MLB No. 1 picks Appel and Correa play the parts

CEDAR RAPIDS — Baseball-wise, Tuesday night was historic at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Not that it felt that way.

For the first time ever here, there were two consecutive overall-No. 1 draft picks in the same lineup when the Quad Cities River Bandits played the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Which seemed to be as scintillating to the citizenry of Cedar Rapids as a cumulus crowd crawling across the summer sky.

Had you tacked on some postgame fireworks, though, you would have drawn a real crowd instead of the announced 2,178.

As someone who enjoys the company of multimillionaires, I couldn't pass up the chance to spend an evening with Carlos Correa and Mark Appel.

In shortstop Correa and starting pitcher Appel, Quad Cities has the top selections in the 2012 and 2013 Major League Baseball amateur drafts, respectively. Both belong to the Houston Astros, a franchise that lacks baseball players.

Appel overwhelmed the Kernels through four hitless innings, then Cedar Rapids scratched out two singles and two runs in the fifth. Being brought along slowly this summer since he pitched 106 college innings this spring, Appel was done after that. It was his longest stint in seven pro starts, and it got him his first pro win. The first of many to come.

"Today was his best outing," said Quad Cities Manager Omar Lopez. "No doubt about it. He was very sharp tonight."

"I'm just glad the team won," said Appel. A veteran cliche from the new pro. Wanna bet he's seen the movie "Bull Durham?"

Lopez said people will see the real Appel next year after he's had an off-season to rest his right arm and has gotten used to being in pro ball.

Correa was the only player picked ahead of former Kernel outfielder Byron Buxton in '12. The way Buxton played so brilliantly here in the first half of this Midwest League season, it was easy to assume the Houston Astros made a huge mistake taking Correa and leaving Buxton as a gift at No. 2 for the Minnesota Twins.

But that will take years to prove or disprove. If both players stay healthy, both teams will probably be very satisfied. And improved, not that it would take much.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Correa overcame an injury-riddled slow start in April. He is hitting .332, spectacular for an 18-year-old in his first full year of pro ball.

Correa had two doubles and his 66th RBI of the season Tuesday. That gave him 12 hits in 18 at-bats in this 4-game series. Which, like Appel's 95-to-98 mph fastballs, was abusive to the Kernels.

Correa, said Lopez, "has the ability to analyze the game. He's very strong mentally. He kept his head up and wasn't frustrated at all early in the season.

"For his age, he's very advanced. His eating habits — he eats healthy food, drinks protein shakes, gets in his workouts in the weight room. He gets his rest daily. It's like he's been in pro baseball a long time."

"He will be a great player," Appel said about Correa. "He's 18 and he's the first overall pick. I'm sure he feels pressure and expectations. But I think he does a good job not letting that affect him, just going out there and playing his game, not trying to do too much.

"He just makes the plays he needs to make, and he hits the ball where there aren't guys on the field."

Appel is fresh from Stanford, where he was the Pac-12's Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He spurned $3.8 million from the Pittsburgh Pirates last year to stay in school, and graduated with a degree in management science and engineering in three years and two quarters. So he has that to fall back on if he misplaces his $6.35 million signing bonus from the Astros.

Correa, of Puerto Rico, accepted a mere $4.8 million to sign last year.

Players from both teams used to snap up leftover hot dogs from the concession stand after games at the old Vets Memorial.

Anyway, Correa and Appel will be in the big-leagues soon enough. The three or four Astros fans here Tuesday can brag about having seeing them in Cedar Rapids.

But most others in attendance would have preferred fireworks.
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