Appel's family moved from Houston to the San Francisco suburb of San Ramon when Appel was 12.
“We went to a private Christian school in Houston and then I come out here and go to a public school in California,” he said. “I started hearing things and seeing things that I wasn’t used to.”
- Mark played baseball and basketball at Monte Vista High in Danville, Calif., and didn’t get much work on arguably one of the state’s most talent-rich pitching staffs ever.
He is among six pitchers from a 2009 staff who went on to pitch at four-year schools, including Christian Jones (Oregon), Steven Swift (Washington), and Drew Bradshaw (San Jose State). Appel pitched just 31 innings his senior year, going 4-0, 0.90 with four saves in nine appearances (five starts). He struck out 45 batters and allowed six walks, and closed out his prep career with 24 straight shutout innings.
In 2009, he chose to honor a Stanford commitment after the Tigers selected him in the 15th round of the draft.
Mark's major: management, science and engineering.
Appel pitched for Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2011. He had a 2.48 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 29 innings.
A number of his family members attended Rice University, including his uncle, John Casbarian, who is the Dean of the Architecture school.
In 2012, the Pirates chose Appel with their first round pick of the draft—the 8th player chosen overall.
But Mark did not sign with the Pirates, passing up their offer of $3.8 million.
"Our final offer exceeded the available bonus pool money and was essentially up to the last dollar we could offer prior to falling into the second tier penalty which would have resulted in the loss of a first round draft selection. While, as we have shown in past years, we are willing to be aggressive with our financial offer, we simply did not feel it was in the best interest of the organization to forfeit our first round selection in the 2013 amateur draft," Pirates G.M. Neal Huntington said in a release.
"Selecting Mark was a calculated risk, as we knew he would be a difficult sign. As an organization, we need to continue to take these types of calculated risks. While we would've preferred to add Mark to the group of talented prospects in our system, we wish Mark, and his family, nothing but success in the future."
Appel gets high marks for character and aptitude.
"My focus is just on the next game. I think a lot of that goes with my faith. I know that whatever happens in the future is out of my control. All I can worry about is going out there just trying to do my best, and the results will take care of themselves," Mark said.
And late in March 2013, Appel completed his degree in management, science and engineering. And from the mound, he went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA for Stanford. Mark set the all-time Stanford career strikeout record with 372.
June 6, 2013: The Astros chose Appel in the first round of the draft. He was the first overall pick in the 2013 draft.
On being drafted by the Astros: Appel grew up in Houston before moving to California when he was 12 years old and frequently attended Astros games at the Astrodome as a youth. His father, Patrick Appel, is a lawyer for Chevron and lives in Houston when he's not traveling.
"It's a kid's dream to go first in the draft and be selected by your hometown team," Luhnow said. "It doesn't get any better than that, and it's a great opportunity for us."
Mark then signed with the Astros on June 19, 2013, via scout Brian Byrne.
Appel said he has a lot of great memories of his time in Houston.
"I do remember going to a few games in the Astrodome," he said. "I even remember when Minute Maid Park opened and how great of a ballpark that is.
"I remember playing Little League baseball at Post Oak Little League and the great summers I had with a bunch of great friends. The friendships and memories I created while I was in Houston were great, and still even when I'm back to visit family, new memories have been created every single time." (Brian McTaggart / MLB.com - 6/06/13)
June 19, 2013: Several of Mark Appel's former teammates from his days in the Post Oak Little League in Houston were at Minute Maid Park to greet him after he signed his first pro contract with the Astros. The Astros signed Mark for $6.35 million, about $1.5 million less than the assigned slot value of $7.8 million
"I think he was happy to see all of us as we were to see him," said Jay Magness, who was a pitcher and third baseman on the Post Oak team. Appel was a 12-year-old pitcher on the team, but moved to California a year later, which cost him a chance to play for Astros manager Bo Porter. The Texas Hawkeyes, a travel team started by Porter following his playing career, featured several players from the Post Oak team.
"We had a great Little League team," Appel said. "It means a lot they're actually out there. It's been a few years since we've seen each other with our busy schedules, high school and college and all that stuff. It's exciting that they're here."
Catcher/pitcher Jimmy Burke (from that team) said Appel is the same down-to-earth kid he was as a 12-year-old. "It's not like he's a big shot," he said. "He deserves this."
When Mark and his brother, John, were kids growing up in Houston, they would attend Astros and Rockets games and pretend they were playing for one of the hometown teams for which they cheered.
"The fact that one of us actually made it is surreal," John said. Mark Appel has some work to do before he steps onto the field at Minute Maid Park as a member of the Astros.
The Appel family grew up on the west side of Houston and relocated to California when Mark was 12 years old, but grandparents, aunts and uncles all remained in the Bayou City and were at the press conference to introduce Appel when he signed, turning pro in June, 2013.
