2013 MLB Draft: Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray, comparing hype to reality

Luke Hochevar walked away from a contract his senior year to pitch in the Independent League. - Dilip Vishwanat

How often do college pitchers with the hype of Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray end up as the top two picks in the draft and how do they perform after that? Those were the questions floating around in my head leading up to this year's Rule IV draft.

Gray and Appel face a similar situation to what former Oriole Ben McDonald was going through 20 years ago. The former No. 1 player in the 1989 draft, McDonald became the face of potential for top draft picks. Potential for earnings because he was the first player to negotiate for a major league contract and the potential for team risk, as he suffered through three rotator cuff injuries which knocked him out of baseball before he was 30.

Potential and expectations can eat you alive being the No. 1 pick. -Former Oriole Ben McDonald in an interview with USA Today

Since changes were made in the new collective bargaining agreement, Gray and Appel no longer have the option of asking for a major league contract. But they do have the ability to ask for a lot and potentially hold a team's other draft signings at ransom until a deal is struck.

As a junior with a 100 mph fastball, Gray has the leverage to force a team to pay him top dollar or else risk losing him to a senior year in college. His situation is similar to Justin Verlander's, who was a junior when he was the second player selected in the 2004 draft. As noted in Baseball Reference's biography, negotiations were difficult between Justin and the Tigers. With Detroit eventually walking away from the table before Justin's father, a former rep for the Communications Workers union, stepped in and finalized the deal.

Mark Appel has already walked away from an offer his junior year and now faces a situation similar to former Royal Luke Hochevar, who played a year in the Independent league after slipping to 40th in the 2005 draft. Also represented by agent Scott Boras, Hochevar reentered the 2006 draft and was selected first overall. John did a writeup of Hochevar's situation a couple of years ago which could be used as a primer for what baseball fans hope won't happen to Mark Appel.

The following list outlines the amount of bWAR produced by college players selected with the top two picks since 1965. Full Table LINK

  • FARM HAND- Three (12%) still laboring in the minor leagues. Gerrit Cole (2011) and Danny Hultzen (2011) have yet to reach their potential as the Pirates overall No. 1 pick struggles with his command and Hultzen has suffered from a rotator cuff injury.

  • TOTAL BUST - Four (16%) negative career rWARs. Unfortunately there is another Stanford player on this list, Greg Reynolds (2006), who never had the projected ceiling of Mark Appel and failed to live up to his floor of being a number four.

  • POOR PLAYER - Two (8%) a career WAR between 0 and 4. Hyped prospect Luke Hochevar (2006) and Steve Dunning (1970) fall into this area. Unfortunately Dunning was known more for his hitting prowess as he was the last American League pitcher to hit a grand slam until the interleague era when Felix Hernandez matched the feat.

  • AVERAGE REGULAR - Three (12%) career WAR between 4 and 10. Darren Dreifort (1993) and Paul Shuey (1992) are players that fit into this category. While Dreifort had several solid seasons for the Dodgers, injuries kept him from being a special player. Shuey ended up as a middle reliever for Cleveland before moving on to pitch for the Dodgers and Orioles.

  • STRONG REGULAR - Seven (28%) career WAR between 10 and 25. Mark Prior (2001) is the comp that comes to my mind when considering Mark Appel and the former Cub falls into this area. Unfortunately Mark's arm fell off, but not before he led the Cubs to within an inning of making it to the World Series. Mark Mulder (1998) and Bill Swift (1984) are other pitchers who had solid careers, but couldn't maintain consistent success.

  • STAR - Six (24%) career WAR between 25 and 50. Justin Verlander (2004) is the leader of this group who is still adding to his WAR (37.1) totals. Andy Benes (1988) is another strong pitcher in a group of pitchers who were consistently chosen to represent their teams in the All-Star game.

  • HALL OF FAMER None (0.0%) career WAR over 50. Unfortunately the best WAR pitchers in history were drafted late in the first round, such as Roger Clemens (140.3 WAR, 19th selection) or in the second round such as Greg Maddux (106.8) or after the battle of Gettysburg such as Old Hoss Radbourn (76.2). When it comes to the very best of the best, teams should probably invest in scouting players lower in the draft.

  • RISING STARS - Two (8%) Pitchers who have youth on their side, David Price (2007) and Stephen Strasburg (2009) have to be placed in this category. They're too young to fit into any of the others and while an argument could be made for including Justin Verlander here, the previous two are on the young side of 30.

    I want to give a hat tip to Andrew Fisher of Purple Row as his article on #3 Picks inspired the formatting for this article, although I had researched and already begun writing this piece before reading his work on Wednesday, he put together a nice piece whose ideas I ‘borrowed'.

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