Mark Appel had one of the more intriguing and oft-discussed 2014 campaigns among top-level prospects, given his struggles at Class A Advanced Lancaster (2-5, 9.74 ERA, 1.92 WHIP in 12 starts) and his subsequent promotion and success at Double-A Corpus Christi (1-2, 3.69 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in seven appearances). A trip to the Arizona Fall League has afforded the 2013 top overall pick the chance to not only end his first full season in the Minors on a high note, but also to answer some of his critics.
He's certainly done a good amount of both so far.
Appel allowed only two hits while striking out four over five scoreless innings Monday afternoon to lead Salt River to a 4-2 win over Peoria. He hasn't allowed a run over 12 innings in his first three AFL starts, during which time he's fanned 12, walked three and allowed four hits.
"I don't know if there's one thing I can pick out and say this is what I'm doing differently than in the season," he said. "I think it's a combination of continuing to work hard, not giving up and trusting my stuff. I've gotten here because I'd been doing some things the right way and I'm continuing on the same track I tried to finish the season on in Corpus Christi."
The 23-year-old right-hander needed only 54 pitches (36 strikes) to get through five frames for the Rafters, thanks to quick seven-pitch frames in the second and fourth. He sat between 93-95 mph on his fastball and did touch as high as 96 in the fifth. He went to his mid-80s slider on occasion and threw five changeups to keep Javelinas hitters off balance.
After allowing only one hit and fanning six over four innings last Tuesday, Appel (1-0) admitted he was happy just to get close to replicating his success for a third straight start.
"My last game was probably my best up to that point and today was even better," said the Astros' No. 2 prospect. "The difference today was my fastball command out of the windup. My timing was a lot more consistent. Whenever you're able to do that and throw ball where you want to, baseball is a tough game."
Appel gave up his lone hits on the afternoon to top Cleveland prospect and Peoria leadoff hitter Francisco Lindor, who singled up the middle in the first and doubled on a ground ball to right in the second. Although he lost the battle between top-50 overall prospects, Appel (No. 41) had no problem tipping his cap to Lindor (No. 4), who could be heading to Cleveland to start the 2015 season at shortstop.
"He's a good player," Appel said. "You know he's going to be a star in the big leagues obviously. He had three hits today. The two he got off me weren't necessarily hard [hit], but that's what makes him a good leadoff hitter. He can hit it hard, but the fact is he works the count and and hits even pitcher's pitches."
Lindor finished 3-for-4 after adding a single and a stolen base in the sixth.
The Rafters got off to a two-run lead in the second when Javelinas starter and Rays right-hander Jaime Schultz (0-3) walked three of the first four batters he faced and catcher Justin O'Conner allowed two of them to score on a throwing error.
Top Twins prospect Byron Buxton picked up Salt River's first hit in the fourth when he singled in the team's third run. He finished 1-for-4 with a walk, an RBI and a stolen base from the top of the lineup.