Crucial season awaits pitching prospect Mark Appel, the Phillies' tantalizing curiosity

Crucial season awaits pitching prospect Mark Appel, the Phillies' tantalizing curiosity

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Almost four years after he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and 15 months after the Phillies took a shot on him in a trade with the Houston Astros, Mark Appel remains a tantalizing curiosity.

The right-hander's professional career has been defined by unfulfilled potential, but that strong-bodied, 6-foot-5, perfect pitcher's frame and power arm are just too mesmerizing to give up on.

This is a big season for Appel. He will turn 26 in July, and he's healthy after having surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow in June. With that, the Phillies sent him off to minor-league camp on Tuesday. In three weeks, he will embark on the season that he hopes will finally land him in the major leagues.

"Everybody kind of makes their own opportunity based on how they play," Appel said. "So, that's where my focus is. I know if I go out there and do the little things that I've been doing the last eight or nine months since surgery and keep this progression that I've been on, that I'll be there in no time.

"It's just a matter of being able to go out and prove that I'm healthy, prove that I can give the team five, six, seven innings, keep the team in the game. I think that's really where my head is at. It's just a matter of going down to minor-league camp and doing my thing."

It's not out of the question that Appel ends up in the bullpen some day. For now, the Phillies want him to continue to get starter's reps so he can work on his primary flaw -- control. He projects to open the season in the Triple A rotation. He opened there last season and went 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his first four starts. He followed that by going 0-3 with an 8.27 ERA in his next four starts before being shut down with the elbow problem. For the season, Appel worked 38 1/3 innings. He struck out 34 but walked 20.

Appel spent a month in big-league camp this spring and pitched in four Grapefruit League games. In nine innings, he gave up seven hits and five runs. He struck out 10 but walked four.

Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure is one of those folks who marvel at Appel's raw talent. He saw progress this spring.

"I'm seeing more quality in his pitches," McClure said. "For me, it looks like he's going forward and that's a big thing. He's not scattering balls all over. His misses are not as frequent and not as bad as they were. I'm very pleased where he's at and he should be too. He's made good progress coming off surgery."

McClure believes Appel will pitch in the big leagues someday. He said the pitcher's goal for 2017 should be to throw "the least amount of pitches per inning as he can."

In other words, fill the strike zone.

Appel knows he needs to improve on that.

"I think I've taken kind of big strides this spring," he said of his control.

He mentioned having some chats with Larry Andersen, who served as a guest pitching instructor early in camp. Andersen stressed the importance of an aggressive mindset and pitching with confidence, two qualities that Appel has not always shown.

"Larry and I had some conversations about the mentality of pitching and really just having confidence and not trying to throw a strike but knowing you're going to throw a strike," Appel said. "There's kind of a difference in knowing it in your head and kind of believing it in every fiber of your body. It makes a difference when you're on the mound."

On the Phillies' depth chart of upper-level pitching prospects, Appel ranks behind Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson, who both made it to the majors last season. He's probably also behind Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Ricardo Pinto. Drew Anderson is a pretty hot name, as well.

But Appel still has the physical tools that led the Astros to draft him No. 1 overall in 2013, the tools that continue to make him a tantalizing curiosity, a lottery ticket the Phillies hope to cash in on. It's just that it's getting to be time for him to start making his move.

"I think I've had times when I've been antsy, but there's a lot of patience with me," Appel said. "I think I've experienced a lot of things. I've experienced times of just pitching really poorly, my performance has lacked. I've had times when I've been injured and there have been setbacks -- last year was obviously a big one for me. I think in that sense there's always the hope, and the dream and the goal of getting to the big leagues, but you can't do it overnight. So I think it's just a matter of staying the course, staying the process."

Mistake-prone Odubel Herrera: 'I have to slow down and be smarter'

Mistake-prone Odubel Herrera: 'I have to slow down and be smarter'

SEATTLE — Two days after being fined for ignoring a manager's order and one day after failing to run out a dropped third strike on one of his three strikeouts, enigmatic Phillies centerfielder Odubel Herrera was not in the starting lineup for Tuesday night's game against the Seattle Mariners.

