Stanford pitcher Mark Appel is in line for a homecoming.
The Houston Astros selected the Houston native No. 1 overall in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft Thursday, a year after passing on him at the same spot for fear he wouldn't sign.
It's been nearly ten years since Appel's family left Texas for the Bay Area, but if things work out the way Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess thinks they should, the hard-throwing right-hander won't have to wait long for Houston to again become his permanent home.
"He could pitch in the big leagues right now," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "He could get big-leagues hitters out right now."
How quickly the Astros plan to bring him through their system remains to be seen, but the consensus among scouts is that his road to the show won't be long. Shortly after being selected, MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds suggested during the draft telecast that Appel could be with the Astros as soon as July.
That news won't be read favorably by Pirates fans, who saw their team draft Appel No. 8 overall last year only to have him spurn a $3.8 million signing bonus to return to Stanford to finish his degree. Rushed judgement labeled Appel's decision, perhaps largely due to his relationship with adviser Scott Boars, as one rooted in greed.
For those that know him, those opinions were laughable.
"He just wasn't ready to go," Marquess said. "He wanted to finish his degree, he wanted to get better and he wanted to go to the College World Series."
Armed with a degree in Management, Science and Engineering and better command of his mid-to-upper 90s fastball, Appel accomplished two of his goals. As a team, Stanford took a step back, failing to qualify for a regional in the NCAA Tournament.
His return to school also will pay off financially -- at least in the short-term --as No. 1 draft pick has been assigned a value of $7,790,400. However, it should also be noted that by delaying his professional baseball career for a season, it also took away a year of his career in which he could make significantly more money.
In his final year at Stanford, Appel set the school's career strikeouts record (372), was named first-team All-America by Louisville Slugger and was the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Forget that they were both drafted No. 1 overall in their respective sports, parallels between Appel and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck have never been hard to find. Both polite, soft-spoken Texans ended up at Stanford after well-documented prep careers that saw them star in multiple sports, both of which included basketball.
In 2009, Appel helped guide the Monte Vista High basketball team -- which also featured former Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round in April -- to the Northern California Division I championship.
The coach of that team, current Acalanes High coach Bill Powers, said Appel could have been a Division-II basketball player if he so desired. As good an athlete as he was, Appel's reputation in the Danville community is more predicated on him as a person.
"He was probably one of the greatest humans beings I've had the opportunity to be around," Powers said.
After Monte Vista's deep run in the state basketball tournament, Appel re-joined the school's baseball team late in the season. By that time, two others who would also go on to pitch in the Pac-12 -- Christian Jones (Oregon) and Steven Swift (Washington) -- had established themselves as the team's two starting pitchers, both sporting sub-2 ERAs.
Appel in five starts and nine appearances, threw a no-hitter, a one-hitter and finished with an ERA of 0.90. The team, which featured six pitchers who went on to play Division-I baseball, finished with an ERA of 1.06 and Appel was drafted in the 15th round by Detroit.