What is 1/1 you ask? Well in scout-speak that is the short version for the player picked first in the first round; 1/1. It is pretty rare to have a potential 1/1 in your scouting territory, unless you are a Southern California scout for the Pirates or Astros or some other consistently bad MLB club. Yes, that was a knock on those two big league clubs. I failed to mention the Cubs, because well... I chose to ignore the obvious!
Ok, back on track. There are two right-handed college pitchers in Northern California who are getting consideration for that coveted 1/1 pick. Stanford's Mark Appel (Monte Vista HS-Danville) and USF's Kyle Zimmer (La Jolla). Appel has been a steady riser since his days of pitching on a VERY talented MVHS staff while Zimmer burst onto the national radar after his 1-0 shutout of UCLA and future 1/1 pick Gerrit Cole last June in the NCAA Regionals. Both have big stuff, both have a lot going for them.
I've not seen Zimmer in person and have only seen that webcast of the UCLA game last year. In fact, I only saw the 8th and 9th innings of that game. I am much more familiar with Appel, as he participated in my event and I also had him on my Braves team during the fall of his senior year. Great kid, great family, just the nicest people you could meet, the Appels. I don't know Zimmer but have spoken to USF pitching coach Greg Moore about him a lot and he raves about the person and competitor that Zimmer is.
When I heard Appel's name being tossed around last summer, as a potential 1/1 pick, I was surprised. I knew he threw hard and it didn't surprise me. In my prospect reports I turned in on him during high school I projected him to have a future plus fastball and a future plus breaking ball. I was skeptical on his ability to control his fastball and didn't see much potential for a quality third pitch, which to me said he was best suited in a short reliever role.
His dad is a big man, his mom is tall (from what I remember... though that could be Piscotty's mother I am thinking of... I know she is a tall woman) and Appel, with his long arms, long legs and WIDE hips always looked like he would be a big man someday. The velocity was never in question to me. Easy arm speed, big frame, good rotation on his hard curveball (some call it a slider but I always thought it was a hard, short downer curveball), yep, good stuff.
One thing that can throw you off on Appel is his easy going nature. Like I said, he is about the nicest kid you could meet and I don't think anything has changed since I knew him in high school. However, scouts look for things to pick on, particularly on players considered in the first round, especially 1/1. What to pick on about Appel? Well, can't pick on the stuff, can't pick on the size, can't pick on the intelligence, can't pick on the breaking ball so... let's pick on his niceness!
What tends to happen with the "nice" kids is they get labeled soft or not tough enough. Heck, I remember quite a few D1 college recruiting coordinators who labeled Brandon Crawford as soft... because he is a quiet, unassuming, Hollywood handsome kid! If he would have spouted a few curses after at-bats, thrown a few bats, and looked less like a movie star then he probably would have been labeled a "tough" player. So it goes with Appel and the question is, "Is he too nice to be tough?" That isn't MY question, I am just telling you how scouts look to pick apart prospects.
Now, I only have second hand information about Zimmer, in regard to his character. I have talked with both Coach Moore and two others who are close to the USF program and know him. They tell me that he is inwardly competitive, that he can seem like he isn't working as hard as others yet that isn't the case. I am told that he is SO talented and sometimes he can be bored with regular conditioning or practice drills and he creates new challenges for himself. Give him a challenge, he will meet it, exceed it, then look for a new challenge. That is not to say things come easily to him, but yet, it is saying that exactly. The good news is that even though things come easy to him, he isn't satisfied with that and he pushes to find new challenges. If in fact that is all true, then he will be putty in the hands of a great player development staff. Let's hope he doesn't go to the Astros (they pick #1) because their track record of player development is BAD.
Now, what else is there about these two? Well, both would be considered "safer" picks than the top rated high school position player, outfielder Byron Buxton (Georgia). If it was the Rays picking first, you can bet it would be Buxton going first but with organizations that aren't as good at player development and clubs that need help RIGHT now in the big leagues, a college pitcher who can move quickly tends to be more attractive. Now, the goal is to take the best player, or that SHOULD be the goal.
There is also the consideration of "upside" potential or future projectability. Appel could still throw harder (he is regularly around 95, can tough higher) and Zimmer throws in the mid-90s and also touches higher. Zimmer was converted to a pitcher in college and has "less mileage" on his arm than Appel but other than his usage at Stanford, Appel was quite fresh coming out of high school, with a lot less on him arm than many high level high school pitchers. In fact, when he left high school and headed for Stanford, Appel was still quite raw. I would give Zimmer the edge in future potential.
What about how they compare presently? Well, Zimmer has better fastball command and that is a HUGE separator in my mind. He also has the better breaking ball, from what I am told by those who have seen both of them. So he has the edge there. Appel will get the edge in terms of his college portfolio because he has pitched for Team USA and has competed quite well in the nation's top conference, the Pac-12. Zimmer pitches in the WCC, a good conference, but it sure isn't the Pac-12. Edge to Appel. Experience matters... to a degree.
Want to know something else interesting about Appel? He is a Texas native. I think I recall, in my meeting at his house during his senior year, that his family is from the Austin area. I know you can still hear some "Texas" in his parent's voices. Would that matter to the Astros? I am not sure and it shouldn't matter one bit but you never know what an organization might be thinking. Maybe they are thinking they can market his Texas roots as he develops and gets closer to the big leagues. Austin is not far from Houston.
When all is said and done, I think the Astros will take Appel. They seem to have put together a competitive group of young position players this year and there will be more near big league ready players coming to them later this summer when they deal Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers and possibly Carlos Lee (though he will make a good DH when they move to the AL in 2013). To nab a college pitcher who could be big league ready in maybe two years might make more sense... if they think that pitcher can develop into a #1 or #2 starter.
If they don't project Appel or Zimmer or any other pitcher they are considering to be a #1 or a #2, then pass and take a high ceiling position player. One thing you may not know about a scouting report on an amateur player is that all a good scouting director wants to ultimately know is what the player's role will be as a big leaguer. Does he project as a #1 pitcher on World Series contender (CC Sabathia)? A closer for a second division club (Huston Street)? A #2 pitcher on a second division club (Jake Arrieta)? A #4/#5 pitcher for a division contender (Jeff Niemann)? That is the question, the role profile, that REALLY matters. If the Astros think Mark Appel or Kyle Zimmer is a future #1/#2 for a contending club, then that should be their guy. If they don't, they should take someone else.
My goal before the draft is to get out and see both Appel and Zimmer. Because all that really matters is firsthand information.