Phillies option Appel, but prospect is patient

Phillies option Appel, but prospect is patient

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Mark Appel's longer-than-anticipated journey to the big leagues will continue in the Minor Leagues.

The Phillies announced Tuesday morning that Appel and fellow right-handers Ricardo Pinto and Nick Pivetta had been optioned to Minor League camp. The moves did not come as a surprise, but perhaps this is the season Appel will perform well enough in the Minor Leagues to finally pitch in the Major Leagues.

"I've had times when I've been antsy, but there's a lot of patience with me," Appel said in front of his locker at Spectrum Field. "I've experienced a lot of things. I've experienced times of just pitching really poorly. I've had times when I've been injured and there have been setbacks -- last year was obviously a big one for me. I think in that sense, there's always the hope and the dream and the goal of getting to the big leagues, but you can't do it overnight."

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The Astros selected Appel with the first pick in the 2013 Draft. They traded him to the Phillies in December 2015 in the Ken Giles trade. Appel went 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA in eight starts with Triple-A Lehigh Valley in '16 before he had surgery in June to remove a bone spur from his right elbow.

Top Prospects: Appel, PHI

Appel, who said his arm feels great, allowed seven hits, five runs, four walks and struck out 10 in nine innings in four Grapefruit League appearances. He is the organization's No. 20 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com. Pivetta (No. 12) allowed seven hits, two runs, two walks and struck out seven in eight innings. Pinto (No. 17) allowed one hit and struck out three in 3 1/3 innings.

Appel is expected to open the season in Triple-A; his path to the big leagues will not be easy. The Phillies already have set their big league rotation with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola. Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Ben Lively (No. 25 prospect), Pivetta and Pinto might be ahead of Appel on the depth chart. Eflin could open the season on the disabled list following a small setback following knee surgeries last year.

"I don't think about that too much," Appel said. "I've been there before with the Astros. I feel like everybody is on their own time. Everybody kind of makes their own opportunity based on how they play. So that's where my focus is. I know if I go out there and do the little things that I've been doing the last ninth months since surgery and keep this progression that I've been on, that I'll be there in no time."

Appel said he needs to improve his command, but he needs to keep that mental edge, too. He said he has had some good conversations in the past with Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen, who has worked the past two springs as a guest instructor.

"The mentality of pitching and really just having confidence and not trying to throw a strike but knowing you're going to throw a strike," Appel said of Andersen's message. "There's kind of a difference in knowing it in your head and kind of believing it in every fiber of your body. It makes a difference when you're on the mound."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.