Heading into Draft night a year ago, most believed Mark Appel would be the No. 1 pick. But that wasn't how it went down.
Without knowing for certain what conversations took place between the Astros and the Appel camp, it's evident the Astros didn't feel comfortable taking him with the first overall pick, opting instead for shortstop Carlos Correa of Puerto Rico. The right-hander ended up being selected by Pittsburgh with the No. 8 pick, but he turned down the Pirates' $3.8 million offer to return to Stanford for his senior year.
It's a year later and there's Appel again, at the top of most Draft boards. Will things be any different this time around, in terms of signability?
The Draft rules, save one big exception, remain the same. Every team has a certain amount of money it can spend to sign its picks in the first 10 rounds. The values have gone up some -- eight percent -- to reflect increased revenues, but the rest of that part of the process remains the same.
Most observers believe that when the First-Year Player Draft begins on June 6, Appel should go No. 1 or 2 overall, with those two picks given values of $7,790,400 and $6,708,400, respectively.
The big exception is that as a college senior, Appel is not beholden to the July 12 signing deadline. His senior status thus leads to two questions:
1. Does the lack of a deadline -- Appel has until right before the 2014 Draft to sign -- make teams pause when deciding whether to take him?
2. Does the lack of having school as an option decrease the negotiating leverage of Appel and his advisor, Scott Boras?
It appears that the answer to both of those questions might be no.
"Not really," one scouting executive said about concerns stemming from a lack of a signing deadline. "I think ultimately any club will have to have some kind of comfort that he wants to sign. I think everyone's [negotiated] with Scott over the years. Nothing is ever going to be easy. You want the kid to come to terms this summer. It wouldn't be ideal if he decided to wait until next year, but I think the fact that he doesn't have to make a decision by July 12 wouldn't impact our decision."
The reference to Boras by that executive gives some insight into the answer to the second question. The agent has always been successful in getting the most for his amateur clients and is not known to give a discount for any reason.
And, truth be told, there isn't much reason to give one here. Appel had a better year than he did in 2012, and considering he chose to head back to school and was dominant there, there's no reason to think a break will be given just because Appel is a senior.
"In Mark Appel's situation, he was only a 20-year-old junior," Boras said. "He's a young player. He has a lot of growing to do. We knew a conditioning program would be a great benefit to him. He just got stronger. That transferred to his ability, the ceiling of his velocity, and for him to carry his velocity deeper in to the game. He's a better prospect and a 21-year-old senior.
"Last year was the implementation of the new system. There were probably a lot of deals that were done well in advance of the Draft. They didn't expect Mark to be available. I think he's in a better situation. He's certainly a better and stronger pitcher than a year ago. Frankly, he's closer to the Major Leagues than he was a year ago."
Scouts have largely had the same assessment of Appel's performance this spring. He's rightfully at or near the top of all Draft boards. Because of that, they believe it will be business as usual when it comes to making a deal.
"I think it's similar to what it was before," one scouting director said. "Anytime you've dealt with Boras, it's about the talented player, not where he is in school. He's held players out to send to [independent] ball. I don't think he's going to look for a discount of any kind. It's going to be straight.
"Appel has had the kind of year, he's not going to say, 'He's a senior, he'll take less money.' He's had a better year, so I don't think he's going to change anything."
The one thing that could potentially change is the amount of teams' communication with Appel and his camp. There wasn't much, if any, communication between sides in the past. Some believe that's why the Astros didn't take Appel a year ago, as they didn't have a sense of what it would take to sign him. This time around, though, some believe that perhaps the door will be a little more open.
"I think he'll [do that] with the guys at the top, let them know where he is with things," the scouting director said. "I think he'll communicate a little more, but I think it will be more to drive the point home that the kid is still the kid and the talent is still the talent."
Of course, the talent was still pretty much the talent a year ago and no one could have predicted that Appel would pass by seven teams before the Pirates rolled the dice. If Boras is correct and teams were locked in to their picks because of trying to use the new system as best they could, perhaps they will be more able to adjust on the fly in year two of the system. It's also likely that it won't be an issue, that Appel will hear his name called in the first couple of picks. It's clear Boras is not at all worried about a repeat of 2012.
"No, not at all," Boras said about that concern. "You have to look at the other side of the fence. There are general managers and scouting directors who lose their jobs if they are not procuring the best and most Major League-ready talent. There are few, if any, in that landscape with Mark Appel. I don't worry about effective baseball people making effective decisions. I'm not concerned with Mark Appel being in a situation that's not favorable to him."