Phillies: Can Mark Appel be the next Daniel Bard?

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 19: Mark Appel of the Astros poses at a press meeting (Phillies). (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 19: Mark Appel of the Astros poses at a press meeting (Phillies). (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) /

Remember Mark Appel? He was the first overall pick of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Stanford University, and he never threw a pitch in the big leagues. The 6’5″ right-hander was projected to be a future top of the rotation starter on a first-division team and a frequent member of the All-Star team.

He is well-regarded as one of the biggest busts in MLB Draft history, but it could also be argued that he was unlucky with injuries that led him to failure. Either way, he did not live up to the hype, and after stepping away from the Philadelphia Phillies as a 26-year-old, he is back to hucking the baseball.

Mark Appel’s minor league journey and path to Philadelphia Phillies

Mark Appel was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 15th round of the 2009 MLB Draft and decided to honor his scholarship to Stanford. Then in 2012 as a junior, he was selected eighth overall in the 2012 MLB Draft. Appel thought he could do better so he stayed for his senior season at Stanford (talk about some guts).

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That additional year in college paid off because he was selected first overall in 2013 and agreed to a $6.35 million signing bonus. At the time, he threw a fastball in the 93-97 mph range with a little sink and excellent control. He also had great offspeed pitches and dominated in college. Appel was everything you could ask for back then.

The Stanford product was decent in his first professional season. He posted a 3.79 ERA in 10 starts in 2013 at the Low-A and Single-A affiliates.

Appel started 2014 with an appendectomy which slowed his development and preparation for the 2014 season. He started the minor league season at High-A and despite him posting a 9.74 ERA in 12 starts, the Astros promoted him to Double-A where he performed better. He posted a 3.69 ERA in 12 starts with Corpus Christi.

After the season, he went to the Arizona Fall League and posted a 2.61 ERA in six starts. Things were starting to look better for him and was the 30th ranked MLB prospect in the pre-2015 rankings.

In 2015, he began the season with Double-A Corpus Christi and finished with a 4.26 ERA in 13 starts and even represented the Astros at the 2015 All-Star Futures Game. Appel would later be promoted to Triple-A Fresno where he made 12 starts and finished with a 5.14 ERA.

At the end of the year, Appel was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in a trade sending Ken Giles to the Astros. Mark Appel was the 70th ranked prospect in the MLB at the time. After eight starts in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Appel would find himself on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.  During his rehab, he injured his elbow and underwent season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur.

After surgery and rehab, he started 2017 with the Phillies Triple-A team again but would injure his should in July and not return until September. He finished that year with a 5.27 ERA in 17 starts.

That was enough for the Phillies, so they designated him for assignment at the end of the season. After a few months, he decided to step away from baseball. When stepping away, he said he’s fine with being labeled as “the biggest draft bust” in history.

Mark Appel’s return to the Philadelphia Phillies

Now 29-years-old, Appel is heading to minor league camp with the Phillies to try to rewrite the story. Appel acknowledged who he is and how he is viewed, but he’s fine with that. He’s simply back for the love of the game and wants to improve. (I am starting to like this guy).

During his time away, he was beginning to miss being on the field, and baseball never really left his life. In late 2018, he finally decided to have surgery on the shoulder that bugged him throughout his career. He rehabbed and made a few trips to Driveline Baseball to get him as close to where he was as a prospect.

Mark Appel threw several bullpens and reached out to the Philadelphia Phillies in November and apparently touched 95 MPH while sitting at 92 miles per hour. Although he has been away from professional baseball for a long time, he seems to have the stuff to throw at least in the minor leagues.

Daniel Bard’s comeback story

Mark Appel’s comeback attempt isn’t the craziest thing we have heard. Daniel Bard might be the perfect example of the “anything is possible” motto. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bard’s comeback gave Mark Appel some extra motivation and encouragement to wear a uniform again.

Like Appel, Daniel Bard was also a decorated player once. He was the 28th overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft out of UNC and had three fantastic seasons for the Red Sox from 2009 to 2011. After moving to the starting rotation, things fell apart for Bard and he couldn’t throw a strike anymore. His BB/9 was in the 3-4 range from 2009 to 2011, but in 2012 it shot up to 6.5.

Daniel Bard decided to step away after the 2013 season and made a miraculous comeback last year with the Rockies. The 35-year-old threw his fastball 97.1mph on average in 2020, which is just around one mph slower than his average fastball during his prime. It is quite astonishing to see Bard back on the mound after such a long break. He saved six games for the Rockies and posted a .229 xBA, and 3.93 xERA.

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If Daniel Bard can make a comeback, I think it is more than possible for Mark Appel to come back strong and make his MLB debut in the future.