Nationals, Giants Tie Postseason Game Record

After a fantastic outing by their starting pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, the Washington Nationals appeared to be on their way to tying up the National League Division Series at a game apiece with the San Francisco Giants when they held a 1-0 lead heading into the top of the ninth inning on Saturday night. But a Pablo Sandoval RBI double, which extended his postseason hitting streak to thirteen straight games, quickly let the air out of an ecstatic Nationals team. MLB: MAY 01 Giants at Nationals

And things only got worse from there.

With the Nationals failing to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, the game proceeded to remain scoreless for the following eight innings. Upon reaching the 18th inning, the game subsequently tied the record for number of innings in postseason game history, set back in 2005.

Following the extended run drought, the Giants finally changed things in the top of the 18th inning with a solo shot off the bat of Brandon Belt, who was previously 0-6, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead.

The Nationals would send Danny Espinosa, Denard Span, Anthony Rendon — whose four hits on the night set a new franchise playoff record — and Jayson Werth to the plate in the bottom half, but they did little of anything against the Giants’ flamethrower, Hunter Strickland.

With the final out recorded, the game officially broke the playoff record for game length of 5 hours and 50 minutes set in 2005, lasting a staggering 6 hours and 23 minutes. The series now heads to San Francisco, with the Giants one win away from advancing to the National League Championship Series.

Although it’s not decided yet who the Giants will play if they wind up overtaking the Nationals, either the Dodgers or the Cardinals will be in for a battle. I have to admit I didn’t give the Giants, who have now won ten straight postseason games, nearly enough credit with my postseason predictions. They really have impressed me so far.

Having won the World Series in 2010 and 2012, they’re somewhat jokingly (and somewhat seriously) in line to possibly win the World Series again, in this yet another even calendar year. Although the Fall Classic is another couple of weeks away, and the Giants have several key games to get through first before they have any shot at World Series glory, you have to be happy with how things are looking if you’re a fan of the Giants.

Bryce Harper Beginning to Turn Things Around

The Washington Nationals are somehow finding a way to win, despite the fact that some of their key players are posting disappointing numbers due to either injuries or a long stretch of struggles. Currently riding a four game winning streak, the Nats amazingly find themselves in first place for the National League East division, six games in front of the second place Braves, who were on top less than a month ago.Harper

Ryan Zimmerman, who has been dealing with injuries all season long, is out until at least September, which is obviously a big blow to the team, seeing how much of an affect he’s had over the course of his career. In addition, Stephen Strasburg, while he’s been healthy, still hasn’t been that over dominant pitcher that he has been hyped to be, currently possessing a mid 3.00 ERA, though he’s been showing signs of a turn around. Those two players alone not playing to the best of their ability would understandably be enough to make the Nationals under perform.

But the one player who is hyped the most of anyone on the team, and arguably is the one player that the Nats need the most in order to be the best their team can be, is their 21 year old, Bryce Harper, who has also been struggling, after coming off the disabled list due to a thumb injury.

Putting up numbers so bad that there were rumors that Harper could be sent down to the minors — rumors that were quickly set straight by Nationals’ manager, Matt Williams –, Harper hadn’t been able to find his overall groove through a couple of weeks since his return.

Having struggled in 2013 after a knee injury, and threatened with bench time, Harper stated that the Nationals should “play [him] or trade [him]”. By pressuring the Nationals to keep him in the lineup, Harper worked that slump out, and he’s beginning to show signs that he’s working out of this one as well.

Following a two RBI night on Thursday, coming off of a home run, Harper went 2-4 with a couple more RBI’s on Friday. Batting .282 with 3 homers and 9 RBI’s in his last ten games, Harper’s stats for the season now stand at 6 home runs and 23 RBI’s with a .259 average. Though that’s not very good, with this set to be the first season in his young career without 20 homers, the two-time All-Star is recently startingplayoffs to contribute like he’s expected to.

