In his last start for Double-A Corpus Christi -- the first complete-game victory of his career -- Mark Appel looked like he was riding a wave of momentum. Now, that wave is taking him all the way to Fresno, California.
The Astros are promoting their No. 2 prospect to Triple-A Fresno, according to a tweet by Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. No official date has been announced for Appel's Pacific Coast League debut, although Friday (which had no listed Grizzlies starter as of Wednesday afternoon) would give him the usual four days of rest. (Update: The Grizzlies announced Appel will start the first game of a doubleheader Saturday.)
Appel -- the top overall pick from the 2013 Draft -- was 5-1 with a 4.26 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 49 strikeouts and 23 walks in 13 starts (63 1/3 innings) in the Texas League prior to the promotion. Taken alone, those numbers wouldn't necessarily point to a move to the Minors' highest level, especially to the hitter-friendly environs of the PCL. But he earned the move this month with much more spectacular numbers. In four June starts, he posted a 1.54 ERA and 0.86 WHIP with 20 strikeouts and only five walks across 23 1/3 frames.
The 23-year-old right-hander took time to settle in last season as well. He notably posted a 9.74 ERA in 12 starts for Class A Advanced Lancaster but was promoted to Corpus Christi all the same in late July. The move ruffled a few feathers among Astros Major Leaguers at the time, but Appel showed improvements in the Texas League and finished his time there with a 3.69 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 39 innings. After throwing only 83 1/3 innings during the regular season, he was given a chance in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named to the AFL All-Prospect Team after posting a 2.16 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 31 innings with Salt River.
Appel, whose best pitch is his mid-90s fastball that is complemented by a good slider and an above-average changeup, told MiLB.com on Sunday that he's starting to feel like he did last autumn once again.
"I think last year in the Fall League, I was kind of in the same mentality, in the same groove, felt good, felt comfortable," he said. "The goal for me is going to be able to really make this the norm and not have it just a groove but have it be, 'You know what? This is Mark.' That's the guy that I was in college. I prided myself on being a dependable starter, giving the bullpen a break, going deep into games. Within the construct of the Astros Minor League system, I want to be able to do the same."
Appel is the only player ranked among the Astros' top five prospects not to appear in the Majors this season, but if he can carry his June form to Fresno, that Major League callup could come later this summer, perhaps during the September roster expansion. He is not, however, on the organization's 40-man roster, so Houston would have to make another roster move to make room for the right-hander.