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Astros Prospect Report: The Resplendent Renaissance of Mark Appel

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Your daily look at the previous night's Minor League happenings.

Scott Halleran

AAA Oklahoma City RedHawks: 13-6 win over Albuquerque (LAD)

-> Matthew Duffy: 3-for-5, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R
-> Preston Tucker: 2-for-3, BB, RBI, 2 R
-> Andrew Aplin: 2-for-3, BB, 2B, RBI, R
-> Domingo Santana: 2-for-4, 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI
-> Carlos Perez: 2-for-5, R, 2 RBI
-> Ruben Sosa: 1-for-1, 2B, R
-> Jiovanni Mier: 1-for-1, RBI
-> Jonathan Villar: 1-for-4, R
-> Max Stassi: 1-for-5, RBI
-> Joe Sclafani: 0-for-1, R, 3 BB
-> Ronald Torreyes: 0-for-5, 2 R

SP Alex White: 3.1 IP, 4 R (3 ER), 5 H, 5 BB, 3 K
RP Ross Seaton: 3.2 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 2 K (win)
RP Paul Clemens: 1.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 2 K
RP David Martinez: 1.0 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 K

Tucker's numbers in AAA are now noticeably similar to those he posted in AA; is games played, runs, hits, AB, doubles, walks, average and OBP are all within very negligible differences. The big differences have been homers and strike outs; he's homered less than half as often, and struck out nearly twice as much. He's hitting .281/.348/.430 in AAA.

After hitting .364 during his last ten games, Santana is sitting with a healthy .298/.382/.474 batting line in 115 games this season. That said, he's hit just two homers in his last 38 games, due mostly to a horrific month of July that saw him bat .231/.320/.277. Also on the bright side, he's been doing a bit better with strike outs this month as well, with 14 in 13 games.

Though he's shown next to no power, Aplin's first stint in AAA is going quite well; he's hitting .274/.354/.321 through his first 24 games, and has 12 walks and just 12 strike outs during them.

AA Corpus Christi Hooks: 1-0 win over Frisco (TEX)

-> Carlos Perdomo: 2-for-2, BB, SB, R
-> Brandon Meredith: 2-for-3
-> Colin Moran: 1-for-4, RBI
-> Delino DeShields: 0-for-2, BB
-> Tony Kemp: 0-for-3, BB

SP Mark Appel: 8.0 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 10 K (win)
RP Tyson Perez: 1.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 2 BB, 2 K (save)

The faint scents of pine tar and blood intertwined and danced on the wind even as the Hooks wearily packed their gear into the grumbling bus. San Antonio lay broken and ruined to their rear, the gentle crackling of small fires interrupted by the dreadful, distant wailed cries of the crestfallen remnant of the once-proud city's populace. Dirtied and spent, despite victorious, the team stumbled through the aisle to their seats, collapsing finally for some well-earned rest on the long journey back to base camp on the shore.

Mark Appel contemplated all he had witnessed as he stared blankly out the window, his gaze piercing dully into the darkness that ambled past his view as the bus drove steadily for the Gulf. A great victory won, but at what cost? Delino DeShields, asleep in the seat next to him, drew ragged breaths as he slumped forward a bit, unconscious of the world in his deep sleep. Tony Kemp groans from across the aisle, rubbing his sore legs, while Colin Moran sits next to him, loosing a deep sigh as he holds an ice pack to his right elbow. The general silence of the night is broken intermittently throughout the bus with a cough or quiet moan. Sprains an strains, blisters and breaks, tears and tears surround him. After nearly five months of this war, the troops are battered, and the fading adrenaline of the previous battle gives way to fatigue and agony.