And the Nationals are going need Harper’s bat to continue to stay hot if they hope to make any sort of deep playoff push with the talent level that October baseball brings. After reaching the postseason in 2012 for the first time since 1933, the Nationals were quickly eliminated, and failed to reach the postseason at all in 2013.

Though they’re on track to make it once again this year, whether or not Harper produces in the clutch will likely make a big difference in how they fare down the stretch.

Two years removed from his rookie of the year season, in which everything seemed to go right, Bryce Harper has definitely seen his fair share of trying situations. From injuries to slumps, Harper has been scrutinized in the headlines of nearly every major publication across the country for not playing in a consistent manner.

But despite all of that negativity coming his way, there are signs that the Nationals are once again getting the type of player that was anticipated when they drafted Harper number one overall back in 2010. If Harper can get things clicking, the Nats could be in for a strong final month and a half to the season.

Bautista & Tulowitzki Select Their Derby Teammates

The players who are planning to blast long balls in the 2014 home run derby were fully announced on Thursday, and, for the most part, I’m not extremely shocked with any of them. My original picks only included three of the selected players I wanted to see in the derby, but the new format for the home run derby (ten players instead of eight) threw me off when it came to making my selections.

My initial list included eight players, being Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes (Jose Bautista hadn’t yet been announced as the captain) for the American League, with Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Gattis, Carlos Gomez and Yasiel Puig (Troy Tulowitzki hadn’t yet been announced as the captain) for the National League.

In the end, American League captain, Bautista, selected Brian Dozier, Adam Jones, Josh Donaldson, and defending derby champion, Yoenis Cespedes. On the National League side of things, their captain, Tulowitzki, added Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier, Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Morneau to the mix.

All in all, a very solid group of players; though I would’ve liked to have seen rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, compete (he expressed that he wasn’t interested in participating).

As stated, the home run derby is set to see a major change in rules for the first time since match play was first introduced back in 2000. Therefore, I wanted to give a brief overview for those of you who may not have heard about the changes. The new rules are as follows:

Round 1: Five players from the American League and five players from National League compete to see who can hit the most home runs, receiving seven outs instead of the previous ten (they receive the same number of outs in every following round). The top slugging player from each individual league receives a bye, jumping automatically ahead to the third round, and subsequently giving them added rest that they’ve never been rewarded with before. The second and third place hitters in the round from each league will then move onto round two, with the bottom two pairs of players being eliminated (four total).

Round 2: With the top home run hitter from the American League and the top player from the National League in the first round skipping round two, this round sees two American League hitters and two National League hitters (the second and third place finishers from round one) squaring off. The two winners will subsequently move on to round three to take on the round one winners.

Round 3: The sole winner from the American League and National League in round two of the derby is set to take on their respective league’s winner from the first round. The player from the AL who hits the most home runs in this round will move on to the final round where they will compete against the round winner from the NL.

Round 4: For the first time ever, there is going to be a round four added to the mix. This round will see the winners from round three (one from the AL and one from the NL) going head-to-head for the title of 2014 MLB Home Run Derby champion. With the number of great power hitters that are always in the mix at this point in every derby, it’s sure to be an entertaining round.

Overall, I like the changes to the derby format. Allowing the winners from the first round to skip the following round finally gives them an advantage and motivation to try and put on a show. In the past, a lot of players have hit their stride in a round (Josh Hamilton slugged a record 28 home runs in the first round back in 2008 only to tire out and lose the derby) that ended up costing them the derby due to fatigue. A break to give them a chance to regain their energy should make things more entertaining for the players and the fans.

With the field for the home run derby set with its full slate of ten players, and with the new format for this year’s derby fully explained, I wanted to take a second to give my thoughts on how I feel the derby will go.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Round one is going to be a very interesting round. Basically being unpredictable, just about any of the players on the American League side of things has the ability to get hot and win the round. With that said, however, I feel that it’s most likely going to be Jose Bautista. Though he doesn’t have the most power of the group, he has a good combination of an ability to hit for power and total homers to do well. Coming in second and third I see it being Yoenis Cespedes and Adam Jones, meaning Josh Donaldson and Brian Dozier would be eliminated.

