Mark Appel

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Mark Stewart Appel

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher Mark Appel was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 15th round of the 2009 amateur draft. He did not sign, opting to attend Stanford University instead. Projected by some to be the top overall selection in the 2012 amateur draft, he was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the eighth pick. The following day, on June 5th, he received another honor, being named as one of three finalists for the 2012 Golden Spikes Award. However, he was the only player from that year's first round who failed to come to an agreement on a contract with his drafting team by the new deadline of July 13th, spurning an offer of $3.8 million from the Pirates to return to Stanford. After completing his senior year at Stanford, during which he went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA, he was the first overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft, by the Houston Astros and scout Bryan Byrne. Appel was born and had grown up in Houston, TX, before moving to California at age 12, and the Astros, who had the first overall pick in 2012, had seriously considered taking him then before settling on Carlos Correa. Appel came to a contract agreement with Houston on June 19th, for a bonus rumored to amount to $6.35 million.

Appel made his professional debut on July 5, 2013 for the Tri-City ValleyCats of the New York-Penn League, but gave up a lead-off triple on his first pitch to the first batter he faced, Tzu-Wei Lin of the Lowell Spinners. He gave up two runs in two innings, then left the game as the Astros had indicated he would be kept on a very strict pitch count even though he was expected to move up the organizational ladder at a brisk pace. He made 10 starts between Tri-City and the Quad Cities River Bandits of the Midwest League, going a combined 3-1, 3.79 and pitching 38 innings. He gave up 36 hits, walked 9 and struck out 33. He was named near the top of most top prospect lists after the season and was invited to the Astros' major league spring training for 2014. However, he gave his team a scare when he underwent an emergency appendectomy on January 30th, although the operation went without a hitch and did not delay his reporting to spring training.

It may or may not have been the result of the off-season operation, but Mark's numbers with the Lancaster JetHawks of the Class A California League over the first half of the 2014 season were head-scratching: his ERA in 44 1/3 innings over 12 starts was an ungodly 9.74, and he gave up 74 hits. He did strike out 40 and walk only 11, and Lancaster was known as the best hitter's park in all of the minor leagues, but combined with the season-ending injury to Carlos Correa and the failure to sign 2014 top pick Brady Aiken, it left Astros fans wondering whether there would be any return for enduring the three worst seasons in team history as part of a strategy to rebuild through the draft. In any case, Appel was promoted to the AA Texas League in spite of his results and was very good in his first start on July 30th for the Corpus Christi Hooks, tossing five scoreless innings in which he allowed only a pair of singles; granted, the Hooks were no-hit, 5-0, by three San Antonio Missions pitchers that night, but Appel had looked good and all the runs had scored after he had left the game. He was 1-2, 3.69 in 7 games for Corpus Christi, then was excellent in the Arizona Fall League, reassuring the Astros that his early-season struggles were just a blip.

He began the 2015 season back with Corpus Christi where he wasn't sharp at first, but then put together a good string of starts to earn a promotion to AAA. He was 5-1, 4.26 after 13 starts when he got the promotion to the Fresno Grizzlies on June 27th. Around that time, he was named to the United States squad for the 2015 Futures Game. He pitched a scoreless inning in the game on July 12th, won by the U.S., 10-1. He was 5-2, 4.48 for Fresno, to finish at 10-3, 4.37 in 25 starts with 110 K's in 131 2/3 innings. His status as a prospect had fallen badly over the last couple of years, which explains why he was part of a five-player package sent to the Philadelphia Phillies in a trade for Ken Giles and Jonathan Arauz on December 12th; joining him were Harold Arauz, Thomas Eshelman, Brett Oberholtzer and Vincent Velasquez.

He was limited to 8 starts in his first season in the Phillies organization in 2016. With the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, he went 3-3, 4.46 with 34 Ks in 38 1/3 innings. He was shut down in June and underwent surgery for removal a bone spur in his elbow. The Phillies were hopeful that the surgery had finally dealt with a problem that had plagued him since his turning pro. However, in 2017, he posted an ERA of 5.27 in 17 starts for Lehigh Valley, with almost as many walks as strikeouts.

In January of 2018, he announced that he was taking an indefinite break from baseball, which was tantamount to being retired. He said that he planned to pursue an MBA. His retirement made him only the third player picked first overall not to reach the major leagues, after Steve Chilcott and Brien Taylor. However, in 2021, he decided to give baseball one more shot, returning to the Phillies' minor league facility in an attempt at making an unlikely comeback. He was 3-6 with a 6.06 ERA in 23 games (15 starts) between Double- and Triple-A that year. Moving to the bullpen for 2022, he was 5-0 with a 1.61 ERA through his first 19 appearances for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. On June 24th, he finally was called up to The Show, replacing Connor Brogdon, who was placed on the COVID-19 list, a day that most observers had thought would never come. He made his debut on June 29th, pitching a scoreless 9th inning in relief in a 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Ted Berg: "Astros GM Jeff Luhnow defends drafting Mark Appel first overall after trade", "For the Win!", USA Today Sports, December 15, 2015. [1]
  • Ted Berg: "Finally healthy, 2013 first-overall pick Mark Appel is ready to live up to expectations", "For the Win!", USA Today Sports, February 27, 2017. [2]
  • Steve Gardner: "Reports: Former No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel looking to make MLB comeback", USA Today, March 28, 2021. [3]
  • Paul Hagen: "Appel ready to put it all together",, January 14, 2016. [4]
  • Kelsie Heneghan: "Armed with hope, Appel finds new path to MLB debut in 'pen",, June 25, 2022. [5]
  • Richard Justice: "Appel shows growing confidence at Futures: Right-handed prospect working on consistency on way to bigs", July 12, 2015. [6]
  • Brian McTaggart: "Appel intent on making Major League debut in '15: Likely to begin year at Triple-A, Astros righty speaks at Caravan hospital visit",, January 20, 2015. [7]
  • Brian McTaggart: "Former top pick Appel taking leave from game",, February 1, 2018. [8]
  • Meghan Montemurro: "Still fighting for big-league dream, weight of expectations doesn't faze Phillies' Appel", "Delawareonline", The Wilmington News Journal', June 27, 2017. [9]
  • Todd Zolecki: "Nine years later, No. 1 overall pick Appel reaches Majors",, June 25, 2022. [10]
  • Todd Zolecki: "'Choking back tears,' Appel makes long-awaited debut: Nine years later, former No. 1 pick carves path as reliever and pitches scoreless 9th",, June 29, 2022. [11]

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