Mark Appel, Former No. 1 MLB Draft Pick, Attempting Comeback with Phillies

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2021

Newly signed Houston Astros pitcher Mark Appel walks onto the field after a news conference Wednesday, June 19, 2013 in Houston, to announce his signing. Appel was selected with the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Mark Appel, the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft by the Houston Astros, is set to join the Philadelphia Phillies' minor league camp as part of a comeback attempt. 

"I think that ate at me while I was playing, much more than it's eaten at me since then," Appel told reporters Monday about not reaching the major leagues. "I think I've made peace with who I am, what's happened in my life, what's happened in my career and still have a lot of joy about where I'm going. ... I'm here because I'm playing for the love of the game."

Appel looked like a future front-line starter across three years at Stanford. He compiled a 2.57 ERA and 1.095 WHIP across 47 collegiate starts, and he recorded 130 strikeouts in 106.1 innings during his final season with the Cardinal.

That success never translated to the pro level after the Astros took him with the No. 1 pick.

The Houston native spent five years in the minor leagues between the 'Stros and Phillies organizations, posting a 5.06 ERA across 81 appearances (78 starts). He battled control issues with 158 walks, 37 wild pitches and 16 hit batters in 375.1 innings.

Appel stepped away from the sport after the 2017 season, saying the final few years felt like "survival," but he was revitalized after a year away and started to begin the process of preparing for a return by undergoing shoulder surgery in October 2018.

"By the end of the 2018 season, I was starting to question what it would take for me to play again," he said Monday. "It seemed clear that I still had the desire and just wanted to figure out how to get healthy, and started seeing some doctors."

Now 29, he doesn't expect to dominate hitters from the moment he steps back on the mound at the Phillies' minor league camp, but he's eager for the second chance.

"Now, could I make it to the big leagues, if things are going great? Obviously, once you're back in the system, anything can happen," Appel said.

The Phillies took a flier on a couple of veterans in Matt Moore and Chase Anderson, to fill out the back end of the starting rotation, and Spencer Howard is the only one of their top-tier pitching prospects at the upper levels of the minor leagues.

So if Appel, who reached Triple-A before his hiatus, can assert himself well once the minor league season gets underway in May, it's possible he could be an option for Philadelphia during the season's second half.