Mark Appel had a 9.74 earned-run average. He had a 2-5 record to go with it, in Single-A.
Then the strangest thing happened, he got promoted.
Knowing just that, it's certainly a head-scratcher.
But then there's this. Appel was the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, a prize the Astros want to handle delicately. And, well, he had a good outing before that.
"We have a plethora of pitching arms, outstanding pitching arms in our minor league system,'' Astros farm director Quinton McCracken told the Houston Chronicle. "It's well noted. You can't promote them all. You've got to do it in a systematic, pragmatic way, and that's what we're doing.
"Mark is one of our priority guys. He's throwing the ball extremely well, and we're going to ride this momentum and hopefully get him here in Houston in the upcoming future.''
The promotion, however, wasn't without a few detractors in the Astros' organization. A few even voiced their complaints, anonymously, to a Chronicle reporter. Because, along with a promotion, Appel also threw a bullpen session with the Astros' pitching coach.
He reportedly came in the back door and left the same way, before most players arrived. That tends to make you believe that the Astros were trying to hide that he was there at all.
"It's (expletive) unbelievable," one was quoted as saying. Another current Astros player (presumably a pitcher) swore about the bullpen session too.
After that report, however, a pair of Astros told MLB.com that no one they knew about was upset. Those were catcher Jason Castro and reliever Chad Qualls. Castro even said he texted Appel to make sure he knew there was support for him with the Astros.
"I wanted to give him a heads up just to make sure he's not reading stuff and thinking guys are upset with him for, really, something that no one should be upset about," Castro told MLB.com. "It wasn't something that really should have left the clubhouse. It really started as a joke and kind of got blown out of proportion a little bit. I wanted to make sure there were no misunderstandings going on and everybody was on the same page. It was a non-issue."
Preventing a fail
The reality is that the Astros don't want Appel to lose confidence while pitching in a tough league. Some guys find success there, like Josh Hader with his 2.45 ERA and 9-1 record. But a guy like Appel has a target on him every time he throws because of his draft spot and signing bonus.
The Astros want to build on his positives and promote him when they can to a place where he might find more consistent success.
Thinking toward the future
The Astros need to protect what they have, especially after recently failing to sign No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken. They get next year's No. 2 overall pick as compensation, but they also lose a year developing a top pitching prospect because of it. The Astros are looking to compete for a title in 2017, and it's well documented that every more they make is about heading in that direction.
That means they want Appel prepared to be a major league pitcher by 2016 at the latest. The best way to do that is to allow him to develop in a place he can find success. The Astros believe that is in Double-A Corpus Christi. And, by all accounts, that seems to be true.
Whether he deserved the promotion or not, the No. 1 overall pick is going to be treated differently. That's just the way it is.
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