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.

Big game in a 'Little' environment — Phillies players cherish their return to Williamsport

Jim Salisbury/NBCSP

Big game in a 'Little' environment — Phillies players cherish their return to Williamsport

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa.  Phillies players retraced their baseball steps Sunday night with a trip back to Bowman Field, home of the franchise's New York-Penn League team.

A dozen members of the team's traveling party could trace the infancy of their careers back to a summer spent at the charming, 2,500-seat stadium in the town that is synonymous with baseball, and a colorful, handmade sign welcomed them all to the clubhouse.

But, actually, they went back further than the start of their careers and that early step on the professional baseball ladder in this trip through time and the Pennsylvania hills.

The Phillies and Mets spent the day in the town where Little League Baseball was born in 1939. Players from both teams visited the Lamade Stadium, where the Little League World Series is being played, in the late morning. They mingled with young players from all over the world before a game, posed for pictures and signed autographs before heading across town for the second annual Little League Classic, an official National League game.

The trip through time was special for Phillies players for a lot of different reasons.

Scott Kingery, who started the big league game at shortstop for the Phillies, played in the Little League World Series as a 12-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona in 2006. His brother, Sam, was a teammate and their dad, Tom, was the manager of the club. Sam and Tom also made the trip back to Williamsport for Sunday's event.

"It was pretty surreal," Kingery said. "I walked into the dugout as they were getting ready for a game and one of the Little League players was like, 'Whoa, Scott Kingery.' That's crazy because I remember sitting in that dugout and thinking how cool it would have been for someone to walk in who was playing Major League Baseball.

"It's my first time back. It brought back memories. Not much has changed. There wasn't a lot of stuff I remembered, but as soon as I got back there I kind of remembered everything. It was awesome."

As Kingery spoke inside the cramped clubhouse behind the first base dugout at Bowman Field, he wore a blue Little League cap with a W on it. It was the same cap worn by this year's West Region champs from Honolulu, Hawaii.

Kingery was a member of the West Region championship team in 2006.

Andrew Knapp was not so lucky. His Little League team from Granite Bay, California won the Northern California sectionals but came up just short of winning the West Region in 2003.

Knapp also wore a blue West Region championship cap before Sunday night's game.

"I finally got one," he said. "I didn't get one when I was 11 and I was devastated, so I had to get one."

Knapp paid $25 for his cap.

Kingery laughed when he heard that. He got his cap for free.

"Guess he didn't ask the right guys," Kingery said of Knapp.

Mets third baseman Todd Frazier and outfielder Michael Conforto are also Little League World Series alums.

The Williamsport Crosscutters share the area's baseball spotlight with Little League Baseball. Since 2007, the Crosscutters have been affiliated with the Phillies. They are a short-season Class A team and their season runs from mid-June to the first week of September.

"This was my first taste of pro ball right after I was drafted," said Knapp, who was recalled from Triple A before the game. "The bus rides, playing in front of crowds — for me, they are all great memories. This is awesome and I'm glad to be part of it."

Rhys Hoskins played here in 2014 — before the leg kick that he says changed his career.

Third base coach Dusty Wathan managed here in 2008.

Third baseman Maikel Franco played here in 2011 when he was 18. He and Bob Stumpo, now one of the team's catching instructors, were teammates.

Franco recalled the first game that he and Stumpo played in Bowman Field.

"Opening day, first at-bat, Stumpo hit a home run," Franco said with wide eyes. "I remember it. He was so big, I was like, 'Man, this guy is going to hit a lot of home runs this year.' When the season was over, I looked at the stats — one home run."

Franco chortled as he told the story.

And it was all true, confirmed by Stumpo, the former West Chester University star, himself.

There were a lot of smiles and laughs and good memories leading up to game time.

But at 7 p.m., it was all business. The Atlanta Braves lost earlier in the day, leaving the door open for the Phillies to slip into first place in the NL East. The seats at Bowman Field were filled with happy Little Leaguers done with their work over at the Little League complex, but there was an important big-league ballgame to play.

