Most of the players projected as candidates for the Phillies to draft first overall this June are pitchers. Plenty of hype, scrutiny and expectations come along with being selected first overall in any sport, but it's a unique thing for a starting pitcher who can prove himself just once every five days.
It will be a lot of pressure for a player between 18 and 22 years old, but a former No. 1 pick new to the Phils' organization will have some words of advice for whomever they take in June.
"Looking back, it's one of those things that it's a blessing and a curse, it really is," Mark Appel said in a Phillies Clubhouse interview that airs tonight at 6:30 on Comcast SportsNet.
"Whoever the Phillies take first overall, hopefully I'll be able to meet him and share some of the things that I struggled with and failed at to make him a better player and hopefully see him realize the potential that he has."
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It's taken a while for Appel to develop and he still hasn't realized his potential. It's why he was available this winter and the Phils were able to acquire him in the Ken Giles trade with Houston. The 6-foot-5 right-hander entered this season with a 5.12 ERA in 253 innings in the Astros' system. He struggled with command and was hit around at pretty much every level. The fact that Kris Bryant was taken second overall that year has only made the criticism louder and the road tougher for Appel, now 24.
"Obviously, you're paid well and you're afforded opportunities that you wouldn't have otherwise. But at the same time, there's this level of expectation and pressure that goes along with it," Appel said. "And that's kind of hard to explain to the average person. I think everybody has expectations and pressures in their own life, but first overall pick is a little bit unique. The public nature of it is unique, and so there's a lot that goes into it."
There have been many star players taken first overall but also some busts. Dating back to 2000, there have been standouts at No. 1 like Carlos Correa, Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Justin Upton, Joe Mauer and Adrian Gonzalez. But there have also been disappointments like Tim Beckham, Luke Hochevar, Matt Bush and Bryan Bullington. Beckham and Hochevar have become OK major-league players, but if you're drafted first overall and don't become an integral piece of a team, the pick is typically seen as a failure.
As for Appel, he's gotten off to a better start this season at Triple A Lehigh Valley. Even after giving up five runs in five innings on Thursday, he's 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA through five starts. He's still allowed far too many baserunners - 39 in 27 innings - but so far he's been able to get outs when he's needed them. He's not completely out of the woods, though, because any pitcher is walking a tightrope when he's putting nearly 1½ men on base per inning.
But either way, Appel says he genuinely feels more comfortable, more at ease at this point. He's not second-guessing himself and killing himself mentally every time he has a bad inning.
"If I had to go back and do it all over again, just taking pressure off myself and just not taking everything so seriously," Appel said of what he'd do differently. "Just realizing the reason I was [drafted] where I was is because of who I was and what I had done in college (at Stanford). And I don't need to try to be anyone else or be extra special or perfect every time out. Just be the player that I was. That's what I'm trying to do this year."
Appel's teammate and roommate, Zach Eflin, says he's already seen differences in Appel's repertoire and demeanor on the mound.
"I've seen him in the past years and he just looks different," Eflin said. "He looks like he's not scared to challenge a hitter."
For more from Appel and Eflin, check out the full interviews tonight on CSN's Phillies Clubhouse.