With Jose Bautista having won round one in my mind, this round would have Yoenis Cespedes going up against Adam Jones. Though Adam Jones can hit with the best of them, I’m sticking with last year’s winner, Yoenis Cespedes. Next to Giancarlo Stanton in the National League, Cespedes has arguably the best power in the derby, and should be able to make it to round three, with Jones getting knocked out.

The final round for the American League portion of the derby would then see Yoenis Cespedes hitting off against round one winner Jose Bautista. Though somewhat difficult to predict, between these two, I’d have to move Cespedes to the championship round, just beating out Bautista.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Likely to be the more impressive round one show between the two leagues is the National League. With Giancarlo Stanton in the mix, I truly don’t see anyone as having a chance at beating him out in this round. That leaves Troy Tulowitzki, Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier and Justin Morneau, and I feel that of those, Tulowitzki and Frazier stand the best shot at advancing, even with the always entertaining Yasiel Puig in the running. That would leave Puig and Morneau as the players to be out hit in the first round.

With there a good chance that Giancarlo Stanton will have destroyed the completion in the initial round, the second round would include NL captain, Troy Tulowitzki, taking on Todd Frazier. Though Frazier has hit his share of tape measure home runs over the course of his career, I don’t think he will have enough to overtake Tulo. And thus, it’s likely that Tulowitzki will move on to face Stanton in the next round.

After skipping the second round, Giancarlo Stanton would be taking on the previous round’s winner, Troy Tulowitzki. While anything can happen in a home run derby, and certainly has in the past numerous years, I don’t think Stanton will stumble in his quest for the championship round.

Final Round

If the final, championship round of this year’s home run derby is in fact Yoenis Cespedes and Giancarlo Stanton squaring off, it’s sure to be one of the best final rounds ever. Both Cespedes and Stanton have unbelievable power, and both have the strength and ability to put on long, amazing displays of power. Honestly, the final round could easily go either way, but to stick with my gut, your 2014 Major League Baseball home run derby champion will be Giancarlo Stanton, as many are already predicting.

Q and A With Nick Travieso

Nick Travieso was drafted by the Reds in the 1st round of the 2012 draft. Since the draft, Travieso has had his share of ups and downs, but overall, he’s been able to show flashes of his potential to become a top notch pitcher at the major league level, doing fairly well in a couple of minor league seasons.

UntitledIn his first full season of pro ball in 2013, Travieso spent the year with Class-A Dayton, going 7-6 with a 4.63 ERA. While that’s not overly impressive, Travieso was still in the process of learning how develop into the pitcher the many feel he can become. This season, look for Travieso to breakout.

Heading into his second full season in the minor leagues, there are a lot of eyes on Travieso, being so highly ranked. But if he can show what he’s capable of, this season and beyond, it shouldn’t be too long before Travieso finds himself pitching on the mound up in Cincinnati.

Nick Travieso — top pitching prospect in the Reds’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I actually played hockey before I started playing baseball. I started playing baseball when I was four. My parents got me into it because I would like to throw things around the house. My biggest influence growing up would have to be my dad, mainly because we worked every single day on fundamentals and just getting better all around. He played a huge role in my success throughout my childhood career up to now.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

Growing up I idolized Roger Clemens. I have always been a Yankee fan, and I loved watching the way he pitched. He attacked hitters regardless of who was at the plate, and I wanted to be like him one day.

3.) You were drafted by the Reds in the 1st round of the 2012 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

The process was tough just due to the fact that I had always planned on attending college. When I first found out, I was with my family and a few friends at my house just watching the draft. The first thing I said was how fortunate I was to be a part of such a great and successful organization.

4.) Although you’ve played a season and a half of professional baseball to this point, having been a relief pitcher the majority of your time in high school, are you still making the adjustment to being a starting pitcher? What’s the most difficult part of the transition? Do you prefer starting or relieving?

