Astros hope Jason Castro can lead the way in 2014

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Considering he had more time to work out this offseason, All-Star catcher Jason Castro is coming to camp with his surgically-repaired right knee feeling stronger than it was even a year ago.

"I put in a lot of work this offseason, and I feel like I put myself in a good spot coming back, even better than I was last year," he said.

That's a tremendous sign for Castro, who a year ago at this time said his knee was feeling 100 percent.

"I was able to work out for a longer period this offseason than I ever had," Castro said. "I was back in school pretty much right after the season ended, and I was recovering and doing some rehab stuff. I started my offseason workouts in November, and that's the first time I started that soon. I was able to get to a new point that extra time never allowed me to get to before."

Castro had a cyst in his right knee drained Sept. 3, one day after fouling a ball off the knee, and started consecutive games at designated hitter on Sept. 6-7 in Oakland, going 0-for-9. He later admitted he came back too soon and didn't play again.

He missed the entire 2011 season after injuring his right knee in Spring Training of that year and having surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament. He played in 87 games in 2012, but was on the DL twice for fluid in the knee.

Astros, Appel taking smart approach after surgery

Appel talks about transitioning to professional ball

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros pitcher Mark Appel is still a little sore, but otherwise on the road to recovery after having an appendectomy on Jan. 30 in Houston.

Appel, who lived with his parents in Houston in the offseason, woke up in the middle of the night and thought he was simply sick. The pain lingered, and he soon rustled his father in his sleep to tell him to take him to the hospital.

"Usually if I have food poisoning, I'll just grab some Tums or something like that," he said. "I did that after the first time I threw up, and I woke up again maybe an hour later and the same thing and the pain's worse. I knew something was up, and I just said, 'Hey dad, I think we need to go to the emergency room to be sure. Sure enough, I had appendicitis. It was pretty crazy."

Appel , the No. 1 pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft, will be eased into his throwing program to give him more time to heal.

"I feel fine," he said. "I'm still on the road to getting back to where I want to be, but I don't anticipate really missing Spring Training and I won't miss any of the season. It's all about being careful and not coming back too quickly, especially with it being my first Spring Training.

"Obviously, I want to be out there as soon as possible, but I'm not willing to risk a shoulder or elbow injury for the sake of pitching two extra outings in Spring Training. I am going to be patient. I talked to the trainers and strength coaches about a program to get back to where I was three or four weeks ago when I was working out."

Non-roster status not affecting Wallace's mindset

LAA@HOU: Wallace's two-run shot makes it two-run game

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The fact that Brett Wallace is in camp this year as a non-roster invitee after being designated for assignment last week does not change his mindset: He's coming to camp to try to win the starting job at first base.

"It's something I've never been through," he said. "I had some friends and people you play with go through it. It's definitely a new process, but something that, honestly, I can't control. In the same aspect, I'm coming in camp to win a job. I'm going to keep my head down and keep working, and then whatever is happening with all that, I just try to put it to the side and keep preparing."

Wallace, 27, split time between Houston and Triple-A Oklahoma City last year, hitting .221 with 13 homers and 36 RBIs for the Astros. He's competing for the first-base job with Jesus Guzman, Japhet Amador, Marc Krauss and Jonathan Singleton.

"Whether I'm on the roster or not on the roster, my biggest concern coming into camp was being ready to go and playing well and showing them what I could do and try to win a job," he said. "You can look too far into it if you want to, but for me it was a matter of keep preparing and keep my head down and keep worrying about what I can control, which is going out there and playing well and playing aggressively. I think everything else will fall into place."

Righty White progressing steadily in recovery

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros right-hander Alex White continues to progress steadily from the Tommy John surgery he underwent nearly a year ago. White threw batting practice Friday, tossing 23 pitches, including some changeups, to a few hitters.

"We're coming along pretty good," he said. "My offspeed stuff is really good, and I'm waiting on the fastball to come along. I think it will come. We're really just at 10 months right now. A couple of more months, we should be there."

White, 25, made the Astros' Opening Day roster last year before injuring his elbow in a preseason exhibition at Minute Maid Park and getting placed on the disabled list. He underwent surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on April 11 and has been rehabbing in Kissimmee since.

He hopes to be able to compete for a bullpen or rotation spot this spring.

"I feel really good command-wise and with the offspeed," he said. "One thing [that's lacking] is just the velocity, and that will come with time with reps on the mound."