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Pipeline preview: Appel returns to action in Cal League

Astros' righty will start opposite Dodgers' prospect Urias in a game loaded with talent

Mark Appel, the first overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, began his first full professional season with Class A Advanced Lancaster. But he struggled to adjust to the piggyback system the Astros use for their Minor League starters and, after a month, the club sent the right-hander back to extended spring training to build up his stamina.

Appel, ranked No. 14 on's Top 100 Prospects list, is now back with Lancaster and scheduled to make his first start in a month Saturday against Rancho Cucamonga at 9 p.m. ET. The Quakes will counter with left-hander Julio Urias, ranked No. 53 on the Top 100.

The Astros believe Appel's struggles were attributable in part to the large chunk of Spring Training he missed as he recovered from an appendectomy. He has spent his time in extended spring training getting used to pitching every fifth day.

Appel, the Astros' No. 2 prospect, made four starts with Lancaster last month. He allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 17 hits in 13 innings. He struck out 13 batters and walked four. He was much more effective last year in his professional debut, going 3-1 with a 3.79 ERA in 10 starts between short-season Tri-City and Class A Quad Cities. He struck out 33 batters and walked nine in 38 innings.

Urias, the Dodgers' No. 3 prospect, has pitched well this season. At just 17 years old, he is the youngest player in the California League, but he has held his own against the older competition. He enters the game 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in 34 2/3 innings. He has struck out 38 batters and walked 17.

The top-100 matchup in Lancaster won't be confined to the mound, however. The JetHawks feature shortstop Carlos Correa, the Astros' No. 1 prospect and No. 7 overall, and the Quakes are led by shortstop Corey Seager, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect and No. 28 overall.

Correa, the top pick in the 2012 Draft, enters the day hitting .317 with five home runs and 13 stolen bases. Seager, who was selected 18th overall that year, leads the California League with a .347 batting average. His .584 slugging percentage is the second best in the circuit.

In addition to Appel and Urias, a several other pitchers ranked in the Top 100 are scheduled to start Saturday, including Eddie Butler (No. 33), Jesse Biddle (No. 45), Jimmy Nelson (No. 70), Jose Berrios (No. 77) and Nick Kingham (No. 90). Fans can watch all but Berrios on MiLB.TV, beginning with Kingham and Double-A Altoona hosting New Hampshire at 6 p.m.

Top prospect probables:

Cody Anderson (Indians' No. 4), Akron vs. Harrisburg
Appel (Astros' No. 2), Lancaster vs. Rancho Cucamonga
Alec Asher (Rangers' No. 10), Frisco at Springfield
Biddle (Phillies' No. 2), Reading at Erie
Berrios (Twins' No. 5), Fort Myers vs. Tampa
Tim Berry (Orioles' No. 6), Richmond at Bowie
Butler (Rockies' No. 2), Tulsa vs. Midland
Ian Clarkin (Yankees' No. 8), Charleston vs. Asheville
Daniel Corcino (Reds' No. 10), Pensacola vs. Jacksonville
Chase De Jong (Blue Jays' No. 13), Lansing at Dayton
Edwin Diaz (Mariners' No. 4), Clinton at Beloit
Brian Flynn (Marlins' No. 7), New Orleans at Colorado Springs
Grayson Garvin (Rays' No. 19), Montgomery vs. Mississippi
Kingham (Pirates' No. 8), Altoona vs. New Hampshire
Austin Kubitza (Tigers' No. 19), West Michigan at Fort Wayne
Trevor May (Twins' No. 12), Rochester vs. Gwinnett
Nelson (Brewers' No. 1), Nashville vs. Iowa
Zach Petrick (Cardinals' No. 16), Memphis vs. Iowa
Cody Reed (Royals' No. 14), Lexington vs. Augusta
Jefry Rodriguez (Nationals' No. 9), Hagerstown at Kannapolis
Sammy Solis (Nationals' No. 5), Harrisburg at Akron
Teddy Stankiewicz (Red Sox No. 17), Greenville vs. Hickory
Nick Travieso (Reds' No. 7), Dayton vs. Lansing
Jose Urena (Marlins' No. 8), Jacksonville vs. Pensacola
Urias (Dodgers' No. 3), Rancho Cucamonga at Lancaster
Drew VerHagen (Tigers' No. 12), Toledo vs. Charlotte
Gabriel Ynoa (Mets' No. 14), St. Lucie vs. Daytona

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill.