Former Astros’ top prospect Mark Appel took to Twitter last week to tell his story.
Last week, former first-overall pick for the Houston Astros, Mark Appel joined Twitter to share some important life lessons he learned in his journey from star-prospect to “Biggest Bust in MLB History” to his latest shot at redeeming his baseball career.
He highlights the importance of being realistic with yourself, building strong relationships and maintaining proper mental health. He was met with words of encouragement from Lance McCullers Jr, Marcus Stroman and many other folks that he had an impact on throughout his journey.
According to Athletes for Hope, a non-profit organization specializing in mental health awareness and support for athletes across all levels, approximately 46.6 million individuals in the United States are living with the effects of mental health issues.
Whether its mental health in general or a specific diagnosed disorder, that’s nearly one in five adults who will struggle from mental health challenges at some point in their lives. Just based on the statistics alone, that has to include some of our favorite amateur and professional athletes.
We often elevate professional athletes to a standard that far exceeds that of which we hold ourselves. They are getting paid (often millions of dollars) to play a children’s game, right? Well, a paycheck doesn’t make these folks immune to the struggles that arise from poor mental health These athletes are saddled with the pressure of living up to the expectations of literally millions of fans, critics, co-workers, bosses, family and, of course, themselves.
The list of expectations are just unknowable for these athletes; the expectations could be judgement on the progression of their career, production on the field, behavior on and off the field, etc. These players are perpetually under a microscope.
No one can speak more to those challenges better than Appel. The right-hander was the next big thing coming out of Stanford. He was the NCBWA’s Pitcher of the Year in 2012. He was drafted eighth overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After opting to return for his senior year at Stanford, Astros’ fans will remember him as the organization’s first overall pick in the following year’s MLB Draft in 2013. Despite the pedigree, he struggled mightily during his time in the organization. Appel saw his time within the Astros organization end in a seven-player trade between Houston and Philadelphia in 2015.
Appel’s struggles only continued in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Ultimately, ending in his designation for assignment towards the end of 2017. Just a few short months later, Appel announced that he would step away from baseball.
Athletes get injured all the time. Generally, they get time to stabilize, heal and rehabilitate after a straining a forearm, or tweaking a hamstring. Obviously, Appel was struggling physically, but what about those ailments that can’t be seen on a MRI machine?
In an industry where the person inside the player can often be an afterthought, Appel took a moment to step away from the game. He focused on getting healthy, reprioritizing his life, and, what sounds like, some serious self-reflection.
The more you ponder situations similar to that of Appel’s across all major league sports, one would have to wonder many other players missed out on being a force in their league because they lacked the knowledge, understanding and support system to navigate the mental side of professional sports.
It is a common misconception that an individual has to be diagnosed with a clinical disorder to have trouble managing their own mental health. Plenty of studies show this just doesn’t hold true, and probably never has. In fact, Astros’ star pitcher, McCullers, has had his fair share of mental struggles during his career. He even contemplated retirement when he was failing on the biggest stage at that point in his career.
Many fans and members of the media dubbed Appel as “the biggest bust in MLB history.” Certainly, from a professional standpoint, one could make that argument. However, to call the man a failure would simply make you wrong.
Appel navigated a very complicated life path through trial and error, perseverance to keep working hard, and making realistic assessments of himself. Appel’s return to baseball will be a fantastic story regardless of the outcome. It is the life lessons that he shares in process will be so much more valuable than the innings pitched for years to come.
After a 10-0 victory on Monday, the Astros return to action against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday at 8:38 p.m. with Jose Urquidy countering lefty Packy Naughton.