On most campuses, being the projected No. 1 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft would make you a big deal. But at Stanford, Mark Appel’s just another face in the classroom — and that’s OK with the humble right-hander.
There’s no shortage of reasons why the Cardinal hold a Top 25 ranking — power, speed, clutch hitting — heading into Monday’s Battle of the Bay showdown with Cal. It also doesn’t hurt having one of the game’s most promising young arms on the mound every Friday night, even if he doesn’t bring ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the rest of the sports media down to the Farm like Andrew Luck.
“I see it as a blessing,” said Appel, referring to the lack of attention he receives. “I’m just able to focus on doing my best every week.”
Despite throwing in the mid-90s at Danville’s Monte Vista High School, Appel’s rise to the top of Baseball America’s prospect list was unexpected. He didn’t start a single game in high school and was knocked around the yard during his freshmen year at Stanford, posting a 5.92 ERA as a middle reliever/spot starter. “We basically tried to teach him how to pitch on the fly,” pitching coach Rusty Filter said.
Appel threw hard, but he had no command over his secondary pitches. So that summer, he flew across the country to work on his stuff with the Newport Gulls in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He returned a new pitcher.
By the time he stepped on the rubber to start his sophomore year in 2011, he’d developed a change-up that dances in the low-80s and a slider that drops off a cliff.
The Houston native quickly became the Cardinal’s undisputed Friday-night starter as well as one of the top pitchers in the conference, posting a 3.02 ERA while fanning 86 batters in 110 innings of work.
“It just kind of all clicked,” Appel said.
His evolution has continued this season. At one point, he set career-highs for strikeouts in three consecutive starts against Texas (10), Fresno State (11) and Rice (14).
Appel said his turnaround is a reflection of his strong-Christian faith.
“Everything I do, I want to bring glory to God,” Appel said.
But the idea slipped away from Appel as he struggled with his command freshman year. Although his faith never waned, he was consumed with things over which he had no control.
“I just worried about everything,” he said. “I worried that I couldn’t throw my slider for a strike. What do the coaches think of me? Was I going to be able to start again?”
The turning point came when he remembered to simply put 100 percent of his heart into everything he did. The rest, he said, was turned over to God.
“It just made it a lot easier — knowing that my hope isn’t found in success, it’s found in my relationship with Christ,” he said.
WHEN: Monday, 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Evans Diamond, Berkeley
RADIO: KALX (90.7 FM)