The Philadelphia Phillies pitchers and catchers report for spring training in less than a week, including a former top overall MLB Draft choice.
In the Ken Giles trade, the player who was added last in the return package to the Phillies seems to have gotten the most attention. Most evaluators didn’t think that pitcher Mark Appel would be available, but at the last minute, hey – there he is, dealt to the Phils.
When fans saw the inclusion in the deal of a player whose resume bore the shiny, sparkly title of former #1 draft pick, they got all giddy inside, thinking that perhaps he had been swindled from the Houston organization. But on closer examination, it becomes a little easier to see why he was traded away.
Appel hasn’t been horrible in the minor leagues, but the results he’s produced don’t scream “top overall draft pick” either. In 253 innings across three seasons, Appel has an ugly cumulative 5.12 ERA to go along with a 1.44 WHIP.
For a guy who can top out at 99 miles per hour with his fastball, the 7.9 K/9 ratio that he has produced to this point isn’t very awe-inspiring. For a guy who regularly gets plus grades on two of his pitches from scouts, as well as a third pitch that has the potential to be plus, what is the reason for such poor results?
Do a Google search on Appel and read the material that is publicly available on the big 24-year old. The words that you will see most often are “hittable“, “lack of deception” and “inconsistent” – all words you don’t particularly want to hear coming from scouting reports about a pitching prospect.
Analyzing this video from his college days at Stanford, it becomes easy to see what the critics are talking about:
I’m no scout, but the first batters that are making contact aren’t exactly blown away by the high-90’s heat which Appel displayed in this game. They are in fact squaring up his fastball fairly easily. The longer you watch, the more convinced you become that perhaps Appel isn’t all that special of a pitcher after all.
In December, Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts did a mailbag where readers asked questions on various topics. Since the Giles trade was fresh on everyone’s mind, Appel’s name of course came up. Winkelman’s response piqued my interest:.
"“The rumor is that the Astros took away [Appel’s] two seam fastball, and the Phillies love the two seam fastball for their pitchers, so adding that back will give him some movement to keep batters guessing some. The changeup needs improvement and that is something the Phillies can work on.”"
Could this be the “voila” moment that we as fans were looking for from our trade bounty? If it is true that Appel was steered away from his two seam fastball, then the Phillies might be on to something this year.
Could it really be that simple? Would adding back an effective two seamer to Appel’s stuff cause that much of a dramatic difference in results that the Phillies’ end of the trade would come out looking like a steal? If so, why didn’t the Astros think of it before they dealt him away? Time is the only way to answer these questions. For now, the best thing Phillies’ fans can do is temper expectations on Appel from “front-line starter” to “rotation stalwart“.
Earlier today, Appel came out in the #4 spot in our TBOH Phillies Top 10 Prospects list. I had him rated the lowest of our seven staff writers, but still had him in my top ten at #8 based on pure talent and ability. Most of the comments from the staff alluded to that combination of high-level talent, but frustrating results to this point.
Appel’s performances will surely be something key to watch for this spring. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the final rotation spot on the team, the right-hander will have his chance to make a solid impression on the coaching staff. When watching his spring innings, ask yourself: is adding a different wrinkle to Appel’s arsenal something Phillies’ coaches are trying?
If so, and it works, then the team really has another exciting piece it can build on for the future. Until then, let’s just settle for the tantalizing stuff that Appel brings to the table, and hope we can get some quality innings out of him.