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Baseball: Seven Stanford players selected in MLB draft

In the midst of a run to the Super Regionals of the College World Series, seven Stanford baseball players were selected in the MLB’s first-year player draft this Monday through Wednesday.

The bevy of Cardinal athletes entering the pro ranks began on Monday, when star junior pitcher Mark Appel was picked eighth overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Appel, one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award given annually to the top player in college baseball, has compiled a 10-1 record and a 2.27 ERA in 2012.

“I’m currently concentrating on winning a national championship and finishing my academic endeavors at Stanford,” Appel told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday, as he will be the Friday starter for the Cardinal’s Super Regional matchup with Florida State. “I will address the possibility of a professional career in due time.”

Junior pitcher Mark Appel (above), selected eighth overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates, headlined a class of seven Cardinal players selected in the MLB draft. (Casey Valentine/Stanfordphoto.com)

With his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame and 99-mile-per-hour fastball, many MLB experts and scouts expected Appel to be selected first overall by the Houston Astros, who instead selected 17-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa with the first pick. With the unexpected slide, Appel ended up being the third righthander picked in the first eight picks of the draft, and the third consecutive righty that the Pirates have selected with their first pick in the draft.

In 2011, the Pirates selected UCLA fireballer Gerrit Cole with the first pick, just one year after taking high schooler Jameson Taillon with the second overall pick. Altogether, the Pirates look to have compiled a fearsome young trio of arms that could help turn around a team that has routinely finished last in its division over the past two decades.

Appel didn’t have to wait long to have another Cardinal join him in the big leagues, as fellow junior Stephen Piscotty was selected 36th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals. The pair is just the fourth duo of Cardinal players to be selected in the first round, and the first since Justin Wayne and Joe Borchard in 2000. Piscotty hit .318 this season and led the team with 55 RBI.

“I had a bunch of teammates rooting for me today, and I’ll be rooting for them tomorrow,” Piscotty said after being chosen by the Cardinals. “It was pretty nerve-racking . . . I was very surprised when they called because I was talking to a couple of teams below them when they called.”

Lefty Brett Mooneyham, the Cardinal’s number-two starter, then followed Piscotty off the board, as the Washington Nationals took the Atwater, Calif., native with the 111th pick. Last year, after he missed the entire 2011 season with a finger injury, the Nationals selected the lefthander in the 38th round with the 1,147th pick in the 2011 draft, but thanks to a 7-5 record, a 4.26 ERA and 90 strikeouts this season, Mooneyham was able to improve his draft stock 1,036 places.

Next to have his name called was junior shortstop Kenny Diekroeger, who was picked by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round. Coming out of high school, Diekroeger was a second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays, but the Woodside, Calif., has seen his draft stock drift in the past few years after a stellar first season where he was named Pac-10 freshman of the year. After moving back to shortstop in place of injured sophomore Lonnie Kauppila, Diekroeger hit only .269 this season, but has played excellent defense, cutting his errors in half from last season.

The Detroit Tigers made centerfielder Jake Stewart the next Stanford player to be picked, selecting the junior in the ninth round. Stewart, who was drafted in the 14th round by the Phillies coming out of high school, showed some serious pop in his junior campaign, hitting seven home runs and 15 doubles while batting .290 as the team’s leadoff hitter.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were next, selecting catcher Eric Smith in the 18th round. Smith, who switched from the infield to catcher before this season, hit an impressive .330 with 32 RBI in his first season as a starter.

Finally, the Pirates bookended the Cardinal’s drafted players when they picked outfielder Tyler Gaffney in the 24th round on Wednesday. After a dominant 2011 campaign in which he hit .327 and tallied 35 RBI, Gaffney had a swoon in his junior year, hitting a meager .240 with just 17 RBI. Gaffney, a backup running back on the Cardinal football team, could potentially return to school to play another year of both sports.

For now, though, all the Cardinal players must refocus on the task at hand, the Super Regionals against Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., this weekend, just one step away from the College World Series.

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