One of the biggest MLB busts of all time walking away at 26

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Mark Appel likely will soon be a member of a very exclusive club, becoming only the third player to be a No. 1 pick in the MLB draft and never make it to the big leagues.

Appel, who was once considered to be a cornerstone piece of the Houston Astros’ future, announced he is walking away from the game at the age of 26.

He was taken with the first pick in the 2013 draft, one spot ahead of the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, who won Rookie of the Year and MVP in his three years in the league.

Sports Illustrated famously predicted that the Astros would be the 2017 World Series champions back in 2014. George Springer was on the cover, and Appel was considered a key piece of the foundation of that great young team.

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SI author Ben Reiter was right about Houston winning the World Series, of course.

But he was wrong about Appel.

Reiter wrote in that article: “Last year the Astros went with Stanford righthander Mark Appel, considered as risk-free a pitcher pick as has ever been made. This spring Appel was [Baseball America’s] 39th-rated prospect, though he has an 10.48 ERA through 22 1/3 innings in Class A this year. He has had tendinitis in his right thumb and an appendectomy, underscoring that the ride isn’t always smooth even for the safest of prospects.”

In a June 19, 2013, article on, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow was ecstatic about signing Appel, who got a $6.35 million signing bonus.

“This is the most significant investment the Astros have made in their history in an amateur player and we hope we’re investing a lot in him in the future,” Luhnow said in the article. “We believe it’s going to be a long-term relationship. This is the beginning step; it’s not the end. It’s very exciting.”

“This is a big day for our organization,” he continued. “Any time you have a chance to pick first in the Draft, you have a chance to significantly improve your organization. We’ve done it twice in the last two years and we really believe Mark is the perfect fit for what we’re trying to do here. The future’s very bright in Houston.”

But things didn’t pan out for Appel, a 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher drafted out of Stanford.

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In 2015, for Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Fresno, he had a combined record of 10-3 with a 4.37 ERA.

In December 2015, the Astros cut the cord with their former No. 1 pick, shipping him to Philadelphia for a package that brought back closer Ken Giles.

At Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Appel was 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA in 2016 and 5-4 with a 5.14 ERA in 2017.

In an article published by Bleacher Report on Thursday, Appel said he is taking an “indefinite break” from baseball. If he never returns to the game, he will join the Yankees’ Brien Taylor (1991) and the Mets’ Steve Chilcott (1966) as the only No. 1 picks to never make it to the majors.

“Maybe we should all get together and have a party,” Appel told Bleacher Report.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “I’m pursuing other things, but also trying to become a healthy human.”

Appel, who was born in Houston, was drafted by the Tigers in 2009 out of high school but opted to attend Stanford instead. He has pitched through injuries throughout his entire professional career. In 2014 it was his hand, in 2016 he had surgery to remove bone spurs, and last year it was shoulder pain, which he is currently rehabbing.

“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 told Bleacher Report. “I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind.”

He continued, “I had high expectations. 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?”

While he hasn’t completely closed the book on returning to baseball, for now he is going in another direction.  He plans on going to business school and would like to intern at a private equity firm or some other business.

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Dave is a lifelong sports fan who has been writing for The Wildcard since 2017. He has been a writer for more than 20 years for a variety of publications.
Dave has been writing about sports for The Wildcard since 2017. He's been a reporter and editor for over 20 years, covering everything from sports to financial news. In addition to writing for The Wildcard, Dave has covered mutual funds for Pensions and Investments, meetings and conventions, money market funds, personal finance, associations, and he currently covers financial regulations and the energy sector for Macallan Communications. He has won awards for both news and sports reporting.
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