(I’m going to be getting weird over at The Hardball Times now, as well as continuing to contribute for Blue Jays Nation. Here’s a look at my first article over there with the link.)
On June 6, 2013, Bud Selig’s carnival had pitched its June tent in Secaucus, New Jersey for another year’s MLB First-Year Draft, and the 1K lights of Studio 42 were ready to shine on the future of baseball. The cameras, the media, and baseball lovers around the world had been following the top draft prospects for months, all leading up to this — the big day, now finally arrived. Mark Appel, Jon Gray, Kris Bryant, Clint Frazier, Kohl Stewart, and Austin Meadows were the big names on Baseball America’s Top 500 list. And with the first overall pick, the Astros, sure enough, chose Appel — the right-handed pitcher and Houston native in his second year as the draft’s top prospect.
Appel isn’t in baseball anymore. After years of tough luck and injuries, he left the game in 2018. He is the third No. 1 overall pick to never set foot on major league soil, joining Brien Taylor of the New York Yankees (‘91) and Steve Chilcott of the New York Mets (‘66). Barring a miraculous return, Appel will never see his name in big-league neon. His name will never be written in major league headlines celebrating his achievements — only in discussions of top prospects who failed.
The Stanford pitcher, who grew up in Houston dreaming about pitching for the Astros, was once called “as risk-free a pitcher pick as has ever been made” by Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated. I’m not sure anything in life is “risk-free,” and I’m sure Ben Reiter will never refer to any prospect using those words again. But in fairness to Reiter, the scouting report on Appel was nothing short of prodigious: 60/60 fastball, 60/60 slider, 45/45 change-up, 45/45 command, future value of 40. Appel’s ETA in the majors was 2017. Instead, it was his last year of professional baseball.