A stern look crosses Appel's face as he surveys his team. They're in no condition to fight on, but fight on they shall. Fight on they must. After throwing themselves so wholly at the enemy, how can they, just 24 hours later, be expected to muster the gumption to overcome a new foe? No, to expect such a thing of them would be foolhardy, strong and full of pride though they are. There are limits, after all, to what the body is capable of, and the strongest of wills can only push one so far towards and past that limit. Appel knows what lies in store for them, and knows what he must do. Even as the bus lumbers into Corpus Christi and the exhausted troops drag themselves home for the night, Appel steels his resolve.

But lying hopelessly awake in the dead of night, Appel stares at, yet through, the ceiling above. Memories, still recent enough to be fresh but just old enough to be slightly skewed by the inevitable removal from reality that the passage of time brings, flash through his mind. Standing tall at Stanford, the big man on campus, brilliant in both athletics and studies, a well-to-do renaissance man to all who gaze from afar in envy. Draft day, getting that call from his hometown to inform him that he would be realizing the dream that all baseball brats foster in the deepest recesses of their mind but dare not get their hopes up to ever have opportunity to realize. The money, the fame, the hype, the interviews, the cheers of fans, all swirling around him in a glorious wave of destiny.

But then, soon, darker times visit, shattering the storybook progression of his life he had laid out for himself. Tiredness, new routine, a freak surgery needed late one night. The train begins to lurch and lean, threatening to fly from the tracks. His health leaves him, he's battered in the desert, and the glorious wave around him begins to turn violent. Whispered speculation, scouts losing faith, fans sneering and jeering, all too eager to vent the frustrations of their own lives against one who seems to have so much more than they. The glory that once enveloped him rumbles and thunders; from Appel of everyone's eye, to the eye of the storm, just like that.

Appel turns over, burring his face in the pillow. He's on the way back, working hard, but doubters remain, and scoffers ever will. He swears he can hear their laughter coming from some shadow in the corner of the room. No. Block it out. Ignore it. Know who you are and what you are capable of. The team is counting on you. They need you.

Morning arrives far too soon after sleep finally takes him. Mindlessly wandering though his morning routine, Appel continues to try to ignore the specters of the past few months that threatened to crush his hopes and dreams. Arriving at Whataburger Field, he is reminded then of what he saw the night prior; a somber quiet hangs in the clubhouse air as weary, spent bodies lounge on couches and chairs. Appel dresses in silence, wondering if he should say anything. Wondering what he could say. He hasn't been here long, but already, many look to him, if not out of reverence, then at least out of curious expectation. He is Mark Appel, after all; 1-1, workhorse, total package, future ace. They should look to him. But can they?

Appel grimaces, understanding then what had eluded him prior; only he could make himself fit the labels that others had thrust upon him all his life. Actions speak louder than words, especially those of the talking heads on TV, and only actions can give a man any credence in this life. But words can help too.

Appel stands on the top step of the dugout, gazing out onto the meticulously-manicured field. A field of battle, but one of dreams as well. His field. His mound. He stares into that green, telling himself that he belongs, that the past is just that, and that the future is his to shape. The lights of the grand towers flash on, illuminating his stage and rousing him from his contemplation. He sees then that his team has assembled behind him, tired but ready to take the field, and all gazing even more curiously at him, paused and perched just inches from the dirt.

He turns towards them, and the words come more naturally than he'd ever imagined they could. "Boys," he addresses them in a calm but authoritative voice. "I know what you gave last night, I know you're hurting and tired. But I need you, behind me and around me. I can't do it alone, but I can do a lot. So just get me one, boys. Just get me one, and I'll handle the rest."

Several seconds of silence fall over the dugout, just enough to make Appel wonder if he should have said anything at all. But then, a shout, and another, and another, until the whole dugout erupts, fists and gloves raised to the air. The team bursts from the dugout, renewed, resolved, and roaring louder than even the capacity crowd that has gathered to bear witness to their struggle.

