Mark Appel AP

Report: Astros agree to deal with No. 1 pick Mark Appel

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UPDATE: Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that Appel “just needs to put pen to paper,” so it appears that just some formalities stand in the way of a deal. Brian McTaggart of MLB.com also senses that a deal is close and writes that the Astros “wouldn’t have drafted Appel if they didn’t feel they could get a deal done quickly.”

2:36 PM: OK, maybe it’s not done yet. Contrary to Heyman’s report, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow tells Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle that “nothing’s changed” in negotiations with Appel. He expects talks to pick up next week.

2:28 PM: We heard yesterday that the Astros were nearing an agreement with No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel, but the deal is now done.

Exact terms of the deal aren’t yet known, but CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes that it will “probably” be between $6 million-$6.5 million. Either way, that figures falls well short of the $7.79 million recommended slot value for the No. 1 pick. It’s a nice deal for the Astros, who can now use that savings to apply to their other draft picks.

Of course, the Astros passed on the chance to draft Appel last year, as he eventually fell to the Pirates at No. 8 overall. The Scott Boras client then turned down $3.8 million to return to Stanford for his senior season. The gamble paid off, as he worked his way back to the top of the draft board. While it’s a bit surprising to see a resolution this quickly, he didn’t have the alternative of returning to school this time around. It’s also worth noting that he’s a Houston native, so playing hardball with his hometown team may not have been high on his list of priorities.

Appel, 21, is armed with a mid-90s fastball to go along with a slider and a changeup. He’s expected to move quickly, and could make an impact with the Astros at some point in 2014.

Evan Gattis undergoes hernia surgery, recovery is 4-6 weeks

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Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle shares the bad news

One of the Astros’ big bats won’t be taking hacks when the Astros hold their first full workout on Feb. 23.

Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis recently underwent surgery to repair a hernia, the Chronicle has learned, taking away most of his spring training at a minimum. The recovery is four to six weeks but fortunately for Gattis and the Astros, the injury is not considered severe.

Gattis was working hard on his conditioning this winter, telling MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart in January that he had already dropped 18 pounds. It appears the big man might have gone a bit overboard on those workouts, and now he’s in real danger of missing the first couple weeks of the 2016 regular season.

Gattis batted .246/.285/.463 with 27 home runs and 88 RBI in 153 games last season for the Astros. The 29-year-old is arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career and has a hearing with the Astros scheduled for February 16 to determine his salary for 2016. He requested $3.8 million and was offered $3 million when figures were exchanged a little over three weeks ago.

Suddenly the Astros’ front office might have a new talking point for those arbitrators.

Seung-Hwan Oh finally receives his work visa, will be on time for Cardinals camp

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At last check, new Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh was still awaiting a work visa from the United States Embassy in South Korea and there was some worry that he might not be able to arrive on time to spring training in Jupiter, Florida.

But that is now officially a non-story.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Oh has recieved his work visa and is expected to report to Cardinals camp next week along with the rest of the club’s pitchers and catchers. Oh might even show up a bit earlier than the Cardinals originally asked him to, per Goold.

Oh saved 357 games in 11 seasons between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization before inking a one-year contract with St. Louis this winter. He also registered a stellar 1.81 ERA and 772 strikeouts across 646 total innings in Asia, earning the nickname “The Final Boss.”

Oh is expected to work in a setup role this year for Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.

John Lamb had back surgery in December, will likely get off to late start in 2016

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John Lamb was part of the Reds’ return package in last July’s Johnny Cueto trade and he had a strong showing at the Triple-A level in 2015. But the young left-hander posted a 5.80 ERA in a 10-start cup of coffee with Cincinnati late last season — his first 10 appearances as a major leaguer — and now comes word from MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that Lamb will probably have to get off to a late start in 2016.

Lamb underwent surgery in December to repair a herniated disc in his back — a surgery that went unreported by the Reds until Tuesday afternoon. Reds manager Bryan Price acknowledged on MLB Network that Lamb is behind the team’s other starting pitchers and will likely open the coming season on the disabled list. The hope is that he might be ready by mid-April.

It’s a small but frustrating blow for a rebuilding Reds team that will be looking to establish some foundational pieces in 2016. Once he is recovered, Lamb will be expected to fill the Reds’ fifth rotation spot behind Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, and Michael Lorenzen.

This is going to be an ugly year for Cincinnati baseball fans.

Yu Darvish will report to spring training on time, hopes to begin mound work in March

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Rangers ace Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery last March 17. Most starting pitchers take 13-15 months to fully recover from that procedure, and the Rangers aren’t counting on Darvish until sometime this May.

His rehab so far has gone on without issue.

Darvish offered some very positive updates Tuesday to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram …

Darvish, 29, boasts a 3.27 ERA and 1.196 WHIP in 83 career major league starts. He can also claim a whopping 680 strikeouts in 545 1/3 career major league innings.

Texas has him under contract for $10 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017.