mark appel

Phillies prospect Mark Appel stepping away from baseball

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Phillies prospect Mark Appel stepping away from baseball

Mark Appel, the former No. 1 overall pick acquired by the Phillies from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade, is stepping away from baseball.

Four months after being removed from the Phils' 40-man roster, Appel is taking an "indefinite break."

"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."

Appel's entire professional career has been a struggle. In five minor-league seasons, he had a 5.06 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, allowing nearly 10 hits per nine innings.

While he was in the Phillies' system, strike-throwing was a huge issue. In 122⅓ innings over two seasons on the Phils' farm, he walked 74 and struck out 94.

Appel, who missed most of 2016 after requiring elbow surgery, had consistent problems going deep into games, something that didn't sit well with an organization that has become increasingly focused on economy of pitches.

The Phillies acquired Appel from Houston on Dec. 12, 2015 along with Vince Velasquez, Tom Eshelman, Brett Oberholtzer and Harold Arauz in exchange for Giles. At the time, it looked like a shrewd move for the Phils. Unfortunately, two years later, Appel is out of baseball and Velasquez is still very much a question mark, both from a health and efficiency standpoint.

As for Giles, he's a World Series champion. He pitched poorly in the playoffs but did have a 2.30 ERA with 34 saves in the regular season.

The Phillies pushed to acquire Appel in the Giles trade because of concerns over Velasquez's health history, per sources. The initial return package included Velasquez and young outfielder Derek Fisher, but because of the concerns with Velasquez, the Phils chose to fortify their return with more pitching. Appel was a prime change-of-scenery candidate, but the Phils swung and missed.

In two seasons with the Phillies, Velasquez has been limited to just 39 starts, going 10-13 with a 4.48 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He's had three stints on the disabled list and was shut down at the end of the 2016 season.

Eshelman has progressed through the Phils' farm system and could end up making some starts in the majors in 2018. Last season, he went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 23 starts, 18 of which came at Triple A Lehigh Valley. Eshelman, whose calling card is his control, struck out 102 and walked just 18 in 150 innings.

As for Appel, barring a surprise comeback, he will go down as one of the biggest busts in recent history. To his credit, he seems to be mentally moving past that.

Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

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Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

The Phillies added four promising pitching prospects to their 40-man roster on Monday. In a corresponding move, they subtracted a notable name.

Right-handers Franklyn Kilome, Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Taveras and lefty Ranger Suarez were all added to the roster, protecting them from being selected by another club in next month's Rule 5 draft.

The Phillies also added an infielder, Engelb Vielma, to the roster. He was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants.

To make room for these additions, the team needed to clear three spots on its roster, which had been at 38. Left-handed pitcher Elniery Garcia cleared waivers and was sent outright to the minor leagues while right-handers Alberto Tirado and Mark Appel were designated for assignment. The Phillies will try to trade Tirado and Appel before placing them on waivers. If they clear waivers, they could stay in the system.

The Phillies cut Appel loose after he'd struggled with injury and ineffectiveness during two seasons in the organization. The 26-year-old right-hander from Stanford University had twice been a first-round draft pick, by Pittsburgh in 2012 and by Houston — No. 1 overall — in 2013. The Phillies acquired him from the Astros as part of the package for Ken Giles in December 2015, but he never lived up to his huge potential.

"A lot of the tools that Mark showed as an amateur that led to him being the No. 1 overall pick are still there," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "He has simply struggled with performance. It's certainly not for lack of effort on his part. We think the world of the kid and wish him well. It was a tough decision."

Tirado, 22, was acquired from Toronto in July 2015 as part of the return for Ben Revere. He arrived with a fastball that could reach triple digits on the radar gun and that promise earned him a spot on the 40-man a year ago. Tirado suffered a shoulder injury early last season and struggled in the minors.

All four of the pitchers that the Phillies protected are products of the team's international scouting department. Taveras, 24, was a standout at three levels in the minors last season and could be in the picture in Philadelphia in 2018. He led the system in strikeouts in 2016 and 2017.

"He knows how to get guys out and often times that comes via the strikeout," Klentak said. "No matter where he pitches, he rises to the occasion and puts up a strong performance."

