Results tagged ‘ Spring Training ’

Takeaways as Spring Training Winds Down

As history has shown us, Spring Training virtually means nothing when it comes to projecting how any given team or player will fare when the regular season actually rolls around. Spring

In season’s past, teams that “won” their leagues in the Spring wound up finishing in last place when the games actually mattered, with the opposite holding true for other teams that had poor Spring Trainings. The same applies to players, some of which vastly underperform or overperform in the Spring but return to their expected selves when April begins. For that reason, looking at the standings and stats is useless.

But that doesn’t stop me from checking them out anyhow. With Spring Training nearly over, and regular season games set to begin on April 3rd, I figured I’d share some of the things I took away from a quick glimpse at the standings and stats of teams and players around the baseball world.

The Mets and Cardinals are expected to do big things in their given divisions in 2016, but you wouldn’t reach that conclusion from peering at their Spring record. Each is well below .500, despite individual players on both teams shining at times. But that will inevitably change when the year actually begins.

On the flip side of things, the Phillies have a great record in the Grapefruit League, with the Rockies and Brewers doing well in the Cactus League side of things. But although they are outplaying other teams to this point, none of them are expected to do much of anything this season, with a last place division finish possible for each of them when all is said and done.

Individually, player’s stats can also be somewhat misleading.

PeraltaDavid Peralta and Christian Yelich — each of which were terrific in 2015 and have the ability to hit for a very high average — are ice cold thus far in Spring Training. However, they should easily turn things around when the true games begin. Likewise, as far as pitchers are concerned, veterans Jake Peavy and Jeff Samardzija haven’t faired much better than Peralta or Yelich, as each is doing horrible this Spring. But fortunately for them, the likelihood that all of these players continue to perform at such a low level is extremely low.

So if your favorite team or player is having a terrible Spring Training, don’t panic — at least not just yet. Theses things always seem to find a way of working out. But all the same, don’t set your hopes too high on a player or team who is putting up stellar numbers but is expected to do poorly this year. It likely won’t be able to last over the long 162-game year.

But then again, that’s why the games are played. Anything is truly possible from one year to the next.

Darwin Barney Shines In Spring Training Kickoff

The first game of the 2016 Major League Baseball Spring Training month of March saw the Philadelphia Phillies taking on the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday afternoon. While these games don’t count in the standings and show no definite signs of how any team will fare in the regular season, you have to figure that the Blue Jays (they won 5-2) are headed for another postseason run,Barney with Philadelhia on the flip side still in the process of rebuilding.

Even so, if it wasn’t for one player in Toronto’s lineup, things may have turned out quite differently on the day. Darwin Barney is currently still batting a thousand in the books, after going 3-3 with five total RBI’s for the game. Although you can’t take such a quick start as a sign of things to come, especially with pitchers not at the top of their game yet, it is certainly nice to see for Barney.

After being a regular player for the Cubs from 2011 through 2013, Barney hasn’t been able to stay consistent in the majors since being traded to the Dodgers in 2014. Spending nearly 100 games in the minors last season before being traded to the Blue Jays, Barney wasn’t with Toronto long enough to be eligable for their postseason push, which was obviously disappointing for him.

But if game one of Spring Training is any inclination, Darwin Barney looks to be on a mission to become an everyday player again in the big leagues, with ultimate hopes of still playing big time games come October.

Impact Players Still Teamless As Spring 2016 Begins

Although games aren’t scheduled to be played until March 1st, for every baseball fan Spring Training officially begins when pitchers and catchers first report. Five clubs saw their pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday, with the remaining teams’ hurlers and backstops trickling in over the next few days, leaving every team with their respective pitchers and catchers in camp by Sunday. Print

Therefore, baseball is finally back.

But for a number of free agent players who have yet to find homes so far this offseason, Spring Training is going to have to wait — at least for now. Before they can report to a camp, every free agent needs to come to terms with a team that they’ll wind up calling home for the 2016 season.

Given, there’s still over a month until the regular season, and most if not all of the free agents will sign before too long. But time is slowly running out. With that in mind, I thought I’d go over the free agent players still on the market, position by position, who are more than capable of still helping out a big league club, but have yet to sign for one reason or another.

