Mark Appel starting to look appealing again

Mark Appel is starting to live up to his elite potential. (USATSI)
Mark Appel is starting to live up to his elite potential. (USATSI)

It's been a long and rocky road for Astros pitching prospect Mark Appel, professional baseball player. Expected to potentially be the top pick in the 2012 draft but selected eighth overall by the Pirates, the Stanford pitcher decided not to sign with Pittsburgh. Re-entering the draft in 2013, he in fact went No. 1 overall to Houston and signed with the Astros.

Appel put together a string of solid starts in the low minors after signing, closing out 2013 with a 3.79 ERA and 33:9 K:BB ratio between low Class A and Class A. He then dealt with a rough offseason, undergoing an emergency appendectomy that delayed his spring debut. Once he finally did get to the regular season, he struggled mightily with high Class A Lancaster, eventually earning himself a trip to extended spring training. Upon his return to Lancaster, he dealt with thumb and wrist issues while continues to give up buckets of hits.

The team finally saw enough in an excellent start with Lancaster in late July -- six innings, two earned runs, five hits, no walks, seven strikeouts -- to give him a promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi. Finally, Appel was able to put his ugly first half behind him, posting a 3.15 ERA and 34:10 K:BB ratio in six starts at the new level. His piece de resistance came Tuesday, when he delivered eight scoreless innings while surrendering only two hits and one walk and striking out 10 in a start against Double-A Frisco, facing a lineup that included masher Joey Gallo and highly-regarded catching prospect Jorge Alfaro.

Appel dealt with many issues in the first half of the season: injuries, home runs, a 15.0 (!) hit-per-nine-innings rate, etc. He did manage to maintain a quality 40:11 K:BB ratio in 44 1/3 innings while posting a wretched 9.74 ERA. That first-half performance likely severely damaged his prospect stock, but on Tuesday, he showed that it's far too early to give up on him as a potential Fantasy force. His top four strikeout performances of the season have come in his last seven starts, a stretch that begins with that excellent Lancaster outing that earned him a promotion.

With Appel pitching well, the organization has decided to send him to the Arizona Fall League for a little extra work before the offseason. If he can close out the season on a high note, pitch well in the AFL, enjoy a normal winter and roll into spring training ready to impress, Appel would be situated to be one of 2015's breakout Fantasy pitchers.

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