CLEARWATER, Fla. - The cruelty of it all was not lost on Mark Appel, a former No. 1 overall pick who went to Florida last June to rest a sore shoulder. The plan, Appel said, was for two or three weeks of rehab. That was before his right elbow "locked up."
"I just thought it was normal pitcher soreness," Appel said. "Nothing really hurt while I was throwing. But I couldn't get extension. I couldn't straighten out my elbow all the way. That can have an effect on your game."
Appel's first season in the Phillies system was done. A surgeon removed "a lot of junk" from the elbow, Appel said. The Phillies still added Appel to their 40-man roster in December, and progress is imperative.
The 25-year-old righthander no longer appears on top-prospect lists. Expectations are lower, especially after eight starts at triple-A Lehigh Valley produced a 4.46 ERA and 4.7 walks per nine innings.
He'll head to triple A as a starter in 2017.
"When you're on the 40-man, anything can happen," Appel said. "I've been in the game long enough to know that it's, 'What have you done for me lately?' There are the guys who have the long-term contracts and their spot locked up. But if you still have options and you're not doing your job, they're going to find someone else who will. That keeps you honest when you're in the big leagues and it keeps you hungry when you're in the minor leagues.
"So I'm hungry. But I think the biggest thing is staying healthy."
Appel returned to a mound last October, but not at 100 percent. The Phillies were not aggressive with his rehab. They knew Appel could not recover in time to pitch at the end of the minor-league season. He took his time.
"I think I'm really seeing the benefits of it now," Appel said.
It is possible that Appel's future is in the bullpen, but the Phillies will continue to pursue every chance to start him. Only two of the 47 players to be selected No. 1 overall before Appel have not reached the majors: Steven Chilcott (Mets, 1966) and Brien Taylor (Yankees, 1991).
Manager Pete Mackanin addressed the 62 players in camp before the first full-squad workout with the typical introductions and bromides.
"The same old staples," Mackanin said. "The same old work hard, enjoy the fight to where you want to be. Don't be late. Do everything right. Follow the rules and compete. The basic stuff."
The Phillies pitchers and hitters faced one another in the first workout. There were few swings; hitters like to track pitches this early. The ones who stepped in against Alberto Tirado, who can throw 100 mph but lacks polished command, were notably hesitant. . . . Infielder Jesmuel Valentin was held from batting practice as he recovers from a separated shoulder he suffered this month in the Caribbean Series. Valentin said he expected to return to full action next week.