Beginning with the starting pitching role, the best remaining free agent starter who remains up for grabs is Yovani Gallardo. While Gallardo has been linked to talks with the Orioles, he is still technically in play for all thirty clubs. Although he isn’t going to be the ace of any team’s staff, Gallardo is still a really good pitcher who you can count on for numerous innings (180+ for each of the past seven seasons) and will give his team a chance to win each and every night.

Appropriately following the starting pitcher in this post is the relief pitcher, with there being several quality reliever options remaining. The one that stands out the most to me, however, is Casey Janssen. He didn’t have the best season in 2015, but a three year stretch from 2011-2013 saw him as one of the best relievers in the game. With him holding a career ERA of Morneau3.63, Janssen doesn’t immediately jump off the page, but he can be an asset to a number of teams.

Justin Morneau leads the pack of available free agent first basemen. After a 17-homer season back in 2014, Morneau only played in 49 games last season due to injuries which ultimately held his numbers down. But I look for Morneau to have a bounce back season in 2016, if he can be healthy. Although his days of dominating the first base position are likely over, the days of him being a solid player definitely aren’t.

At second base, the only free agent left is Dan Uggla, making him the only option to discuss. I’m not sure what the future holds for Uggla, who was once one of the best second baseman in baseball. Uggla blasted 30+ homers for five straight seasons early in his career and has been an impactful player, but he hasn’t had a very productive season since 2013. However, with all of that said, Uggla could surprise some people if given a chance.

David Freese manning the hot corner is something any team would want to see, but for some reason he has yet to be signed. Freese is a reliable third baseman who you can count on year in and year out to hit double digit homers and drive in runs in the majority of key situations. After all, Freese was the reason the Cardinals survived game six of the 2011 World Series and ultimately went on to win. He falls under the low risk, high reward type of player, and would be a nice pickup for any team.

The shortstop position is currently one of the weaker spots as far as free agents is concerned, but Ian Desmond is the big player of the group. Following a somewhat mixed departure from the Nationals, where Trea Turner looks ready to take over the shortstop role, Desmond has been linked to a number of teams this offseason but has yet to land anywhere. Even so, Desmond is still a valuable player, coming just one homer shy in 2015 of a fourth straight 20+ home run year.Fowler

As far as the outfield, there are a number of above average free agents still there for the taking. Looking merely at the position as a whole — not individually at right, left and center — the the top three free agent outfielders in my mind are Austin Jackson, Dexter Fowler and Marlon Byrd. They’re each mid-to-upper .200’s career hitters, and each had solid 2015 campaigns. For that reason, while they still remain without a team to call home, chances are they won’t be that way for long and will have some amount of impact this coming season.

Despite every position previously mentioned having players available to sign, if your favorite team is in need of a catcher, they’ll have to look for other options besides free agency. There are no remaining catchers on the market, making it the only position without a single player left. However, there are more than plenty of other positions to snag above average players from that can impact any roster.

As history has shown, the majority of free agents always wind up signing with a team, even if it takes until the very last second to do so. But now that Spring Training is upon us, they no longer have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for the right offer and the right time to arrive. With spring being the time teams find themselves and form chemistry each year, the time for free agents to begin their final pushes towards signing is now.

Blogging Plans As Spring Training Approaches

We still have a few days over a month until pitchers and catchers are set to report to Spring Training on February 18th, but baseball fever is slowly beginning to take hold. While it seems like just yesterday that the Royals shocked the Mets to win the World Series in game five, the fact is that baseball is truly just around the corner.

For that reason, I felt it would be a good time to go over the things that I’ll be blogging about between now and Spring Training.

For starters, on January 20th I’ll be publishing a five-year anniversary post recapping some of the high points of this blog since I began writing it. There will certainly be a lot to go over, as a lot has happened even over just the past year. Then, at some point during the final week of the month, I’m planning to post an interview with Giants’ flame-throwing prospect, Ray Black, as well as a post on the top 100 prospects heading into 2016 when that list is officially produced on MLB.com towards the end of the month.

