PHILADELPHIA -- Being drafted first overall, as right-hander Mark Appel was by the Astros out of Stanford in 2013, is pretty cool. It also brings with it enormous expectations and a certain amount of impatience, which sometimes aren't cool.
Appel learned that lesson firsthand when he was part of a five-player package sent to the Phillies on Dec. 12 in the deal that gave the Astros closer Ken Giles.
At times, Appel has been free and easy, throwing 97 mph and hitting his spots and showing everybody why he was so highly thought of coming out of college. Too often, though, those qualities eluded him. In his 2 1/2 years as a pro, Appel has a 5.12 ERA and has allowed 280 hits and 84 walks over 253 innings.
"His stuff is the same he's always had," said Phillies driector of player development Joe Jordan. "The weapons are definitely there. We saw that last summer in the reports we have. I'm just looking forward to getting him to camp and watching him throw, and we'll put together a plan and maybe we can crack the code and get him to where he needs to be."
That hasn't stopped the armchair psychologists from offering their conclusions. Appel has a ready smile and is bright and well-spoken. That has led some to conclude that he's simply too nice, that he lacks the requisite mean streak. It's a charge the 24-year-old is well aware of.
"I take it as a compliment. I am a nice guy," Appel said on the final day of the Phillies' annual Prospect Education Program at Citizens Bank Park. "I don't think being nice is a sign of weakness. If anything, it can be seen as a sign of strength. Knowing that you don't have to come off as this fake tough guy to try to gain respect from your teammates or the opponent. What matters to me is what happens in between the lines.
"Long story short, being on the mound, I don't show emotion. But I have a fire deep inside of me that is a competitor. That is basically somebody who looks at the guy in the box and says, 'I'm better than you and I want to show it.' I have that competitive edge, absolutely. I think the 'nice' persona can be a misconception because I don't show emotion. I don't throw my glove. I've had a couple times when I have shown emotion, but I try to contain it and keep it to myself. Or show emotion when nobody's around."
It's worth pointing out that there was once a pitcher thought to have a bright future who struggled so badly that he was sent all the way back to Class A by the Blue Jays. Retired Phillies ace Roy Halladay, who spoke to the prospects this week, went on to win two Cy Young Awards and over 200 games, including a no-hitter and a perfect game.
Then there was the young Dodgers pitcher with a lot of potential who many whispered was too soft to succeed. Manager Tommy Lasorda started calling him Bulldog, and Orel Hershiser blossomed into a pitcher who would appear in three World Series, win a Cy Young Award and finish his career with over 200 victories.
Appel is the first to admit he hasn't pitched as well as many anticipated.
"If I'm being honest, I don't think I reached that expectation, and that's on me," he said.
Still, Appel remains one of the most intriguing prospects of all the big arms the Phillies have harvested in the past year. The team believes he can still achieve great things. He does, too.
"I know I definitely have the ability to be a consistent, dominant Major League pitcher. That's what I'm working toward and honestly where I believe I'll be," he said. "I think I've only scratched the tip of the iceberg. I've had games here and there where I've felt just really good. And so I'm remembering those games and building off them, to make that the norm, because I know that can be the norm."
One thing Appel will try to do is pitch ahead in the count. Consistent command has been an issue. Halladay preached focusing on the small things, telling the prospects that if the details are mastered, the big things will take care of themselves.
"He's got an opportunity," Jordan said, "new eyes, new philosophy, new support system. Just a new organization. We've got some really good pitching coaches, coordinators, instructors. We're going to get him over the hump. Hopefully we can give him what he needs from us and he'll show up here sometime real soon."
Appel isn't going to put a timetable on himself, but he spent half of last season at Triple-A and prides himself on moving forward.
"I've learned about the game," he said. "I feel like I've gotten better, even though the results haven't. You've seen tidbits here and there. Ultimately I believe the time I've had in the Minors so far will be instrumental in helping me get to the point where I want to be, which is to be a dominant pitcher here in Philadelphia."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.