Right-hander Mark Appel, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 MLB draft, is attempting a comeback with the Philadelphia Phillies, the team announced Monday morning. Appel stepped away from baseball to pursue a business career in 2018, but he will report to the club's minor-league spring training camp in Florida this week.
The Athletic's Evan Drellich recently spoke to Appel, who confirmed he stepped away from baseball in part because he was dealing with nagging shoulder problems. From Drellich:
"All I know is I left because I was hurt," Appel said. "I didn't see a path to getting healthy — at least, a quick path to getting healthy. Just kind of in a tough place emotionally, being away from family and doing something, the rehab life of spending just a few hours at the field and living at a hotel. Being away from everyone. Feeling like you're missing out on parts of life with family back at home."
Appel, 29, spent the last two years traveling and working at a firm that provides athletes with loans early in their careers as protection against injury or failure. He also invested in a sandwich shop in Houston, his hometown. Appel attended games at Minute Maid Park when the Athletics were in town to support A's outfielder Stephen Piscotty, his college roommate.
The Astros selected Appel out of Stanford with the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, one pick before the Cubs selected Kris Bryant. Baseball America ranked Appel the No. 2 prospect in the draft class behind current Rockies righty Jon Gray. Their scouting report said he "shows everything scouts look for in a frontline pitcher," and Houston paid him a $6.35 million bonus.
Appel was so highly regarded at the time that he was a first-round pick in back-to-back years. The Pirates selected him with the No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft, but he turned down a bonus approaching $4 million and returned to Stanford for his senior season. Pittsburgh used the compensation pick, No. 9 overall, to select Austin Meadows in 2013.
Despite his pedigree, Appel struggled immediately in pro ball, pitching to a 6.91 ERA in 83 1/3 innings between Single-A and Double-A in 2014. The Astros traded him to the Phillies as part of the Ken Giles deal in December 2015 and he had a 5.06 ERA in 375 1/3 minor-league innings when he stepped away from the game in 2018.
The Phillies retained Appel's rights the last two seasons. Not including the most recent drafts, Appel is one of four No. 1 overall picks to not reach MLB, joining Steve Chilcott (1966 Mets), Brien Taylor (1991 Yankees), and Brady Aiken (2014 Astros). Aiken did not sign with Houston and was the No. 17 overall pick by Cleveland in 2015.