It was a very long road for me. I was use to throwing 1-2 innings tops and taking a few days off before pitching again. I always liked closing just because I could throw every pitch as hard as I could and empty the tank knowing that I wouldn’t have to throw for a few days again. There were a lot of adjustments, but the biggest one was getting my arm in shape for more than a couple of innings and building my body to gain stamina to maintain velocity. I personally love starting now. I love being in control of the game from the very beginning.

5.) Playing for Dayton in 2013, where attendance is usually high, did pitching in front of the large crowds have any impact on your pitching?

Pitching in Dayton for the first time was something I had never experienced before. I never threw in front of more than about 1,500 people. Coming from extended spring training, where we would have maybe 5 people at a game, to Dayton, where there are 8,000+, yeah, it had an impact. My adrenaline was running, and I couldn’t really control it. But as I got more comfortable, I started to be able to control myself and start pitching the way I know how to.

6.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

The hardest thing about being on the road is probably the bus trips. They are brutal. The trips range anywhere from 4-12 hours, and it’s hard to do much but sleep. Our road trips usually leave either early mornings or late at night so we catch up on our sleep on the bus. Sometimes we’ll have some cards to play or some movies to watch, but other than that, a lot of us use it as rest time.

7.) Is there any one stat that you pay attention to throughout the season? Or do you try to steer clear of them altogether?

It’s hard to completely ignore stats. Although stats don’t show everything, they are still very important. I try to stay away from them as much as possible but if there is one stat I tend to look at it would be my ERA. That’s one stat that’s always out there every start on the big screen, so it’s one that, no matter how good or bad it may be, everyone can see.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2013? What are your goals for 2014?

I learned a lot in 2013; a lot about how to pitch. Everyone in pro ball can throw, but when you can pitch you have an upper hand. That’s one thing I feel went well for me. The fact that I steered away from just throwing and actually learned how to pitch. 2014 is a big year for me. It’ll be my second full season and I’m looking forward to it. I felt that the 2013 season was to get use to the whole process, but this year it’s time to get out there and battle. I just want to stay healthy throughout the season and pitch the way I know how to.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I’m not so much a TV guy. I watch a lot of fishing/hunting shows, but lately I have been watching ‘The Big Break NFL’, just because it helps me with my golf game. I’m Cuban, so my favorite food is definitely Cuban food. It’s hard to come by during the season, so when I’m home, I take full advantage of it.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

The two things I would say is to never give up on your dreams and to work hard. I had a lot of ups and downs throughout my baseball career, but I never gave up. You have to be able to keep pushing to make it where you want to be, and you can’t be satisfied until you get there. You have to work hard every day to beat out your opponents. One quote I live by is “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. Never stop working.

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Big thanks to Nick Travieso for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @NTravieso21

Home Run Milestones that Should Occur In 2014

Below you’ll find a list of the home run milestones that *should* occur in 2014. I say should because there’s no guarantee that any given player on the list will reach the milestone; they could get injured, have a bad season, or whatever. I’ve made the same type of list the past two seasons, and they have been well-received, so I figured I’d post another one for this season.

In order to make the list a player has to meet the following criteria:

  1. You can’t be a pitcher. Although there are some pitchers that can hit home runs, you won’t find any on my list. Reason being is that they’re not everyday players.
  2. You have to have hit at least one home run in the major leagues. There are several dozen players going into 2014 that haven’t hit an MLB home run, but adding them to the below list just didn’t make sense.
  3. You have to be closing in on an even milestone, like 100, 200, 300, etc. I didn’t include anyone that’s a few homers away from number 50, 75, 125, etc. It just didn’t seem necessary.

