The Astros Departure of Mark Appel

Mark Appel, Pick #1 2013 Amateur Draft

Mark Appel, Pick #1
2013 Amateur Draft


Have you made a big decision that seemed right-as-rain at the moment, but sooner rather than later revealed itself as landmark regret? If not, what planet in the universe are you from?

Well, the autopsies on Stanford pitcher Mark Appel as the first pick of the Houston Astros in the 2013 amateur free agent draft are now rolling in pretty predictably with his late inclusion into a five players for two trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for the purpose of acquiring 25-year old power closer Ken Giles over the weekend and these op/eds will inherently, or specifically, be raising all of the silly, sanguine, sad, and predictable questions that invariably arise from hindsight:

  1. How much stock can a club place in the stats of high school or college ball as indices of future performance at the professional level?
  2. How many really good scouts out there possess the intuitive ability to project a prospect’s future performance based on what they see?
  3. How much is decision-making at the top draft pick level reduced to clubs simply basing their “hopes” on a likable candidate maturing to the level he will need to reach over time with experience and effective coaching?
  4.  How often is disappointment based on the time-discoverable reality that some first picks may already have reached their player growth potential on draft day. These types do not develop further because there really is no dynamic upside beyond where they already are, no matter how teachable they are, or how hard they try.

After the Giles trade, pitcher Mark Appel told one writer that “I can only perform to my God-given ability.” And that statement alone may cover all but two aspects of the truth about Appel. His “God-given ability” may have already peaked on the day the Astros drafted him in 2013. The Astros just didn’t know it.

Had the Astros known, it’s highly unlikely they would have drafted a guy with the first pick, only to include him two years later as a deal-maker addition in a multi-player trade for a highly rated closer.

Had the the Astros also known on draft day 2015, that a kid named Kris Bryant was out there as an alternative to Appel – as one who would be then taken by the Cubs in 2013 and go on to hit .275 and 26 HR in 151 MLB games in 2015, but they didn’t know. Neither did the Cubs.

The larger seminar here goes beyond the unfolding destiny of Marc Appel – or even baseball. The better we get at assessing potential for our own growth, the better our decision-making improves and the lesser we stockpile regrets over “poor” (inadequate) decision-making.

From my own career experience of working with people on issues of growth and change, here is a capsule of words I would use as indicators of potential for change and a high ceiling of performance in some area. None of these qualities are absolute, but they appear too often as change-booster variables to be dismissed. And these are: intelligence, emotional stability, flexibility, the ability to listen, a commitment to learning from experience, and a burning desire to discover and use self-knowledge for self-improvement.

In closing, I am reminded of famous Nolan Ryan scout Red Murff’s story of signing the greater future Hall of Famer from Alvin, Texas. Murff said that he could recognize that young Nolan needed to “fill out” in body weight and muscle growth to become the pitcher he had the potential to be. Murff says he looked at Nolan’s father and saw that the elder Ryan’s rugged muscular build was all else he needed to know about the kid’s potential to sign him for the Mets. – Good work, Red, but I doubt I’d get much argument from you on this closing thought:

Nolan Ryan also possessed all of the “indicators of potential” that I listed earlier.

Good luck to Mark Appel, too! Maybe you will get there in your own time – and maybe we put too much pressure on #1 draft picks to be the human equivalent of energy drinks to our team’s floundering fortunes.





5 Responses to “The Astros Departure of Mark Appel”

  1. Mike McCroskey Says:

    Interesting to remember that Mark Appel was also one of the predraft favorites to be the #1 pick in 2012, prior to the Astros surprising pick of Carlos Correa.

  2. shinerbock80 Says:

    Let me start by saying I’ve never met Mark Appel, so this is pure speculation, but the emotional stability thing has always been something I wondered about with Appel. With the advanced skill set he showed at a top college program, there seemed to be another variable in that transition to pro ball. I don’t think that he was suddenly facing better hitters in the developmental and rookie leagues, yet the wheels came off entirely.

    Some athletes, perhaps most nowadays, go through their youth being told nothing except how good they are. Pampering alone is NEVER a good plan. And that kind of stuck with me as I watched Appel melt down at the start of his pro career. There are guys with all the ability on Earth who fall apart when they get in a jam. (Tim Redding anyone?) Was that Appel’s trouble at first? He overcame it to settle into a decent .500 winning percentage guy with a less than flashy ERA. The physical ability is still there, I’d guess, but somehow the light still has not turned on. As scouts say, he is still high ceiling, but will he ever find the ladder that will let him paint up there?

  3. gregclucas Says:

    Only time in the major leagues will determine whether Appel will become a solid pitcher or a first round bust. The Phillies–a non contender– can put him on the field to find out. The Astros have passed the place (thankfully) where young players are thrown in the lake to see who can swim. They have to keep winning at a pace as good or better than they established in 2015. Appel has been a very slow developer at a now advanced age. That all works against him, but its not too late for him yet. His lack of advancement through the minors for the Astros is not encouraging.

  4. Rick B. Says:

    There is a lot to be said for knowing one’s own limitations. If Appel’s “God -given talent ” comment indicates that he truly thinks he has reached his peak, then he may as well hang up his cleats and get on with his post – baseball life.

    On the other hand, his comment does make me wonder about his teachability, motivation, and commitment. Maybe he just doesn’t want a major-league career enough. If so, he should still get on with his post-baseball life – he’ll be able to live well off the money he has already made by merely going through the motions.

  5. Bill McCurdy Says:

    12/14/15: E-Mail from John Phillips ~


    Enjoy your work.

    A few thoughts that came to mind when I read your column:

    1. Scene from Moneyball where Billy Beane tells the A’s Chief Scout he cannot project how good a prospect leading to Bill James statisical analysis being used.

    2. Jeff Juden. Mark Appel = Jeff Juden?

    Forwarded your column to my Phillies buddy for reading.

    Take care.

    John Phillips

    12/15/15: E-Mail Response ~

    Thanks for the great observations, John!

    Mark Appel = Jeff Juden? – Indeed! So close, that each name takes only “9” letters to spell.

    Hope you don’t mind, but I’ve got to transfer this whole exchange to the comment section at the column!

    Regards, Bill

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