HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The Astros first-overall draft pick Mark Appel is already on the fast track to the major leagues.  Houston signed the right-handed pitcher, who was selected first in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft, to a contract Wednesday afternoon. Appel, who was slotted for $7.8 million under the new First-Year Player Draft system, reportedly received a $6.35 million signing bonus.

“Houston has always felt like home,” said the newest Astro pitcher.  Donning a jersey with the number one on it, Appel said he was excited to play for the team he grew up rooting for.  “It’s an honor to be here.”

At the signing, General Manager Jeff Luhnow says that Appel will head to Florida next week to get into game shape.  After that, Luhnow’s plans for Appel include the minor league clubs: Tri-Cities, Quad-Cities, ending with AA Corpus Christi in the summer.  Luhnow expects that Appel will be ready for “major league camp” at the start of the 2014 season.

“This guy is what they look like at the fronts of rotations for a very long time. We’ve been watching him for a few years now.  He was in the draft last year.  We’d been following him prior to that as he came up on the summer circuit on Team USA, Cape Cod League and so forth and this guy has just continued to get better and better every single year.  He’s living up to expectations.  The sky’s the limit for him.  He’s big, he’s a durable guy, he’s built like a power pitcher is supposed to look like. He’s got almost a flawless delivery and his command and the quality of his stuff has improved year over year and the guy’s still got a lot of ceiling left to him,” Houston Astros Director of Amateur Scouting Mike Elias told SportsRadio 610’s Nate Griffin and Fred Davis on June 9.

The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Appel eighth overall in 2012, but the top prospect pitcher turned down a $3 million-plus contract and elected to return for his final year at Stanford. In 2009, Appel was also drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 15th round (450th overall).  The third time’s the charm for the Houston native, who graduated from Stanford University with a degree in management science and engineering Sunday.  Scouts say that Appel is perhaps the most MLB-ready pitcher in this year’s draft with his four-year experience at one of the top baseball programs in the country.  Appel’s velocity and control should propel him to become a pitcher at the top of the rotation, which could bode well for the 21-year old playing for his hometown sooner than expected.

“He’s a big guy,” Elias said of the 195-pound pitcher. “It takes those guys a little longer to get their full coordination together and he’s really putting it together now and I think we’ve got a guy that’s not only going to take a short amount of time to get to the big leagues, but stay there and stay effective for a very, very long time. He’s got a great career ahead of him and we’re pretty excited that we’re the ones that are going to get to enjoy that career.”

In his senior year with the Cardinal, Appel went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA, throwing 130 strikeouts in 106 and 1/3 innings.  The Astros top prospect this year has been compared to many Houston legends. For Elias and the Astros, drafting Appel was a no-brainer.

“He’s a unique pitcher in his own right. We have seen a lot of similarities between him and just a classic power pitchers over the years: your Roger Clemenses and your Nolan Ryanses.  He throws like they do. He’s as big as they are. He throws as hard as they (do).  Certainly, I don’t want to put those type of expectations on him as far as a career, but he has the tools and the physical tools to be that type of pitcher: the guy that’s throwing 200 innings a year and does it for 15 or 20 years and wins at least 15 or 20 games a year.  I just think we like the steadiness about him.  This was a guy that, for three years in a row from his sophomore year all the way to his senior year once he won that rotation spot his sophomore year, this guy went out every night, never missed a start, never had an injury, never didn’t get out of the fourth inning, never didn’t get out of the fifth inning.  He went deep into the games in a big program against top level competition every single time and it really dawned on us how durable and consistent and dominant this guy has been over the course of his college career so that was really the deciding factor for him.”

Appel grew up an Astros fan in West Houston before moving to California at the age of 12. He played his youth ball at the Post Oak Little League and attended Astros games at the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park. Most of Appel’s extended family lives in the Houston-area, including his parents.

Click here to view pictures of Appel in his new Houston Astros apparel!