At the Futures Game, I found myself in a conversation with a friend of mine focusing on Mark Appel. It began innocently enough as we discussed the pitchers who we might expect to light up the radar gun on that warm summer afternoon. It only took one "hey, every team needs middle relievers" remark before we were off to the races. By the time Appel set foot on the mound, we were embroiled in a great debate over what to make of Mark Appel at this point in his pro career. I have spent significant time since our original conversation pondering the implications of the debate. Notably, the issue of when it becomes acceptable to call a player a bust.
With respect to Mark Appel, many in the greater baseball community may be inclined to reject the very premise of the debate. Appel’s stuff is largely intact. His pedigree carries more weight than a minor league career which has just cleared 200 total innings. Now in his age 24 season, Appel still has plenty of time to craft an approach that will allow him to use his mid-upper 90s fastball, plus slider, and average change to become the front end force the baseball world expected when he was drafted in the top-ten overall in both 2013 and 2014. Cue the Baseball Scouts of America’s anthem: "Don’t Scout the Statline."
On the other hand, there is little evidence to suggest that Mark Appel is particularly good at retiring professional hitters with any consistency at this point. Every way you slice or dice Appel’s minor league career, he falls well short of expectations. To see the third overall pick from 2014, Carlos Rodon, cementing himself in a big league rotation merely a year after being drafted is to see what Mark Appel might have been. To see the player selected immediately after Appel in 2013, Kris Bryant, become a national sensation as a rookie is reason enough for Astros fans to be both queasy and combative when the subject of their would-be ace is broached. To see Thursday’s deal for Scott Kazmir is to acknowledge the reality that the Astros’ brass does not expect a significant contribution from Appel in their immediate future.
The unfortunate reality is that Mark Appel is inexorably tied to the expectations that go with his draft slot. This truth alone may have already doomed Appel to the realm of disappointment. Even if he is not an outright bust, it now appears likely that he will not be the most valuable player from his own draft class. In fact, the conversation that preceded this article ended on the question of whether or not Appel would even be among the 10 best players in his draft class by career WAR.
The fascinating thing about this topic is that Appel could have the 6th best career in his class and some people would see him as a bust. He could also be 11th or 20th in his class, have some significant moments, and see it all labeled insufficient by fans and media who expected more. The more you consider his situation, the more difficult it becomes to envision a series of events where his career leaves all of us satisfied.
Is Mark Appel the next Luke Hochevar or Kris Benson? Could he be Jake Arrieta, who took 71 starts with his parent club and a trade only to wind up perhaps better than we ever dreamed in his late 20s? Of course, anything could happen. The questions facing the front office of an Astros team that is suddenly a contender become about probability. Future trade negotiations, free agent discussions, and roster debates of all types will have Houston’s belief in Mark Appel as an underlying part of the equation. Are they still believers? Do they have a choice?
I welcome thoughts from anyone who has an opinion on Mark Appel.
Do you still expect Appel to live up to his pre-draft expectations?
At what point, without Major League experience, would you be prepared to call Mark Appel-- or any high draft pick-- a bust?
- For anyone willing to take the bait, can you find ten players from the 2013 draft that you believe will have more career WAR than Mark Appel?