Houston Astros Prospect Profile: Mark Appel

by Matthew Roberts | Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
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Mark Appel

In 2014, the Houston Astros could not evaluate their 2013 number one overall pick, RHP Mark Appel, in spring training because of an appendectomy procedure Appel had to undergo that January. After flashing promising signs of brilliance during his first stint in the minors in 2013, Appel struggled right out of the gate in 2014 after the appendectomy. Appel started 4 games for the Astros’ High-A Lancaster where he pitched a total of 13 innings over those four starts giving up an ERA of 6.23 with an atrocious WHIP of 1.62. Appel was sent to extended spring training to work out mechanics and get accustomed to the Astros’ minor league rotations. When Appel returned in late May he started eight more games for Lancaster and was brutal, finishing with a 9.74 ERA, and a 1.92 WHIP.

Despite the struggles, there were some positive signs for Appel including an 8.1 K/9 ratio and a 2.2 BB/9 ratio. Undeterred by the horrendous ERA and WHIP, the Astros promoted Appel in late July to Double-A Corpus Christi and were rewarded with Appel’s stretch as a pro. Appel started 6 games (appeared in 7) in Double-A throwing a 3.69 ERA, 1.23 WHIP,  and 8.8 K/9. Appel completed his 180 turnaround in 2014 with a dominating Arizona Fall League, throwing 7 starts with a 2.61 ERA and minuscule 0.84 WHIP. Drafted number one overall in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel, 23, demonstrated all he needed to allow Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow to proclaim last November that Appel is in consideration for a rotation spot in 2015 with an injury or strong showing in the minors this year.

Now as pitchers and catchers reported for 2015 for the Astros over the weekend, the Appel gets the opportunity this year to test his mettle against major leaguers during spring training. There is no expectation that Appel will break camp with a rotation spot in hand as the Astros seem set with a rotation of Scott Feldman, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Brett Oberholtzerand Dan Straily, with Brad Peacock also expected to contend for a spot. But this is far from a murderer’s row of a pitching rotation. Oberholtzer, Straily, and Peacock were all underwhelming last year, and Appel was drafted in 2013 with an eye on the 2015 rotation.

Overall, Appel came out of Stanford as a sure-fire, can’t-miss prospect, but his 2014 has made it difficult to profile today what to expect in 2015 and beyond. During Appel’s High-A Lancaster stint, Ron Shah of Baseball Prospectus panned Appel noting his fastball stayed mostly at 92-93 mph (down from his potential 97 mph), his slightly above average changeup, and potentially below average slider that was flat and left over over the plate. Compare that to Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, who scouted Appel during the Arizona Fall League where he saw Appel touch 97 mph and stay consistently at 93-94 mph on his fastball, as well as employ his slider “devastatingly” between 82-88 mph with a two plane tilt. Longenhagen did pan the changeup of which he saw very little movement.

For me, I feel safe treating High-A Lancaster as an outlier due the lost spring and unforgiving conditions at the very windy and offense friendly ballpark in Lancaster, and trust what Appel did as a top pitcher at Stanford and his effective performances at Double-A and the Arizona Fall League to close out last year. Based on the pedestrian and underwhelming options (and injury history) in the back end of the Astros’ projected rotation , and the lack of any other candidate’s with Appel’s pedigree ready in the minors, I firmly believe we will see Appel hit the Astros rotation at some point this year.

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Matthew Roberts
About the Author

Matthew cut his teeth on baseball during $2 Bleacher Wednesdays at the old Arlington Stadium in the 1980's and has loved the Texas Rangers ever since. When he's not teaching his young son to throw a wicked circle change, he enjoys the six month friendly rivalry with his wife and her precious Oakland A's. Follow him on Twitter @ifithasballs.

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