The Philadelphia Phillies Top 10 Prospects countdown continues here at TBOH with the #4 player on our list.
Based on a line from an 1856 poem “Maud Muller” by John Greenleaf Whittier, famed 20th century writer Kurt Vonnegut has a quote regularly attributed to him from his own novel “Cat’s Cradle“: “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
Right-handed pitcher Mark Appel comes in at #4 on our TBOH Phillies Top 10 Prospects list. He is the very definition of potential. If he reaches his full potential, the Phils have an ace. If he falls a bit short, the team still has a longterm piece for their starting rotation.
But the realistic fear remains that Appel could become yet another tremendous baseball talent who, for various reasons, never comes close. That he becomes another “might have been.”
That fear is realistic because the top overall pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft by the Houston Astros has not performed to the level befitting that lofty draft status, or matching his scouting reports, over the three minor league seasons in which he has competed to this point in his career.
Appel was actually a rare high first round draft pick in consecutive drafts. The Pittsburgh Pirates had selected him at #8 overall in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft, but the two sides could not reach a contract agreement, and he returned for another season at Stanford University.
After his selection by the Astros, Appel had a solid debut in ‘A’ ball during his first professional summer. But in 2014, he registered an unacceptable 6.91 ERA and 1.596 WHIP in 83.1 innings over 19 appearances, 18 of those as a starter. He followed that up last summer by taking a small step forward, going 10-3 with a 4.37 ERA, allowing 135 hits in 131.2 innings over 25 starts.
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To this point, Appel has pitched 253 minor league innings, allowing 280 hits with a 221/84 K:BB ratio. The big 6’5, 220 pound righty is now 24 years old, and it is time for him to step up and claim a big league rotation spot. This 2016 season needs to be about him finding greater command and doing some finishing work at AAA Lehigh Valley now that he is in the Phils’ organization.
The Phillies obtained Appel in the big Ken Giles trade with Houston back in December. That deal originally was being reported as Giles to the Astros for a package of pitchers Brett Oberholtzer, Vince Velasquez, and Thomas Eshelman and outfielder Derek Fisher. But when it was finally officially announced, the surprise was that Appel, and not Fisher, would be included in the deal.
Following the trade, Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow was quoted on Appel by Evan Drellich at the Houston Chronicle: “He’s on the cusp of making it to the big leagues…I believe Mark Appel’s going to be a good starter in the big leagues.”
Appel is likely to pitch for the Phillies at some point. But that is not what Phillies fans really want. What they want, and certainly what both the organization and the pitcher himself hope for, is that he not only reaches the big leagues, but becomes a difference-maker, an integral piece in the rebuilding puzzle.
When the Phils’ pick first overall in this coming June MLB Amateur Draft, it will be in the 50th anniversary of that player selection process. To this point, 10 players who were picked first overall have registered less than a ‘1’ WAR mark for their big league career, if they even reached the big leagues. That’s 20% of top picks ultimately doing nothing.
The Phillies will now have a pair of first overall picks in Appel and whomever they select this June. The odds are with them that at least one of the two will make a positive impact with the team at the Major Leagues level. But in reality, everyone associated with and rooting for the Fightin’ Phils is hoping that the team hits it big with both players.
Our staff was all over the board on Appel, with Ethan Witte as the most conservative, ranking the righty down at #8 on his list. Ethan’s key comment on the pitcher highlights that potential: “If they can get his two seamer from college back, that Giles trade could haunt Houston for a while.”
Mike Azzalina ranked Appel at #6 on his list: “Most people have him higher with Thompson, Williams, and Crawford. I can’t do it yet. While I am extremely happy with getting him as part of the Giles return, I want to see a Thompson type renaissance before he is any higher than six on this list. There needs to be consistency with all three pitches at the same time. I have high hopes for him, but won’t hold my breath for them to be reached just yet.”
Both David Mosemann and Alexis Girardo put him in their #5 slots, while Tyler DiSalle ranked him at #4 on his list. Girardo commented: “former #1 pick who has struggled in the minors, but if he can put it together with the Phils he will be a strong force on the mound. I think going back to his 2 seamer will be big for him.”
What ultimately pushed Appel past outfielder Cornelius Randolph on our final TBOH staff tabulation was his ranking up at #3 on both my list and that of Ryan Gerstel, who stated “The former number one overall pick has yet to hit his stride, but he still has the repertoire–which includes a mid 90s fastball and an above average slider–to be a stud at the top of a major league rotation.“
For me it’s all about that untapped potential. I truly believe that Appel has only scraped the surface of his talent, and that we are about to see the breakout season that skeptics have waited for him to produce.
He has a mid-90’s fastball and the size and natural ability to still find a tick or two more. That repertoire mentioned by Gerstel also includes a plus slider, and an effective changeup. He is also a quality individual, an unashamed Christian. Some have questioned his “killer instinct” on the mound, worrying that his personality works against him in the professional competitive environment.
Following the trade, Fangraphs did a projection breakdown on Appel that included some possible comps, which included such pitchers as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, and Wade Miller. That’s a pretty wide range of results. All had struggles before emerging, Arrieta finally as a Cy Young starter a year ago, Davis as one of the best relievers in baseball, and Miller as a contributing rotation arm.
Frankly, I would take any of those results in the end. But it would of course be preferable if we ended up with an Arrieta. It is that potential, the chance to be a true ace, that for now has him ahead of Jake Thompson for me, whom I see as more of a solid #2 type starter. You will notice that Appel is #4 on our overall TBOH list, and if you’ve been following along, Thompson has not been mentioned yet on the countdown, so my opinion is not our consensus.
This is a truly talented arm that has the chance to be an ace, a special starting pitcher for the Phillies. He is representative of the influx of top-tier talent to the organization over the last six months or so, talent that has elevated the club in the eyes of baseball evaluators everywhere. How players like Appel ultimately perform at the big league level will tell the story of how far and how quickly the team returns to prominence.