Mark Appel's Fresh Start with Phillies Could Help Former No. 1 Pick Thrive

Anthony Witrado@@awitradoFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2015

Oct. 14, 2014; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Houston Astros pitcher Mark Appel plays for the Salt River Rafters during an Arizona Fall League game against the Surprise Saguaros at Salt River Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The news was stunning, unexpected but completely understandable.

The Houston Astros completed their trade with the Philadelphia Phillies to acquire closer Ken Giles, a flamethrower with huge upside and under club control for the next five seasons. The trade happened Wednesday but was not made official until Saturday afternoon.

And when all the participants were announced, they were accompanied by a bombshell of sorts.

Mark Appel, the Astros’ No. 1 overall pick from the 2013 draft, was included as part of the impressive package going to the Phillies. Appel was once a top-20 prospect in all of baseball, depending on the publication, and was at one time viewed as a potential front-end starter and ace after a stellar career at Stanford.

However, professional baseball has not gone according to plan for Appel or the Astros. So to nab Giles and revamp its bullpen, Houston moved its former elite prospect, providing Appel a fresh start with a new organization.

“I think about the times that I’ve gone through. It hasn’t always been easy going through the minors, but I feel like I’ve learned so many lessons being in the Astros' organization,” Appel told Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle. “I’m so thankful for the front office giving me the opportunity in drafting me.”

Larry Brown of LBSports tweeted: "Astros trading 2013 No. 1 pick Mark Appel for Ken Giles is clear admission they screwed up draft. Who went 2nd that year? NL ROY Kris Bryant."

The Astros had a chance to draft Appel in 2012 when he came out of Stanford as a junior, but there were issues regarding his bonus expectations as the No. 1 draft prospect. So in a surprise move, the Astros went for signability rather than the guy who was major league ready, and it ended up being an excellent decision.

They took shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 overall pick. Appel fell to No. 8 and ended up back at Stanford for his senior year before the Astros, again holding the top pick, took him first overall in 2013.

Correa is the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, and Appel, who grew up in and around Houston, is now with the Phillies in part because he has not lived up to expectations in the minors.

In 253 innings, topping out at Triple-A Fresno, Appel had a 5.12 ERA and battled control issues, with 3.5 walks per game in 2015 to go with a modest 2.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Because of those numbers and trends, Appel went from can’t-miss prospect to potentially never making his mark in a major league rotation, with his 25th birthday looming in July.

Appel has not lived up to his expectations as a No. 1 pick, according to JJ Cooper of Baseball America.

"This is absolutely true." tweeted Ortiz in response.

"Some of the, not really bitterness, but some of the sadness is knowing that my Major League debut most likely won't be in Houston in front of my friends and family in my hometown,” Appel told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. “Definitely my friends and family will still be there when that time comes, but it will be in a different city."

The Phillies and Appel are hoping the different city is the one of brotherly love. Philadelphia’s original package, as reported, was strong and included young major league arms Vincent Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer as well as outfield prospect Derek Fisher, who is No. 7 in Houston’s MLB Pipeline prospect rankings.

Saturday’s announcement included the pitchers, but not Fisher. Instead the Phillies landed Appel, who is now the organization’s No. 2 prospect, along with Velasquez, Oberholtzer and right-handers Harold Arauz and Thomas Eshelman. Those arms should go a long way in eventually re-establishing the Phillies’ staff as one of the better ones in the National League, even if not every prospect hits.

The haul is seen as a win for Philadelphia, which might not have much need for an elite closer, even one under team control, during its massive rebuild.

According to Jim Bowden of ESPN, "Phillies-Hou trade much different: Phils get Mark Appel with Velasquez, Eshelman & Arauz in Giles deal; like it much better for #Phillies now."

Appel could end up being the steal of this deal. While he is getting up in age for a prospect, he still pitched at nearly four years below the Triple-A weighted average age in 2015. That keeps him as a promising prospect.

Beyond that, Appel’s stuff continues to rate as elite. His fastball can still touch 98 mph, his slider is still a wipeout pitch and he still flashes the mastery of both. In fact, last season he went through a stretch where he was as impressive as he’s ever been as a pro. There were bumps near the end of his time with the Fresno Grizzlies, though he finished with three consecutive quality starts.

If Appel can turn the corner in a new setting with a new organization, he still profiles as the kind of arm that can help lead a rotation, if not carry it. The Phillies believe that. Now Appel just has to prove them right and become Houston’s regrettable trade.

All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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