A baseball oddity that played out in the Quad-Cities five summers ago came to an end this week.
Pitcher Mark Appel, selected by the Astros with the first overall pick in baseball’s 2013 draft, has decided — at least for now — to end the dream that his one-time River Bandits’ teammate, Carlos Correa, still lives.
Correa, then an 18-year-old shortstop and the first overall selection in the 2012 draft, was in the midst of all-star season in the Midwest League when Appel was promoted from short-season Tri-City weeks after signing a contract with Houston.
The announcement in the midst of the 2013 season meant Appel would join Correa on the River Bandits roster, the first time since baseball instituted its draft in 1965 that overall number one draft picks from consecutive years would be teammates in the minor leagues.
Working with a strict pitch count as he came off of a college season that included 106 innings of work at Stanford, Appel made his debut for Quad-Cities at Modern Woodmen Park on July 14. He scattered two hits and struck out three batters over four shutout innings against Dayton.
It was the first of eight starts Appel would make that season for the River Bandits, work that led to a 3-1 record and a 3.82 earned run average over 33 innings before he reached a predetermined innings limit for the season.
That left Appel, along with current Astros major league pitcher Lance McCullers, watching as their Quad-Cities teammates won a Midwest League championship.
Correa finished the 2013 season with a .320 batting average for the River Bandits and joined Appel in creating a buzz in the stands and expectations for success in the clubhouse that likely benefited teammates as they progressed through an organization that celebrated its first World Series championship last fall.
Both brought a level of professionalism to the clubhouse that has been a commonality among the three Quad-Cities teams that have won league titles in the past seven years.
There was a steadiness in their work habits and approach, combined with an analytical look at where things stood.
That ability likely led Appel to the conclusion he shared this week with Bleacher Report, that it was time for him to give his arm and body a chance to fully heal from injuries that have dogged him over the past four seasons.
"I’m 26, I have a Stanford degree, I have many interests beyond baseball, which I still love, but I have a lot of things I care about," Appel told Bleacher Report. "I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind."
Both Correa and Appel moved on from the River Bandits to high-A Lancaster the following season. Correa continued his quick climb to the major-league level, while Appel struggled with injuries and hitter-friendly ballparks in the California League.
Appel began his first full-season assignment by toiling to a 2-5 record and 9.74 ERA in 12 starts for Lancaster, the first of four laborious seasons in the minors for a pitcher Houston selected ahead of 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant of the Cubs in the 2013 draft.
The Astros traded him to Philadelphia as part of a seven-player deal in 2015, but Appel has not worked above the AAA level for the Phillies. He is positioned to become just the third overall No. 1 pick not to reach the major leagues, a first since 1991 pick Brien Taylor.
Appel now relies on a strong faith, a rock in his life long before he threw his first pitch from the mound at Modern Woodmen Park.
He told Bleacher Report he plans to pursue internship possibilities and will likely begin working toward a graduate degree in business.
Appel also hasn’t ruled out a return to the game, but that steadiness in his approach and ability to analytically break it all down will guide him to his ultimate decision.