Astros sign No. 1 pick Mark Appel

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Making official what was reported earlier this week, the Astros announced that they’ve come to an agreement with No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel.

Appel, who turned down $3.8 million from the Pirates last year as the No. 8 pick, is expected to receive around $6.35 million. That means returning for his senior season at Stanford turned out very well for Appel, but it also means the Astros would save around $1.45 million compared to the recommended slot bonus for the No. 1 pick, which they can then use to sign other picks.

As a senior Appel went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA and 130/23 K/BB ratio in 106 innings, holding opponents to a .203 batting average and just two homers in 395 at-bats. Appel is from Houston and Astros owner Jim Crane talked about the right-hander returning home, adding that “hopefully it won’t be too long until he’s ready for the big leagues.”

Last year the Astros passed on Appel with the No. 1 pick to take high school shortstop Carlos Correa, who’s currently hitting .304 with an .830 OPS in 55 games at low Single-A as an 18-year-old.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.