Kilome, 22, and Dominguez, 22, are both power arms who project to see significant time at Double A in 2018. Suarez, 22, should also get to Double A at some point in 2018. He had a 2.27 ERA in 22 starts at two levels of Single A ball in 2017.

"He may have been the breakout pitcher of the year for the Phillies," Klentak said. "We'd always heard a lot about him and this year he took his performance to another level.

"We're really excited for all four of these guys. All have worked extremely hard and they are all deserving of being added to our roster. Our international scouting operation, Sal Agostinelli and his group, continues to crank out players. They've done a great job. These four pitchers have earned this through their work ethic and performance. By no means is this the ultimate goal for them, but it's one step closer. We believe really strongly in the futures of these four pitchers."

Vielma, 23, is a top defensive shortstop who can also play second and third base. He was waived by Minnesota in September and claimed by the Giants, who let him go in a roster crunch.

"He's an intriguing claim," Klentak said. "He adds depth to our infield."

The Phillies’ roster is at 40. The team will have to clear space if it wants to add a player in next month's Rule 5 draft. Last November, the Phils added 11 players to the 40-man roster and still lost lefty reliever Hoby Milner to Cleveland. Milner failed to make the Indians' opening-day roster, returned to the organization in March and ended up making 37 appearances for the big club after coming up in late June. He was one of 12 rookies to make their big-league debut with the Phillies in 2017.

Notable players who were not protected include outfielders Carlos Tocci and Andrew Pullin and pitcher Brandon Leibrandt.

"One of the byproducts of a strong system is every year there are some tough omissions," Klentak said. "There are always tough calls. But we look at that as a good problem to have."

Detailed look at 40-man roster decisions Phillies face this winter

Detailed look at 40-man roster decisions Phillies face this winter

If you follow the Phillies, you've likely heard or read the phrase, "crowded 40-man roster" quite often in recent months. It's come into play in their call-ups, trades and signings.

The construction of the 40-man roster matters because an organization risks losing a player in the Rule 5 draft if he is not one of its 40 protected players. 

The quick refresher there, from the CBA:

Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft who are not on their major league organization's 40-man roster and:

– were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming; or

– were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming.

The Phils, after their recent flurry of moves, have 39 players on the 40-man roster. The following players could be selected by another team in December's Rule 5 draft if the Phillies don't first add them to the 40 this winter:

• 1B Rhys Hoskins
• SS J.P. Crawford
• RHP Seranthony Dominguez
• LHP Ranger Suarez
• RHP Franklyn Kilome
• OF Carlos Tocci
• OF Andrew Pullin
• LHP Brandon Leibrandt
• RHP Yacksel Rios

Those first six players are no-brainer additions to the 40. The Phils probably would like to figure out a way to protect all of them, but that will depend on how they approach adding veterans this winter via trades and free agency.

Adding eight or so players to the 40 would require trimming six or seven others. So, how do they make the pieces fit? 

3 players have expiring contracts
INF Andres Blanco
OF/1B Daniel Nava
LF Hyun Soo Kim

10 players the Phillies could consider removing from the 40 — sorted by most likely to least likely based on replaceability/value/ceiling
RHP Pedro Beato
OF Cameron Perkins
RHP Alberto Tirado
1B Brock Stassi
LHP Adam Morgan
INF/OF Ty Kelly
LHP Hoby Milner
INF Jesmuel Valentin
RHP Mark Appel
OF Roman Quinn

Let's examine each case in order:

Beato is a 30-year-old reliever who's been with six different organizations and has a career ERA 10 percent below the MLB average.

Perkins is essentially the outfield version of Stassi — he's been a solid minor-leaguer in this organization but hasn't hit enough to cement his role as a major-league bench piece.

Tirado has walked 56 batters in 74⅓ innings this season at Clearwater and Reading. That won't sit well when it comes time to make roster decisions, but since he's already on the 40 he'll probably get an audition in the majors when rosters expand on Sept. 1.

Tirado was one of two pitchers the Phillies acquired from the Blue Jays at the 2015 trade deadline for Ben Revere. The other player was hard-throwing reliever Jimmy Cordero, who was designated for assignment by the Nationals last Monday to make room for Brandon Kintzler.

