Mark Appel is proof that even for a No. 1 draft pick, the road to the major leagues is sometimes a bumpy one.
Appel was called up by the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday, nine years after he was drafted first overall by Houston. In between, he bounced around the minors, was traded in the 2015 deal that sent Ken Giles to the Astros — and even quit baseball for a bit.
He resurfaced last year and finally joined the Phillies this weekend, although he didn’t pitch. If the 30-year-old Appel does appear in a game for Philadelphia, he’ll be the fourth No. 1 overall selection to make his major league debut this year, joining 2017’s Royce Lewis (Twins), 2019’s Adley Rutschman (Orioles) and 2020’s Spencer Torkelson (Tigers).
Only one other time have four top picks made their debuts in one year. That was in 1989, when Andy Benes, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jeff King — the No. 1 pick in each of the previous three years — all began their big league careers. The other top pick to make his debut in 1989 was Ben McDonald, who had actually been drafted that same year by Baltimore.
With the draft coming up next month, here are a few other notes about the history of No. 1 overall picks, with some help from Baseball-Reference.com:
— Although so far, 1989 is the only year four top picks have made their big league debuts, there were other seasons when three No. 1s did it. Those were 2007 (Luke Hochevar, Justin Upton and Josh Hamilton) and 1987 (B.J. Surhoff, Shawn Abner and Tim Belcher).
— Although it was more common in the early days of the draft, McDonald is the last player to make his debut the same year he was drafted first overall. The longest wait belongs to Matt Bush, who was taken in 2004 by San Diego and finally pitched in the majors in 2016 for Texas. He’s still with the Rangers.