Word is, Astros have identified Appel as top option -- but may still pass if price isn't right

Word in major-league circles is that the Astros have identified Stanford righthander Mark Appel as their top choice in Monday's first-year player draft. However, if Appel doesn't provide some signal about a willingness to agree to their price the Astros may move on to their second choice.

The Astros can't take a chance of picking a player who doesn't sign because teams can't redistribute the money, meaning the pick and dollar allotment will be lost for this year. The No. 1 pick slot is worth about $7.3 million. Teams that pick players who don't sign will get only a replacement pick in the same spot next year.

The new rules generally discourage enormous bonuses by limiting teams' to total bonus allotments. But one power the players have is that the threat of rejecting a team suggestion could cause a player to drop to a more generous team because teams won't want to fail to sign picks under this system. Pre-draft deals are disallowed under the new system, so the sides will only talk about less specific "signablity'' and teams can't be certain deals are forthcoming with picks.

The Astros' backup choice to Appel isn't known for sure, but it is no given that they will take one of the next best college starters, LSU's Kevin Gausman or USF's Kyle Zimmer, or the top-rated high school player Byron Buxton, a center fielder.

One player moving up the board is Puerto Rico high school shortstop Carlos Correa. "Correa is another A-Rod,'' one American League scout said of the power hitter who may move to third base. There's a chance Correa could be Houston's fallback choice in case Appel doesn't take the deal.

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