When February rolls around, there isn’t really anything other than an interview or two and a post on general Spring Training news that I’m planning to blog about. Other than that, everything is up in the air. It’ll all depend on what happens and how significant of baseball news it is.

But while my blogging schedule begins to become uncertain as Spring Training approaches, there’s one thing that’s absolutely certain: Pitchers and Catchers report in just over 30 days. That’s plenty to be excited about.

March Blogging Plans As Spring Training Games Begin

The offseason between the 2014 and 2015 Major League Baseball seasons truly flew by. Four months after the Giants won their third World Series title in five years, official Spring Training games leading up to the 2015 regular season are set to begin on Tuesday, March 3rd. I’m very ready for baseball to get going again.

With the coming Spring Training games comes a guarantee that there will be a lot of blogging topics to choose from, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t already predetermined certain things I plan to write about. That’s what I’ll be briefly covering in this blog post.

Sometime during the first week of the new month, I’ll be posting a blog entry with a poll for each of the six individual divisions around Major League Baseball asking you the reader to make your predictions for which teams you feel are most likely to win each division. Surprisingly, the fans have done a decent job picking the actual division winners in the polls from years past, so it should be interesting to see how they project the 2015 season playing out.

I’ll also be making my own predictions for the American League divisions as well as the National League divisions a week or two afterwards, trying my hand at placing each team exactly where they’ll rank at the end of 2015. Will I be exactly right? No, probably not even close. But that’s what makes it so fun.

After that, I’m going to publish my annual list of players who will likely reach major home run milestones (100,200, 300, etc.) during the 2015 season. This year the list is full of some great players going for some impressive numbers. It really shocked me, and I’m sure it will amaze some of you as well when I publish the list.

Towards the end of March, I’m hoping to publish a blog post recapping the autographs I’ve received back from Spring Training at that point. If you recall my previous blog post, I have sent — and have a few more I plan to send — through the mail autograph requests to various players at their given camp. Hopefully, I’ll have some great successes like I did last year.

Other than that, I’ll just be writing about things as they happen. There’s now just one full month left of blogging until the most exciting part of the baseball blogging year: The 2015 regular season.

2015 Spring Training Autograph Requests

Spring Training has officially begun for the majority of teams around baseball. Over this past week, pitchers and catchers have made their way to either Florida or Arizona to start their training for the long 162-game 2015 season. Meaning, there are a mere ten days until Spring Training exhibition games get under way and just 43 days before Opening Night between the Cardinals and the Cubs on April 5th.Spring 2015

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 on this blog. 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 three or four 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 several TTM’s, with the best player I’m sending to being the Astros’ 2013 number one pick, Mark Appel.

Other top prospects that I’m planning to send to throughout the spring include Sam Tuivailala (an under the radar, underrated flamethrower in the Cardinals’ farm system), Jacob Gatewood (41st overall pick in the 2014, known for his extreme power), Rob Kaminsky (a highly praised pitching prospect with St. Louis), and D.J. Peterson (a breakout slugger in the Mariners’ system who hit 31 homers in 2014).

As far as major leaguers are concerned, I’m sending to just a few of those this year. I got tired over the past few years of taking the time to put together an autograph request and wasting stamps to not receive anything back in return. So this time around, I’m only sending to big league players that I feel confident will return the cards signed, either because they have a good record of signing TTM or because they told me they would on Twitter.

Players who fall into that category include Patrick Corbin, Scooter Gennett, Joe Kelly and Dustin Ackley. They won’t wind up being the only MLB players I send to before Spring Training is over, but right now that’s all I’m sending out. Seattle Mariners v Kansas City RoyalsI’ll keep an eye on who’s signing very well over the coming weeks and if they’re a good enough player, I’ll likely send something out to them like I did with James Paxton last year and Mark McGwire a few years back. (Both were returned signed, just as had been advertised those springs.)

