Astros elated to build around Correa, Appel

As team prepares for third straight No. 1 pick, past two have star qualities

Astros elated to build around Correa, Appel

HOUSTON -- You could make a case Carlos Correa might have been the most impressive player on the field during Spring Training for the Astros. He moved around the infield fluidly and effortlessly and gave no indication of being overmatched at the plate.

The way Correa interacted with his teammates, the fans and the media was just as remarkable. He was at ease in a clubhouse full of older players. Correa posed for pictures with fans while holding babies and flashing his million-dollar smile, and he was gracious around reporters.

The Astros raised a few eyebrows when they drafted the 17-year-old Puerto Rican shortstop with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012 First-Year Player Draft. But two years later, they're as confident as ever they made the right choice, as Correa looks like a superstar in the making.

Correa, 19, hit .315 with five homers, 44 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and a .380 on-base percentage through his first 45 games this season at Class A Lancaster, putting himself in position to make a move to Double-A Corpus Christi at some point this year.

Meanwhile, right-handed pitcher Mark Appel -- the No. 1 overall pick in last year's Draft -- was scheduled to return to the rotation at Lancaster on Saturday after spending a month in extended spring camp because he struggled to adapt to the tandem starting pitching configuration.

As the Astros prepare to pick No. 1 overall for an unprecedented third consecutive year, their previous two top picks both could be in the Major Leagues at some point next year, and they figure to have a huge impact on the club going forward.

"With every opportunity like that comes responsibility," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "It's a great opportunity to get the best player in the Draft, but it's also a responsibility to our fans to take advantage of the fact we're picking first and get a player that's going to help us more than your typical first-rounder."

The 2014 Draft will take place on June 5-7, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 5, at 5 p.m. CT. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 6 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 11:30 p.m. CT on June 6.

MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

By taking Correa and signing him to a $4.8 million deal in 2012, the Astros were able to spread around their Draft pool money to land supplemental first-rounder Lance McCullers Jr. for $2.5 million and fourth-rounder Rio Ruiz for $1.85 million. McCullers and Ruiz are two players the Astros believed were first-round talents.

Correa played the entire 2013 season at Class A Quad Cities at 18 years old and was impressive. He hit .320 with 33 doubles, nine homers, 86 RBIs and a .405 on-base percentage. Despite being the second-youngest player in the league, he led the Midwest League in OPS (.872), while ranking second in on-base percentage and third in batting average.

"There were questions in the scouting community about whether or not he would be able to play shortstop, and we firmly believed he would," Luhnow said. "We continue to believe that and have more evidence now that he's playing it, not only well, but at a really high level in A ball. He continues to produce offensively at every level he goes to. In all ways, he's got power, gap power, he can get on base, he can steal bases. I think he's still everything we hoped he would be, if not more."

While 2011 first-round pick George Springer didn't make his Major League debut until he was 24 after being drafted out of the University of Connecticut, the consensus is Correa will be in the big leagues before his 21st birthday.

"If he doesn't get hurt, and we know his work ethic is off the charts," Luhnow agreed. "Double-A will be a big test for him, and we want him to have enough bulk at high A [that] he goes into Double-A with a lot of confidence, but I have a feeling that will happen this year. If he ends up the year at Double-A this year, he will come to camp competing for a job next year. Whether or not he makes the team next year, he'll put himself in a position where there's a good chance he'll be in the Majors in 2015."

Appel, signed to a $6.35 million bonus out of Stanford, appeared in just 10 games last year in his pro debut. He came to Major League camp, but he didn't get into a game until the end of March after undergoing an appendectomy earlier in the spring.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander appeared in four games to start the year at Lancaster and gave up 17 hits and nine earned runs in 13 innings before being sent to extended spring camp a month ago. Instead of pitching every seven days at Stanford, the starters in Lancaster are throwing every fourth day.

Appel's velocity was down in Lancaster in April, but he left Florida with his fastball sitting at 95 mph and touching 98 mph.

Luhnow called Appel's early performance "unsettling" a month ago and acknowledged his stuff wasn't as crisp as normal, but the setback has done little to diminish the GM's confidence that Appel will play a huge role in the near future.

"I'm confident that Appel is going to pitch in our rotation and he's going to be a top-of-the-rotation guy," he said. "He's got everything you need to do it. He's got a good delivery, he's got electric stuff and he's got command of all of his stuff. Really, the final piece for me is him demonstrating the confidence to get the hitters out at the highest levels, which he will do. And I think he'll do it before this year's out."

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.