The No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 draft, Mark Appel, made his professional debut on Friday for the Single-A Tri-City Valley Cats in the New York-Penn League. I attended the game and have several observations of the long-awaited arrival for the most highly touted pitcher in this year's draft.
Appel's first professional pitch was smacked by Tzu-Wei Lin for a leadoff triple far into deep center. Lin was then knocked in the next at-bat on a ground-out.
Appel continued to pitch poorly by giving up two consecutive hits, both of which were hit hard into the outfield. He was in a difficult situation with runners on the corners with only one out. Then he used his first successful off-speed pitch, causing the hitter to roll over the pitch and ground out but also knocking in a run that was only originally saved at third because of a pinpoint throw from left fielder D'Andre Toney to hold Kevin Mager from scoring.
The next at-bat started to show why Appel was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft.
After quickly falling behind in the count 3-0 to hitter Celuluis Rondon, Appel wouldn't give up. He battled back with several assaulting fastballs and off-speed pitches, attacking the zone and causing Rondon to foul off three straight pitches, filling the count. On the next pitch, Appel fired a fastball on the corner to catch Rondon looking, striking out his first professional batter.
In his first inning, Appel didn't have great command on his pitches; either they were right down the middle or were way outside of the strike zone. That, along with his lack of using his curveball, or ineffectiveness thereof, caused a rough first inning. After getting hit around, he looked nervous, pacing around the mound and fidgeting with his cap.
The at-bat to end the first inning was the coming of age for Appel, who took only nine pitches to lay down the seventh, eighth and ninth hitters of the Lowell Spinners lineup.
Warming up for the second inning, he practiced his changeup and curveball more, indicating his changing approach toward his game and the batters he would face. While still not commanding the zone like he did throughout his college career, Appel forced three quick ground-outs, keeping the ball down and causing quick outs. Near the end of the inning, Appel looked calm and relaxed—a far cry from his first-inning self.
While his start was shaky, it was to be expected. Appel hadn't pitched in almost two months since the end of his college baseball season with Stanford, and Friday's start was only a tune-up for what is to come.
His curveball didn't break very much, which led to him getting smacked around, and a post-game interview said he was predictable with the use of his fastball. He didn't touch his true velocity potential, peaking only once at 95 MPH, when in reality he can consistently hit that number and higher deep into starts.
However, the most memorable moment of the day was him finally starting. It was the long-heralded arrival of another key piece in the Houston Astros rebuilding project.
While it was only a 26-pitch dose of the future, seeing a potential superstar pitcher begin his journey to the show is exciting nonetheless. He shook off the rust that two months of absence will bring, and he should continue to improve throughout the year as he gets warmed up again. He put his work in and began his learning curve, discovering how to maneuver through professional lineups.
Overall, it was a great day for Appel, who showed he could adapt to pitching needs and move on from a bad inning, which displayed immense maturity and can take years to teach. While he didn't pitch well, he did what was expected of him, and I give him a final grade of an A.
Photos courtesy of: whattheheckbobby.blogspot.com