"It's one of the proudest moments I've ever had," said Appel's paternal grandmother, Carolyn Caldwell. "But I'm proud of all my grandkids -- I need to say that."
Caldwell recalls how a young Mark had a poster of former Astros legend Nolan Ryan on his wall while the family lived in California. He was nicknamed "Tex" when he arrived in California and has stayed true to his Texas roots and his family.
Appel's mother, Sondra Appel, said she didn't know how tight the family bond was until she and husband, Patrick, a lawyer for Chevron, went off to live in China a few years ago and, "we didn't realize until we were living in Beijing for a year and a half how much we miss family," she said. "It's great to be back together again."
Carolyn Caldwell never doubted her grandson's decision not to sign with the Pirates. "I'm not sure he saw it as a risk," she said. "I really think he saw it as the course of events and he planned to improve and get that degree, and I was glad he made that decision."
To John Appel, Mark will always be his little brother. John, who lives in California, is about 2 1/2 years older than Mark and probably a few inches taller.
"He was a little bit annoying [as a kid]," John said with a smile. "We were pretty close and then got closer in high school and college. He was always there, always funny, always the guy joking around. It was a fun childhood." A childhood full of dreams that could soon be fulfilled.
"It's one of the proudest moments of our lives," grandfather Tom Caldwell said. "We're just so thrilled to have him back here in Houston and playing for a team he loved so much as a little boy."
Appel's maternal grandmother, Jackie Haynes, was also in attendance for the press conference. (McTaggert - mlb.com - 6/19/13)
The Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Appel as the 3rd-best prospect in the Astros' organization in the spring ot 2014. They had him at #2 in the winter before 2015 spring camps opened.
He missed the book in 2016, but was dealt to the Phillies and was their #20 prospect in the spring of 2017.
Mark has a smile on his face every day. He has a strong work ethic, reads the Bible every day and you can see that he lives it. He is just an humble guy who is devoted to God.
2014: Appel had a season that not only tested his prowess as one of baseball’s top pitching prospects, but also his faith in his own abilities as well.
On top of everything else (appendectomy, nagging injuries, etc.), when word spread that Appel was receiving his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi, there was anonymous criticism of the move from within the Astros clubhouse.
It was almost Murphy’s Law for the Houston native who grew up in California, of what could go wrong did, and when you’re the top overall pick it only compounds the pressure to succeed.
“Yes, there are high expectations for the kid, absolutely because he’s 1-1 (first round, first pick) and that makes a difference,” said Hooks pitching coach Doug Brocail, himself a former major league pitcher who battled injuries. “But you know you got to hope that the kid learned from what happened. Obviously setting down and talking to him, you understand he was pretty frustrated. Why wouldn’t he be?”
But through all the frustration, the injuries and setbacks, Appel leaned on his faith. He was trying to find his way as a professional pitcher, getting used to the Astros piggy-back system of using two starting pitchers and trying to live up to the lofty expectations placed on him.
“I definitely felt like I was spinning my wheels week after week, outing after outing, and wasn’t getting the results I wanted … in fact I wasn’t getting results I thought were even OK. They were just flat out bad, no other way to describe it,” Appel said. “It was a trust, though, that when we are going through these tough times that God will be able to bring us out of it. I was in a hole so deep there was nothing I could do to get out of it. God was the one that pulled me out.”
“The numbers speak for themselves, they are what they are,” Brocail said.
Brocail told Appel that he wasn’t going to focus much on mechanics, saying he’s going to pitch every fifth day, which is what will happen at the Major League level. Plus, Brociul added that he wanted Appel to do what worked well and clear all the stuff out that didn’t work well, and most importantly just go out and compete and win.
“First thing he did was smile,” Brocail said. “I knew then I have a competitor. I also know what he’s gone through and there has to be some self-doubt, and I don’t want self-doubt to turn into a pity party. And I don’t think it’s going to. He’s got a long way to go, but he doesn’t look like he’s going to be a guy that’s going to fight working. And that’s a good thing.”
“As players we all set high expectations for ourselves and we want to be able to succeed as much as possible but sometimes that just doesn’t happen,” Appel said. “It’s a tough game. It’s simple but it’s still hard to play. It’s a kid’s game. I think humility is something that God uses to remind you of who you are and to remind you of how far you’ve come, and honestly to put your focus back on him, at least that’s the way I see it.
“The less you think of yourself, the more you are able to accomplish, I feel like.” (Len Hayward /Aug. 2014)
Soon after pitchers and catchers reported to Osceola County Stadium, big league manager A.J. Hinch gave fellow Stanford graduate Mark Appel a bit of homework. A few days later, Hinch asked 2012 first overall pick Carlos Correa to collaborate with Appel, the 2013 draft’s top overall pick.