Benched?

No, said manager Pete Mackanin.

"Just a day off," he said.

Benched?

No, said Herrera.

"No, no, he talked to me today and said just a night off," Herrera said. "He told me I will play tomorrow."

With a tough lefty, James Paxton, pitching for Seattle, Mackanin went with a lineup heavy on right-handed bats and switch-hitters. Herrera hits left-handed. Paxton was holding lefty hitters to a .194 batting average this season.

Interestingly, Herrera has hit lefties (.272) better than righties (.250) this season and he's in the midst of a month of June that has seen him stroke 16 extra-base hits while hitting .333 for a team that scored just four runs while losing its last three in Phoenix.

Nonetheless, Mackanin held Herrera out.

"It gives me a chance to play the other guys," said Mackanin, who used an outfield of Daniel Nava in left field, Aaron Altherr in center and Cameron Perkins in right.

So it has nothing to do with Herrera's three punch outs and effort on Monday?

"No," Mackanin said.

Is Herrera tired?

"It just gives me the opportunity to get the other guys some at-bats," Mackanin said.

Despite a big month of June at the plate — a .359 on-base percentage and a .545 slugging percentage — Herrera has committed a series of frustrating mistakes, from running through a stop sign at third base, to getting picked off, to not running out a dropped third strike, to ignoring a sign.

Herrera often has a green light to steal bases, but Mackanin put a hold on him with two outs in the sixth inning of Saturday night's game. Herrera ignored the hold and was caught stealing while the Phils trailed, 3-2. They ended up losing, 9-2.

Herrera's transgression resulted in Mackanin's taking disciplinary action: He fined the player several hundred dollars. (It will be donated to charity.)

Herrera confirmed that he was fined.

"I understand the fine," he said in English. "I have to learn."

Herrera confirmed that he ignored Mackanin's red light in Saturday's game.

"I saw the sign," Herrera said. "I just took a chance because I saw the catcher's sign (for a breaking ball) and I thought I could make it. But the pitcher didn't throw to home, he threw to first."

Herrera acknowledged his rash of recent mistakes.

"Not concentrating," he said. "A lack of concentration. Sometimes I use too much aggressiveness, you know? I have to slow down and be smarter and just learn from things."

The Phillies signed Herrera to a five-year, $30.5 million contract over the winter. That kind of money can dull a player's edge, but Herrera insists that he's as hungry as ever.

"No, no, no," he said. "I'm not like that. I still want to play hard, still want to be aggressive. Sometimes you don't get the results that you are looking for."

MLB Notes: Tim Tebow ready for next step through Mets' system

MLB Notes: Tim Tebow ready for next step through Mets' system

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Tim Tebow knows he can still improve on everything.

Given his numbers, that's obvious.

If he's the world's most popular minor league .220 hitter, that's just fine with the new left fielder for the St. Lucie Mets. Called up to the New York Mets' advanced Class A affiliate in the Florida State League earlier this week, Tebow was supposed to bat eighth and debut with his new club Tuesday.

First, though, an unplanned day off: The game was postponed after a deluge hit just before the scheduled first pitch. A doubleheader was set for Wednesday.

For St. Lucie, Tebowmania will wait another day.

"We're all as eager as anyone else is to see what the overall impact is going to be," St. Lucie general manager Traer Van Allen said.

Tebow went through batting practice -- under bright sun, incidentally -- and shook hands on the field with some of his new teammates.

He said he isn't looking ahead, and for now remains just focused on the process of getting better.

"It's a scary place to get caught up in, the `where's this going to lead,' `what's going to happen to my future,' `what is the next day,'" Tebow said. "I get today. Tomorrow's not promised. I'm going to make the most of today.

"And that sounds cliche, but gosh, I hope when you look at my life 10, 20, 30 years from now, you can see somebody that they really took advantage of that day," (see full story).

Cubs: Champs to make informal trip to White House
WASHINGTON -- Manager Joe Maddon and some of the Chicago Cubs will visit the White House on Wednesday, though it's not an official visit with President Donald Trump.

Maddon said Tuesday that he was going out of respect for the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs and donated to Trump's campaign. Maddon said it was voluntary for Cubs players and not an official trip.