The list is organized by player name, team, milestone they’re going for, and how many home runs they are from that particular milestone:

2014 Home Run Milestones

Ryan Doumit, Braves — Home Run Number 100 (1 home run away)

Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox — Home Run Number 100 (1 home run away)

Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays — Home Run Number 100 (2 home runs away)

Mark Trumbo, Diamondbacks — Home Run Number 100 (5 home runs away)

Brian Roberts, Yankees — Home Run Number 100 (8 home runs away)

Geovany Soto, Rangers — Home Run Number 100 (9 home runs away)

Pablo Sandoval, Giants — Home Run Number 100 (10 home runs away)

Yadier Molina, Cardinals — Home Run Number 100 (11 home runs away)

Matt Wieters, Orioles — Home Run Number 100 (13 home runs away)

Pedro Alvarez, Pirates — Home Run Number 100 (14 home runs away)

James Loney, Rays — Home Run Number 100 (14 home runs away)

David Murphy, Indians — Home Run Number 100 (14 home runs away)

Jimmy Rollins, Phillies — Home Run Number 200 (1 home run away)

Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays — Home Run Number 200 (5 home runs away)

Josh Hamilton, Angels — Home Run Number 200 (18 home runs away)

Josh Willingham, Twins — Home Run Number 200 (19 home runs away)

Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals — Home Run Number 200 (21 home runs away)

Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers — Home Run Number 200 (22 home runs away)

Brian McCann, Yankees — Home Run Number 200 (24 home runs away)

Prince Fielder, Rangers — Home Run Number 300 (15 home runs away)

Adrian Beltre, Rangers — Home Run Number 400 (24 home runs away)

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers — Home Run Number 400 (35 home runs away)

Albert Pujols, Angels –Home Run Number 500 (8 home runs away)

Cabrera & Fielder Bound for Opposite Years from 2013

Prince Fielder is one of the most underrated players in all of Major League Baseball. Sure, he receives a lot of praise, and is respected in terms of how much he can affect any team he’s on, but as far as the overall value he brings, he isn’t viewed as the absurdly impactful player that he should be seen as — and that includes the impact he has on his teammates.Miguel+Cabrera+Prince+Fielder+New+York+Yankees+aX_ZhggquWAl

Going back to 2011 when Ryan Braun won the National League Most Valuable Player award — bringing controversy, as many felt Matt Kemp’s 39 home runs and 126 RBI’s deserved the honor more than Braun’s 33 homers and 111 RBI’s — Prince Fielder acted as protection for Braun in the Brewers’ lineup, batting behind him in the cleanup spot. And even so, Fielder was able to put together 38 home runs and 120 RBI’s of his own — truly amazing.

Then, in the 2012 season, after going to the Tigers, Fielder aided to Miguel Cabrera’s stats, taking him from a 30 homer, 105 RBI star the season before, to a 44 home run, 139 RBI mega superstar in 2012 — good enough to earn Cabrera the first Triple Crown award in 45 years. And once again, Fielder posted solid numbers, tallying 30 home runs and 108 RBI’s — remarkable.

Although Fielder had a somewhat down year by his standards last season, posting 25 home runs and 106 RBI’s, he still gave Cabrera added help by making pitchers pitch to him, given Fielder’s well known track record. That led to another fantastic year for Cabrera, where — if not for Chris Davis’ breakout 53 home run season — he nearly won a second straight Triple Crown award, knocking 44 home runs for the second straight year and driving in 137 runs.

That’s the incredible personal, and team, impact that Prince Fielder brings on a daily basis.

But with Fielder moving to the Rangers in the offseason, as part of a trade between the Tigers and Rangers, Cabrera could very well see his stats tumble a bit, with Fielder having a bounce back year to become more like his normal self. While Cabrera isn’t going to 3308797_Glose his stardom, and will post an amazing stat line this season, it likely won’t be the 40+ homers, 130+ RBI’s that he’s been able to amass over the past two season, as Victor Martinez will be his protection in the lineup. Not quite as threatening as Fielder.

