MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Dynamic Springer integral to Astros' resurgence

Talented outfielder leads club's wave of entertaining young players

Dynamic Springer integral to Astros' resurgence

Hall of Famer Bobby Cox remembers the first time he saw George Springer play baseball. Took him about three minutes to know. Guys like Cox, they see things you and I can't.

Come to think of it, Cox usually has seen things even many of his peers haven't seen. Sometimes when he looks at a player, a lifetime of experience takes over a certain part of the brain, and there's an instant analysis.

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Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Bernie Pleskoff

Pleskoff: Ruiz adds power potential to Astros' pipeline

Lefty-swinging third baseman, 20, was fourth-round pick in 2012 Draft

Pleskoff: Ruiz adds power potential to Astros' pipeline

Rio Ruiz was a major athletic force at Bishop Amat Memorial High School in La Puente, Calif., playing football and baseball for the Lancers. In fact, Ruiz was such a good athlete he committed to attend the University of Southern California while still in his junior year at Amat. The left-handed-hitting Ruiz played third base and served as a part-time closer for the team. In his senior year, he missed time from football with a knee injury and suffered a blood clot in his clavicle in March during baseball season. His condition required surgery and forced him to miss the remainder of the season.

With a future that included playing baseball for USC, an offer from the Houston Astros convinced him to turn professional after high school. The Astros selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.

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Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Stassi brothers host Homers for the Hungry

Prospects' sixth annual event raises money for food banks, charity near Yuba City, Calif.

Stassi brothers host Homers for the Hungry

HOUSTON -- Not many 23-year-old baseball players with only 10 games of Major League experience are into organizing events for charity, but Astros catcher Max Stassi was into philanthropy long before he had big league dreams.

Stassi and his brother, Brock, a first baseman/left fielder who reached Double-A with the Phillies last season, will hold their sixth annual Homers for the Hungry benefit on Saturday in their hometown of Yuba City, Calif., about 42 miles north of Sacramento.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Altuve stays busy following breakout season

Astros second baseman spent time in Japan as part of All-Star Series

Altuve stays busy following breakout season

HOUSTON -- It's been a busy offseason for Jose Altuve, who spent a couple of weeks on a tour with fellow big leaguers for the Japan All-Star Series, emerging off the bench as one of the Major League Baseball All-Star squad's best hitters.

Back in the U.S., Altuve made a public appearance Monday at a Bank of America on Houston's west side before heading back to his native Venezuela, where his preparations for 2015 will ramp up. He plans to split time between Venezuela and Houston, determined to get better.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Biggio sits on the cusp of Hall of Fame entry

Astros cornerstone fell two votes of induction last year

Biggio sits on the cusp of Hall of Fame entry

HOUSTON -- Craig Biggio knocked on the door of the Hall of Fame two years ago when he fell just 39 votes shy of being inducted. Biggio pounded on the door last year, falling just two votes shy of being inducted in his second time in the ballot.

That sets Biggio up to be an overwhelming favorite to make it on his third time on the ballot, which was released Monday.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Bernie Pleskoff

Astros' Aplin uses intangibles, effort to make a difference

Astros' Aplin uses intangibles, effort to make a difference

As I reviewed the Arizona Fall League rosters prior to their season, I noticed that Andrew Aplin was listed as representing the Houston Astros on the Salt River team.

I had remembered seeing Aplin play at Arizona State University. I thought he was always a scrappy, team-first type of guy who looked like he was having fun playing the game. At ASU he always had a good on-base percentage and scored runs. I had forgotten he received honorable mention on the Pac-12 All-Conference Team as a junior in 2012.

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Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Bagwell's Hall case goes beyond lofty numbers

Longtime Astros first baseman on ballot for fifth time

Bagwell's Hall case goes beyond lofty numbers

HOUSTON -- Considering the number of years a player can appear on the Hall of Fame ballot has been cut to 10 years from 15, former Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell could use a bump in his voting total if he's going to reach Cooperstown.

Bagwell appeared on 54.3 percent of the ballots of the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America a year ago, a drop from the 59.6 he received two years ago in his third year on the ballot. If he doesn't make it this year, he would have five years left on the ballot.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Like father, like son: Sports big part of Pettis family

Astros' third-base coach getting up to speed, cheering on son during offseason

Like father, like son: Sports big part of Pettis family

HOUSTON -- You better believe that the son of Gary Pettis was good at baseball. And like his old man, Dante Pettis could handle the bat a little bit and could run with the best of them. He was destined to follow in the footsteps of his famous father.