Last year I sent off fourteen total autograph requests to Spring Training and received back six of them, from Eddie Butler, Clayton Kershaw, Albert Almora, Kyle Zimmer, James Paxton and David Robertson. That’s pretty good as far as TTM’s go, but not getting back the other eight really made me think about who I sent to in 2015. So I’m sending off just nine to start off, with there being a good possibility I’ll add a few more to the list of autograph requests before Spring Training ends.

No matter what I decide to do, and no matter how many I successfully receive back signed, I’m planning to post a blog entry every time I receive back 2-3 autographs from the players I’m sending to, 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 over the course of the next couple months to see how well I do this Spring Training.

Spring Training Slowly Inching Closer

The calendar may read January, but for baseball fans it basically stands as a reminder that Spring Training is right around the corner. The annual February event of pitchers and catchers reporting to camp is just over three weeks away, with the first official Spring Training games set to be played in around five weeks.

With roughly four months inSpring Training between the final World Series game and the earliest reporting dates of Spring Training, having the light appear at the end of the offseason tunnel is very exciting.

But, as mentioned, there are still a few weeks to go before the baseball workouts heading into the 2015 regular season begin. And thus, there is still a lot to get through before that happens — and that includes posts on this blog.

Although I’ve had some trouble coming up with things to write about over the past couple of weeks — something that regularly happens each MLB offseason — things should begin picking up fairly soon.

Beginning with my very next post coming this weekend, I’m going to be publishing my annual recap of the top 100 prospects list, which is set to be released on Friday night. With several of those players likely making it all the way to the big leagues in 2015, it should be interesting to see who is a part of the top 100.

Following that, once February arrives, I’ll begin to have more and more to write about, and will do my best to post blog entries more and more often throughout the remainder of the year. With all but a handful of teams holding a legitimate shot at making it to the postseason, there could turn out to be a lot to write about.

2014 Spring Training TTM Autograph Update

Around a month ago, I blogged about the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I was planning to send off to players during Spring Training. At the end of the post, I stated that I was going to be publishing a blog post every time I received back a few autographs, and now that I’ve successfully gotten back some of the requests I sent, I figured I’d go ahead and type this entry up. Of the fourteen total TTM requests I sent off, I’ve received four of them back, with them being from:

KYLE ZIMMER — ROYALS’ ORGANIZATION

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Kyle Zimmer is the number 25 overall prospect in all of baseball. Although he didn’t have a fantastic 2013 season, going 6-9 with a 4.32 ERA, Zimmer has a ton of upside moving forward, and has many people excited for Kansas City’s future. With a fantastic fastball, in addition to an arsenal of a curveball, slider and changeup, Zimmer could, potentially, see his first big league time at some point towards the end of this season.

ALBERT ALMORA — CUBS’ ORGANIZATION

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Albert Almora is the number 18 overall prospect in all of baseball. Though he played in just 61 games last season, Almora is one of the Cubs’ highly coveted core prospects — consisting of Kris Bryan, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, etc. — that are making their way to Wrigley Field. Almora is still several years away from the major leagues, but by batting .329 last year, hopes are high that he will develop into the talented outfielder that he has the ability to become.

CLAYTON KERSHAW — LOS ANGELES DODGERS

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This one doesn’t need too much explaining. Clayton Kershaw has become one of the biggest superstars over the course of the past few seasons, winning two Cy Young awards in that time frame. Going 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA in 2013, Kershaw should continue to be, arguably, the most dominant pitcher in all of Major League Baseball. He’s set to get his first start of the season on March 22nd, in game one of the Opening Series against the Diamondbacks down in Australia.

EDDIE BUTLER — ROCKIES’ ORGANIZATION

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Eddie Butler is the number 41 overall prospect in all of baseball. Pitching in the 2013 MLB futures game up in New York City, in July, Butler went a combined 9-5 with a 1.80 ERA last season, really putting himself on the map around the league. He held opponents’ batting average to a mere .180 for the entire season, and combined with other top Rockies pitching prospect, Jonathan Gray, the Rockies have a fairly good pair of young arms coming their way in the next couple of years.

