2013: Mark Appel (Houston)
Teams had been after Mark Appel since the Detroit Tigers drafted him out of high school in the 15th round of the 2009 draft. Rather than sign, he opted to attend Stanford. After his junior year, the Pirates made him the eighth overall pick, but instead he opted to return for his senior season.
The Astros selected him first overall in 2013, and finally got him to sign. Many scouts thought he was one of the surest college pitching prospects they’d seen in a long time. Over the course of the next few years, they’d be proven wrong.
From Sure Thing to Bust
Appel had a decent enough start to his pro career, recording a 3.79 ERA in two stops over the remainder of the 2013 campaign. The following year is when things started to go wrong.
At this time in the minors, Houston was piggybacking their starters, meaning two starters would go back-to-back in a game. The plan was for the first starter to go five innings, and the second starter to go four, with the two switching the next time through the rotation. The theory was to give everyone the same number of innings and let the top starters emerge from there.
Between struggling to adjust to this new routine, pitching in the offense-friendly California League and nagging injuries, Appel turned in a terrible 2014. Between High-A and Double-A, he posted a collective ERA just below 7.00 for the year.
His numbers improved in 2015, but were still not where anyone expected them to be. That offseason, he was part of the deal that netted Houston closer Ken Giles.
Appel made just eight appearances at Triple-A for Philadelphia in 2016 before injuries cut his season short. He returned last year to make 17 more starts, but was once again derailed by injuries.
Prior to the season, he announced he was taking a break from baseball. If his baseball career is in fact over, he ends it with a career 5.06 ERA in five minor league seasons.
Appel is one of just three first overall picks to never make the big leagues. The trade for Giles helps a little, but good relief pitchers are easier to come by than first round picks.
He also proves one of the most famous sayings in baseball, “There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.” Between injuries and other factors, too much can go wrong for even the surest of sure things.