The life of former No. 1 pick and Phillies prospect Mark Appel has taken an unexpected turn.
In a piece written by Joon Lee of Bleacher Report, Appel announced that he is taking “an indefinite break” from the game.
“I’m 26, I have a Stanford degree, I have many interests beyond baseball, which I still love, but I have a lot of things I care about,” Appel says. “I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind.”
Injuries and poor performance have derailed the 26-year-old’s career and, if he remains retired, would become just the third No. 1 pick in baseball history to never reach the Majors. Brien Taylor of the Yankees (1991) and Steve Chilcott of the New York Mets (1966) are the others.
In his first major move as Phillies general manager, Matt Klentak acquired Appel as part of a package that included Vince Velasquez, Thomas Eshelman, Brett Oberholtzer and Harold Arauz. In 37 career starts at AAA between the Houston and Philadelphia organizations, Appel went 13-9 with a 4.82 ERA in 188.2 innings, and posted a WHIP of 1.585.
In June of 2016, Appel underwent season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow and suffered a shoulder injury last year that ended his season in July. Appel noted how tough it was to be injured and never able to see success on the field.
“I go out and pitch, and it’s the same thing every time. I can’t get an out,” Appel told Lee. “Walk. Hit. Walk. Hit. Then I’m out of the game. What just happened? Now it’s like I have four days before I get my hopes up again, get excited, build that confidence, not caring what happened in the past. Then the same thing happens again.”
After the story was posted on Bleacher Report, Appel made another statement, on Twitter.
Pleasure talking to you, Joon! For those wondering... I have tons of peace. And God is always good, gracious, and sovereign!— Mark Appel (@MAppel26) February 1, 2018
I hope my story encourages & brings hope to those who live with expectations and pressures that can seem overwhelming. I pray you find that hope in Jesus! https://t.co/iDnozF6rSg
Appel made 17 starts last year for the Iron Pigs last season and had a 5.27 ERA and a 5.42 FIP in 82 innings prior to his shoulder injury. He just wasn’t able to throw strikes since coming to the Phils, with a walk rate of 13.9% and a strikeout rate of only 15.7% in 2017. Opponents hit .281 against him last year and he posted a WHIP of 1.76.
The team felt he was expendable this winter and was DFA’d, with no other franchise adding him to their 40-man roster. The team had reportedly considered transitioning him to a relief role this season.
Instead, Appel is stepping away from the game, leaving behind a legacy as of the game’s biggest busts of all time. Of course, in his usual good humor, Appel knows that’s the case.
“It depends on how you define it, but I probably am,” Appel says. “I had high expectations. I didn’t live up to those for a number of reasons. If you want to call me the biggest draft bust, you can call it that. … If I never get to the big leagues, will it be a disappointment? Yes and no. That was a goal and a dream I had at one point, but that’s with stipulations that I’m healthy, I’m happy and doing something I love. If I get to the big leagues, what’s so great about the big leagues if you’re in an isolated place, you’re hurt and you’re emotionally unhappy? How much is that worth to you?”
His retirement could be temporary and, if and when he does return, his rights will still belong to the Phils. But it’s clear the frustrating grind of a failure to meet expectations, the loneliness that comes from rehabbing injuries, and a lack of success on the field has the devout Christian looking elsewhere for fulfillment and happiness.
And it’s also clear the Ken Giles trade isn’t looking as good right now as it did when the possibility of Appel being a Major League pitcher of some kind was a realistic possibility.