Former No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel is stepping away from baseball, as he told Bleacher Report’s Joon Lee in a feature that was released Thursday.
Appel, 26, has one of the more unique stories of any draft pick in MLB history, as he was expected to be taken first overall in the 2012 draft but ended up falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 8 following rumors that the was demanding a massive signing bonus. He instead opted to stick at Stanford for his senior year, earning his degree and then getting taken by the Astros with the first overall pick in the 2013 draft.
After receiving a $6.35 million signing bonus from Houston, Appel had a relatively encouraging start to his pro career, posting a 3.79 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP over 10 starts split between short-season A-ball and Class A down the stretch in 2013. But Appel began to struggle significantly in 2014 as Astros GM Jeff Luhnow instituted a “tandem starter” program throughout the minor-league system in which starters pitched every four days. He posted a 9.74 ERA and 1.92 WHIP over 12 starts at High-A Lancaster before being sent to Double-A Corpus Christi for a “change of scenery,” where he settled down a bit and posted a 3.69 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over seven appearances (six starts).
Though the Astros continued moving Appel up the organizational ladder in an attempt to build his confidence, he remained unremarkable in 2015. He was dealt to the Phillies in December of that year as part of a seven-player trade that most notably sent reliever Ken Giles to the Astros. Appel dealt with a shoulder injury during his first year in the Phillies organization and eventually hurt his pitching elbow while rehabbing his shoulder, which forced him to undergo season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur. He was limited to just eight starts, posting a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
While the Phillies signaled a certain level of faith in Appel during the winter of 2016 by adding him to their 40-man roster, he continued to struggle mightily in 2017, posting a 5.27 ERA and 1.76 WHIP over 17 starts at Lehigh Valley while dealing with shoulder inflammation. He was designated for assignment by Philadelphia in November and was outrighted to the minors after clearing waivers. He hadn’t been invited to major-league spring training by the Phillies, and they were expected to move him to a bullpen role this spring following his repeated failures as a starter.
Appel now says he’s taking an “indefinite break” and plans to go to business school, though he left open the window for a future return to baseball. If he doesn’t come back at some point, he’ll be just the third No. 1 overall pick in MLB history to never reach the big leagues, following Steve Chilcott (1966) and Brien Taylor (1991). With that said, it’s not totally unprecedented for a No. 1 overall pick to return after a multi-year break and finally reach the major leagues; Matt Bush, who was taken first overall as a shortstop by the Padres in 2004, reached the majors as a pitcher with the Rangers in 2016 after being out of baseball from 2012-15 due to off-the-field issues.