HOUSTON -- The Astros got a key reinforcement back, as the club called up outfielder Justin Maxwell from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Monday night, manager Bo Porter said.
Maxwell was the starting center fielder before fracturing his left hand on April 23. Porter said Maxwell will be activated from the disabled list and rejoin the lineup when Houston hosts Milwaukee on Tuesday night.
Maxwell may not have his old job back, though. Porter recently said that Brandon Barnes has warranted more time in center with his stellar defensive play.
"I'm going to say that [Justin] will start. I'm not going to say it will be at center field," Porter said on Friday. "Brandon Barnes has done a great job there. He will warrant some continued playing time in center. That's why we've had Maxwell play some places beside center field [during his rehab assignment]. It gives us the luxury of having the option for both guys."
So where does Maxwell fit in? The likely answer is right field, where Jimmy Paredes started for much of May before Trevor Crowe supplanted him over the last two weeks. Paredes was optioned to Triple-A to open a spot for Maxwell.
But Crowe's struggled at the plate himself, batting just .182, but earning Porter's faith with his defense and baseball acumen. With J.D. Martinez solidified in left and the designated hitter role usually reserved for Jason Castro, Carlos Pena or Chris Carter, that leaves right field as the logical position for Maxwell.
Maxwell just wrapped up a four-game stint in Oklahoma City, where he hit .267 with three RBIs and a homer. That was a dramatic improvement from the first part of his rehab assignment, when he played six games at Double-A Corpus Christi and battled stomach ailments while getting just one hit in 23 plate appearances.
Paredes was the initial replacement for an outfield spot after Maxwell got hurt, collecting an RBI in his first two games with the team after being called up and starting 29 games total since May 7. Paredes struggled of late, collecting just one hit in June to make him a fairly obvious choice to clear a roster spot for Maxwell.
Astros 'fully engaged' in talks with No. 1 pick Appel
HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Monday the club is "fully engaged" in contract talks with No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel, the right-handed pitcher from Stanford, and hopes to be able to complete a deal this week.
While it was reported late last week the Astros and Appel had reached a deal, Luhnow said he wanted to wait until Appel's commencement exercises at Stanford on Sunday to ramp up negotiations.
"We're trying to move it as fast as we can," he said. "We wanted to give him the weekend to enjoy his commencement. We're optimistic we can move it pretty quickly."
Luhnow said the Astros have yet to meet with Appel or his representative, Scott Boras, but there have been solid conversations.
"We feel good about where it's headed," Luhnow said.
When asked if Appel could be in the fold this week, Luhnow didn't hesitate.
"I hope so," he said.
Appel, a Houston native, went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA this year as a senior. He held opponents to a .203 batting average, had 130 strikeouts and issued just 23 walks in 106 1/3 innings.
The Astros announced Monday the signing of second-round pick Andrew Thurman, a right-hander from UC-Irvine who told MLB.com on Friday he had reached an agreement. Thurman is the sixth pick from among the Astros' top 10 to sign, joining fourth-round pick Conrad Gregor (first baseman, Vanderbilt), fifth-round pick Tony Kemp (second base, Vanderbilt), sixth-round pick Jacob Nottingham (catcher, Redlands, Calif.), seventh-round pick James Ramsay (outfielder, South Florida) and eighth-round pick Jason Martin (outfielder, Anaheim, Calif.).
In addition to Appel, the club's top remaining unsigned picks are third-rounder Kent Emanuel, a pitcher, and ninth-rounder Brian Holberton, a catcher. Both play for the University of North Carolina, which is competing in the College World Series. Left-hander Austin Nicely, a 10th-round pick from Penn Laird, Va., also remains unsigned.
"The rest of the top 10-rounders, two of them are in Omaha right now and certainly we have to wait for that to end before we can engage with them and see where they're at," director of amateur scouting Mike Elias said. "We're continuing progress. We've got most of them done now in the top 10 rounds and we're intending to sign almost all our Draft picks."
After signing, Thurman gets big league treatment
HOUSTON -- Astros second-round pick Andrew Thurman isn't a Major Leaguer yet, but his experience in Minute Maid Park during Monday's pregame mirrored the routine of one.
After all, Thurman, the No. 40 overall pick, has a pro contract now, inking a deal with Houston on Monday.
A right-handed starter out of UC-Irvine, Thurman signed for the full slot bonus assigned to his pick -- $1,397,200.
A nametag and his own space awaited him in the locker room and he warmed up with the team in the outfield. Thurman obviously won't see action in Minute Maid Park in the near future, but he called Monday's experience a "dream come true."
"The guys all treated me great and are a lot of fun," he said. "This is what you're dreaming about since you're a little kid, so it's overwhelming. I'm very thankful the Houston Astros gave me this opportunity. Hopefully I'll get to warm up in this place for real pretty quick."
Thurman will start his Minor League career with the Astros' short-season Class A Tri-City affiliate. Houston director of amateur scouting Mike Elias said there is no timetable for Thurman's progression or an expected Major League-ready date.
"There's no specific date in mind," Elias said. "Still, we wouldn't have selected him where we did if we didn't feel he was a fairly polished pitcher and someone who we felt could make a contribution up at the top level sooner rather than later."
Until then, Thurman said he's looking forward to Minor League life, though he knows it's not glamorous. His brother, Tim, was drafted by the Orioles as an infielder in 2002 and played rookie ball with the organization for two years.
"He's been giving me a bunch of pointers," Thurman said. "So I know it's long bus rides, living off of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. It sounds like the time of your life, putting that work in. No doubt Tim's excited for me."
The 21-year-old Thurman posted a 6-4 record for UC-Irvine in 2013 with a 3.23 ERA with 91 strikeouts in 100 1/3 innings. He earned All-Big West Conference first-team honors for the second straight season. Thurman (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) also starred in the Cape Cod League last summer, recording 49 strikeouts in 39 innings over seven starts.
Elias also announced the signings of left-hander Jordan Mills (28th round), right-hander Jorge Perez (30th round), first baseman Tyler White (33rd round) and left-hander J.D. Osborne (36th round) on Monday. Terms of their contracts were not disclosed. The Astros have now signed 22 of their 40 picks this season, including six of their top 10.
Crowe supplants Paredes as starter in right field
HOUSTON -- Trevor Crowe has overtaken a struggling Jimmy Paredes as the starter in right field for the time being, Astros manager Bo Porter said Monday.
It's hardly a surprise, considering Crowe has started seven of the last nine games and Paredes is mired in an extended slump, with just one hit over 21 at-bats in June. After Monday's 4-2 loss to the White Sox, Paredes was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Crowe's .194 batting average isn't lighting the world on fire, either, but Porter said the switch-hitter's versatility is about more than his hitting.
"He does a great job and makes things happen," Porter said. "You look at the batting average, and I'm not a batting average guy. He's an above-average defender and gives us great flexibility because he's a switch-hitter. He's just a baseball player and understands the game. We'll continue to find opportunities for him."
Porter pointed to Crowe's second-inning at-bat during the Astros' 5-4 win over the White Sox on Sunday as an example of the 29-year-old's contributions to the team's recent winning ways.
Crowe fouled off four balls in a 10-pitch at-bat before drawing a walk to load the bases, which Matt Dominguez promptly cleared with a double to put the Astros up, 3-0.
"I thought that was the biggest at-bat of the game outside of [Jason] Castro's homer later," Porter said. "He's done all the little things, whether it's running the bases, playing defense, positioning or situational at-bats moving runners over. Right now, I'd say he's over Paredes."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.