Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, made his first regular season appearance in professional game since 2017 on Saturday night. Appel started for the Philadelphia Phillies' well-named Double-A affiliate, the Reading Fightin Phils. He permitted a run on three hits, two walks, and two hit batsmen, though he did manage to strike out four batters before departing in the third inning.
Appel walked away from professional baseball ahead of the 2018 season. "I'm 26, I have a Stanford degree, I have many interests beyond baseball, which I still love, but I have a lot of things I care about," he told Bleacher Report at the time of his decision. "I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind."
Prior to turning professional, Appel authored a phenomenal career at Stanford that saw him posted a 2.57 ERA and a 4.22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 47 starts. Appel's prospects were so promising that he was drafted with a top-10 pick twice: first by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012 (No. 8), then again by the Houston Astros in 2013 (No. 1).
Baseball America ranked Appel as the second-best player in that 2013 class. Here's part of BA's pre-draft report on him:
He shows everything scouts look for in a frontline pitcher. He's 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds with a clean delivery, and he is a solid athlete who played basketball in high school. Appel's fastball sits in the mid-90s and gets as high as 98 mph, and he holds his velocity deep into games. His slider is a plus pitch that generates swings and misses with its sharp, late break.
Nevertheless, the Astros gave up hope that Appel would develop into that frontline pitcher when they moved him to the Phillies in winter 2015 as part of a seven-player trade involving closer Ken Giles. (Vince Velasquez is the only other player involved in that trade who remains with the organization that acquired them.) He was unable to find better footing with the Phillies, eventually resulting his (seemingly) premature retirement. Appel rejoined the Phillies organization in March to launch his comeback attempt.
Following Saturday's game, Appel now has a career 5.05 ERA and 1.99 strikeout-to-walk ratio.