Appel on recent start, beginning his Astros career

ARLINGTON -- The Astros have officially secured the No. 1 pick in next year's First-Year Player Draft, making them the first team to have the top pick three years in a row. The club has been operating for months as if it would pick in the top three.

Astros scouting director Mike Elias said nothing much changes for the club from a scouting standpoint now that it is picking No. 1.

"We've been approaching the fall season as if we're picking in the top three," Elias said. "We're on the lookout for any players who could be the top first, third or even fifth picks in the country."

Most experts have North Carolina State left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon as the likely No. 1 pick, and he's definitely on the Astros' radar. Houston took Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 pick in 2012 and Stanford pitcher Mark Appel with the first pick this year.

"Being the third year in a row doing it, we have experience, and our approach is we try to ID the top players in each category -- college hitters, high school hitters, college pitchers, high school pitchers," Elias said. "We get the depth stacked up within each of those categories. Last year, we had Appel, [Sean] Manaea, but Jonathan Gray emerged later on.

"We do feel there's some more depth again on the college pitching side. Rodon started for Team USA and we're very aware of that. Even if you have the No. 1 pick, the team that picks second or third keeps scouting all the players because you know what could happen with injuries."

Stassi happy to get back behind the plate

HOU@TEX: Stassi draws a painful RBI to tie game

ARLINGTON -- Max Stassi was sitting in the visiting dugout during batting practice on Monday in full gear when one of the Astros coaches jokingly told him he could take the gear off at any time. Who could blame Stassi for wanting to keep it on as much as possible?

Stassi was activated from the seven-day concussion disabled list for Monday's series opener against the Rangers and caught the final three innings and went 0-for-1 at the plate. It was his first action since he was hit in the face by Rangers pitcher Tanner Scheppers and sustained a concussion Aug. 21 in Arlington.

"It felt good to get out there for that first appearance back there, and it felt good to finally do it after talking about it for so long," Stassi said.

Stassi caught seven innings and got five at-bats during one game of instructional league at the team's Spring Training facility in Kissimmee, Fla., in preparation for returning.

"I was down for four weeks, but I've been running and doing the bike," he said. "Physically, I feel great."

Stassi sustained his injury in only his second Major League game, but he hadn't seen any time behind the plate in a Major League game until Monday.

"I want to get that first one out of the way and just learn the staff is the main thing," Stassi said before Monday's 12-0 loss. "Just try to finish off the year and try to carry it over to Spring Training. Just getting big league experience is a lot more valuable."

Barnes embodies leadership qualities on young club

CIN@HOU: Barnes' drive just clears the wall in right

ARLINGTON -- The jury remains out on whether Brandon Barnes will be a starter for the Astros in the coming years, but manager Bo Porter believes he's proven himself as a Major League player. He also thinks Barnes is leadership material.

Nothing has come easy in baseball for Barnes, who was drafted in the sixth round in 2005 by the Astros and didn't reach the Major Leagues until last season. He twice thought about walking away from the game.

"I think he's got natural leadership tendencies," Porter said. "He has natural leadership skills. A lot of times, people look at the leaders as the best player on the team or the guy who puts up the best numbers. That's not the case the way I look at it. The leader of this team is the guy everybody else looks at and they know that person was willing to sacrifice himself for the betterment of the team.

"They're not just going to talk the talk, they're going to walk the walk. Brandon Barnes is a lunch-pail guy. He comes to the park each and every day and he's going to give everything he has, win, lose or draw. If something needs to be said, he's not afraid to say it. Those are the qualities you look at from a leadership standpoint."

Barnes, 27, has endeared himself to fans with his hustling style of play and wants to try to finish his career with the Astros. He would embrace the role of leader.

"I don't have much [Major League] time, but I feel like I can be a leader and take us to where we need to be," he said. "Whether it's about leadership or the way I play, I want to eventually play for a championship. That's something we all want to do. We just have to start from Spring Training next year and we've got to hold ourselves to high standards."