I still have autograph requests out for Archie Bradley, Taijuan Walker, David Robertson, Mark Appel, Cody Asche, Kris Bryant, Kolten Wong, Mike Napoli, Jake Marisnick and James Paxton. When/if I get any of those back, assuming it’s before Opening Day on March 31st, I’ll be sure to post another update. Though, there’s no guarantee I’ll get any more back at all.

Ten Players Who Need to Have A Good 2014 Season

Spring Training is well underway, and many players are beginning to find their grooves that they hope will carry over into the coming regular season. With just over three weeks until Opening Day, on March 31st, there’s not too much time remaining for players who struggled last season to get things back on track for this year. With that said, some players certainly need to have a good year more than others.

While every player, obviously, wants to have a good, healthy season, there are numerous players who pretty much have to produce a good 2014 for one reason or another — whether it’s personal reasons, statistical reasons, or for team success as a whole. Although there are more players than those in my list below, here are the top ten players (in no particular order) that I feel need to have a really good 2014 season:

1.) Albert Pujols

After recording twelve straight seasons of 30 or more home runs (all but one of which included 100+ RBI’s) Albert Pujols faced the first bit of adversity of his career in 2013. Dealing with a nagging foot injury, Pujols only managed to post 17 home runs and 64 RBI’s, along with a .258 batting average — absolutely terrible by his standards — in 99 games played. With the down year coming as a shock to many people, especially after the acquisition of him led many to predict playoff pushes for the Angels, there will be many eyes on Pujols from his very first at-bat of the season to see if he can bounce back. I personally feel that if Pujols is healthy, the numbers will be there, and he will be a top candidate for American League comeback player of the year, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

2.) Ryan Braun

mlb_u_ryan-braun_mb_400x600In January of 2013, a list was made public by the biogenesis clinic in Miami, Florida, connecting numerous players to performance enhancing drugs, including Ryan Braun. After being connected to PED’s back in 2011, the list raised many red flags, but Braun denied any drug use, yet again. But finally, after a 65-game suspension by Major League Baseball, Braun came clean and admitted to having used PED’s, upsetting many people around the league. Therefore, unlike anyone else on my list, Braun (who had a good season, batting .298 with 9 homers and 38 RBI’s in 61 games) needs to have a good 2014 more for his personal image rather than his talent level image. Everyone knows he’s a great player, but it will take some time for fans to get over Braun’s consistent denial of PED use — and a great season would certainly help with that.

3.) Ryan Howard

Battling injuries over the course of the past two seasons, Ryan Howard needs to have a bounce back year for him to once again be considered the major power threat that he once was. Playing in only 80 games in 2013, Howard batted a mere .266 with 11 home runs and 43 RBI’s. Considering the fact that Howard hit 33 home runs just two years prior, making it the sixth 30+ home run season of his career, the Phillies’ former star first baseman really needs to show signs of his former self this season. If Howard can perform anywhere near his previous level by staying healthy and putting many a ball into the outfield seats, not only could he very well win the 2014 National League comeback player of the year award, but the Phillies could have a real shot at having a memorable year.

4.) Derek Jeter

Announcing that 2014 would be his final season playing Major League Baseball last month, Derek Jeter needs to have a good final season to top off an already incredible career. In 2013, Jeter struggled with injury after injury, managing to play in only 17 games, and posting a .190 batting average, to go along with a single homer and 7 runs batted in. After accumulating over 3,300 hits in the big leagues over the course of his career, Jeter doesn’t need to have a good final season to be remembered as one of the best players of all-time — he’s already on that list for many people — but rather to finish out his career in Jeter fashion, going out on top of his game. I truly hope he can have a great 2014 season, and I feel he will do just that.

1vysec_AuSt_695.) David Price

When David Price won the 2012 American League Cy Young award, recording 20 wins and posting a 2.56 ERA, many (myself included) felt he had a good chance at doing the same again last season. But instead, Price was faced with a midseason injury that caused his numbers to take a tumble. Posting a win-loss record of 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA — not too terrible, but somewhat disappointing for him — Price needs to bounce back in 2014 for both his sake and the sake of the Rays. Price truly can be the key for the Rays, who always seem to be on the brink of playoff baseball every season. With an improved American League East division for the coming year, Price’s season could be the difference maker for if the Rays are able to make the postseason or not.

