Fantasy baseball Prospect Watch: No. 1 pick Appel a force to watch
Baseball's annual draft remains a distant fourth in intrigue among the major pro sports, but that doesn't stop hardcore fantasy owners from gushing over the long-term prospects. They will be some of next spring's most sought-after players, especially with how fast we have seen the likes of Kevin Gausman (fourth overall last June) and Michael Wacha (19th) elevate to the major leagues this May.
Even if the true impact call-ups from this class won't come for years, we break down the top 10 names to know right away in this week's Prospect Watch, focusing on the top college picks.
1. SP Mark Appel, Houston Astros
The Astros passed on Houston native Appel last year, but they weren't going to make the same mistake twice with the No. 1 overall pick. The 21-year-old Stanford right-hander has a good shot at moving quickly through the system; although, a rebuilding Houston club should give him ample time working on becoming a professional.
"We'll give him some time off, get him signed and get him out to the minor leagues," Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com. "This is not a player we're going to rush to the big leagues. This is a player who's going to be here for a while. As good as Pac-10 baseball is, professional baseball is harder, and the major leagues [are] a lot harder. We'll have to let his performance dictate that."
Appel, who's just nine months younger than current Astros starter Jordan Lyles, was the eighth-overall pick a year ago by the Pirates. However, he chose to return to Stanford, where he went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 106 1/3 innings over the season.
With Dylan Bundy (elbow) ailing, Appel becomes the most intriguing minor-league pitching prospect in fantasy the day he signs.
2. SP Jonathan Gray, Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have a checkered past with their top pitching prospects, but the barrel-chested Gray has registered triple digits with his fastball of late. The 21-year-old was projected by some to be the top overall pick to the Astros, but going No. 3 should still get him signed. He was already drafted twice by the Royals (13th round in 2010) and by the Yankees (10th round in 2011).
You can watch the Oklahoma right-hander in the NCAA Super Regionals against LSU on Friday. It is a good chance to see arguably fantasy's second-most intriguing pitching prospect.
3. 3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
If you don't like waiting on pitching prospects -- and their seemingly inevitable injuries (like Bundy's) -- then Bryant is your man. Scouts are drooling over the San Diego product's power potential, but owners also have to love his confidence and anxiousness.
"I obviously think I could play in the big leagues now," Bryant told MLB.com. "I have that type of confidence in myself, but, like I said, that's not my decision. I'll leave that up to the guys in charge."
Hitters just don't move as quickly as pitchers, particularly as they adjust to the wooden bats of pro baseball, so Bryant won't get his wish. While he did lead the nation with 31 homers, he may struggle with strikeouts in his early professional days. Those similarities to Richie Sexson are a bit eerie for the second-overall pick.
4. 3B D.J. Peterson, Seattle Mariners
If Bryant is the best slugger in this class, Peterson isn't far behind. He is currently third in the nation in homers (18), and some think he's more of a well-rounded hitter than Bryant. He went 12th overall to the Mariners.
"He's got tremendous hand speed and vision," New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham told MLB.com. "He can see sliders and changeups way ahead. I've been coaching for 35 years, and I haven't seen that much. He can see things coming, and he's become a patient hitter."
Those that love the true outcomes, walks and homers will love tracking his progress later this summer and next spring.
5. 3B Colin Moran, Miami Marlins
B.J. Surhoff's nephew -- a former No. 1 overall pick -- looks a bit like his uncle and projects to be an even better hitter. Moran went sixth overall to a Marlins team that isn't afraid to move prospects quickly -- at this point, prospects is all that the team has.
Dustin Ackley's professional struggles coming out of North Carolina set a bit of a bad precedent in fantasy prospect hunting, but Moran has the bloodlines and the right organization to nurture his pro career. He also has some experience and success with wood bats, too -- he spent the past two summers in the Cape Cod League, hitting 42 RBI.
6. SP Braden Shipley, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks didn't expect the Nevada ace to still be on the board at No. 15, but Shipley, a converted shortstop, has plenty of room to grow as a pitcher. For those that like to track wear and tear, Shipley is going to be a popular fantasy keeper -- his fastball already has touched 98 mph as a pitching neophyte.
"I'm going to get stronger and hopefully the velocity gets higher and all three of my pitches become above-average pitches for me," Shipley told MLB.com. "I feel like I have two pitches right now that are really above average and plus pitches [fastball and changeup], and that third, that curveball, is really coming along for me, so it shouldn't take long to where I have three plus pitches for me."
Shipley landed with a good organization that really knows how to groom young pitching. He is the best fantasy prospect behind those early studs and corner infielders.
7. SP Marco Gonzales, St. Louis Cardinals
With the way the Cardinals are unveiling young pitchers -- Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha -- owners have to notice the first pitcher they pick.
Gonzales, a 21-year-old lefty, already relies on changing speeds, he might be able to move more quickly. The Cardinals expect him to add velocity as a pro now that the gifted hitter will be focusing solely on the mound. Also, the fact that current Cardinals starters Miller and Wacha were both picked 19th overall, like Gonzales, won't be lost on anyone.
"It is one of the greatest organizations in the major leagues, and I've just been getting blown up by people telling me what an honor it is to go to this organization," the Gonzaga product Gonzales told MLB.com. "And I've heard nothing but amazing things about the way they raise their pitchers and the way they treat players."
8. SP Ryne Stanek, Tampa Bay Rays
Stanek hoped to be a top-10 pick -- he was once considered in the top five -- but the Rays scored a power-armed 21-year-old right-hander out of Arkansas at 29th overall. He sports a mid-90s fastball and a sharp slider, and his changeup and curve ball have their moments as well. If the Rays can sharpen his mechanics, he could see the majors soon.
"He's competed in the SEC, [and has] two power pitches," Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman told MLB.com. [He's] a guy we think is going to miss bats and be able to move fairly quickly, at least relatively so."
9. SP Jonathon Crawford, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are an organization built to win now and unabashed about moving young arms quickly to the major leagues. Crawford, a 21-year-old power arm, could competes at the highest pro levels right away, assuming he can develop his secondary pitches.
He already has a NCAA Regional no-hitter with the Florida Gators last spring to give credence to his hard, knockout stuff. A subpar junior year this season had him tumble out of the top 10, but his age and major-college experience make him intriguing. He will be one to watch in Class A ball after his signs.
10. SP Sean Manaea, Kansas City Royals
The Royals might have been criticized for reaching a round on burly slugging shortstop Hunter Dozier, but they scored on Manaea, a Boras client, who slipped because he likely needs hip surgery. If not for the injury, the Cape Cod League star might have been an early first-rounder; instead, he had to wait until the 34th overall pick. The lefty with a high ceiling was at the very top of the Royals' board, who they snagged with their second draft choice.
The Royals expect Manaea to have the hip procedure after signing and needing about three months rehabilitation and should be ready for spring training.
"It's something that I would consider minor in the sense that it's a common injury that can occur in a hip, and it's something that I'm comfortable with in assessing the Draft medical," Royals' head team physician Dr. Vincent Key said. "He's going to most likely need a procedure on the hip but ... there are numerous athletes that have had this procedure and have done very well."
Go to SI.com's MLB draft tracker for more coverage on baseball's top picks.