Correa, the Astros’ No. 1 prospect, has been tasked with helping the club’s top pitching prospect interview the other 60 players in camp so they can give a presentation to the entire club about their teammates before Grapefruit League games start.
“It’s awesome,” Appel said. “It’s something that I would have liked to do even if I wasn’t tasked with trying to get information to make a presentation. I’m a big relationships guy. I think it’s really good to get to know your teammates on a personal level. It kind of gives me an excuse to do it. It’s fun.”
Appel has scribbled notes in a small notebook while going locker to locker interviewing teammates before and after workouts. And Mark has helped by interviewing Latino players in Spanish.
Appel was named to the U.S. roster of the 2015 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.
January 16, 2016: The Phillies held their annual education seminar for top prospects. The eight players in town spent the week participating in programs designed to help their transition to the major leagues. They heard about life in the majors — the do's, the don’ts and the expectations — from Roy Halladay and a host of Phillies officials. Over the years, they listened to presentations from Larry Bowa and Bernie Parent about what it means to play in a sports-mad city like Philadelphia. The players were slated to get a taste of that by taking in a 76ers game Thursday night.
During the week, time is devoted to player-media relations. One of the lessons the young players hear pertains to dealing with controversy, issues or news of an unpleasant or unwelcomed nature. Fires have a better chance of being extinguished with quick action, so the players are encouraged to deal with such matters head on.
Mark Appel did just that during a media availability at Citizens Bank Park. Whispers that maybe he’s just a little too nice to succeed in the rugged world of big-league baseball have dogged the 24-year-old right-hander as he struggled to reach the potential that made him the first overall pick in the 2013 draft. He addressed those whispers — and more — calmly, astutely and with a smile on his face.
“I take it as a compliment,” he said. “I am a nice guy.”
As with all No. 1 picks, big things were expected from Appel. But after three minor-league seasons, he had a 5.12 ERA and a 1.439 WHIP in 54 games, all but one of which have been starts. He often has not thrown enough strikes and when he has they've been hit. He split time between Double A and Triple A and had a 4.37 ERA and a 1.413 WHIP in 25 starts.
It’s pretty safe to say the Astros didn’t think it was ever going to click for Appel. That’s why he was included in the trade. The Phillies, as director of player development Joe Jordan said, are hoping “we can crack the code and get him where he needs to be.”
Appel stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 220 pounds. Classic pitcher’s build. He has dominant stuff. So, why has he struggled so much?
There are lots of theories and theories lead to labels. Appel took those head on.
“It’s part of the territory,” he said. “I try to not even pay attention to any label that someone gives me. It even started before I was in pro ball. I went back to school for my senior year. I was labeled greedy. I get picked one-one. I’m labeled high expectations. Then I struggled in the minors and now I get labeled a bust. Now I’m traded to the Phillies. I mean, it’s just one thing after another. At the end of the day, [you] just look in the mirror and know that you did everything you could to accomplish your goals each and every day.”
Appel is a devout Christian. And, yes, he’s a very nice guy.
“I don’t think being nice is a sign of weakness,” he said. “If anything, it can be seen as a sign of strength. Knowing that you don’t have to come off as this fake tough guy to try to gain respect from your teammates or the opponent. What matters to me is what happens in between the lines. I think the ‘nice’ persona can be a misconception because I don’t show emotion. I don’t throw my glove. I’ve had a couple times when I have shown emotion, but I try to contain it and keep it to myself. Because at the end of the day, I want to be accountable to my coaches and my teammates and the organization. And also the fans.
“I don’t show emotion on the mound, but I have a fire deep inside of me that is a competitor, that is basically somebody who looks at the guy in the box and says, ‘I’m better than you and I want to show it.’ I have that competitive edge, absolutely. I don’t think I would have been able to be a starter in high school, got to college and end up being a three-year starter and come out the first overall pick if I didn’t have it. There have been some struggles in the minors where I think a lot of guys would have been extremely discouraged to the point of wanting to give up. It’s hard to explain exactly how I felt and what was going through my mind when I had a 10.00 ERA in the California League. But one thing I always try to do is be resilient and keep moving forward.”
Appel’s faith travels with him as he moves forward and he does not apologize for that even if some in the rough, tough, competitive, tobacco spit-stained world of big-league baseball believe that stuff is best left at the door.
“I don’t think it’s too fair,” Appel said. “I don’t think your faith necessarily defines your competitiveness. I’d like to say it fuels my competitiveness.”
He mentioned three-time NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, a Christian.
“It’s hard to find a more competitive guy than him,” Appel said.
Appel said he has no hard feelings toward the Astros. He understands the business of the game.
