Houston selected the hard-throwing Stanford pitcher with the top choice in the Major League Baseball draft Thursday night, a year after passing on the hometown kid and instead choosing 17-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa from Puerto Rico.
"I talked to him and told him: `Welcome home,"' Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "It's a kid's dream to go first in the country, first in the draft and to be taken by your hometown team. It just doesn't get any better than that. It's also really a great opportunity for us."
Appel, who grew up in Houston before moving to California when he was 12, slid to Pittsburgh at No. 8 last year but turned down a $3.8 million offer and returned to Stanford for his senior season. The move paid off.
After going 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 106 1-3 innings this season for the Cardinal, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Appel is expected to fetch about double the amount he passed up from the Pirates.
"I don't think I necessarily had an end goal in mind when I turned down the Pirates' offer," said Appel, who complements his mid-90s (mph) fastball with a nasty slider and improving changeup. "My goals were to finish my degree and become a better baseball player and better person and better teammate. As far as that goes, I think I accomplished those things.
"No matter what happened in the draft, I knew I had done everything that was in my control to put myself in the best situation possible."
The deadline for teams to sign draft picks is July 12, but that doesn't apply to Appel because he is a college senior.
"I'm very confident that Mark Appel is going to put on an Astros uniform," Luhnow said. "He's from here. He wants to play here. He's been selected first in the draft. All the indicators are pointing in the same direction, so I assume it will be a fairly straightforward discussion and that he'll sign sometime this summer."
The draft, which is held over three days and 40 rounds, started Thursday night with the first two rounds at MLB Network Studios. Nine prospects attended and sat in a makeshift dugout as they waited for their names to be called by Commissioner Bud Selig in an event that has grown dramatically over the last few years.
"It really is terrific," Selig said. "This is what we had in mind. I love this night. ... This is the way you build a baseball team. It was true when Branch Rickey said it many, many years ago ... and it's just as true today."
It was the second straight season that the first pick was uncertain going into the draft, with Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray and a pair of college third basemen - North Carolina's Colin Moran and San Diego's Kris Bryant - thought to be in the mix for Houston. It was the fourth time the Astros had the No. 1 pick, and they joined Tampa Bay (2007-08) and Washington (2009-10) as teams to have the top selection in consecutive years.
The draft order is determined by reverse finish - worst to best - in the overall standings from last season.
With the No. 2 pick, the Chicago Cubs selected Bryant, who led Division I college players with 31 home runs this season. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior is a Golden Spikes finalist and Collegiate Baseball magazine's national player of year.
Gray went third overall to the Colorado Rockies. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound flamethrower helped pitched the Sooners into the super regionals of the NCAA tournament, going 10-2 with a 1.59 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 119 innings.
Colorado apparently was not scared off by published reports that cited unidentified sources who said Gray tested positive for the medication Adderall during baseball's predraft drug testing program.
"I'm not going to talk about that right now," Gray said. "There will be a time for that. Right now, I'm just happy to be selected by the Rockies."
The first high school player picked was pitcher Kohl Stewart, who went to the Minnesota Twins at No. 4. A right-hander from Tomball, Texas, Stewart has signed to play baseball and football at Texas A&M - where he would likely be a backup to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at quarterback.
"I've had a lot of people tell me I'm going to be a fan favorite because of my red hair," Frazier said. "People put me on a pedestal, like no one else has red hair."
Five picks later, Philadelphia took Smith's close buddy, California high school shortstop J.P. Crawford - cousin of Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford - who was also at MLB Network Studios. The two hugged, with Smith in a Mets jersey and Crawford wearing a rival Phillies jersey in a neat scene that also might have made some New York and Philadelphia fans squirm.
Crawford acknowledged that he could be the future replacement for All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
"Hopefully I can learn something from him," Crawford said, "and someday take his place."
North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran, the nephew of former big league All-Star B.J. Surhoff - the No. 1 overall pick in 1985 by Milwaukee - went sixth overall to the Miami Marlins. Moran was the ACC player of the year and led the offense for the NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed.
"It's exciting to take the next step in my career," Moran said, "but obviously there is business to take care of this weekend."
Boston, picking as high as seventh for the first time since drafting Trot Nixon in the same spot in 1993, took Indiana high school lefty Trey Ball.
Stephen F. Austin slugging shortstop Hunter Dozier was the No. 8 overall pick by the Kansas City Royals, who surprised some by taking a player expected to go much later in the opening or second round.
"We followed him all throughout the year," Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg said. "As we got in the room and put things together, he became our favorite player."
Pittsburgh, with the No. 9 pick it got as compensation for not signing Appel last year, selected Georgia high school outfielder Austin Meadows. He grew up playing travel ball with Frazier, but the two went to different high schools a few miles apart in the same town of Loganville.
"He's one of my best friends and we've been through this process together since we were like 9 years old," Frazier said. "I'm going to call him, and wherever he goes, I'm going to support him."
Rounding out the top 10 picks, Toronto chose hard-throwing California high school right-hander Phil Bickford.
A few familiar names went in the opening round: University of Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley, cousin of Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Jordan Shipley, went 15th to Arizona; and North Carolina high school righty Hunter Harvey, son of former big league closer Bryan Harvey, was selected 22nd by Baltimore.
The New York Yankees had the most first-round picks with three and selected Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo at No. 26, 6-foot-7 Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge at No. 32 and California high school left-hander Ian Clarkin to wrap up the round at No. 33.
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