As far as baseball goes, the similarities stop there. Dante walked away from the sport as a freshman in high school to focus on track and football, a choice that has no one looking back. Dante has made his mark as a freshman wide receiver at the University of Washington, while dad has switched uniforms to become the new third-base coach of the Astros.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Former Astros dot Hall of Fame ballot

Second baseman Biggio closest to gaining entry into Cooperstown

Former Astros dot Hall of Fame ballot

HOUSTON -- The Astros have never had a player enter the Baseball Hall of Fame wearing an Astros cap, which is something that will likely change next year. Craig Biggio, who played all 20 of his Major League seasons in Houston, was just two votes shy of being elected to the Hall a year ago and figures to be a shoo-in for 2015.

Biggio is one of five former Astros on the ballot, joining longtime teammate Jeff Bagwell, pitchers Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling and second baseman Jeff Kent. While Biggio and Bagwell spent their entire careers with Houston, Clemens, Schilling and Kent each worked briefly in the Bayou City during their long careers.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Back to school: Berkman hits the books at Rice

Former All-Star on schedule to graduate with kinesiology degree next summer

Back to school: Berkman hits the books at Rice

HOUSTON -- Thirteen years ago, a reporter asked Lance Berkman, "What did you major in at Rice?"

"Eligibility," he answered.

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Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Astros add trio to roster for Rule 5 Draft protection

Astros add trio to roster for Rule 5 Draft protection

HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wasn't joking when he said Wednesday that the team planned to use as much time as necessary to set its 40-man roster in advance of Thursday's 10:59 p.m. CT deadline. And with an hour to spare, the Astros made a late addition.

Hard-throwing right-hander Michael Feliz, who was left off the 40-man in the announcement the Astros made earlier in the day, was added to it about an hour prior to the deadline, putting the roster at 39. Luhnow said the Astros were working on a trade that didn't come to fruition, prompting them to put Feliz on the roster.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Astros lose Zeid to Tigers on waiver claim

Astros lose Zeid to Tigers on waiver claim

HOUSTON -- The reminder that baseball is a business smacked relief pitcher Josh Zeid in the face on Thursday when the Tigers claimed the right-handed relief pitcher on waivers.

Zeid and his wife, Stephanie, a neuropsychologist in Houston's famed medical center, had just purchased their first home in the Houston area after Zeid had appeared in 48 games with the Astros over the past couple of years. The house will remain, but Zeid is headed to Detroit.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Altuve puts final touches on impressive Japan trip

Altuve puts final touches on impressive Japan trip

Jose Altuve wrapped up his trip to Japan by going 1-for-5 with a walk and a run in Thursday's 6-4 loss to Samurai Japan in an exhibition game at Okinawa Cellular Stadium.

The Astros second baseman went 6-for-14 (.429) in the official five-game Japan All-Star Series, emerging off the bench as one of the Major League Baseball All-Star squad's best hitters. He went a combined 1-for-7 in two exhibition games on either side of the series.

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Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Appel ranks among top prospects from AFL

Appel ranks among top prospects from AFL

The 23rd edition of the Arizona Fall League wrapped up with Salt River's win in the championship game over Peoria on Saturday. Once again, the AFL was jam packed with elite-level prospects.

That made putting together a top prospects list fairly easy. There were so many good players, it was decided to expand the list to a top 25, up from the typical 20. The list was compiled by Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo and Teddy Cahill, along with feedback from a number of scouts who covered the league this fall. This list is more about long-term potential, but AFL performances were certainly taken into account.

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Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Tigers had talks with Astros about acquiring a catcher

Discussions apparently involved Houston's Corporan, but Detroit has since moved on

Tigers had talks with Astros about acquiring a catcher

DETROIT -- The Tigers picked up the club option on Alex Avila's contract earlier this week, but they remain in the news surrounding catching. While Major League sources confirmed a report from FOXSports.com that Detroit had talks with the Astros about their catching surplus, the source said talks ended with the Tigers moving on.

