Dansby Swanson, Mark Appel: Which No. 1 Pick is a Better Investment

Last week during the 2015 MLB Winter Meetings, two former number-one overall draft picks were dealt in big-time trades. Dansby Swanson was the number-one pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks just last year and was traded to the Atlanta Braves in the deal that involved Shelby Miller. With the move, it is the soonest that a player drafted number one overall has ever been traded. Mark Appel was the number one pick in 2013 by the Houston Astros and was also traded to the NL East, going to the Philadelphia Phillies in the deal that involved Ken Giles. With the trades official, which former number one overall pick is the better investment?

Looking at Appel, the right-hand pitcher is 24 years old. He is currently ranked number 43 on the MLB Top 100 Prospect List, and now becomes the Phillies number-two ranked prospect. Appel has been in the minor leagues for some time now, but has yet to make his professional debut. It appears that every time he is on the verge of a potential call up, a minor setback happens.

In his three minor league seasons, Appel is just 16-11 with a 5.12 ERA. During his first season, Appel got off to a rough start, but had a much better second half. In the following campaigns, his results were mixed once again. While scouts say that Appel’s stuff has not regressed, it is hard to pinpoint where the struggles may lie. His fastball velocity is in the mid-90s, and his slider and changeup give Appel good secondary pitches.

Appel has the makeup and understanding of how to work a game, but there just appears to be something that may ultimately hold him back over the long-term process. There could be something to be said for the fact that Appel was ultimately drafted three separate times before signing with Houston. Once in 2009 by the Detroit Tigers, again in 2012 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and finally in 2013. In the fold in Houston, it was Mike Foltynewicz who made a debut first during the 2014 season. Last year, it was Lance McCullers who became the rookie to crack the Astros’ rotation and not Appel.

So why the hesitation on Appel? What could be concerning is that his strikeout-to-walk ratio is only 2.5:1, and he has been prone to the home run ball early on. Opponents’ batting average is also high against Appel which means that he could be finding too much of the plate with his pitches. It is one thing to have three good pitches, but if the movement is minimal and the ball is finding too many bats, it will more than likely lead to mixed results, which is what Appel is dealing with. Appel’s overall makeup still allows him opportunity to find success at the big league level, but there is a chance that it may only be as a back-end starter or even reliever. Perhaps a change of scenery could help with his continued development as well. The question will be, does Appel ultimately have that “it” factor?

Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

Dansby Swanson is a much fresher face within the minor league ranks. The 21-year-old shortstop is currently ranked number 10 on the MLB Top 100 Prospect List, and instantly becomes the number-one prospect for the rebuilding Braves. Swanson is the latest in the growing line of stars to come out of Vanderbilt University. During his time at Vanderbilt he showed that he has the talent to be that field general type in the middle of the diamond. Swanson was originally drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2012 coming out of high school, but he chose to go to college and wound up winning a National Championship in 2014 where he was named the Most Outstanding Player.

His first minor league season was limited to just 22 games due to being hit in the face by a wild pitch. However, in the limited time, Swanson still managed a .289 batting average with 11 extra base hits. Over time, he may not deliver a ton of power, but he will provide an above-average hitter at the top of the order who will get on base with speed. Over his final two seasons in college, he hit over .330 both years with an on-base percentage over .410. Swanson added a combined 38 stolen bases with 77 extra base hits.

On the defensive side, Swanson is also capable of handling the shortstop position now vacated by the Braves moving Andrelton Simmons. While Swanson may still be a year away while the Braves retool, the long-term spot appears to be all lined up for him. He has the quickness and arm strength to play the position well. Both offensively and defensively, Swanson’s tools project to be above average or better. One scout has his MLB comp to one Derek Jeter.

With his growing sample size, Swanson is quickly projecting to have star potential. He has sound overall talents that will fit the position for many years. With the Braves retooling the depth of the organization from top to bottom, and moving into a new stadium in 2017, Swanson has the makings to be that guy the team can be built around for the future.

Both the Astros and Diamondbacks gave up young players who could make waves once called up in a risky exchange for win-now talent. For both the Braves and Phillies, they are in similar situations of buying for the future. The question always remains, would you rather build around a player who pitches once a week, or an everyday player who could produce over the course of 150-plus games a season? While Appel and Swanson are both former number-one picks with high-ceiling potential, the Braves appear to be the team that landed the better return. For a former number-one pick, Swanson looks like a much better investment to have long-term.

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