Al Skorupa and Jeff Reese of BullpenBanter.com recently debated who was the best college pitcher: Stanford RHP Mark Appel or LSU RHP Kevin Gausman. Both figure to go in the top 5 picks of this year’s MLB Draft, and possibly #1 overall…
The Argument for LSU’s Kevin Gausman
Jeff Reese: The debate between Mark Appel and Kevin Gausman as the top collegiate pitcher dominated the internal discussions that we had while assembling our early draft boards. Both pitchers offer reasons to expect that they will one day settle into the front of a major league rotation and are in our estimation clearly the two best of this class. Kyle Zimmer and Michael Wacha may ultimately close this gap over the spring, but for moment, it is a two horse race. Mark Appel is the one typically championed as the regem supremum, often lauded as the favorite for going first overall in the upcoming June draft. While he has his supporters, my weight will remain behind the potential usurper down in the Louisiana, Kevin Gausman.
There is little wonder in the enthusiasm that Mark Appel evokes. The Stanford ace has an ideal pitchers frame – 6’5” 215 pounds with room to add more muscle – a smooth, low effort delivery, and the present stuff that all portend well for stardom. Consistently showing that stuff and the necessary command to excel is an entirely different story. All three of his pitches will show flashes of being plus or better offerings: a fastball that can reach the upper 90s, a power breaking ball with occasional wipe out two-plane break, and a good change with fade and drop. The problem is that Appel rarely has everything working at the same time, and the stuff is wont to degrade as the outing progresses. Indeed, aside from the outing that I saw last Friday against Texas, his fastball would show that premier velocity in the first inning before falling down into the 92 range in all subsequent. Appel’s fastball also straightens out and becomes very hittable when he misses up in the strike zone; something that happens far too often. The slider and change have similar consistency issues, and he often falls in love with one off-speed pitch during an outing. Mark Appel works best when he’s in a quick rhythm and keeping his fastball down in the zone where it’s at its liveliest.
Kevin Gausman has more lankiness in his 6’4” 185 pound frame than does Appel, making it easy to project him for additional future growth. The draft eligible sophomore employs a windup with a high leg lift and an extended preceding glove arm that circles through before delivering the ball from a high 3/4 arm slot – a move that surely adds some deception despite the added difficulty of repeatability. Gasuman’s arm action is very good and the ball is delivered without much effort; an improvement upon where he was as a senior in high school. The fastball remains one of his best attributes: a pitch with good downward plane and late arm side run that sits in the mid 90s, topping out around 97, deep into ball games. Gausman pounds the lower half of the zone with the pitch and induces ground ball contact when it’s put into play. His primary off-speed pitch he developed over the summer prior to his freshman season at LSU; it is a change up with some fade but more hard downward action that kicks in late and can resemble a splitter. It is a swing and miss pitch that causes hitters to flail when it’s on. Gausman also threw a pair of highly inconsistent breaking balls as a freshman: a hard 12-6 curve ball with occasional two-plane break (giving it more 12-5 break) and a 1-7 slider that often lost shape. The breaking ball was reportedly an area of focus for him over the winter and is much improved as a result; I look forward to seeing him later this year with fresh eyes. Gausman is aggressive in attacking hitters low in the zone with his fastball which allows the changeup to work well; the command is by no means pinpoint, but he throws strikes with his misses generally being below the zone rather than up in it.
Deciding between these two is difficult. Appel’s clear edge comes in the way of his slider which can be wipeout when it’s on, but Gausman’s ability to regularly work down in the zone and the amount of progress that he has shown since entering college is the separator for me. It is by no means decided in my mind: Appel needs to show me that he can consistently pitch like he did Friday and Gausman needs to show me that improved breaking ball. For now, Kevin is my man.
The Argument for Stanford’s Mark Appel
Al Skorupa: I fully agree with Jeff that these are the two top college arms. I also see Kyle Zimmer and Michael Wacha are the next tier but I would include Chris Beck in that group. Mark Appel and Kevin Gausman are far more similar than they are different. Both are hard throwing college starters who haven’t maintained consistency in their secondary stuff. They both exhibit more control than command and neither has really dominated the way you would expect given their stuff and velo. There isn’t a lot of difference between the two pitchers and I’m not sure you can really go wrong with either choice. All the same, I’m taking the Stanford Ace.
Appel has a tall, athletic pitcher’s frame with a quick arm and lots of arm strength. There is still projection left in Appel. Appel has plenty of room to add muscle in his upper body and especially in his legs. That along with his free and easy arm action hints that he might be sitting mid 90′s in a couple years. Appel is a very good athlete with excellent body control. He features a low effort delivery that he repeats well.
I’ve seen Appel hit 98 with his FB and the pitch has good late life. He will sometimes cut and sink his FB and he’s pretty good at keeping it down in the zone most of the time. What Appel does not do well right now is command the FB within the zone. When he misses his spots with the FB the pitch too often ends up in very hittable spots. Much of Appel’s struggles I would attribute to overthrowing his FB rather than locating it. I liked Appel’s Slider tremendously. The pitch had sharp horizontal and vertical movement and some sharp bite. Appel’s CU also has plus potential and had excellent fade. The other major criticism of Appel is that his secondaries are inconsistent start to start and there is definitely some truth to that.
LSU Tiger Kevin Gausman is a hard thrower on the same scale as Appel. His FB has a few inches of arm side run and like Appel he works down with the pitch. I’ve seen a good CB from Gausman and a solid CU but the raw stuff just isn’t as electric as Appel’s. Jeff has seen more of Gausman than me but consistency and command of secondary has been an issue when I’ve seen him. Gausman may be lankier and skinner than Appel but I’m not sure how much more velo is there – not that he needs much more. I’m not a huge fan of Gausman’s drop and drive delivery. It mitigates his height which is one of his best natural advantages. His arm action is more rigid than Appels and he has considerably more effort in his mechanics. I don’t really have any concerns about Gausman’s ability to stick as a starter but I definitely prefer Appel’s mechanics.
At present Gausman probably grades out better but I still prefer Appel. I see Appel as having the better raw stuff and I also think he has more room to get better. Again, Appel’s major problem is command in the zone despite generally good control. He needs to learn to pitch with his FB better. Appel’s SL is also the best single pitch out of both their repertoires. The inconsistency in secondary stuff is an issue but its an issue for both pitchers and doesn’t bother me all that much in a 19/20 year old. Appel has shown me some rare talent and I would hope with pro instruction he can put it all together. The inconsistency might prevent me from taking Appel 1:1 but that’s a different discussion. Today we’re comparing him to a another college pitcher with similar strengths & weaknesses – someone who I also would have reservations taking 1st overall. Its also worth noting that Appel is the younger of the two even though Appel is a Junior and Gausman a draft eligible Sophomore.
If I knew neither guy was going to get any better I’d take Gausman… but I’m just not that confident Gausman will get much better while Appel has flashed dominance and I think he might have it in him. Its close and it could change over the course of the Spring but right now I’m taking Mark Appel.
Al Skorupa is a co-founder of Bullpen Banter. He can be reached @alskor on twitter. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. His youtube channel can be found here. Any comments or questions are welcome.
Jeff Reese writes about baseball and prospects for Bullpen Banter. He writes a College Baseball Notes series each spring. Jeff is also a columnist at mlbbonusbaby.com, SBNation’s MLB Draft Blog. You can find him on twitter @Ioffridus. His email is jreese@BullpenBanter.com.
Filed under: 2012: USA College Player Updates