Nine years later, No. 1 overall pick Appel reaches Majors

June 25th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- For Mark Appel, it has been the longest of waits. But a little more than nine years after the Astros made him the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, he finally made it. He is a big leaguer.

Appel will join the Phillies on Saturday at Petco Park. The Phillies called up Appel from Triple-A Lehigh Valley because right-hander Connor Brogdon is on the COVID-19 injured list. It is a loss for the Phillies because Brogdon has elevated himself into a setup role. But it is a long-answered prayer for Appel.

Before Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson announced Appel’s arrival late Friday night, Appel was one of only three first-overall picks in baseball history not to make the big leagues (not including more recent picks who remain active Minor Leaguers).

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

I would say that ate at me while I was playing much more than it’s ever eaten at me since then,” Appel said in March 2021. “I’ve made peace with who I am, what’s happened in my life, what’s happened in my career. I still have a lot of joy about where I’m going and what I’m doing.”

Appel left baseball in January 2018, following five seasons' worth of struggles in the Minor Leagues with the Astros and Phillies. He suffered from injuries and the burdens of lofty expectations after Houston made him the first overall pick in ’13. Baseball was not fun anymore. He suffered from right shoulder pain. He did not want to pitch through it anymore.

But only months after he walked away, he found himself thinking about coming back.

Appel came back last year. He went a combined 3-6 with a 6.06 ERA in 23 appearances (15 starts) last season with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The Phillies made him a full-time reliever this year. He thrived.

Appel, 30, went 5-0 with a 1.61 ERA in 19 appearances in Triple-A, striking out 24 and walking eight in 28 innings.

“I know I wouldn’t be able to be here if I hadn't been able to have a good signing bonus,” Appel said last March, referring to the $6.35 million he received from Houston. “Because going 3 1/2 years without much of a salary and doing all the rehab and investing money in your health, a lot of guys don't have that luxury.

“I feel really thankful that I’m even able to be here. Because it is something that I love. And it is something that I'm doing because I love it. And I'm thankful that I'm able to do it. I don't take that for granted.”

Ken Inness/

Appel had a 6.91 ERA in his first full season in professional baseball in 2014. He had a 4.37 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A in ’15. The Astros lost faith in him. They dealt him to the Phillies in December 2015 in a multiplayer trade for Ken Giles.

Appel struggled with the Phillies, too. He pitched through elbow and shoulder pain. He had a 5.01 ERA in two seasons with Lehigh Valley. He had bone-spur surgery in 2016 and suffered from right shoulder inflammation in ’17. He continued to feel shoulder pain leading into Spring Training in ’18.

He couldn’t do it anymore.

So he left.

But Appel had right shoulder surgery in October 2018. He started throwing again. He visited Driveline outside Seattle. There were rumblings that he might make a comeback, but he needed more time. In November 2020, Appel called Phillies assistant general manager Ned Rice. They agreed to talk again in January 2021.

Appel hadn’t changed his mind. He said he still wanted to pitch. He has been working his way back ever since.

On Saturday, he will step onto a big league field in a big league uniform for the first time.