2016 Fantasy Baseball: Prospect Profile — Mark Appel
There are few prospects that have been in the news as much as Mark Appel the last several years. For someone that has never pitched a big league inning, he sure gets around. First, he was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2012 amateur draft and declined to sign. He went back for his senior season at Stanford. Then, the Houston Astros selected him first overall in the 2013 draft all while bypassing all-world third baseman Kris Bryant (yes, that still stings as an Astros fan).
Interestingly enough, he became the second number one overall pick to be traded before appearing in the big leagues. The Arizona Diamondbacks beat him to the punch when they dealt Dansby Swanson to the Atlanta Braves for Shelby Miller. The Astros included Appel in a megadeal to acquire new closer Ken Giles. The well traveled Appel immediately becomes one of the Phillies more intriguing prospects.
Appel marks the gigantic chasm between production and potential. He was a very polished pitcher at Stanford, but there were other college hurlers who were more dominant. In fact, you could argue that Appel was better as a junior than he was as a senior. The stuff has always been there, but there just seems to be something missing. Obviously, the Phillies are gambling that Appel will benefit from a change of scenery. Now he can be just one of the guys instead of the number one overall pick.
Whether it was declining to sign with Pittsburgh, or creating controversy when he threw a bullpen session in Houston despite not even pitching above advanced A-ball at the time, Appel remained in the news in Houston. For many fans and his organizational mates, Appel never warranted the attention with his production on the field.
The dips in the rankings says it all really. Mark Appel has a mid-90s fastball that occasionally touches the high-90s. Both publications like his slider and changeup as well. He has good command of all of his pitches and lives around the zone. Some pundits have questioned the command within the zone and that might be partially responsible for the mediocre numbers he has put up.
The folks at Baseball Prospectus even used the shrug shoulders emoticon to sum up their opinions on Appel. All the potential in the world is supposed to add up to more than this. One imagines that if he had been a fifth round pick that he wouldn’t have made it to AAA and his baseball career would be hanging by thread. However, both publications acknowledge that a change of scenery might be beneficial for him given the potential that is clearly there.
It is very easy to look at minor league numbers too closely. Simply put, you can’t always get an accurate look at the player. For instance, the Astros utilized a piggyback system where the starter usually went five innings and another starter pitched the last four. Although Appel usually got the start, that means he only went five innings and sometimes struggled to get into a rhythm. Maybe the Astros didn’t do him any favors there.
Sometimes organizations have pitchers work on specific pitches during games and that can wreak havoc on their numbers. Sometimes the fielding behind them is so shoddy that statistics like batting average on balls in play can look really ugly. Sometimes the bus ride could have been too bumpy. As you can see, there are a lot of excuses. When you are the number one overall pick you are supposed to dominate. Appel didn’t even do that when he was in short season A ball. Houston fans tried to buy into these excuses while waiting for some sign that he would turn it around. It never happened.
Projecting Appel is difficult at best. On the one hand, you can’t help but think he has every opportunity to find a place in the Phillies rotation. If their pitching coaches can coax all of that potential out of him, he could still become the top of the rotation arm that everyone projected him to be when he was drafted. As you can probably tell, Houston Astros fans reached their frustration level with him and I am one of those.
If we separate our feelings out, we would probably find a middle ground that makes a lot of sense. He probably never will be the front of the rotation arm he was projected to be, but he could settle in as a number three or four starter in the Phillies rotation long term. He has the stuff to dominate on occasion, but we won’t be holding our breath waiting for it to happen.
The Phillies are a perfect spot for someone like Appel to fall to. They shouldn’t be competitive this season, so there is an opportunity to let him pitch at the big league level and take his lumps while the rest of the team learns. Since he has pitched extensively at the AAA level, he will have an opportunity to win a spot out of Spring Training. That’s probably a longshot at this point, but he definitely is a candidate to come up mid-season when they have injury trouble or one of their starters proves ineffective. In terms of fantasy value, he is a wait and see player. If he is successful in his first few starts, he could be a decent waiver claim candidate.