His latest signs are quite encouraging — for the Fresno Grizzlies and Houston Astros.
And especially for Grizzlies pitching prospect Mark Appel.
In his past two starts spanning 13 innings, Appel has allowed just two runs and seven hits.
He also matched his career-high of 10 strikeouts while pitching seven innings Saturday in the Grizzlies’ 9-7 victory in 12 innings against the Albuquerque Isotopes.
That’s quite a turnaround after sporting a 6.52 ERA through his first four Triple-A starts.
“I’ve been starting to play this game enough to know the highs aren’t nearly are high as they seem and the low aren’t as low as it feels,” Appel said. “Just trying to stay as even-keeled as possible.”
I’ve been starting to play this game enough to know the highs aren’t nearly are high as they seem and the low aren’t as low as it feels.
Appel’s career has been anything but even keeled since he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Astros in 2013.
At each level and each season, Appel, 24, has endured rough starts, with some tough patches lasting longer than others.
And yet he’s always figured things out eventually, showcasing the velocity, movement and command that’s made him a highly regarded prospect since his days at Stanford.
And in turn, he’s been promoted to the next level.
Grizzlies pitching coach Ace Adams pointed to Appel’s fastball control and consistent mechanics as the keys to his latest success.
“He’s controlling his fastball for a strike and pitching ahead,” Adams said. “He’s not trying to overthrow. He’s got a very good rhythm going right now.
“Sometimes he gets real quick through his delivery. His arm gets late or he cuts the ball. Lately, he’s had a nice rhythm and moving patterns. It was real good to see.”
After advancing through short season ball and low Class A in 2013 with relative ease, Appel ran into much trouble while at Class-A Lancaster.
Through his first 11 starts at Class A, Appel sported a 10.80 ERA and made it through five innings only four times. Batters were hitting .392.
Yet his final outing with Lancaster proved to be his best, limiting the damage to two runs on five hits in six innings. And the Astros quickly promoted him to Double-A Corpus Christi and removed Appel from the batters’ haven in California’s high desert.
Appel’s numbers leveled some while at Double-A and he finished the season 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA for Corpus Christi.
But a return to Double-A to start this season again began rocky.
Through his first eight starts, Appel had 6.03 ERA and was allowing a .321 average. And he’d issued 15 walks in his first 34 1/3 innings.
But once again, Appel shaped began to find his footing and finished Double-A at 5-1 with a 4.26 ERA to earn a promotion to the Grizzlies.
“I wouldn’t be where I was without those bad outings,” Appel said. “You learn more in bad outings than good outings, and it’s been no different for me.
“It’s not how I planned for things. It’s just what happened. I’ve tried to learn from each of my starts. Probably learned more after the bad ones because you want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Appel’s bad-to-good development didn’t stop with the Grizzlies.
In his Triple-A debut June 27, Appel surrendered seven runs on seven hits and lasted just three innings at Reno.
“It wasn’t how I wanted to make my debut, but I wasn’t going to let it affect me and shake my confidence,” Appel said. “Every player goes through highs and lows. My lows seems to happen at the start of the year or in the first games at a new level.
“But in the big picture, it’s not that important. What’s important is learning and getting better, maintaining your confidence and being a good teammate.”
Should Appel continue his recent trend of success, the 6-foot-5 righty could find himself with the Astros this season — maybe even helping Houston in the playoffs.
“The only way you’re going to learn is getting your rear end bumped a little bit then coming back and gaining success,” Adams said. “Mark has gone through his share.
“His stuff is major league. His movement is late. His changeup has a real good zoom to it at the end. He’s got good arm speed. His slider is nasty. He’s a major-leaguer waiting to happen.”