USF's Zimmer, Stanford's Appel headline MLB draft's first round 

click to enlarge Mark Appel - CASEY VALENTINE/STANFORDPHOTO.COM
  • Casey Valentine/stanfordphoto.com
  • Mark Appel

Kyle Zimmer’s unexpected rise from bullpen bench warmer to first-round draft pick was completed Monday when the Kansas City Royals selected him fifth overall in the baseball draft.

The USF hurler was the first of two Bay Area college pitchers chosen in the draft’s first 10 picks; Stanford right-hander Mark Appel was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the No. 8 pick.

Zimmer, who was recruited to play third base, is now the highest draft pick in the 106-year history of Dons baseball.

“The San Francisco coaching staff did an unbelievable job in helping me get to this moment,” Zimmer said in a statement. “They deserve all the credit. The coaching staff at San Francisco is truly a group of amazing people.”

Soon after Zimmer’s arrival in 2010, Dons coach Nino Giarratano suggested that the hard-throwing right-hander move to the bullpen because he wasn’t going to see many cuts behind All-West Coast Conference third baseman Stephen Yarrow. Zimmer, who’s only pitching experience came as an emergency arm in high school, threw only 5 1/3 innings out of the pen his freshman year and he produced a 8.44 ERA.

But Zimmer worked on his stuff over the summer and developed command over his curve, change and slider. His fastball runs up to 99 mph on the gun.

“What attracts [scouts] is that they see the leadership qualities, they see the baseball IQ that he has in order to learn things very quickly and be able absorb them and hold onto them,” coach Giarratano said.

In 2011, Zimmer graduated from the bullpen to become the Dons’ Friday night starter, amassing a 6-4 record with 89 strikeouts. This year, he was devastating, fanning 104 batters while walking only 17.

But Zimmer’s historic night was supposed to belong to Appel. The Cardinal ace was projected to be the first overall pick in mock drafts throughout the college season and ESPN insider Jim Bowden tweeted Sunday that a source had said the Houston Astros were expected to take him with the top choice.

Instead, the Astros went with 17-year-old Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa and Appel slid down to the Pirates at No. 8. He was the fourth pitcher drafted behind LSU’s Kevin Gausman, Zimmer and Harvard-Westlake High School’s Max Fried.

Had the Astros gone with Appel, he would have been the third Cardinal athlete to be selected No. 1 by a professional sports league this year, alongside Andrew Luck in the NFL and Nneka Ogwumike in the WNBA.

Appel, a Monte Vista High School (Danville) product lived up to his billing this season, going 10-1 with a 2.27 ERA, while leading the Cardinal back to a Super Regional against Florida State this weekend.

Appel was not available for comment Monday, but he issued the following statement: “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.”

Stanford infielder Stephen Piscotty was taken in the supplemental round (No. 36 overall) by the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Paul Gackle

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