While Ryan Braun in 2012, after Fielder’s departure, was able to post even better stats without him than he did the previous season in which he won the MVP, I don’t see Cabrera keeping up the same numbers, as Miller Park is more of a hitter friendly ballpark than Comerica Park.

Realistically, I see Cabrera having more of a 30 homer, 110 RBI season. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many players aim for that year after year. But Cabrera has simply set the bar so high in recent years that without Fielder, I don’t see him keeping up his monster stats for three years in a row. Hopefully he’ll prove me wrong.

Just the opposite of Cabrera, I could easily see Fielder having a breakout season in 2014.

For the first time in Fielder’s career, he won’t be providing protection to someone else. Instead, he’ll be provided protection by Adrian Beltre, who is reportedly going to be batting in the cleanup spot behind Fielder, after he had so much success there in 2013. With that ballpark being a left-handed-hitting-paradise, combined with the protection of Beltre, I feel that Fielder will have a 40+ homer, 130+ RBI year, especially with newly acquired Shin-Soo Choo getting on base in front of him. Though that’s not a career year for him — Fielder hit 50 homers in 2007 and had 141 RBI’s in 2009 — it’s a major improvement from his past few seasons.

Everything combined together, the Rangers could once again have enough to beat out the Athletics in 2014, who have won the division the past two seasons. If every player plays to the best of their ability and are able to stay healthy — that shouldn’t be an issue with Fielder, who has played in 157 or more games every full season of his career — it’s very possible, although their starting pitching is a bit of a question heading into the season. It comes down to which team has the most go right.

Prince Fielder heading to the Rangers does two things: It helps the Rangers and himself, and it hurts the Tigers and Miguel Cabrera. While the Tigers and Rangers will both be competitive teams in their divisions this season, it will clearly be seen how big of an impact player Fielder is to any team he’s on.

That’s truly something to look forward to — unless you’re Miguel Cabrera.

Q and A With Mark Appel

Mark Appel was drafted out of high school by the Tigers in the 15th round of the 2009 draft. However, due to his commitment to Stanford University, Appel didn’t sign, and instead went to pitch at college.

At Standford, Appel began as a relief pitcher, only receiving three starts his freshman year, where he posted a 5.92 ERA over 38 innings. Once he was made a full time starter again the next season, Appel excelled, lowering his ERA down to 3.02 for the year. In his junior year of college, after he went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA, Appel was once again drafted, this time by the Pirates as the eighth overall pick. Many felt that Appel would begin his professional baseball career, but he decided to return to college to finish out his baseball career (and degree) at Stanford.

BBM-BeesvQCBandits-Appel-118Despite some flak from people around the baseball world for returning to college, Appel showed just how good of a pitcher he is, improving to have his best season at Stanford; setting the all-time collective strikeout record, in which he went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA. After such a successful final year, Appel was drafted yet again, for the third time, by the Astros as the first overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Beginning his professional baseball career with Low-A Tri-City, Appel made it up to Single-A Quad Cities in 2013, going a combined 3-1 with a 3.79 ERA. Due to the 106 innings Appel had already pitched in 2013 at Stanford, he was shut down after just 38 professional innings pitched, bringing his innings up to roughly 144 for the season.

Appel has an average, to slightly above average, fastball, ranging from the lower to mid nineties, but he can crank it up to upper nineties when needed. He also possesses a good slider and a work in progress changeup that many think will come along.

Heading into his first major league Spring Training, it’s been reported that Appel could, potentially, make the big leagues out of camp “if he is one of the best five pitchers out of Spring Training”. However, as many people feel, it will likely be later in 2014, or early 2015, when Houston — his hometown — gets its first glimpse of Appel. But no matter when that is, with all of the other top prospects in the Astros’ farm system, the future would appear to be bright for them as an organization moving forward, with Appel soon to be leading the way.