"We know this is big for baseball and we're happy to be part of it," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of the day and all its festivities. "We know the relationship between Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball can enhance our game and we're not going to miss that opportunity.

"And then when game time rolls around, I can assure you our guys are still going to be having fun like we always do, but we are going to be taking this responsibility very seriously."

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Why no Justin Bour vs. Jacob deGrom? Gabe Kapler explains

Why no Justin Bour vs. Jacob deGrom? Gabe Kapler explains


Why wasn't Justin Bour in the starting lineup?

That was the question on seemingly every Phillies fan's mind Saturday — at least if Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, emails and texts are any indication — as they were being shut down by the amazing Jacob deGrom on Saturday afternoon.

Coming into the game, Bour had gone 8 for 21 (.381) with two homers and a double off deGrom. No, it's not some massive sample size. But the only players in baseball with more career extra-base hits off deGrom than Bour are Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman.

When you're facing the Ace of Aces, don't you want as much offense in the lineup as possible?

"I thought long and hard about Bour starting today," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I had the conversation with Justin as well. I said look, I really wanted to find a way to get you in there today but with Jake Arrieta on the mound, it's very important that we put our best defensive infield out there. 

"We want to give Jake every chance because, with the high groundball rate, we know he's going to induce a lot of ground balls. We know that we're going to need to play sound defense behind him. And Carlos Santana is a very, very good defensive first baseman despite a play he wasn't able to make today. He's very good over there, he makes our infielders look good. 

"So when Jake is on the mound, when Aaron Nola is on the mound, sometimes we optimize for defense over putting a guy in the lineup whose had some success against deGrom, and he has been good against him."

Santana made outs in his first three at-bats and was booed after striking out with Rhys Hoskins on second base to end the sixth inning. Santana did begin the ninth inning with a single up the middle, which had meaning in a two-run game.

Bour pinch-hit in the eighth and struck out swinging on three pitches.

The Phillies managed just an unearned run in their 3-1 loss to deGrom and the Mets (see first take). Even that involved frustration because the play, along with the inning, ended with Odubel Herrera rounding first base and being tagged out before he could dive back safely.

That seventh inning was the only time all afternoon the Phillies had multiple baserunners against deGrom. The next inning, Hoskins stepped to the plate representing the tying run after doubling and singling earlier against the Mets' Cy Young candidate. Hoskins struck out swinging … on a 98.1 mph fastball that was deGrom's fastest pitch of the day to that point.

The guy is just ridiculous. 

In 25 starts this season, deGrom is 8-7 with a 1.71 ERA. The Mets have lost 14 of his starts because they're the Mets and they struggle to score. But, as usual, the Mets' deficiencies haven't stopped them from beating the Phillies. The Mets are 7-5 against the Phils and 18 games under .500 against everyone else.

There has been plenty of cap-tipping this season by the Phillies when they struggle to score runs. This was an instance when you do just truly tip your cap to maybe the best pitcher in baseball. 

"You think can he keep going? Can he keep going? And then he just does," Mets catcher Devin Mesoraco said of his battery mate. "A lot of life on his fastball and his best slider of the year. He had everything working."

The Phillies, again, did not have their defense working. Arrieta made his fourth errant pickoff throw of the season, Santana muffed a grounder to start the sixth and Herrera collided with Cesar Hernandez on a pop-up that was caught. There's been a lot of that in shallow center field this season.

The Phillies have 96 errors, most in the majors and 15 more than they averaged from 2008-11. The defense has been a serious issue, so even if Kapler's decision to sit Bour seemed strange, it's a bit more defensible because of all the unearned runs scored with Arrieta on the mound.

But, quite frankly, even without the miscues, the Phillies probably wouldn't have won this game.

"He's the story," Arrieta said of deGrom. "He's having a historic season. Hopefully, he keeps it up, it's really fun to watch that. You don't want to see it against your guys, but when a guy is on top of his game like that, sometimes you just sit back and enjoy it.

"Hopefully he does it against the Braves for us."

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