“I’ve seen Mark throw and I've read the scouting reports,” Jordan said. “His stuff is the same he’s always had. He’s got an opportunity — new eyes, new philosophy, new support system, just a new organization. I just want to see him throw, and as with anyone else, I’ve got some really good pitching coaches, coordinators and instructors. We’re going to get him over the hump.”
Appel is confident he will get over the hump and earn himself the label he wants most — consistent major-league pitcher.
“I know I definitely have the ability to be a consistent, dominant pitcher,” he said. “And that’s really what I’m working toward and honestly where I believe I’ll be. I think I’ve only scratched the tip of the iceberg. I’ve had games here and there where I’ve felt just really good. And so remembering those games and building off them, to make that the norm, because I know that can be the norm.” (Jim Salisbury - 1/16/2016)
Appel has not been able to put away hitters with the regularity that his stuff or reputation would suggest. He has been slapped with a label as lacking in toughness.
“He’s a nice kid,’’ the scout said. “Honestly, you’d want him to marry your daughter. He’s that respectful. I think he’s too nice, personally.’’
Appel hears this observation a lot. He is a devout Christian who routinely shares expressions of his faith on social media, and that contributes to the perception that he’ll accept whatever happens on the field as part of God’s plan.
But as Appel is quick to point out, Clayton Kershaw is a Christian, and it hasn’t prevented him from winning three Cy Youngs and a Most Valuable Player award.
“I don’t show emotion when I’m on the mound. But I have a fire deep inside me as a competitor, where I basically look at the guy in the box and say, ‘I’m better than you and I’m going to show it.’ Do I have that competitive edge? Absolutely.’’ (Jerry Crasnick - Baseball America - 2/12/2016)
As of June, 2017, it had been four years since the Houston Astros, Appel's hometown team, picked the Stanford alumnus No. 1 overall -- leaving the Chicago Cubs to swoop in and take University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant with the second pick. While Bryant has a World Series ring, a National League MVP trophy, a Rookie of the Year award and a growing endorsement portfolio, Appel is in Triple-A working on fastball command and learning the value of patience at age 25.
"Possibly it's just naiveté when I was younger, but when you get drafted, you think you're going to have this perfect career," Appel said. "You think, 'Big leagues by 22 or 23, then free agency by 29.' I'm such a planner and analyzer. I was like, 'OK, this is the course I'm setting for myself.' Obviously, that hasn't happened, so there's kind of a redefinition of what success looks like."
Two scouts who follow the Phillies' system told ESPN.com that they think Appel might benefit from a move to the bullpen, where it would be easier for him to harness his delivery in short bursts rather than increments of five or six innings. Andrew Miller, Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar are among the first-round picks who found success as relievers after stalling as starters, so that's one potential option.
"He's a big, physical guy, and he's got a decent arm, but he really struggles with command," an AL scout said. "He's not able to repeat his delivery, and I think that's one of the more significant sources to his issues. He struggles to do anything with any shred of consistency, and that has kind of a ripple effect on his performance, stuff and ability to command a baseball.
"Maybe the stuff plays up as a bullpen guy, and he doesn't have to command it as much. I think at some point, he will get an opportunity somewhere to pitch in the big leagues, but I don't necessarily know if he's going to establish himself as a mainstay on anybody's roster. I hope I'm wrong."
At the moment, the Phillies' player development people continue to focus on getting Appel right as a starter. They understand the burden he has lugged around as a former top pick on a deliberate developmental track, and one of their objectives is to free his mind so his body will follow.
"We want him to be a major league starter," Phillies farm director Joe Jordan said. "That's our goal. It doesn't have to be top of the rotation. He just needs to be one of five. As he has success, where he fits in the rotation can be defined later.
"Mark is a smart guy who's probably overthought things way too much, which isn't totally uncommon. But I believe now more than ever that he has a handle on where he's at, and we have a handle on what he needs from us and where we need to direct him. I think we're on an uptick. Good things are starting to happen." (Jerry Crasnick - ESPN - 6/14/2017)
December 12, 2015: The Phillies sent SS Jonathan Arauz and RHP Ken Giles to the Astros, who sent LHP Brett Oberholtzer, RHP Harold Arauz, RHP Make Appel, RHP Thomas Eshelman and Vincent Velasqu.
Nov, 21, 2017: The Phillies designated Appel for assignment.
Late in January, 2018, Mark announced he was taking a step away from the game for an undetermined time period.
"I don't know what the future holds. I'm pursuing other things, but also trying to become a healthy human," Appel told Bleacher Report. "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. I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind.
"I'm a guy who loves a game, who had expectations, goals and dreams and then has had everything tumbling, and then everything was unmet," Appel told Bleacher Report. "Would I have loved to be pitching in the World Series? Absolutely. Some people have real struggles. I played baseball. I thought I was going to be great, and I wasn't."