Pitch after pitch, the crowd screams, the bats crack and break, the fielders shout, the batters curse their failure, but Appel hears none of it. Silence surrounds him, soundless mouths and bodies seemingly moving in slow motion. It's easy, effortless. Get the ball. Grip. Set. Wind. Deliver. Out. Dugout. Return. Get the ball. Grip. Set. Wind. Deliver. Out. Dugout. Before he knows it, his coach is smiling over him, patting him on the shoulder, rousing him from his laser-focused trance. Sound begins reaching his ears, and he hears the coach congratulating him and and asking him if he can go one more. Glancing up at the scoreboard for the first time, he sees goose eggs; nothing to nothing, tied in the middle of the eighth inning. Just one, boys. Just get me one. But they couldn't. They can't. There's nothing left in them, five months and one glorious, horrific, beautiful battle draining them utterly.

He glances around the dugout, sweat pouring from his face, blinding him such that he had to use a towel to dry himself just so that he may see his teammates. Some stare blankly out at the field. Others steal furtive glances at him. Still others are more direct, their repentant gazes piercing his heart. He's not upset. How could he be? A small, grateful smile works its way across his face as he looks at the dirt, the blood, the sweat that stains their uniforms. No one could ask for more. In that moment, seeing a smile instead of a judgmental look, something is exchanged between pitcher and position players, something electric, indescribable, undeniable. For just one second, without a single word spoken or gesture made, they are one in mind and thought. The rest of his team says nothing to Appel, but their faces rise, and the light returns to their eyes.

A desperate single from Carlos Perdomo. DeShields, a knot in his throat, willingly drops a bunt down, returning to the dugout more than pleased to make an out just to get that one run a base closer to home. Tony Kemp swings with all his might, dashing the ball into the ground, but Perdomo cannot advance. Then, Colin Moran steps to the plate. He gazes back into the dugout for a moment, catching Appel's eye. Moran remembers how much Jeff Luhnow loved him, how he came to see his games personally. Moran though, certainly, perhaps he could be the first man taken. The fame, the money, it could have been his. Instead, that man was chosen, that man was lavished, and Moran was quickly forgotten by the public. Now, in a strange twist of fate, there they are as unlikely teammates, now and possibly for years to come. Moran remembers Appel's words, the flash of brilliance in his eyes as he pumped strikes, the gentle spirit with which he interacted with his teammates, and the small, quiet smile that greeted them after seven innings of failure.

Moran isn't mad. He can't be. All things happen for a reason, and things have conspired to bring him to the fore in this situation, to support a teammate, and a friend. A sharp crack shatters the still night air as Moran dunks a single into the outfield. Carlos runs as though a flaming whip lashed at his back, 180 feet to glory. He touches home plate; safe! Just one, boys. Just get me one. And so they did, at long last.

A chorus of thunder rises from the stands and the dugout. Fists pump, pennants wave, cries ring out, the very ground trembles. Appel grabs his glove and wills himself to his feet. He feels weak, and though energy flows through his veins, it seems to stop shy of his muscles. His trance broken, he realizes how spent he is. Pain lights his limbs on fire with each step. No. Block it out. Ignore it. Know who you are and what you are capable of. The team is counting on you. They need you.

He forces his body to walk back to the mound, telling himself he just needs three more outs. Just three more. It was effortless before; certainly he can find it again, just for three more batters. Just three more! But another crack rings out, and suddenly the tying run stands halfway to pay dirt. The coach sighs and tugs on the bill of his cap as he makes his way to the mound. Perhaps he had asked too much. The the bitter bile of failure fills Appel's chest as he sees the coach motion for relief. Appel grinds his teeth and grips the ball tighter still as his coach holds out a demanding hand. No. No! Just three more! I can do it, I have to do it! They're all counting on me!

Desperate thoughts rush through his mind in an instant as he refuses to release purchase on the leather. Just then, a hand on his shoulder. He turns to see Colin Moran, a serious look on his face, staring at him. The rest of the team surrounds him on the mound, outfielders and all. "We got this, Mark," Moran says simply. "We got this."

