Prospect Report: Will Mark Appel Make An Impact In 2015?

by Ray Kuhn

2014 truly was the tale of two years for Mark Appel and that could lead to a good buying opportunity for this season and beyond.  He decided to go back to Stanford rather than sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates after they selected him 8th overall in 2013. That essentially began the countdown until he was selected by the Houston Astros with the first overall pick in the following year’s draft. The right-hander wasted little time both in signing with Houston and also progressing through the organization.

After signing he joined their Low-A ball team for a brief minute, making two starts and pitching five innings allowing two runs and striking out six. He then made eight starts with Quad Cities (A) pitching in 33 innings and going 3-1 with a 3.82 ERA while striking out 27 batters.

We are talking about a sample size of less than 40 innings, but he did enter the Astros’ organization as a highly regarded starter who had four years of experience pitching with Stanford. So fantasy owners could not be faulted for having hopes for Appel in 2014. However, those hopes were dashed, at least temporarily, really before he ever reported to his first Spring Training.

Towards the end of January he had to have his appendix removed and while he recovered from a health perspective pretty quickly, it impacted his performance for the majority of the season. The surgery caused Appel to fall behind in his throwing program, and towards the end of Spring Training when he was dispatched to Lancaster (High-A) he simply wasn’t fully prepared. Of course the fact that the conditions favor hitters to the extreme also did not help his cause either.

It really is hard, and quite frankly just about impossible, to defend a 9.74 ERA in 44.1 innings but Appel does have a solid case. The fact that he did strike 40 batters while walking 11 helps slightly and he was also battling some health and stamina issues, ultimately sending him to extended Spring Training.

As opposed to simply chalking it up as a lost season, the Astros instead promoted him to Double-A for the last two months or so of the season. Here Appel began to find a groove over 39 innings, recording a 3.69 ERA and 1.23 WHIP while striking out 38 batters.

To me that says a few things. Perhaps the biggest is that he is resilient. He was able to put an absolute dreadful first half behind him and finish the season on a high note. Additionally he has proven that he can be a strikeout pitcher. Yes, there will be some regression when he faces Major League hitters, but 7.5 to 8 strikeouts per 9 innings is very possible.

In general, you have to take minor statistics with somewhat of a grain of salt, and Baseball HQ does help to put that into perspective with their Major League Equivalents. By their calculations, Appel’s Double-A performance equated to a 4.07 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. If you take away the pedigree, those numbers would put Appel towards the back end of a fantasy rotation. It is nothing too exciting, but there is both talent and resiliency.

After throwing 83.1 regular season innings, the Astros decided to send Appel to the Arizona Fall League so he could get more work in. Against other top prospects he had success in 31 innings, recording a 2.61 ERA and striking out 24.

So what can we expect from Appel moving forward from a fantasy perspective?

For this year it won’t be much. Aside from a performance standpoint and the adjustment to the Major Leagues, it comes down to innings. Combined he threw 114.1 innings last year. I think, and this at the very higher end, Appel won’t throw more than 160 innings in 2015. Then when you figure he only has 39 IP at Double-A, that doesn’t leave him with more than about 10-12 starts in Houston figuring he makes a stop in Triple-A first.

However, from a dynasty perspective, Appel can be penciled into your 2016 starting rotation as he will be in Houston’s.

Make sure to check out all of our 2015 rankings:

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