It’s at all times price noting when a No. 1 overall draft pick makes his major league debut. But when Mark Appel took the mound for the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night, it wasn’t the standard story of a phenom starting a profession with the expectation of years of greatness ahead.
Appel will turn 31 in two weeks. And for 3 seasons he was out of baseball entirely, his promising big league profession seemingly over before it began.
highschool player in Northern California, Appel developed rapidly at Stanford, becoming one of the best pitcher within the N.C.A.A. He was talked about as a generational talent capable of reworking a franchise.
Expected to go No. 1 within the 2012 draft, his contract demands scared some teams off and he fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 8. Moderately than sign for a lot lower than he believed he was price, he selected to return to varsity and had one more stellar season for the Cardinal.
The following yr, every thing appeared to align. The team he grew up rooting for, the Houston Astros, took him with the highest overall pick and gave him a $6 million signing bonus. He looked like a can’t-miss prospect, and there was speculation that he might be within the majors by the tip of that season.
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As an alternative, it took nine more agonizing years.
Sure-thing prospects generally cruise through the minors, but Appel struggled. He consistently put up E.R.A.s over 4, five or much more, and battled injuries. A trade to the Phillies at the tip of 2015 didn’t improve things, and he faced a severe shoulder injury in 2017. The following yr, at age 26 — “physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually drained,” as he would say later — he walked away from the sport. He had shoulder surgery later that yr.
After three full seasons away from baseball, Appel began a comeback with the Phillies in 2021. His first yr back within the minors was rocky, and in a Twitter thread last September, he discussed his difficult road back, acknowledging that he had been called “the largest bust in MLB history.” He said that he had battled depression and that in 2014 “after a stretch of terrible games, I broke down and destroyed a locker room wall.”
This spring, things finally got here along with the Class AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He began the season by going 5-0 with a 1.61 E.R.A. in 19 relief appearances. It was enough to earn him his first call-up, which got here on Saturday.
After a couple of days of waiting, as Philadelphia played some close games, Appel entered within the ninth inning Wednesday with the team trailing by three runs. He gave up one hit in a scoreless inning, delivering a nasty sinker that ranged from 94 to 97 miles per hour.
“I feel like a refreshed arsenal this yr,” he said on MLB TV after the sport. “I made some mechanical changes. Type of modified grip on the fastball, modified the arm motion and I feel early within the season I’m like, ‘shoot, I’m type of throwing pretty hard, and the ball’s type of moving.’”
He added: “I knew I used to be going to rejoice this yr whatever the results, so getting a chance like this is much and above what I could have imagined after I showed as much as spring training.”
Though draft picks in baseball carry more uncertainty than those in another sports, No. 1 overall picks often make the majors. Many, like Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones, have change into superstars. And in newer years, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole and Carlos Correa have greater than justified their selections at No. 1.
Going back to the draft’s creation in 1965, there are actually only 4 No. 1 overall picks who never played in the massive leagues: Steve Chilcott (a catcher picked by the Mets in 1966); Brien Taylor (pitcher, Yankees, 1991), Brady Aiken (pitcher, Astros, 2014) and Henry Davis, a catcher within the Pirates system, who was drafted last yr and ought to be up soon enough.
“I got here into this yr knowing every day may be my last,” Appel said after Wednesday’s game. “Genuinely I used to be at some extent where I used to be still attempting to work out what my role was — reliever, starter — do I still have it in me to place up good numbers, things like that.
“So if every day was going to be my last, I’m going to enjoy it. And I actually enjoyed tonight.”