Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft was proceeding with some first-round surprises Monday night when the Pirates pulled the biggest.
With the overall No. 8 pick, the Bucs chose the pitcher who had begun the day as the probable No. 1 on most insiders' lists. But after every team ahead of them passed on Mark Appel, the Pirates didn't, jumping at the opportunity to add the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Stanford right-hander to their pitching lode.
"We were very pleased that he was still sitting there when it was our selection," said Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington. "We don't know why [other teams] chose players over him; different teams have different interpretations of players."
Or, of the players' signability. Appel is represented by Scott Boras, and as he was going unclaimed in the top tier of the round, there were the predictable suspicions that the elite agent was working the back-room to steer him toward the Nationals.
Facing the new mid-July deadline to sign draftees, Huntington never allowed upcoming negotiations with Appel to factor into the decision to select him.
"Our worst-case scenario is the ninth pick next June," said Huntington, referring to a bonus pick for an unsigned first-round pick. "Best-case scenario, he joins Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon and all the pitching in our system. I'm optimistic we have a legitimate shot to sign him."
Appel himself chose to not engage the media in a conference call, so as not to be distracted from his exit act with the Cardinal. Stanford will meet Florida State in the Super Regionals of the NCAA Tournament this weekend at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.
In a statement issued through the Pirates, Appel said, "I'm currently concentrating on winning a national championship and finishing my academic endeavors at Stanford. I will address the possibility of a professional career in due time."
However, within minutes of his selection, Appel had tweeted, "Just feeling completely overwhelmed by the love of family and friends and the grace of God right now."
The Bucs were expected to bag a bat following their recent successes with drafting pitchers, and the afternoon majority view was that they leaned toward David Dahl, a prep outfielder from Alabama who has drawn comparisons to Mike Trout and Johnny Damon.
But Appel's name burned like neon for a team that in 2010 made Taillon the overall No. 2 pick, and followed that up last June with Cole as the overall No. 1.
"We stayed true to our agenda. 'Best player available.' We've done that," Huntington said. "Stuff, size, strength, durability ... Mark's the package."
The GM candidly placed Appel's development as slightly behind that of Cole, despite the resemblance in stature and background, last year's top pick also having come out of the Pac-12, from UCLA.
"They're both big, physical right-handers," Huntington said. "There is some separation between them -- as there is between Cole and most any player in this Draft."
"But we're creating depth in our pitching. You can never have enough, and the potential of three pitchers with their abilities ... that's three pretty good arms to run through our system."
The junior right-hander went 10-1 with a 2.27 ERA for the Cardinal, earning First Team All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball. He had eight starts with 10-plus strikeouts, and posted a 127-26 strikeout-walk ratio in 119 innings.
As Stanford's No. 1 starter the last two years, he went 16-8 in 32 starts. Appel's improvement from 6-7 to 10-1 from one season to the next says much about his development into a First-Round pitcher.
Appel has been a comer his entire pitching life.
He was a 15th-round choice (No. 450 overall) out of Monte Vista (Danville, Calif.) High School in 2009 by the Tigers, but accepted a scholarship to Stanford. As a freshman, he worked out of the bullpen and posted a 5.92 ERA. Then the progression in his two seasons as Stanford's Friday pitcher.
Obviously, it is the Pirates' hope that he can continue that upward trend and become a front-of-the-rotation guy within a couple of years. A hope perhaps not shared by the teams ahead of Pittsburgh on the Draft roll call.
As for whether the Pirates were caught completely off-guard to have him fall into their lap, Huntington said, "We were as surprised as we were when reading some of the [pre-Draft] rankings. It's an art, not a science."
A couple of hours after selecting Appel, with the compensation-round overall No. 45 pick for the loss of free-agent catcher Ryan Doumit to the Twins, the Pirates went for the bat they were expected to bag all along, selecting Texas Tech outfielder Barrett Barnes.
Undrafted out of high school, Barnes is a multi-dimensional player who this season hit .325, with nine homers and 49 RBIs, while also swiping 19 bases. True to the Pirates' preference of center fielders, that's Barnes' primary position.