The Astros have three catchers on their roster following the addition of former Angels backstop Hank Conger two weeks ago. Talks with the Tigers supposedly centered around switch-hitting backup Carlos Corporan, who has pounded Tigers pitching the last two years (9-for-22, three HRs, four RBIs). Two of those home runs came off Max Scherzer in 2013. Corporan also homered off Evan Reed this past May.

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Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Altuve puts on youth-fundamental clinic in Okinawa

Altuve puts on youth-fundamental clinic in Okinawa

NAHA, Japan -- If anything, the fervor over Major League Baseball's All-Star team in Japan has only increased over the past two weeks. Early Wednesday evening, Red Sox manager John Farrell, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma visited Shuri Castle, Okinawa's seat of power for nearly half a millennium and the top tourist site on this southerly island outpost. Nearby, a group of schoolchildren were taking group photos in front of the castle.

Suddenly, one of the children noticed the big league ballplayers and screamed. The entire scrum began sprinting toward them, until a group of security officers managed to turn them back.

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Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Altuve's hot bat can't be contained in Japan

Altuve's hot bat can't be contained in Japan

Jose Altuve began the Japan All-Star Series on the bench, but he finished it as one of the MLB All-Stars' hottest hitters.

The Astros second baseman turned in a 3-for-5 game against Samurai Japan in Sapporo on Tuesday to cap the Series with his second consecutive multihit game. After guiding the assembled team of MLB All-Stars to a 3-1 victory -- their second straight win of the five-game set -- Altuve finished the Series 6-for-14 (.429).

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Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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New SportsCenter ad features Orbit and James Harden

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New SportsCenter ad features Orbit and James Harden

Orbit's been travelling a lot lately, so it's only reasonable to assume that'd he'd want to explore the final frontier. Though, for him, outer space is less "travel" and more "going home for the holidays." That's probably why ESPN thought he'd make a great contact for their Mission Control Center, ably commanded by Houston Rockets guard James Harden. 

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Astros, Presley agree on $1 million deal

Astros, Presley agree on $1 million deal

HOUSTON -- The Astros avoided arbitration with outfielder Alex Presley by signing him to a one-year, $1 million contract on Tuesday.

Presley, 29, hit .244 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 254 at-bats last season after coming over to the Astros in a waiver claim in March. He played in 85 games, with 67 starts, at all three outfield spots and designated hitter, but he missed 47 games from July 9-Sept. 2 with a strained oblique.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Orbit a hit with locals in Tokyo

Astros mascot connecting with fans during Japan All-Star Series

Orbit a hit with locals in Tokyo

TOKYO -- Shibuya Crossing is one of the most helter-skelter places on earth, an area of Tokyo where five major crosswalks converge and the pedestrian lights all turn green at the same time. The result is a mass of humanity crushing together in a brightly-lit sea of neon.

Early one evening last week, just as the walk sign changed, a lime-green furry alien dashed into the middle of the crossing and stopped. A few strange glances melted into grins. Within moments, Orbit -- the Houston Astros mascot representing Major League Baseball on its Japan All-Star Series tour -- was safely back on the sidewalk, reveling in his status as Shibuya's new center of attention.

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Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Astros games to air on ROOT Sports Southwest

Astros games to air on ROOT Sports Southwest

HOUSTON -- Astros games will begin airing next year on ROOT Sports Southwest regional sports network, which made its debut Monday. The network will also be home to games for the NBA's Houston Rockets.

ROOT Sports Southwest will carry Astros regular-season and Spring Training games beginning in March. ROOT Sports Southwest, which is under DirecTV and AT&T ownership, will produce all Astros and Rockets coverage exclusively in high definition. A full comprehensive schedule will be released in the upcoming weeks.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Astros impressed with Appel's Fall League stint

Astros impressed with Appel's Fall League stint

HOUSTON -- Now that Astros right-hander Mark Appel has wrapped up his stay in the Arizona Fall League with a couple of strong outings, could he be coming soon to a ballpark near you?

Appel's promising performance with the Salt River Rafters -- which he capped by allowing three hits, a solo homer and a walk while striking out four batters in five innings Wednesday -- was a great sign for the Astros, who watched the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft struggle for much of 2014 after an appendectomy cost him all of Spring Training.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Altuve plays catalyst in MLB's first win in Japan

Astros star goes 3-for-4, makes highlight-reel defensive plays

Altuve plays catalyst in MLB's first win in Japan

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve did a little bit of everything in the MLB squad's 6-1 win over Samurai Japan in Game 4 of the Japan All-Star Series on Sunday at the Tokyo Dome.

