The Houston Astros’ promoted 2013 first overall pick Mark Appel to Double-A Saturday night, a surprising move given his struggles with High-A Lancaster (9.74 ERA), but an inevitable one considering his potential and top prospect status. In fact, in the wake of the call up, GM Jeff Lunhow informed Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle that, “All along the plan has been to get him to Corpus Christi and have him pitch there this summer.”
But after Appel was also given a bullpen session in the Astros’ Minute Maid Park, a low grumble began brewing in Houston.
Via the Houston Chronicle’s Jesus de Jesus Ortiz’s Twitter Feed
Another player just approached me to complain about Appel’s promotion and bullpen session. Multiple expletives were dropped. Not good.
And I’m not the only reporter who has been made aware of the players’ anger over Appel. — Jose de Jesus Ortiz (@OrtizKicks) July 27, 2014
In a sport that prides itself on having guys pay dues, the Astros didn’t help perception in clubhouse that Appel is being babied.
— Jose de Jesus Ortiz (@OrtizKicks) July 27, 2014
Let’s just put it this way, folks, the fact that Appel was brought here has upset more than a few players. — Jose de Jesus Ortiz (@OrtizKicks) July 27, 2014
“It’s (expletive) unbelievable,” an Astros player just said out of the blue about Mark Appel being allowed throw a bullpen. — Jose de Jesus Ortiz (@OrtizKicks) July 27, 2014
Apparently, many Astros players are upset that a pitcher who had struggled so spectacularly in the lower minors would receive a promotion over teammates with much stronger stats. Citing the bullpen session on top of the call-up, they angrily believe Houston management is giving Appel preferential treatment.
My first reaction to this was that, yes, he is being treated differently, because that’s the way baseball works; that a pitcher of Appel’s poise and ability will have a much greater long-term impact on the organization than a 40th round pick who happens to have an 2.50 ERA in A ball, and that as such it is Houston’s best interest to get him to the major-league ready as fast as possible. The way to do that is to have him face stiffer competition in the upper minors. And based on his most recent start for Lancaster – a six inning, seven strikeout, no-walk performance – he arguably is ready.
But then I read a quote by Lunhow in Drellich’s report.
“Lancaster’s a hostile pitching environment, no doubt about it. It’s not the ideal place to send your top pitchers, but we can’t really avoid it,” He told Drellich in regards to why the team did not simply put Appel in Double-A to start the season, “we can’t necessarily pick and choose which pitchers are going to avoid it and which ones are not, because that creates different classes of pitchers, if you will, and we try and treat everyone as equally as we can.”
Well you can’t have it both ways, Houston. Either you can own up to the fact that you, like every other team in baseball, mix statistical performance with scouting acumen when deciding which players get promoted, or you can actually adhere to this meritocracy ideal where every prospect and player is treated equally.
The latter system doesn’t work. Prospects who succeed in the majors after struggling at the degree to which Appel has are uncommon, but his peripherals are strong and it can be done – Roy Halladay being the most notable example. The minor leagues abound with players who dominated A-ball with middling stuff and fell of a proverbial cliff when faced with more advanced opponents.
The Astros know this, they have acted it on; the least they can do is admit it.