Mark Appel — top pitching prospect in the Astros’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I first became interested in baseball when I was very young. For as long as I can remember, I have been playing some version of the sport. Growing up, my parents, as well as certain coaches throughout the years, really influenced me and encouraged me to pursue my dream of playing baseball as a way to educate myself in college and professionally.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

Nolan Ryan was one of the all-time great pitchers and the player I looked up to the most as far as what I wanted to be on the field. He was a fierce competitor who gave his all every single time he got the ball. He competed no matter the score, circumstance, or previous result. Win or lose, you knew he was going to go out and compete again the next time he got the ball.

3.) You were drafted by the Astros in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

The draft process is very interesting. As someone who has gone through it three different times in three unique situations, I feel like I have seen it all. Someone expected to get drafted goes through “interviews”, both on and off the field. In my situation, I spoke with general managers and scouting directors, as well as the local area scouts. Answering their questions off the field is important for their evaluation process so they can have a good understanding of the type of person you are. But the factor that matters most is the results on the field — how good you are at playing baseball.

The Astros and I had a number of conversations leading up to the draft and on the day of the draft, as well as a few other teams. When the time came for the pick to be made, I felt peace in knowing that I would be exactly where God wanted me to be, whether it was Houston or another team. Bud Selig announced my name and my friends and family who came to visit California (I was preparing for graduation the following week) all celebrated! It was a surreal feeling, knowing that I would be able to have a chance to play in my hometown and the team I grew up rooting for was now the same organization I was a part of. God’s grace is too great.

4.) Before being the number one overall pick in 2013, you were drafted by the Tigers in 2009, and the Pirates, eighth overall, in 2012. What made you decide to attend college instead of going pro out of high school? Why did you decide to return for your senior year at Stanford in 2012 after the Pirates drafted you so high?  

Like I said, I have been drafted three times and each were unique situations.

appelIn high school the Tigers drafted me in the 15th round, even though I told all the area scouts I spoke with that I was planning on attending Stanford. Dreaming about being a pro baseball player, it was fun to entertain the thought of signing as a senior in high school, but I knew that Stanford was where I needed to be for my future, both in baseball and in life. Unsure if I was ready to play minor league baseball, I knew college would allow me to grow up, become a man, and still play baseball at a very high level.

In 2012 the Pirates drafted me with the 8th pick in the draft. The decision to return to school for my senior season was the toughest I have ever had to make. There are a number of factors that go into a decision of that magnitude: baseball development and career, education, regrets (I will explain this one later), desires, and money. Also, as a follower of Jesus, relationships with my coaches, teammates and fans, combined with being a part of what God is doing in this world, is very important to me.

For the baseball development, I did not see an advantage to either signing or returning to school. Development really comes down to how badly you want to get better as a player. I knew that I would be able to improve both at Stanford and in the Pirates’ organization. As far as education went, it was a no-brainer to return to school. Playing my senior year allowed me to finish my degree in Management Science and Engineering. As far as regrets go, when I made my decision, I did not want to have any regrets. I didn’t want to spend my idle time thinking about what it would have been like if I chose the other option. Going back to Stanford meant I would have a chance to play in Omaha (which we didn’t achieve), finish my degree before starting a professional career, and continue to be involved in campus ministries that I had been involved with the past three years.

Those are some things that I would have wondered about a lot if I had signed. When it came down to it, money out of the question, I wanted to go back to school, not for the lack of things signing professionally had to offer (which wasn’t much), but for the mlb_a_appel_cr_400opportunities I had during my senior year at Stanford.

But, as everyone knows, money was involved. And it was a lot of money. There are two somewhat conflicting things going on with my situation. On one hand, I was offered a lot of money, and I mean a lot. And on the other hand, I wasn’t offered what I believed my value for my talents was in the draft market under the current rules. So do I stick to principle and go back to school, or do I chase the money and sign? It was a tough question to comprehend.

