Vince Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer had long thought to be the only returns from the December 2015 Ken Giles trade with the Houston Astros that wound up making a contribution with the Philadelphia Phillies at the big-league level.
That may change.
A former No. 1 overall pick from the 2013 draft — selected one pick ahead of Kris Bryant — right-handed pitcher Mark Appel is attempting a comeback with the Phillies after taking an “indefinite break” from baseball more than three years ago.
Appel, 29, has been working out at Driveline Baseball since he stepped away and plans to soon report to Phillies minor-league spring training, according to The Athletic. Therefore, outfielder Mickey Moniak — who made significant strides this spring — will no longer be the lone former first round, first overall pick (2016) in the Phillies farm system.
Mark Appel took on much adversity in his short first stint with the Phillies.
After his first spring training with the Phillies in 2016, Appel was re-assigned to minor-league camp alongside Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson, prospect returnees in the Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels trades, respectively.
Then, the first real adversity for Appel in the Phillies organization took place. In late May, after posting a 4.46 ERA and 34-20 strikeouts-to-walks ratio across eight starts and 38 1/3 innings at Triple-A, Appel was placed on the the injured list with a right shoulder strain — having also experienced a decline in velocity. A month later, Appel underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, sidelining him for the rest of the year.
That November, the Phillies purchased Appel’s contract from Triple-A, offering him a chance on the 40-man roster to compete and make an impact on the 2017 roster. Ultimately, he began the season again at Triple-A, optioned in mid-March along with fellow right-handers Ricardo Pinto and Nick Pivetta.
Appel never got his call-up to the majors in red pinstripes. Although he especially shined in one early May start — allowing no runs and just two hits, along with five strikeouts, in 5 2/3 innings — the right-hander would suffer another right shoulder strain the following month. In November 2017, the Phillies designated the then-26-year-old for assignment, after he posted a 5.27 ERA and 60-53 strikeouts-to-walks ratio through 82 Triple-A innings that year.
Appel went unclaimed, but would never start a third spring training with the Phillies. In early February 2018, he announced to Bleacher Report his intent to take a break from the sport.
“I’m 26, I have a Stanford degree, I have many interests beyond baseball, which I still love, but I have a lot of things I care about,” Appel said. “I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind.”
It is worth noting that new Phillies general manager Sam Fuld is also a fellow Stanford alumnus.
Bleacher Report compared Appel to the Astros rebuild as Joel Embiid has been with the Philadelphia 76ers:
"“Remember that 2014 Sports Illustrated piece predicting the Astros’ 2017 World Series title? Open it up, and he’s right there, wearing the orange and gold alongside World Series MVP-to-be George Springer and superstar shortstop-to-be Carlos Correa.Appel was supposed to be the centerpiece of the rebuild, the Joel Embiid to the Astros’ Process.Instead, they did it without him.”"
The Astros took a chance on Appel when they drafted him first overall in 2013, offering a $6.35 million bonus thanks to his stellar 2.12 ERA, 130 strikeouts, and just 23 walks showing across 106 1/3 innings during his senior year.
The Phillies have been patient with Appel ever since the Giles trade and his announcement to step away from baseball for a “break,” keeping his rights. The Athletic reports that the Phillies have “have always left the door open” for an Appel comeback.
Surely, Appel would not like to join a short list of just two other former No.1 overall picks to never reach the majors — Steven Chilcott (1966, Mets) and Brien Taylor (1991, Yankees). Even Moniak will never join that list, as he debuted in 2020.
Perhaps, things might work out after all for Appel with the Phillies.