I went to Burlington, Iowa, this weekend to see the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low-A affiliate of the Houston Astros) play the Burlington Bees (affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels). There were four players that I wanted to see specifically and pay close attention to: Mark Appel, Carlos Correa, Danry Vazquez, and Rio Ruiz, all on the River Bandits roster. Here are my impressions of Appel; my observations about the other players (and a general report on both teams) will follow in subsequent reports.
Sunday was Appel's last start of the season; he is being shut down by the Astros after throwing 144 innings on the season combined between Stanford and the minors. He threw 123 innings last year so the decision to close down his campaign seems reasonable enough to me. He didn't show any particular sign of fatigue yesterday, although I don't think it was one of his best games either.
The boxscore: five innings, four hits, one run, three walks, three strikeouts.
The fastball was generally 93-95 MPH, with 97 the highest reading I saw. He didn't seem to be having any trouble generating his velocity and was throwing as hard in the fifth inning as he was in the first, which was notable on a hot, cloudless, muggy afternoon under a blazing sun. His velocity was easy in that sense; he didn't stress or labor with his mechanics to find it. On the other hand, while his delivery was consistent, it didn't have a lot of deception to it.
He seemed to be using two different fastballs, I'm assuming it was the difference between the two-seamer and four-seamer. I felt his fastball was actually more effective at the lower velocity; at 93-94 the fastball had nasty movement low in the zone. However, when he bumped up to 95 or higher, the pitch straightened out. The Burlington lineup is quite poor, but they got some good swings on the straighter fastball, and Appel was lucky he didn't get hit harder with it.
On the other hand, Appel showed a very good slider in the upper 80s; he shattered a couple of bats with it (or at least it sounded like they shattered, making that ugly thud crack when a bat breaks), both times resulting in weak grounders. He worked mainly with the fastball and slider, but mixed in a few low-80s change-ups that tailed away from right-handed hitters. That was a nasty pitch against Low-A hitters.
Appel's command didn't strike me as especially sharp in this game, and he greatly benefited from pitching against a lifeless Burlington lineup. He'd given up just one walk in his previous four starts and command is not generally a problem for him. He worked quickly (very much appreciated!) and appeared poised and confident at all times, going about his business in a professional manner. He also interacted patiently Saturday night with fans asking for his autograph while he was preparing to chart pitches.
Overall, although he gave up just one run and I came away impressed with him, Sunday wasn't the best outing Appel has ever had. Still, his talent was obvious, and it was just one game at the end of a long season. I expect he'll begin 2014 in Double-A and should be ready for Houston sometime next summer.