"I don't have any rules to begin with," Maddon said. "I just want you to run hard to first base. As long as you run hard to first base, they can make up their own mind whether they want to go to the White House or not. As long as my pitchers work on defense, they can do whatever they want tomorrow."

The Cubs are in Washington to play the Nationals.

The White House visit is so unofficial that Maddon said it's only "a possibility" that he and the Cubs will see Trump. The team visited President Barack Obama at the White House as World Series champions in January before the end of his term.

Amid questions about whether the NBA champion Golden State Warriors will visit Trump, Maddon said he isn't making a political statement by going.

"I like the United States a lot, I like living here a lot and I like everything that it represents a lot," Maddon said. "When you get a chance as a citizen to get to go to the White House, you go. I think you go. And whether you like the person that's running the country or not, out of respect to the office itself, you go" (see full story).

Yankees: Castro on DL; prospect Wade recalled
CHICAGO -- The New York Yankees placed Starlin Castro on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday with a strained right hamstring.

Castro was injured running out a ground ball in the third inning of New York's 6-5 win over the Chicago White Sox on Monday night. The second baseman is batting .313 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs in 73 games.

Although an MRI on Tuesday morning revealed a Grade 1 strain, Castro doesn't believe he'll be sidelined long.

"I don't think it's serious," he said. "When I woke up, I was walking normal."

The Yankees recalled infielder Tyler Wade -- one of the organization's top prospects -- from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take Castro's roster spot.

Wade, 22, wasn't in the lineup Tuesday because Chicago started left-hander Jose Quintana. Yankees manager Joe Girardi plans to start Wade against right-handers.

Indians: Manager Francona hospitalized, misses game
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona missed Tuesday night's game against Texas after his second trip to the hospital this month.

The Indians said doctors for now have ruled out major health issues and Francona will be monitored the next several weeks.

The 58-year-old Francona left Monday night's game because he wasn't feeling well. He spent several hours at Cleveland Clinic and underwent a series of tests.

Francona was released from the hospital on Tuesday and spent the rest of the day at home. He was expected to return to the dugout Wednesday when the Indians host the Rangers.

Bench coach Brad Mills is running the team in Francona's absence. Cleveland began the day in first place in the AL Central after rallying for a 15-9 win Monday.

"Tito actually wanted to come back to the ballpark today," team president Chris Antonetti said Tuesday. "I told him he can't come back to the ballpark today. He only got a couple hours of sleep last night, so despite his desire to want to be here, I thought it was best that he gets some rest tonight and just come back tomorrow. His plan when he was getting released from the hospital was to come over here."

"I don't think he was exceedingly happy with me," Antonetti said with a laugh. "That's OK."

Francona was hospitalized June 13 following a game at Progressive Field. He underwent tests and was released a few hours later, returning to work the following night. Last August, he missed a game after experiencing chest pains but was back the next day.

"Thankfully, we've got some great doctors that are coordinating his care," Antonetti said. "They've done every test they can possibly imagine. They've all come back clean. They're now working to try to figure out what are some of those things that are causing him to not feel so well."

Francona, a close friend of Mills for several years, has retained his sense of humor through his health issues.

A statement released by the team Tuesday read, "Mr. Francona also wanted to express that medical personnel have not yet ruled out an allergy to Bench Coach Brad Mills."

Brewers: Braun, Villar activated from disabled list
CINCINNATI -- The Milwaukee Brewers have activated outfielder Ryan Braun and second baseman Jonathan Villar from the 10-day disabled list before opening a three-game series at Cincinnati.

The Brewers on Tuesday designated infielder-outfielder Nick Franklin for assignment. Milwaukee already had a spot open on the 25-man roster after optioning catcher Jeff Bandy and outfielder Lewis Brinson to Triple-A Colorado Springs and adding catcher Stephen Vogt on Sunday.

Braun missed 31 games because of a left calf strain. He hit .262 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in 30 games before going on the disabled list for the second time this season with the same injury.

Villar has missed the last 16 games because of a lower back sprain. He hit .213 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 59 games.