When Mark Appel decided not to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the verbal attacks were swift.
There were accusations that he was selfish, greedy, arrogant, and presumptuous. Appel’s decision not to sign meant he returned to Stanford University to complete his education. And he was motivated, in part, by hope that he’d be drafted by his hometown and favorite team, the Houston Astros.
If you’re waiting for the part that illustrates what a jerk he was, I’m sorry but that’s all.
Appel spoke to this blog, in his senior year at Stanford, about the emotions of the draft and his local connection. http://highheelsonthefield.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/03/call-of-college-it-was-not-too-difficult-of-a-decision-especially-since-they-did-not-offer-any-money-in-the-end-they-draft.html
Many people, however, did respect and understand Appel’s decision. And why not? If you had the opportunity to complete a Stanford education and continue your job for another year, to increase your chances of being picked by the company of your dreams, wouldn’t you do it? [Note: He was previously selected by the Detroit Tigers in 2009, in the 15th round]
The most disappointing aspect was that Appel’s faith-based approach was ridiculed, and that narrative repeated this weekend. Appel, the #1 overall draft pick by his childhood team in 2013, was traded to the re-building Philadelphia Phillies as part of a package-deal trade and his name trended on Twitter for two days. Also disappointing were the snarky remarks about his spirituality, and his value.
It’s a fairly distant memory now, but when righty Appel was finally off the draft board, a huge baseball narrative ended. The new one was, of course, whether he'd live up to the hype surrounding the First Team All-American out of Stanford. A big school, big star, Appel entered the draft for the final time, and mass attention focused on the kid that wanted nothing more than to play for the Astros.
His time was brief in Short-Season New York Penn League with the Tri-City Valley Cats; he made just two starts before being promoted to Class-A Midwest League. He is 16-11 in 53 starts, with a 5.12 ERA combined in his two-year minor league career. He finished 2015 with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies with a 4.12 ERA in 12 starts, and was selected to the popular All-Star Futures Game.
As time’s unfolded, and he wasn’t advancing at the speed the Astros and their fans expected, Appel’s star-glow diminished. He underwent an appendectomy in January of 2014, adding more concern about his anticipated major league arrival. Still, when the trade to the Phillies was announced, there were definite shock waves. Within hours of the announcement, Appel made a statement that seemed to imply the situation in Houston:
“I’m looking forward to being in an organization that wants me for who I am, not for the expectation of what a former No. 1 pick is, not for any of the peripherals other than who I am as a baseball player, as a pitcher, as a person, as a teammate in the clubhouse and away from the field.”
Perhaps the Astros dream was like a first love, when fantasy turns to reality, and you have to admit forever was a longshot. Appel seemed to let go of that fantasy, and embraced a new beginning. He was making clear that all hadn’t gone well, but he wouldn’t bash his ex. He also, obviously, had plenty of great memories and experiences to cherish. He later tweeted:
“So many emotions…Thanks to Houston. F.O. staff, fans, and most of all my teammates. Love you guys! So excited for Philly! God is so good.”
Appel ‘s name made the rounds fast and the debates were endless. The opinions that stood out from the pack, however, were about him failing expectations. Many laughed off the trade, as if the Phillies had just inherited the ‘Poltergeist’ house.
Is it possible to take a breath, and admit we too are guilty of fantasizing?
Our expectations of what a first-rounder should do in a two-year developmental period should be checked at the door, before we enter the baseball world. What’s true is that, yes, he hasn’t, in a business sense, been a success in the context of the $6.35 million bonus he received. What’s truer is that he’s human; and in that sense, Appel’s done exactly what humans do. To suggest his career is a gigantic disappointment is really thinking from a money standpoint. And if you’re a baseball fan, is that all there is? The billionaire business of MLB wants a polished product on the field to sell tickets. But as fans, you have a purer love of the game. You know the game. It looks easy, and it ain’t.
We in the media must also not re-write the same ‘Is he a bust’? story too many times. Because we all know how this works, behind the scenes, day to day. We witness the process, both on a physical and emotional level. A first-round talent with a childhood dream is still vulnerable to that process.
Appel ‘s statements on social media suggest a guy who knows he let people down, but also that he can’t be held to an unfair standard. His words also suggest he’s ready for a new challenge in a new season, with a team he’d never dreamed of playing for, but has excitedly embraced. He’s showing he has a well-rounded, open-minded attitude and commitment to his career and teammates.
At 24-years old, we don’t know what Mark Appel will be going forward. But his story is far from over. In order to see that, and enjoy the ride, we have to release all expectations.