HOUSTON -- The Astros will have the No. 1 pick in the First-Year Player Draft for two years in a row for the first time in club history. And Stanford right-hander Mark Appel is again on their radar.
Appel, a Houston native, was among the players considered worthy of the top pick a year ago, but he slipped to eighth, where he was taken by the Pirates. He didn't sign and returned to Stanford, where he will pitch his senior season next spring.
Astros scouting director Mike Elias said Appel is among four of five players the team is considering at No. 1, though that list that could change.
"I don't have a clear No. 1 in my mind right now and I'd say nobody does," Elias said. "I would say Mark Appel is absolutely back in the mix given what he did last year, the consideration he garnered last year and the serious consideration he had a the top of the Draft. He's back in there, so that strengthens the pool.
"The rest of the pool is pretty diverse. You've got other college players and some high school position players. I don't think there's a high school pitcher yet that has made the case to put himself in that group, sort of like Lucas Giolito did last year right off the bat. So that's probably the one piece that's missing. Historically, that's the one position that doesn't get taken 1-1, so that's not surprising."
The top pick means extra work for Elias and the scouting staff. The Astros will spend a lot of time and resources making sure they get the No. 1 pick right. The area scouts might see a potential No. 1 pick as many as 10 times, while Elias will try to get four or five looks.
"What it means for us we have some big decisions we have a lot of pressure to get it right," he said. "If we look at the history of it, there have been teams that have not seen the benefits of the No. 1 pick you might expect and still have gone on to have successful rebuilds and have come out a successful organization. It's still a major opportunity you're burning if you can't get that pick right."
Luhnow: Astros 'getting closer' to manager pick
HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Monday the club has narrowed its search for a full-time manager. Luhnow wouldn't say how many candidates remain from among the nine who have already interviewed.
Luhnow, team owner Jim Crane and president George Postolos met at length Monday at Union Station to discuss the options. Former Astros players Craig Biggio and Enos Cabell, who have been part of the interview process, were also in on the meeting.
"We are not at a point of conclusion yet but are getting closer," Luhnow said. "We started with a list of 45, we narrowed it down to a list of nine and we're down to a relatively small number now. We're not down to one yet, but we're getting closer. I do feel like the final group we're considering all have great future potential to be great managers in baseball, so we're excited about the choices we have in front of us."
The known candidates to have interviewed are Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, Red Sox bench coach Tim Bogar, Nationals third base coach Bo Porter and Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco. Former Astros catcher Brad Ausmus and former Phillies and Padres manager Larry Bowa have also interviewed but are no longer candidates.
Luhnow wouldn't say if the remaining finalists would be brought back for second interviews.
"We are hoping to move forward and we're excited, and hopefully we get to a successful conclusion relatively soon," he said.
Right oblique strain ends Abad's outing in second
HOUSTON -- Astros starter Fernando Abad left Monday's game against the Cardinals in the second inning with a right oblique strain.
Abad retired the first five batters he faced before walking Matt Carpenter. Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco and a trainer came out to the mound and made the decision to end Abad's outing.
"He threw the one pitch and I saw him flinching and we went out and checked him and he wasn't ready to go," DeFrancesco said after his team's 6-1 loss.
The trainers told Abad that he would need two to three days to recover.
"I don't feel too much," Abad said. "Just a little bit."
Reliever Fernando Rodriguez went 4 1/3 innings in relief. Rodriguez pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings on Friday in relief of injured starter Edgar Gonzalez.
Second baseman Marwin Gonzalez was taken out of the game in the fourth inning after spraining his left ankle in the second. It's the same ankle that Gonzalez hurt on Aug. 31. He ended up missing a couple weeks and returned to the lineup on Sept. 20.
In the second inning, Gonzalez singled, moved to second base and couldn't score on a single.
"We were hoping his ankle was going to continue to play and finish the season," DeFrancesco said. "I guess after the base hit he might have aggravated it. I thought on the base hit to right field, he wasn't running well and we weren't able to score him from second base early in the game. At that time, we determined he was better off coming out of the game at that time."
J.D. Martinez to undergo surgery on left hand
HOUSTON -- Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez will have surgery on his left hand on Wednesday and will not play the rest of the season. Doctors say he'll need four to six weeks to recover, which could jeopardize Martinez's chances to play winter ball.
"It's been bothering him for a while," Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "They finally shut him down."
Martinez said his left hand has been a nagging problem since the beginning of the season. The pain subsided with ice treatment, so Martinez didn't think much of it. Recently, though, the pain got worse.
When he faced the Pirates' Jeff Locke on Friday, he realized that he couldn't play well with the pain. He struck out in both at-bats against Locke and hasn't played since.
"He was throwing the ball and I couldn't even catch up to it because of the pain," Martinez said. "I just told [DeFrancesco] to take me out."
Doctors examined Martinez's hand and determined he had a small fracture in the hamate bone. The surgery will remove the hook of the hamate bone. The Astros still hope Martinez can play winter ball after rehabilitation, which is fairly common among baseball players.
"Right now, it's kind of up in the air just because they say rehab is about six weeks," Martinez said. "I'm not sure if the [timing] is going to be appropriate."
Martinez hit .241 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs in 395 at-bats this season after hitting .274 with six homers and 35 RBIs in 208 at-bats last season. He refused to blame the down numbers on the injury.
"I don't think that's fair," Martinez said.
Outfielder Justin Maxwell needs six RBIs in the final nine games to capture the team lead. Martinez's 55 RBIs would be the second fewest by a team leader in the National League since 1969, excluding strike seasons. Cleon Jones had a team-leading 52 RBIs for the 1972 Mets.
Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. Clark Goble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.