NEW YORK - Highly touted pitcher Mark Appel spurned the Pittsburgh Pirates and decided to remain at Stanford for his senior season, the first big casualty of baseball's new restrictions on amateur signing bonuses.
Appel was the only unsigned player among 31 first-round picks, turning down an offer of $3.8 million from the Pirates. Projected by some to be the No. 1 selection, some teams shied away from the right-hander because of the expected demands of his adviser, Scott Boras. Appel was selected eighth by the Pirates.
That slot was assigned $2.9 million from the drafting team's bonus pool in baseball's new labor contract, which imposes penalties on clubs that exceed the threshold - the totals of the slots for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds.
Pittsburgh was prepared to go as much as 5 percent above its threshold and incur the first level of penalty, a 75 percent tax on the overage. But the Pirates didn't want to fall into higher levels, which include the loss of future draft picks.
"After much thought, prayer and analysis of both opportunities, I came to the conclusion the best decision is to remain at Stanford continuing my studies, finishing my degree, and doing all I can to assist the Cardinal baseball team in our goal to win a national championship," Appel said in a statement. "I greatly valued the prospect of a professional opportunity and I will pursue a professional baseball career after getting my Stanford degree."
Appel, who turns 21 on Sunday, also failed to sign in 2009, when Detroit selected him in the 15th round with the 450th pick after his final season with Monte Vista High in San Ramon, Calif. Appel will go back into next year's draft.
Under the labor deal, agreed to in November, the deadline for draft picks to sign was 5 p.m. Friday, a month earlier than under the previous collective bargaining agreement.
Trying to end a record streak of 19 consecutive losing seasons, the resurgent Pirates began Friday with a one-game lead in the NL Central.
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the No. 2 pick overall in 2008, signed a four-year deal worth $6,355,000 and has 16 homers and 50 RBIs this season despite a .231 average. There are several top pitching prospects in Pittsburgh's minor league system. Jameson Taillon, the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, got a $6.5 million signing bonus and is in A-ball. Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 pick last year, received an $8 million signing bonus and recently was promoted to Double-A.
"We drafted Mark Appel to sign Mark Appel. We were excited about the opportunity to add him to a plethora of quality, young arms," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said during a telephone conference call. "It didn't happen. So now we turn the corner. This, too, shall pass. We move forward."
Because Appel didn't sign, the Pirates will receive an extra first-round pick in next June's draft, the ninth selection overall. The Pirates also could gain an extra selection from baseball's first competitive balance draft, which will be held Wednesday in Secaucus, N.J.
"We may be looking at three of the top 45 picks in the country," Huntington said. "Some have argued next year's draft class is going to be better than this year's draft class."
Boras also represented Alvarez and Cole in their negotiations with the Pirates.
"Selecting Mark was a calculated risk, as we knew he would be a difficult sign," Huntington said. "As an organization, we need to continue to take these types of calculated risks. While we would've preferred to add Mark to the group of talented prospects in our system, we wish Mark, and his family, nothing but success in the future."
Appel was 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA for Stanford this year with 130 strikeouts in 123 innings, raising his college record to 18-10.
"We are all excited to have him back at Stanford for his senior season," Cardinal coach Mark Marquess said. "He is one of the premier pitchers in college baseball and will again play an integral role in our quest to get back to the College World Series. I'm sure it was a difficult decision for him and his family, but I know Mark is excited to complete his degree in engineering and then embark on a long and successful pro career."