Top Prospects: Mark Appel, RHP, Astros

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Right-hander Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall Draft pick who's been behind schedule this spring after undergoing an appendectomy, threw off the mound on Saturday for the second time this week without any problems, according to general manager Jeff Luhnow.

Luhnow said Appel will face hitters one time before getting into his first Grapefruit League action, which could come next Friday or Saturday.

"We're going to be very careful when it comes to his progression," manager Bo Porter said. "It's good to see he's graduated to the mound and he's getting closer to [getting] into some game action."

Appel is a non-roster invitee to big league camp this spring, after making his pro debut last year with 10 effective starts at two of Houston's Class A affiliates. But after throwing only one side session, he underwent the emergency appendectomy at the end of January.

Luhnow said he still hopes Appel can break camp on a Minor League roster, likely Class A Lancaster.

"But we'll have to see," Luhnow said. "First of all, we'll have to make sure he's ready to start with a team. It may make sense to continue to build him up at extended [spring training] for a week or so. We're hoping he'll be game ready when the club breaks."

Harrell looking at positives after tough outing

Lucas Harrell gave up 10 runs (nine earned) in Saturday's loss. (AP)

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Right-hander Lucas Harrell was one of the club's biggest bright spots through the first two weeks of Grapefruit League action, entering Saturday having allowed six hits and three runs in nine innings of work over three starts.

Things went a little awry for Harrell against the Tigers, who rocked him for 12 hits and 10 runs (nine earned) in just 1 2/3 innings of work in Houston's 14-3 loss. The Tigers definitely hit some balls hard -- Ian Kinsler hit the first of his two homers off Harrell -- but they also made some weak contact for hits, plus the Astros righty didn't have a few plays made behind him.

"Sometimes things go your way when you're getting ground balls, and sometimes [they don't]," said Harrell, competing for a spot in the starting rotation. "Just one of those things today, even though I was making pitches. Sometimes you have to tip your cap. They made better hits."

Eight of the first nine batters to face Harrell got on base with hits, including a two-run double by Torii Hunter and back-to-back RBI hits by Nick Castellanos and Danny Worth, whose single was deflected off the glove of third baseman Jesus Guzman. Kinsler hit a two-run homer in the second.

"I felt pretty good about the first inning," Harrell said. "I made some pretty good pitches in some counts where I needed to. Unfortunately, they didn't hit the ball to guys. In the second inning, I felt like I left some pitches up in the zone -- Kinsler, a slider that backed up -- and then felt like I made a couple of good pitches to [Miguel] Cabrera. But he's such a good hitter, he's just going to get hits.

"Overall, it didn't really go my way, but I take a lot of good things out of that first inning. I got some weak contact. Three of the hits were broken-bat hits, all on good pitches."

Gonzalez has good chance to be Astros' utility man

HOU@PHI: Gonzalez makes a diving stop up the middle

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Considering his versatility and good showing with the bat during the first two weeks of Grapefruit League action, switch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez has put himself in good position to break camp on the 25-man roster as an extra infielder/outfielder.

Gonzalez, who hit .221 in 72 games with the Astros last year, entered Saturday leading the Astros with 12 hits this spring, and was tied with Marc Krauss for the lead with 17 total bases in 26 at-bats. He was hitting .462 with a .444 on-base percentage, while seeing action at third base, second base, shortstop and in left field.

"Marwin has been tremendous, and that's one of the reasons we're starting to move him around the diamond more and more," manager Bo Porter said. "He will add flexibility and balance to our roster because he can play so many different positions."

Gonzalez, who isn't on the 40-man roster, spent all of the 2012 season in Houston after being acquired in the Rule 5 Draft, but last year spent 44 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He hit .297 with a .404 on-base percentage in 23 games in the Venezuelan Winter League.

"I've been working hard with what I'm doing right now, and I'm happy how I'm feeling," Gonzalez said. "I feel comfortable at the plate, and everything comes from hard work in the last few months. I [am] trying to be patient at the plate and get a good pitch to hit."

Gonzalez's versatility could be his biggest asset when it comes to making the club. He could fill the role held last year by Jake Elmore, who was primarily an infielder but made appearances at all nine defensive positions.

"Those players are very valuable to a team," general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

Gonzalez entered Saturday's 14-3 loss to Detroit as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning. He went 1-for-1 with a double to raise his spring average to .481. Krauss tripled during the game to give him a one-base edge over Gonzalez.

Strong spring has Moylan in Astros' bullpen mix

Peter Moylan's goal is to break camp in the Astros' bullpen. (AP)

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Veteran right-hander Peter Moylan, a non-roster invitee, has quietly put together a strong camp and could be in the mix to land a bullpen spot at the beginning of the season. Entering Saturday, the side-arming righty had allowed three hits and no runs in four innings.

"I'd still like to be a little bit more consistent with being down in the zone and the location of my offspeed pitches," Moylan said. "But the results have been fine. We're still halfway through spring, so I have some room for improvement. Hopefully, I continue to get that consistency. It's been a while since I've felt as I do now, and hopefully, I can carry that into the end of spring and the beginning of the season."

Unlike last year, when the Astros were relying on inexperienced arms for the second half of the season, there is no shortage of veteran relievers in camp -- with Moylan, Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Darin Downs and Anthony Bass. Then, there are the young guys who got their feet wet last year and are pushing for spots: Josh Zeid, Chia-Jen Lo, Josh Fields and Kevin Chapman.

Moylan knows it won't be easy to crack the club.

"I control what I can control," Moylan said. "If what I do is what they want on their team, I'll be ecstatic. That's my goal since I signed here. I want to break with the club. I can't control the decision, and I can't control what they're going to do. If it happens, I'll be really excited, and if doesn't, I'll be disappointed."

Moylan has a June 1 opt-out clause in his contract for the second year in a row. The Dodgers purchased his contract on May 31 last year, and he pitched in 14 games for the Dodgers around a two-month stint in the Minor Leagues.

"It worked out well for me last year," Moylan said. "I had been throwing the ball well leading up to June 1, and the Dodgers called me up. We'll see what happens."

Moylan entered Saturday's 14-3 loss to Detroit in the sixth inning and allowed two runs on one hit and two walks.

Luhnow watches Draft prospect Rodon in person

Draft Report: Carlos Rodon, College Pitcher

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was among the team's contingent that traveled to Tallahassee, Fla., on Friday to watch North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon, who's expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.

Rodon, the ace for the fifth-ranked Wolfpack, suffered a loss to No. 2 Florida State to fall to 2-3, but he struck out 12 batters and held the Seminoles to two earned runs, five hits and four walks in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out nine of the first 18 batters he faced.

Luhnow wouldn't comment specifically on Rodon, but it's no secret the club has been scouting him heavily and will continue to do so leading up to the Draft. Also playing in Friday's game was speedy N.C. State shortstop Trea Turner, another top-pick candidate.

"It was a productive trip, and it was a classic matchup," Luhnow said. "It was two top-ranked teams with Friday-night starters going and a well-played game. We saw a lot of good baseball. It kind of made me miss my scouting days."

Luhnow plans to get out on Fridays to scout as much as he can during the next few weeks, as he tries to get a look at some college aces, as well as some high-school aces in Texas.

"The schedule starts to run out," Luhnow said.

Worth noting

• Luhnow said veteran reliever Jesse Crain, who's recovering from offseason biceps tendinitis surgery, could be ready to pitch in games during the second half of April and perhaps in the big leagues by the end of April. Luhnow suggested Crain could need a Minor League rehab assignment once he's cleared to throw in games.