Appel gets long-awaited taste of Majors: 'This is gravy'

June 26th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Mark Appel waited nine years and one canceled flight to make the big leagues.

He learned late Friday night in Allentown, Pa., that the Phillies promoted him, when Triple-A Lehigh Valley manager Anthony Contreras called an impromptu team meeting following a loss to Norfolk. It was an unexpected, awesome moment, even though Appel had been pitching well and seemed like a candidate for a call at some point.

“I look back, and I’m like, ‘Well, the plan was to get to the big leagues quick,’ but it happened exactly like it was supposed to,” Appel said.

Appel, 30, was the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. But he struggled with performance, expectations and injuries along the way. He got traded from Houston to Philadelphia in 2015. He got designated for assignment in 2017. He quit in 2018. He knew then he might never pitch again. Still, he had surgery on his right shoulder just in case he changed his mind.

Appel returned in 2021. He transitioned from starter to reliever in 2022. He found success. So when the Phillies placed right-hander Connor Brogdon on the COVID-19 injured list, they chose Appel to replace him.

“You obviously have this dream of getting to the big leagues, but for me this is just like gravy,” Appel said. “All the other stuff was taken care of. I didn’t need for this to happen this year for me to feel like it was a successful year. All of this is gravy. I’m just soaking it all in. It’s awesome.”

Appel was supposed to fly on Saturday morning from Newark, N.J., to San Diego, but his flight got canceled. He called Phillies’ team travel manager Jameson Hall.


Hall got him on a flight from Newark to San Diego via San Francisco. He arrived 3 hours later than originally scheduled. But he arrived.   

Appel entered the visitors’ clubhouse at Petco Park a little before 4 p.m. PT. He walked into Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson’s office. Thomson congratulated him. Appel signed his big league contract, then entered the clubhouse, where he got hugs and greetings from Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin and others.

“It was really cool that they would go out of their way and just recognize that it’s been a long road to get here,” Appel said.

Appel found his locker and put on his Phillies cap. He has worn them before, but as a Minor Leaguer in big league Spring Training.

This was a big league cap.

“It fits a little bit better up here,” he said.

Appel is not expected to be a savior for the Phillies’ bullpen. He is expected to pitch in low-leverage situations at first, maybe an inning to start, but possibly multiple innings if he stretches out.

He is grateful for whatever opportunities come his way.

Appel has talked in the past about how his status as the first-overall pick became a burden to him. But it also provided a second chance in 2021. He was 3-6 with a 6.06 ERA in 23 appearances (15 starts) with Double-A Reading and Lehigh Valley. The Phillies brought him back for another year. He was 5-0 with a 1.61 ERA in 19 appearances this season.

“The best guess is the fact that I showed really high potential and really good stuff in college, and I had some injuries in the first couple years of pro ball,” Appel said. “I never felt like I really had a full chance. I think they knew that.”

Appel was one of only three first-overall picks in baseball history who signed with their team and did not make the big leagues, not including more recent picks who remain active.

Brien Taylor (Yankees, 1991) and Steven Chilcott (Mets, 1966) were the others.

Appel is no longer on that list.

“I don't think about it too often,” he said. “I've been at peace with my career for a long time now, probably since 2018, when I left. I made that decision knowing I may never play again. Honestly. It’s like there's no guarantee the Phillies would even want me back. Who knows if I could even get healthy? So many things. So I've been at peace with who I am in my career. And it's like, if I got to the big leagues like today, which is crazy, like, that's all gravy. But if I never did, I was like, I'd still be like a pretty happy guy.”