Appel's resistance falls, his shoulders slump and he glances around at his teammates, most smiling. He opens his mouth, but words refuse to come so easily this time. He drops the ball into his coaches hand and stumbles off the mound. Raucous cheers rage forth from the gathered masses, shouts of praise and adoration enveloping him as he clomps off the field. He realizes, oddly, that he's finally where he belongs, where he thought he would be; in the loving embrace of the cheering public. But there is no joy in his heart, no swell of pride. He glances back to the mound to see his teammates disperse, and realizes what really matters. Those eight guys, his teammates, still fighting.

He desperately watches as the bases are loaded. He knows no one will blame him; the fans, his teammates, his coaches, the talking heads and distant pundits and casual observers. By everyone's estimation, this will be a rousing success of a night for him, regardless of the final score. But as he sees the dirtied and bloodied uniforms, the mouths agape, gasping madly for oxygen, he realizes he doesn't care. All he wants is the win for the team, the victory, the cries and cheers of those who wear the uniform with him, who battle and fight and live with him.

Appel grips the top railing, his knuckles whitening as he looks on helplessly. Two strikes, ninth inning, tying run 90 feet away and the winner another 90, bases loaded, two outs. No words come, but a shout does, a cry of desperate hope, willing his teammates to one last out. Wind. Deliver. Swing. Miss! Strike three!

The air itself seems to combust as the deafening peal of celebration shakes the foundations of the entire city. Appel can't hear a thing around him, lost in a bewildered state of the most utter joy he's ever experienced. His exhaustion is instantly swept from his body as he dashes back onto the field and into the pile of bodies that bounce up and down around the mound. Screams, cries, exaltation and shouts surround him. This is it. This is what he wants. This is what he will work for. These men here, wearing the same uniform. The suits and ties and interviews and contracts and endorsements, the talking heads and cheering and jeering fans, the scouts and pundits and writers and bloggers and articles, his picture in the papers, his name in lights; meaningless. Noise. He's deaf to it now. This is what matters. This is destiny. This is life. This is war and peace, and hope and dream, and desire and actualization and epiphany and sublime truth and transcendence and nirvana.

This is baseball.

...

......or something kinda like that, anyway. Sorta.

A+ Lancaster JetHawks: 12-5 win over High Desert (SEA)

-> Tyler White: 4-for-5, 2B, 2 HR, 4 R, 6 RBI
-> Rio Ruiz: 2-for-3, 2B, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 3 R
-> Jack Mayfield: 2-for-5, 2B, R, 2 RBI
-> Chan Moon: 2-for-5, SB, RBI
-> Danry Vasquez: 1-for-3, 2 BB
-> Jobduan Morales: 1-for-5, BB, RBI
-> Ronnie Mitchell: 1-for-5, BB, R
-> Austin Elkins: 1-for-5, 2 R
-> Brett Phillips: 1-for-6, R

SP Zach Morton: 3.1 IP, 2 ER, 1 H, 5 BB, 0 K
RP Daniel Minor: 1.1 IP, 2 ER, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 K
RP Chris Cotton: 1.1 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 K (win)
RP Jamaine Cotton: 2.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K (hold)
RP Gonzalo Sanudo: 1.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 2 K

Ah man, now I'm tired and don't want to do the rest of this, ha ha. But if Mark Appel can soldier on, so can I, darn it.

Ruiz, who we learned yesterday will be heading to the Arizona Fall League in early October, is up to .299/.394/.447 with 11 homers and an amazing 36 doubles in 126 games. That would have him on-pace for nearly 50 doubles in a 162 game schedule. If some more of those turn into homers as he ages and grows...

Tyler White has hit .269/.389/.523 with seven homers, 22 walks and 24 strike outs in 37 games with Lancaster. I'm not sure I believe in the power, but he's definitely shown intriguing plate discipline so far in his career (it was even better down with QC before he was promoted). I want to see him in AA before I start thinking he could have any kind of MLB future, but there might be at least a little something there.

