In a candid, must-read interview with Bleacher Report’s Joon Lee, former No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel reveals that he’s stepping away from professional baseball at the age of 26. Appel didn’t use the word “retirement” and suggested that perhaps, somewhere down the line, he’d give baseball another shot. However, for the time being, he won’t be reporting to Spring Training with the Phillies (who will retain his rights, tweets Matt Gelb of The Athletic).
“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,” Appel tells Lee. “I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind.”
Appel, clearly, has dealt with his share of disappointment in professional baseball. The former Stanford ace was twice projected to be the top overall pick in the draft, falling to the Pirates at No. 8 in 2012 and then ultimately being selected No. 1 overall by Houston the following year after returning to Stanford for his senior season. As Joon explores in detail, Appel posted respectable numbers in his debut season but never really hit his stride after the fact, struggling through injuries and oftentimes inexplicable ineffectiveness from 2014-17.
Appel bluntly states that he was “maybe the worst pitcher in professional baseball” in 2014 and recalls a story where, after arguably the worst start of his career, frustration boiled over to the point that he destroyed a particle-board panel in the clubhouse by throwing upwards of 80 baseballs through it. (Appel purchased supplies to repair the damages at Home Depot out of his own pocket and handled the project himself the following day.) The right-hander obviously feels some disappointment about never reaching the Majors and says he would “absolutely” have loved to be pitching in the World Series alongside his friends and former Astros teammates.
As Lee points out, if Appel never makes the decision to return to pro ball, he’d become just the third No. 1 overall pick ever to retire without logging a single game in the Majors. Appel is aware of that unflattering context but seems to be at peace with the fact.
“I had high expectations,” says Appel, who is still rehabbing from his 2017 shoulder troubles. “I didn’t live up to those for a number of reasons. If you want to call me the biggest draft bust, you can call it that. … If I never get to the big leagues, will it be a disappointment? Yes and no. That was a goal and a dream I had at one point, but that’s with stipulations that I’m healthy, I’m happy and doing something I love. If I get to the big leagues, what’s so great about the big leagues if you’re in an isolated place, you’re hurt and you’re emotionally unhappy? How much is that worth to you?”
For the time being, Appel says he’s planning on pursuing an internship and attending business school, perhaps at Stanford but also with several other prospective universities in mind. He speaks with a certain level of excitement about the opportunity to spend more time with friends and family, as well as the possibility of traveling. Perhaps most important of all, Appel sounds like a man with an unexpected and impressive level of perspective on the struggles he’s had in professional baseball: “Some people have real struggles. I played baseball. I thought I was going to be great, and I wasn’t.”