Astros top pitching prospect Mark Appel lit up in return to rotation at High-A Lancaster

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Mark Appel, the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, was demoted from the starting rotation at High-A Lancaster on April 25 and sent back to extended spring training after posting ugly numbers over his first four appearances. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow offered optimism at the time, telling the Houston media that the young right-hander was simply struggling to adjust to the unique piggyback-start system being used at Lancaster.

But that is clearly not the only thing wrong here.

Appel returned to Lancaster’s rotation on Saturday night and got shelled for 10 runs on 10 hits — including three homers — over just 1 1/3 innings in a loss to the Dodgers’ High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. He now owns an 11.93 ERA in 14 1/3 frames this season.

The 22-year-old recieved a $6.35 million signing bonus from Houston after being drafted out of Stanford University in June 2013. The belief was that he could be major league-ready by late 2014.

That’s obviously not going to be the case.

Royals sign Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal

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Free agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Royals, the team announced Friday. While the move comes just two days after Saunders agreed to terms with the Pirates, he allegedly asked for his release after the club acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson in a multi-player swap with the Rays on Thursday. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan adds that Saunders will make $1.5 million upon reaching the majors, with a potential $500,000 in bonuses.

After earning his first spot on an All-Star team in 2016, Saunders followed up a solid campaign with a career-worst performance in 2017. The 31-year-old split the season between the Phillies and Blue Jays’ camps, batting a combined .202/.256/.344 with six home runs and -0.7 fWAR in 234 plate appearances. Although he remained healthy throughout the year, with no sign of the lingering hamstring strain that has plagued him on and off since 2013, he wasn’t productive enough to merit a full-time role on either roster.

With Dickerson slated for a starting role in Pittsburgh, it was unlikely that Saunders would have commanded anything other than a backup role in 2018. Now, however, he’ll compete for playing time amid a slew of outfield options, including Alex Gordon, Cody Asche, Jorge Bonifacio, Tyler Collins and Paulo Orlando.