Appel’s decision to stay at Stanford can pan out 

click to enlarge Staying put: Stanford’s Mark Appel was the only first-round draft pick not to sign, and his decision to return to school could end up benefiting him. - ZACH SANDERSON/STANFORDPHOTO.COM
  • Zach Sanderson/StanfordPhoto.com
  • Staying put: Stanford’s Mark Appel was the only first-round draft pick not to sign, and his decision to return to school could end up benefiting him.

Under normal circumstances, I’d question the wisdom of a pitcher as talented as Mark Appel turning away a $3.8 million professional contract to return for his senior year of college baseball. But when Stanford sent out a brief statement announcing Appel’s decision Friday, it seemed like the right move. He needs to press the reset button after his draft-week debacle last month.

Six weeks ago, the 6-foot-5 right-hander looked every bit like the
No. 1 overall pick he was projected to be, hitting 96 mph on the gun, while baffling hitters with a nasty slider and a tricky change-up in the NCAA regionals.

Appel is also the kind of guy that fathers everywhere hope their daughters will marry. He’s humble, hardworking and always credits his Christian faith for the success he has on the diamond.

That’s why the events that ensued after he fell to No. 8 on draft night are so puzzling. In baseball, a draft-day slide like Appel’s usually isn’t a big deal because it often takes years before a player reaches his potential in the big leagues.

But this year’s draft was different because baseball’s new labor contract imposes penalties on teams that exceed a monetary threshold on amateur signing bonuses. The threshold for the No. 1 pick was $7.2 million this year compared to $2.9 million for the No. 8 pick, so Appel lost roughly
$4.3 million by falling to Pittsburgh, and it’s widely speculated that Houston shied away from drafting him
No. 1 because of the reputation of his agent, Scott Boras.

In fact, the new draft rules were put in place, in part, as a response to the huge bonuses Boras had extracted from owners for the last three No. 1 overall picks.

On draft night, Appel was slated to participate in a conference call with the media after his selection; instead, he kept reporters waiting around for more than an hour before issuing a brief statement, saying: "I’m currently concentrating on winning a national championship and finishing my academic endeavors at Stanford. I will address the possibility of a professional career in due time."

The next day, he refused to take draft-related questions at a Q&A session leading into Stanford’s super regional matchup against Florida State and coach Mark Marquess had to deflect suggestions that it was a distraction.

By the end of Appel’s fourth-inning meltdown in the Super Regional (four hits, seven runs, two walks with the bases loaded, a wild pitch and a hit batter in a 17-1 loss), it was impossible to not question whether the pressure of his agent’s ploy for a bigger contract had hurt his team.

Appel was the only first-round selection that didn’t ink a contract by the deadline last week and, normally, I’d say he’s risking injury and stagnation by holding out. Although I’m not endorsing Boras’ power move, I think Appel will benefit from getting a chance to regain his confidence at Stanford where he has a strong support system in place.

He’s a good kid with strong convictions, who seems to have been overwhelmed by the pressure of being a pawn in Boras’ chess game with Major League Baseball owners. Rather than carrying that load into his pro career, Appel can dazzle the Pac-12 Conference, again, before getting his do-over in the draft next June. Now, the next smart move would be to find a new agent.

 

Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at paul.gackle@gmail.com.

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Paul Gackle

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