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Astros impressed with Appel's Fall League stint

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- Now that Astros right-hander Mark Appel has wrapped up his stay in the Arizona Fall League with a couple of strong outings, could he be coming soon to a ballpark near you?

Appel's promising performance with the Salt River Rafters -- which he capped by allowing three hits, a solo homer and a walk while striking out four batters in five innings Wednesday -- was a great sign for the Astros, who watched the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft struggle for much of 2014 after an appendectomy cost him all of Spring Training.

HOUSTON -- Now that Astros right-hander Mark Appel has wrapped up his stay in the Arizona Fall League with a couple of strong outings, could he be coming soon to a ballpark near you?

Appel's promising performance with the Salt River Rafters -- which he capped by allowing three hits, a solo homer and a walk while striking out four batters in five innings Wednesday -- was a great sign for the Astros, who watched the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft struggle for much of 2014 after an appendectomy cost him all of Spring Training.

Appel finished with a 2.61 ERA, 24/8 K/BB ratio and .167 opponent average in 31 innings with Salt River. In his final start Wednesday, he was sitting comfortably in the mid-90s and hit 98 mph in his final inning of work with general manager Jeff Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch and executive advisor Nolan Ryan watching in person.

"I was really proud of him," Luhnow said. "I thought he did an outstanding job in the Fall League and wrapped it up with two very strong outings. His fastball was electric [Wednesday] night. It was 98. He had a hard slider up to 88 and his changeup was good. He used all his pitches, and he located and really just looked like a guy who's ready to step up and take to the next level."

Hinch, a fellow Stanford graduate, was equally as impressed.

"He showed plenty of velocity," Hinch said. "I like the fact he got outs with all of his pitches. He doesn't just rely on tricking guys with secondary pitches. He had a pretty good fastball, too. It's good to see a pitcher be able to attack hitters in different ways. He gave up one home run early, but didn't shy away from using his fastball. He's shown some maturity with how he pitches."

Appel went 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in seven games (six starts) for Double-A Corpus Christi last season after posting a 9.74 ERA in 12 starts at Class A Advanced Lancaster, where he struggled to pitch every fifth day in a hitter's environment. He threw only a combined 83 1/3 innings, so the extra work in Arizona was much needed.

In an interview last week with MLB.com in Arizona, Appel said his goal is to pitch in the big leagues at some point next season, which appears attainable.

"I think the way he pitched [Wednesday] night, that's a possibility," Luhnow said.

Still, it would be a stretch to see Appel in the Opening Day rotation considering he's only pitched in seven games at the Double-A level. It's likely Appel will open the season in the rotation at Triple-A Fresno and be summoned to Houston quickly if he's effective.

"We'd like to see him continue to advance," Hinch said. "I never put a timetable on guys, but guys with his talent, you don't put limitations on him, either. He's got to continue to fine-tune some of his command and sort of grow as a pitcher to be able to pitch to the game plan. I think there's no reason to put any limitations on him, and if he continues to advance, maybe sooner than later [he reaches Houston]. Who knows?"

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros, Mark Appel