There are financial benefits to both options, as well as financial risks (well, maybe there were only risks for returning to school). If money was the most important thing to me, I would have signed 100 percent. I knew by returning to school, I would give up 3.8 million dollars. I also knew there were a few things that could go wrong: injury and underperformance were the two main risks. I also knew there were benefits: education, relationships, the opportunity to get better, and a potential financial gain. The thing most people don’t realize is that I had zero regrets. No matter the outcome of my senior season and the draft that followed, I would have been extremely happy with the decision.

As confirmation that I was exactly where God wanted me to be, within the first two weeks of being back at school four members from the Stanford baseball team had accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior through the team bible study! It was so cool to be a part of the work of the Holy Spirit!

5.) In your senior year of high school, you were a part time relief pitcher and didn’t become a full time starter again until your sophomore year of college. Having been both a starting and relief pitcher, which did you find more challenging?

Both relieving and starting have their challenges. I have much more experience as a starter, and at higher levels of competition, I have only started. Personally, I think the difference is the mentality and routine. A reliever needs to mentally prepare himself to pitch 1-2 innings every single night, in general. A starter must prepare mentally to pitch five or more innings once every five days. The two are difficult to compare. With that being said, I would say that starting has been more challenging for me, probably due to the difference in talent level between high school and college, but also because there is so much to learn as a starter. I feel like I learn something new every single day.

6.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Life on the road can be very difficult. There are many things that, as a Christian, I need to prepare for. Wherever you go, you will have decisions to make from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed that will affect both how you play and how your teammates see you — as a man of integrity or a hypocrite. From how I spend my time in the hotel room to where I go and what I do after the games, there will be temptations of various kinds; whether it is alcohol, drugs, etc. For me, reading is something that I enjoy doing, starting with the Bible, but also books for entertainment purposes. Reading engages the mind to learn and grow, especially when playing baseball every day can get repetitive and mundane at times.

Spending time with teammates is a great way to spend your free time. These are the guys that you hope to win a championship with, and in my opinion, the better the team knows and respects each other off the field the more we will play together as a unit. I also believe that building relationships is the first step to discipleship, what Jesus has called us to do as believers. Coming along side people and meeting them where they are, encouraging them and building them up, investing in their lives speaks a lot louder than just telling them about an alternative lifestyle through knowing Jesus that would be better for them. Actions always speak louder than words.

7.) The Astros haven’t been doing well lately, finishing with over 100 losses the past two seasons, but they have great talent down in their farm system. With players such as yourself, Carlos Correa and George Springer, among others, how do you see the teamMark Appel faring over the next few years?

Being a part of the Astros’ organization is an incredible blessing. Not only are they my hometown team, but I believe they are a team that will be good quickly and good for a long time. Buying in to the system now and getting to know all the players right now will build a foundation for the future of the organization at the big league level.

I believe that the Astros will be the most improved team this year, and will continue to improve year after year. As we develop and add new players to the major league team, the chances we win more and more games only increases.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2013? What are your goals for 2014?

My 2013 pro season was great. I’m not necessarily pleased with the end of year statistics as a whole, but I do believe I continued to improve and to learn about professional baseball and what to expect for my 2014 season.

This season my goals are simply to work as hard as I can every single day and allow God to take care of the rest. I am not going to worry about which level I start out at or when I make it to Houston this year (if at all). The great thing about being a disciple of Jesus is knowing that wherever I am in life, I have purpose and there is work to be done for the kingdom of God. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to work with all that I have in order to reach the big leagues, but while I’m working, I’m not going to worry, and I’ll have some fun!

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite TV show: Currently, ‘Parks and Recreation’. I can really identify with Ron Swanson. Favorite food: Steak.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice to kids hoping to play pro ball is to work hard in school, first and foremost. Secondly, have fun while you are playing. Don’t let the fun of the game be overshadowed by the worry and fear of not achieving the goals that you have for yourself. Baseball is a fun game, and I have seen too many players in college and pro ball not enjoy it because they want to be the best so badly that their desire for perfection has removed the joy they once had while playing the game. Don’t lose that childlike spirit.

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Big thanks to Mark Appel for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @MAppel26