6.) B.J. Upton

Arguably the biggest disappointment of the 2013 season, batting .184 with just 9 home runs and 26 RBI’s after a 2012 season of 28 homers and 78 runs driven in, B.J. Upton has to have a good season this year for him not to be considered a trade bust by the Braves. The Braves managed to win their division last season by a rather large margin without much production from Upton, and if they can get Upton back to his former self, the Braves could have an even better year. It will be interesting to see how B.J. Upton does in the coming year with so much negative criticism surrounding him from the 2013 season. If he can have another good season, the down year he experience will be a forgotten aspect of the past.

7.) Stephen Strasburg

There are some players that are tagged with a major amount of hype from their first appearance in the big leagues, and Stephen Strasburg is one of them. While he hasn’t disappointed for the most part, going 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA last season, Strasburg also hasn’t managed to blow everyone away and completely dominate like many believe he can. It’s been reported that Strasburg has added a new pitch to his arsenal and is throwing better than ever, and that could mean good things for both him and the Nationals. If Strasburg can find a way to tally even ten more wins than he did this past year, the Nat’s could find themselves in the running for the National League East division title, assuming everything else goes right for the rest of the team.

8.) Mike Moustakas628x471

Having the potential to be an All-Star third baseman season after season, Mike Moustakas has yet to post an exceptional season at the major league level. Batting only .233, with 12 homers and 42 RBI’s last season, Moustakas needs to have a good season this year for him to be seen as the above average player he can be moving forward. The Royals still have several holes in their lineup, but Moustakas performing well each year would go a long way in helping them move back into contention. He’s still fairly young, at just 25 years old, and therefore has time left to live out his former hype, but Moustakas could use a strong statistical season to prove to many that he’s one of the top third baseman in the game of baseball today.

9.) Matt Kemp

Although he’s still not fully healthy, Matt Kemp is already on the radar of many people who think he will have a good 2014 season. The only question mark being his health, playing in only 73 games last year. If healthy, as with many players on this list, the numbers will be there, as Kemp is one of the premier talents in the game today, possessing 40 home run, 40 stolen base ability (coming one home run shy of doing just that in 2011, when he placed second in MVP voting). Although there is great depth in the Dodgers’ current outfield, which includes players such as Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig, if Kemp can show signs that he’s healthy, he will certainly get plenty of playing time in the coming season. He’s too good of a player to count out.

10.) Tim Lincecum

Once a Cy Young caliber pitcher, having won back-to-back awards in 2008 and 2009, Tim Lincecum has really fallen off as of late. Each of the past two seasons, Lincecum has posted an ERA over 4.00, and in addition had losing records. While the win-loss record isn’t the most important thing when evaluating a pitcher’s season, an ERA anywhere above 3.50 usually means they had a disappointing year. But with the talent that Lincecum has shown in the past, I’m not giving up on a turnaround just yet. He just really needs to have a good 2014 season — perhaps more than most of the players on this list — for him to become ‘The Freak’ pitcher he once was considered. I truly hope he can, because when Lincecum is on, he’s one of the most fun pitchers to watch in all of baseball.

JUST MISSES

There are a few players who need to have a good 2014 season who just barely missed my above list because their stats were slightly too good. One of those being Josh Hamilton, who was a major disappointment after signing with the Angles, but when you check the stats, he actually had a decent year, hitting 21 home runs and driving in 79 runs. Another example of that being Yoenis Cespedes, who had a down year average wise, hitting just .240, but posted 26 homers and 80 RBI’s. Not too bad of a season for most players.

Joining those two on the list of just misses are Giancarlo Stanton, who was injured in 2013 but still managed to hit 24 home runs and amass 62 RBI’s, along with Dan Uggla, whose .179 batting included 22 homers and 55 RBI’s, which really isn’t all that terrible. While all the players listed under the just missed category had down seasons by their standards, they managed to have somewhat decent years as far as the major league average goes. Even so, they could each use a good 2014 season to prove what they’re capable of.

Which player needs to have a good 2014 season the most? Leave a comment below.

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