Chicago Cubs: How Theo Epstein got very fortunate to get Kris Bryant

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 05: Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates with Joe Maddon #70 after scoring on a two RBI single in the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 5, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 05: Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates with Joe Maddon #70 after scoring on a two RBI single in the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 5, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /
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Once a number one overall draft pick, pitcher Mark Appel is stepping away from baseball. It ends up being a huge break for the Chicago Cubs, considering he was taken first overall instead of Kris Bryant.

It was the 2013 June MLB Amateur Draft when the Houston Astros picked Mark Appel first overall. He was highly regarded as a can’t-miss prospect for a while, as he was also drafted by the Pirates in the first round in 2012 and the Tigers in the 15th round in 2009. He finally signed with the Astros in 2013 after playing four years at Stanford University.

It is sad to see, but Appel since 2013 had struggled in the minors and never played in the majors. It has now been reported that he is stepping away from baseball at the age of 26. According to CBS, he is going to go into business. In his five years as a minor league player with the Astros and Phillies, Appel pitched to a 5.06 ERA  and 1.519 WHIP in 81 games.

Prospects do not make it all the time, but a first overall pick not at least playing in the majors is very rare. Only Brien Taylor and Steve Chilcott were first-overall picks who didn’t make an appearance in an MLB game (non-exhibition).

Cubs drafting Kris Bryant second overall

It was kind of surprising how the Chicago Cubs lost 101 games in 2012 and did not finish in last. The Astros lost 107 games that year, which got them the first overall pick in 2013. Them taking Appel allowed for the Cubs to take Kris Bryant.

Bryant could have easily been taken by the Astros. While Appel was very appealing (no pun intended), Bryant was a monster at the University of San Diego. In three NCAA seasons he slashed .353/.486/.702 with 54 home runs. He was projected as one of the draft’s best assets, if not the best.

The rest is history. Bryant fell to the Cubs number two and he zipped through the minors and became an instant star in the majors. Rookie of the Year award, NL MVP and World Champion all won in just three seasons. Safe to say this was a draft pick that has worked out well so far in Chicago.

What if the Astros took Bryant?

Now imagine Houston with Kris Bryant along with Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa. That would not even be fair to the rest of the American League. Take Bryant and those three core guys on the Astros, and put together some of their 2017 stats, you get a combined 23.9 fWAR and an average OPS of .934. Just think of how much fun Bryant would have knowing how many homers he could pull into the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park.

Most importantly, the Cubs would not have one of their two cornerstones. “Bryzzo” would not exist! Bryant’s contributions have made such an impact on the team, which it is doubtful they would be where they are today without him. His average fWAR per season of 7.2 is invaluable at this point. Not to mention he was the one who fielded the groundball that won the Cubs the World series in 2016.

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There is no denying that with a championship team, there is some luck involved. This may be the biggest lucky moment of all this. It takes skill to draft and develop, but the Astros not taking Bryant really is just luck. It is easy to appreciate the work Theo and company has done, but also know that things could have been very different.

As for Mark Appel, nothing but the best wishes in his new business career.