A- Quad Cities River Bandits: 6-1 loss to Cedar Rapids (MIN)

-> A.J. Reed: 2-for-4
-> J.D. Davis: 1-for-3, BB
-> Jose Fernandez: 1-for-4, BB
-> Brett Booth: 1-for-4
-> Thomas Lindauer: 1-for-4
-> Bobby Boyd: 0-for-2, BB, R
-> Ryan Bottger: 0-for-3, BB
-> Marc Wik: 0-for-3, BB
-> Brauly Mejia: 1-for-2 (pinch-hitter)

SP Michael Feliz: 5.0 IP, 6 R (4 ER), 10 H, 2 BB, 4 K (loss)
RP Jandel Gustave: 1.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 K
RP Albert Minnis: 1.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K
RP Raul Rivera: 2.0 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 3 K

Reed has four-straight two-hit games now, and he's hitting .297 over his last ten. He's up to .257/.324/.525 in 28 total games with QC.

After a pretty nice run, Feliz was quite mediocre tonight, at best. Glad to report that his control doesn't seem to leave him when things go bad, as it seems to with a lot of young hard throwers. On the season, he has a 3.87 ERA, 3.41 BB/9 and 9.68 K/9 in 97.2 innings.

That Mejia kid, by the way, is just up from the GCL where he was hitting well. Skipped Greeneville and Tri-City entirely. Don't know if that means they're high on him, or if it's just so late in the year that they don't think he'll really be hurt by a bit of an aggressive push. He's about Correa's age, give or take a month, I believe (can't remember Correa's exact birthday right now).

SS Tri-City ValleyCats: 2-1 loss to Vermont (OAK)

-> Jamie Ritchie: 2-for-4, 2B, R
-> Ricky Gingras: 1-for-3, 2B, RBI
-> Mott Hyde: 1-for-3, BB
-> Jason Martin: 1-for-4

SP Francis Ramirez: 4.0 IP, 1 R (0 ER), 4 H, 0 BB, 3 K (loss)
RP Randall Fant: 3.0 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 3 K
RP Derick Velazquez: 2.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K

Man, that once-mighty TC lineup is hurting with Reed and Davis gone (and Fisher has fallen on hard times; 0-for-4 tonight).

Ritchie is doing all he can, though; he has three multi-hit games in his last four, and he's hitting .363/.474/.508 on the year.

Velazquez (it's so hard not to spell his name with an "s" before the "q", ugh) knocked his ERA under the two mark with this outing; he's sitting with a 1.80 ERA, 0.90 BB/9 and 9.45 K/9 on the season in 20 innings. That's a 10.5 K/BB ratio, woo.

RK Greeneville Astros: 10-2 loss to Bluefield (TOR)

-> Cesar Carrasco: 3-for-4, BB
-> Edwin Medina: 1-for-3, 2 BB
-> Antonio Nunez: 1-for-3, BB, R
-> Hector Roa: 1-for-4, 2B
-> Kristian Trompiz: 1-for-4
-> Yonathan Mejia: 1-for-5
-> Richard Gonzalez: 0-for-2, SB, R, 2 BB

SP Reymin Guduan: 2.0 IP, 4 R (3 ER), 7 H, 1 BB, 6 K (loss)
RP Aaron Greenwood: 3.0 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K
RP Samil De Los Santos: 1.0 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 2 K
RP Juan Delis: 1.1 IP, 4 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 1 K
RP Ambiorix: 1.2 IP, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB, 2 K

Harold Arauz was named the Appy League pitcher of the week.

Today's Scheduled Starters

AAA: Rudy Owens vs. Jeff Bennett
AA: Jordan Jankowski vs. Alex Gonzalez
A+: Vincent Velasquez vs. TBD
A-: Kevin Comer vs. Carlos Misell
SS: Austin Chrismon vs. Jerad Grundy
RK: TBD vs. TBD

Dude, I had no idea that "Grundy" was a real last name. I would totally name my son Solomon if that were my last name. Such a missed opportunity...