Stassi plays very good first base defense, which is important moving forward because that's not exactly a strength for Tommy Joseph or Rhys Hoskins. But Stassi just turned 28 and hasn't hit enough for a first baseman/corner outfielder. The Phillies would like to keep him around, but if they have to remove him from the 40, finding an inexpensive defense-first 1B in free agency wouldn't be too difficult.

Morgan has become something of a scapegoat among Phillies fans, kind of like Luis Garcia once was. But Morgan's throwing harder than ever before, flashing a mid-90s fastball this season, and the Phillies don't have a whole lot of close-to-major-league-ready left-handed pitchers. They could find some lefty specialists in free agency this winter, though, and those decisions will determine Morgan's fate.

Kelly has had some clutch hits this season, no doubt about it — three-game winning knocks and six go-ahead RBIs. He could have a career in the National League because he's a switch hitter with the ability to play so many positions — for the Phillies this season, he's played 2B, 3B, LF, CF and RF. Still, he's a .209 career hitter in 156 plate appearances.

• The Phillies will probably try to keep Milner as an inexpensive lefty specialist. The 26-year-old has been just OK in 12 appearances this season with the Phils but has pitched very well at Triple A. You'd rather have a lefty reliever for $600,000 than $3 million so it's worth giving Milner some more time. 

Valentin's season-ending shoulder injury opened up a natural spot at second base at Triple A for Scott Kingery, who has thrived. Valentin himself is a nice little player, though, a potential utility infielder. Valentin had a decent 2016, hitting .269/.341/.395 at Double A and Triple A, then impressed in spring training, going 15 for 41 (.366) with six doubles and four walks. He's not a lock to remain on the 40, but he's a pretty good bet to stick.

• If you looked at Appel's career arc in the minors and did not know he was a former No. 1 overall pick, you might wonder why he's on the 40-man roster. Appel has not had a good year. He has a 5.27 ERA in 17 starts with 60 strikeouts and 53 walks in 82 innings. He has a 4.82 career ERA at Triple A. 

Will the Phillies non-tender him this winter? They could choose instead to try him out as a reliever next season to see if they could salvage some of his strengths. If they give up on Appel, they'd be giving up on a major piece of the Ken Giles trade, which looked like a win at the time.

Quinn's case is the most interesting. He's so talented that if he were Rule 5 eligible this winter, he'd probably get picked pretty high — he's exactly the type of high-reward player another team would seek. But he hasn't been able to stay healthy. Quinn has been in pro ball since 2012 and his career high during that six-year span is 382 plate appearances. He's yet to play 90 games in a season. 

Throughout his career, Quinn has dealt with a broken wrist, a torn Achilles, a torn hip flexor, two oblique strains, a quad strain and now a ligament injury in his non-throwing elbow that has kept him out since Memorial Day and looks like it will end his season.

There are pronounced pros and cons with keeping Quinn on the 40. You'd think the Phillies would try their best to keep him in case he ever does play a full season.

The last group
Lastly, there are two players — 2B Scott Kingery and right-handed starting pitcher Tom Eshelman, another member of the Giles trade — who don't yet need to be added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection reasons, but who could help the Phillies as immediately as opening day 2018 and thus would need to be added to the 40.

If Kingery is up here on opening day 2018, it likely means either Cesar Hernandez or Maikel Franco is no longer in the picture, so you'd think that would be a 1-for-1 roster swap.

Hernandez is a valuable leadoff hitter, and Franco could hit 200-plus home runs in the majors, but Kingery might be a better all-around player who makes one of them expendable. Teams were interested last offseason in Hernandez and will certainly be calling the Phillies about him again this winter.

Eshelman was on the DL for three weeks with an elbow strain, and the Phillies will be cautious with his workload the rest of the summer. The 23-year-old is already at 113 innings, seven shy of his career high.

Eshelman allowed eight runs in four innings in his return Friday night, but he's been so good at Triple A this season that his ERA is still 2.86. Prior to Friday night, he was 7-2 with a 2.14 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 12 starts with the IronPigs, even better numbers than he had at Double A.

Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and Zach Eflin make for six starting pitchers ahead of Eshelman on the depth chart, but he's probably next on the list at this point. If he gets a spring training invite in 2018 and impresses, he could move up a spot or two.