In a draft that produced the likes of Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, and Cody Bellinger, neither was the first overall pick. Actually, the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft was Mark Appel, a 6’5″ righthander from Stanford. Selected by the Houston Astros, Appel was supposed to go first in the 2012 Draft but couldn’t agree to financial compensation with the team.
A few years later, Appel was the centerpiece in the deal that sent Ken Giles over to the Astros. From 2016-2017, Appel only pitched in 27 games for the Phillies, dealing with shoulder injuries both seasons.
After the team designated him for assignment, Appel announced he was stepping away from the game. He told reporters he would be taking an “indefinite break” from baseball, but no one expected him to actually come back.
But he did.
Last year, over 23 games, he had an ERA of 6.06. It was completely understandable. A 30-year-old who hasn’t played professional baseball in four years is bound to be rusty. Walking 49 batters in 71.1 innings definitely didn’t help that ERA.
This year, though, something changed.
He has been an absolute dynamo coming out of the bullpen for the Iron Pigs. In 21.1 innings, Appel has a 2.11 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP. Not only is he limiting runs, but he is also limiting baserunners. His fastball has gotten back to the high 90’s form it was at in his earlier years. And he’s only been getting stronger.
It is not just the high 90’s stuff, either. “There’s a lot of deception to his delivery,” said Lehigh Valley pitching coach Cesar Ramos. “The way he throws, you don’t see the ball. And it helps that he’s mid-to-upper 90s.”
In April, he had a 2.38 ERA with seven strikeouts in six games. In May, he had a 1.04 ERA with 10 strikeouts in six games. The confidence and strength are both returning to form for Appel. Over the last two years, he worked his way from afterthought to seriously pushing for a roster spot.
Stepping away from baseball probably was the best thing that happened to him.
In his time off, Appel was able to focus on what was really important: being present. Those moments, which he couldn’t experience living and breathing baseball, allowed him to find out who he was.
Baseball no longer feels like a job to him anymore, it’s his passion.
“It’s almost like a relinquishing of the reins,” he said. “In some ways, I don’t really care. I work hard and I love baseball, but I’m going to be enjoying myself whether I have a 2.00 ERA or a 10.00 ERA. And I’ve had both in my career.”
Nine seasons from when he was the first overall pick, Mark Appel is knocking down the door to the Majors. In a journey that literally led him all over the map, he has a new sense of self. Pair that with his strengthening arsenal, and the Phillies have the unlikeliest of pitchers ready to help their beleaguered bullpen.
And us fans know the team could use all the help they could get there.
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