough of the vote to be elected, but could’ve easily been elected in. Piazza’s percentage, as with Biggio, was likely hurt by the great amount of talent on this year’s ballot, but it’s still surprising to me that he didn’t come a bit closer.

Nonetheless, both Biggio and Piazza will likely be voted in next year.

Players who may not ever be elected, however, include Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who all saw drops in percentages from last year, and are all linked in one way or another to performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). Clemens was the top vote getter of them all, but received just 35.4 percent of the vote, down from 37.6 percent in 2013 — no where near the percentage needed. Rafael Palmeiro, who is also associated to PED’s, didn’t even receive the necessary 5 percent to remain on the ballot for next year, getting just 4.4 percent.

Palmeiro is one of 16 players from this year who will not be on the ballot for next year. Those players include the likes of Eric Gagne and Kenny Rogers, among others, who were good players but not good enough for the Hall of Fame. Jack Morris will also not be returning next year, as although he received 61.5 percent of the vote, this was his 15th and final year of eligibility.

Looking forward to the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra will all be making their first appearance, and that could make it tough for really good players such as Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent, who received 20.3 percent and 15.2 percent of the vote this year, respectively, to make much progress. Only time will tell how the voters decide.

But one thing is for sure: Next year’s Hall of Fame class has the potential to be even more exciting than this one. And that’s truly saying a lot after the memorable class of 2014.

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