The Majors' regular-season hits leader this past season snapped an 0-for-6 skid by picking up three hits in his final three at-bats out of the leadoff spot. Altuve was forced into action on Sunday after Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano suffered a broken right pinkie toe in Game 3, and he responded in a big way.

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Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Astros have better feel for options after GM Meetings

Astros have better feel for options after GM Meetings

HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, scheduled to return home Thursday from the General Managers Meetings in Phoenix, said he's pleased with the groundwork that was laid to improve the club through free agency and the trade market.

The Astros, who last week traded for Angels backup catcher Hank Conger, are still in the market for relief pitching, a starting pitcher and some offensive punch, which would likely come from the corner-infield spots, where the club struggled mightily last season.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Top performances, prospects from 2014 Fall League

A team-by-team breakdown of who impressed and how each club's top player fared

Top performances, prospects from 2014 Fall League

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Fall League is known as baseball's finishing school because it has graduated a ton of talent to the Major Leagues since it began play in 1992. The AFL has produced 212 All-Stars, including 35 in this year's Midsummer Classic, 25 Rookies of the Year, 13 MVPs and five Cy Young Award winners.

Based on the quality of the talent in the AFL this year, more big leaguers and stars are on the way. The league wrapped up its 23rd season on Saturday, with the Salt River Rafters outlasting the Peoria Javelinas, 14-7, for their fourth title and first since 2011.

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Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB stars take part in Japanese tea ceremony

Fowler, Choate, Santiago perform formal steps of tradition that dates to 14th century

MLB stars take part in Japanese tea ceremony

TOKYO -- A day after arriving to Tokyo from Osaka via bullet train, Astros outfielder Dexter Fowler, Cardinals reliever Randy Choate and Angels pitcher Hector Santiago participated in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony on Friday, several hours before their game against the Japanese National Team at the Tokyo Dome (6 p.m. JT, 4 a.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV).

After strolling through a garden with Buddhist statues and magnificently manicured greenery, the trio of players representing Major League Baseball in the Japan All-Star Series were treated to Matcha, a powdered green tea, and assorted sweets as part of a tradition that dates back to the 14th century.

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David Venn is executive editor of LasMayores.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Callis: Appel solid in final Fall League start

Astros' Appel outduels White Sox flame thrower; Dodgers' Schebler impresses vs. former No. 1 pick

Callis: Appel solid in final Fall League start

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When the White Sox shipped Jake Peavy to the Red Sox in a three-team trade in July 2013, the key player they got back was outfielder Avisail Garcia from the Tigers. Chicago also received three lower-level prospects from Boston, and one of those lottery tickets started to blossom this year.

Right-hander Francellis Montas reached triple digits with his fastball while in the Red Sox's system, but he didn't do much else to distinguish himself. After the White Sox cleaned up his delivery, he made significant progress with his slider, changeup, control and command. Montas' fastball didn't lose any sizzle, hitting 102 mph on one occasion, and Chicago began to entertain thoughts that he might contribute to its big league rotation in 2015.

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Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Eli Young Band set to play Minute Maid Park

HOUSTON -- Country music will take over Minute Maid Park for Saturday's Eli Young Band House Party, which gets underway at 5 p.m. CT. Doors open at 3:30 p.m.

The Eli Young Band, which garnered a career-first American Music Award nomination for favorite vocal group/duo-Country and received its third consecutive nomination for the vocal group of the year CMA Award, will headline four acts that will perform.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Carter, Gonzalez headline list of Super Two players

The 26 players named are eligible for salary arbitration

Carter, Gonzalez headline list of Super Two players

Major League Baseball and the Players' Association have finalized a list of 26 players with less than three years of Major League service time who are eligible for salary arbitration, also known as Super Twos, a Major League Baseball source confirmed.

The group is headlined by Mets closer Jenrry Mejia, Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera, Angels pitcher Garrett Richards, Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon, Astros slugger Chris Carter, A's third baseman Josh Donaldson and Yankees pitcher David Phelps.

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Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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