Nearly a decade after being selected No. 1 overall in the MLB draft, RHP Mark Appel will make his major league debut at 30 years old for the Philadelphia Phillies today.
Selected in the draft straight out of high school by the Detroit Tigers, Appel instead opted to play for the Stanford Cardinal, where he was named a first-team All-American, National Pitcher of the Year, and the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2012. The Astros tried to draft him in 2012, but he turned them down, along with a rumored $6 million signing bonus. The Pirates also gave him a shot, but he turned them down to return to school, along with a $3.8 million signing bonus.
Finally, in 2013, Appel was ready to accept a signing offer, and was the first overall draft pick (the second that year? Kris Bryant). He was selected (again) by the Houston Astros, where he would struggle through their minor league system for years to come. He never quite found his footing in the various farm teams that Houston sent him to, and, in 2018, announced that he would be stepping away from the sport due to injuries to his labrum and rotator cuff.
In 2021, he re-entered baseball, pitching Double-A and Triple-A for the Phillies, and today, after nine years of injuries and hiatuses and minor league performances, Appel has been called up. He avoids making history — only two No. 1 overall picks in history never got the call (Brien Taylor, Yankees, 1991, and Steven Chilcott, Mets, 1966). Appel will not be the third.
In a turnaround from his early-career struggles, he’s racked up a 5-0 record and a 1.61 ERA this season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Sometimes, there’s a story that just reminds us of the power of sports and why we love them so much, even when they cause us so much stress at times. This is one of them — an inspiring, heartwarming, made-for-the-movies tale. The Phillies will face the San Diego Padres this evening. Even if Appel doesn’t throw a single pitch on the diamond tonight, this is a major (league) victory for him.
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