The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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2013's No. 1 draft pick Mark Appel finally reaches the big leagues

Stanford University pitcher Mark Appel was on top of the world in 2013, when he was made the first overall draft pick of the MLB June draft by his hometown Houston Astros. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound righthander was expected to be in the Astros rotation within a couple of years. But his career didn’t come close to turning out that way. Now, nine years later, Appel has finally been called up by the Philadelphia Phillies and will soon make his major-league debut.

The three years following his No. 1 draft selection were a huge disappointment for Appel and the Astros. He struggled with his pitching, not showing the consistency he had at Stanford. Some of his issues were attributed to lack of confidence. He was also beginning to experience arm problems.

The Astros gave up on their $6.35 million investment (Appel’s signing bonus in 2013) in December 2015 by trading him and four other minor-leaguers to the Philadelphia Phillies for closer Ken Giles and a minor leaguer. His MLB prospect ranking had dropped from No. 17 in 2014 to No. 70 prior to 2016.

He started the 2016 season at the Triple A level with the Phillies but was shut down after eight starts to undergo surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. Appel returned in 2017, but his control suffered, as he posted a 5.14 ERA and 1.738 WHIP.

Frustrated by his lack of progress in getting to the majors, he began thinking about a career outside of baseball. Prior to the start of spring training in 2018, Appel decided to step away from the game indefinitely. He said he was at peace with his decision if didn’t return.

But he found the desire and will to return to baseball in 2021. Although his attempt at a comeback was a long shot, he longed for one more attempt for an opportunity to reach the majors. He returned to the Phillies organization but his results, split between the Triple A and Double A levels, weren’t much different from when he retired three years earlier.

Now 30 years old, Appel came back for the 2022 season in a reliever role. In 19 appearances, he’s been remarkable, posting a 5-0 record to go along with an impressive 1.61 ERA and 0.929 WHIP.  It’s the best he’s been since his days at Stanford.

When Appel finally makes his long-awaited debut, he’ll avoid being only the third No. 1 overall draft pick in history to never play in the majors.  The other two were Steve Chilcott (1966) and Brien Taylor (1991).

“I have a story that’s not too common for first round picks,” said Appel. “But I think it’s common for a lot of minor league baseball players that go through struggles, find hardships and learn how to persevere through the midst of it.”

It’s been a long, arduous journey for Appel. But he teaches us a lesson about hope and determination.

Good luck, Mark.

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