Nine years is a long time to wait. In fact, four years ago, Mark Appel decided he was tired of waiting, effectively retiring after five frustrating seasons, failing to live up to the monster expectations placed on him when he was drafted first overall in 2013. But the call finally came Friday night with Appel, who has dominated over 28 minor-league innings this season (5-0, 1.91 ERA, five saves for Triple-A Lehigh Valley), promoted to Philadelphia with a chance to make his MLB debut Saturday in San Diego.
The 30-year-old will replace Connor Brogdon, who is headed to the COVID IL, in the Phillies’ bullpen. Appel received a $6.35-million signing bonus from Houston in 2013, but was traded for closer Ken Giles two years later (the Phillies would also receive pitchers Vince Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer and Tom Eshelman). Following a three-year hiatus, Appel returned to affiliated ball last season, seeing mixed results over 23 appearances including 15 starts for Double-A Reading and Lehigh Valley (3-6, 6.06 ERA over 71 1/3 innings).
Appel, who began his comeback with admittedly low expectations, was ecstatic at the news he received Friday night, reflecting on his arduous path to the big leagues.
It’s a marvelous achievement and a testament to the right-hander’s resilience, conquering a sport that, at his lowest point in 2017 (the Phillies designated him for assignment that fall), didn’t seem to want him anymore. It’s anyone’s guess how effective he’ll be or how long the Phillies plan on keeping him on their big-league roster (infield prospect Jeter Downs, acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade two years ago, was sent down after going hitless in his Red Sox debut Wednesday night). But for all who doubted him, labeling Appel the “biggest bust in MLB history,” he didn’t forget.