SECAUCUS, NJ - JUNE 07: The draft board is seen prior to the start of the MLB First Year Player Draft on June 7, 2010 held in Studio 42 at the MLB Network in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
How did the Pirates wind up with the player most experts thought would go first overall?
The 2012 MLB Draft was supposed to begin with the Houston Astros selecting Stanford pitcher Mark Appel. At least that's how most mock drafts imagined it. Appel at No. 1, Byron Buxton at No. 2, and then the uncertainty would begin.
This year, though, the uncertainty started immediately, and the public face of it was MLB.com draft guru Jonathan Mayo, who spent most of the Day 1 draft broadcast looking flustered and mumbling about how he hadn't gotten that last pick right, but sure, he'd try again on the next one.
Poor guy. Nobody saw this coming. The Astros passed on Appel, taking Puerto Rican high school shortstop Carlos Correa instead. The Twins and Mariners, unperturbed, took the position players they were expected to take. Several other teams then passed on Appel, either because they legitimately thought picks like Kevin Gausman and Kyle Zimmer were better or because they were worried about whether they'd be able to sign Appel. And that allowed Appel to fall all the way to No. 8, where Neal Huntington and the Pirates snatched him up.
It was a perfect Neal Huntington pick. I'm not much of a fan of Huntington's anymore, but I love his fearlessness when it comes to big decisions like this. Make the bold move, and let the chips fall where they may.
Most of the pre-draft chatter focused on the possibility that the Pirates would take Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero, a slick fielder but probably a light hitter. The selection of Appel was ... well, pretty much the opposite of that. Marrero probably would have been relatively easy to sign, but would have been unlikely to become a star. Appel has ace potential, but it's unclear if the Pirates can even sign him.
About that, though: much will be made of the fact that Appel's advisor is Scott Boras, and of the snippy statement Appel made after the draft. These things matter less than you think. Due to changes in baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Pirates' No. 8 pick has a recommended slot value of $2.9 million. The Pirates might be able to offer Appel a hair more than that, but they can very reasonably say that they can't offer that much more.
Appel will then have to decide if he wants to take a bonus of around $3 million, or head back to Stanford for a senior season. If he goes back to school, he'll have to keep in mind that several of baseball's worst teams this year -- the ones most likely to pick early in the 2013 Draft -- are the same ones who just passed on him. Also, as a college senior in 2013, he'll have very little leverage, and he'll have to contend with the same CBA restrictions as this year.
And if he does decide to go back to school, the Pirates will take a short-term hit in the media, but for the most part, they'll just shrug their shoulders and move on. If Appel doesn't sign, the Pirates will get the No. 9 pick in next year's draft (in addition to the first-round pick they'll already have). This year's draft class was supposed to be a relatively weak one, and there's every reason to think that next year's class will be better.
All this means that the Pirates will have lots of leverage in negotiations, and Boras will have very little. If any team passed on Appel because they didn't think he was signable, they shot themselves in the foot. Picking Appel at No. 8 had very little tactical downside for the Pirates.
So what did the Pirates actually get? There's been some criticism of Appel over at Bucs Dugout -- he isn't deceptive enough, his command sometimes is lacking, and he posted statistics at Stanford that were merely good, rather than great.
I think we can probably worry about these things another day. Before the draft, Appel was widely regarded as one of its very best prospects, and the Pirates got him at No. 8. He works in the mid-90s with his fastball, and he has a very good slider and the makings of a good changeup. He has a big pitcher's body and good mechanics. He's won comparisons to Justin Verlander. He also should be able to fly through the minors once he signs.
If he does, he'll join with Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole to form one of the best trios of pitching prospects of any organization. (They'd better be good, since the Pirates spent their last three first-round picks on these guys.) Appel probably isn't quite on the same level as Taillon and Cole right now, at least not right away, but he's a good one.
So many mock drafts had the Pirates making depressing picks like Marrero, Chris Stratton or David Dahl. Those are good prospects, to be sure, but they weren't worthy of the No. 8 overall pick. Appel is. And in a way, the only surprise is that he fell to the Pirates, not that they picked him. Neal Huntington loves making splashes like this one, and I look forward to him getting Appel under contract.
For more on the Pirates, check out Bucs Dugout.