Luhnow on Crain's return, sending Appel to Florida

HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow recently returned from a five-day trip to Japan with pro scouting director Kevin Goldstein, where they met with representatives from several teams to explore collaborative relationships, watched some games and interviewed candidates for a new scouting position.

"It was a very successful trip," Luhnow said. "Kevin Goldstein did a terrific job organizing it, and we really felt like this is an important first step for us in re-engaging our activity in Japan and hopefully, eventually signing some good Japanese players."

After the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka, Luhnow was struck by the fact that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said they had a scout at every one of his starts for the previous two years. With that in mind, Luhnow wants to hire a Japan-based scout who is bilingual, bicultural, has played baseball and can help the team better evaluate talent the next time the Astros are in the hunt for a premium Japanese player.

Luhnow said he wouldn't rule out the Astros playing some games in Japan at some point.

"Playing games internationally is a great way to expand knowledge, whether it's awareness of the game, but also the Astros," he said. "We've talked about maybe doing something in Latin America. I wouldn't be opposed to doing something that -- doing something in Asia, Europe."

Astros option Oberholtzer; Clemens recalled

BAL@HOU: Oberholtzer holds O's to one run over seven

HOUSTON -- Brett Oberholtzer's reward for throwing two terrific games in his return to the Astros' rotation? A trip back to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Considering the Astros have been carrying six starters and wanted to go back to a five-man rotation following Monday's day off, Oberholtzer was the odd man out. He was optioned back down Sunday and was replaced on the roster by reliever Paul Clemens.

Oberholtzer, who was told of the decision following Saturday's game, went 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts since being called back up on May 24. He needed only 81 pitches Friday to throw seven innings to beat Baltimore.

"It was a tough one, when you look at how well Obie pitched his two outings," manager Bo Porter said. "At the same time, you can only have 25 guys, and looking at the fact we have an off-day [Monday], we didn't want to stay on the six-man rotation, because now these guys are pitching once a week. We didn't see that as something we wanted to do."

Astros starters have posted a 3.05 ERA in 26 games since May 5, with 18 quality starts in that span. Oberholtzer came up to give the starters an extra day of rest while they gave Brad Peacock some time to deal with a sore forearm. Oberholtzer will stay on turn for Oklahoma City.

"It's a unique situation that we haven't found ourselves in the last couple of years, where we have six quality guys," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "When we have a lot of games in a row, we could probably do a six-man rotation like we just did. We have an off-day Monday, and we have a couple of more off-days in June, and it's difficult to have a six-man rotation, because with the extra day, you're essentially asking them to pitch once a week a couple of times through the month, and that's hard, because you start to lose your rhythm at that point."

Clemens is no stranger to making the trip between Houston and Oklahoma City, having bounced between the two clubs several times since the start of last year. Clemens is 0-1 with a 4.08 ERA in eight games with the Astros this year.

"I've learned a ton the last couple of years just about baseball and the world up here, so I am definitely more prepared for a lot of things that have been thrown at me this year as opposed to years past," he said. "I think that's big time. I've come a long way in terms of being able to handle these sorts of things and take it in stride. I know deep down what my arm's capable of, and these are little bumps along the way."

Astros set to begin pre-Draft meetings

Jeff Luhnow on Astros' Draft strategy and approach

HOUSTON -- Astros scouting crosscheckers have been meeting to discuss the upcoming First-Year Player Draft throughout the weekend as scouts from across the country have rolled into Houston. At 8 a.m. CT Monday, the Astros will begin three days of meetings leading up to Thursday's Draft.

The Astros will have the No. 1 pick for the third year in a row and own three of the top 42 picks, including the 37th overall pick acquired in last year's trade with the Orioles. The Astros are still considering a handful of players for the top pick and will narrow the list this week. In all, they'll discuss about 800 amateur players.

The list of possible top picks includes North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon, high school lefty Brady Aiken, LSU right-hander Aaron Nola, high-school fireballer Tyler Kolek and high-school catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson.

"We all have our personal points of view and who we like and what order they should be taken in and so forth," general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "It's really not until you sit down and listen to all the scouts and get their opinions that you really finalize your own opinions. Then we can go back and figure out the organizational opinion."

The club will also hold the last of four pre-Draft workouts on Monday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. They held three private invitation-only workouts in Atlanta, Kissimmee, Fla., and Los Angeles last month in order to see as many players as possible.

"The workout is great for players, local players that maybe haven't been seen quite as much, and the four workouts are really important for us to get to know some of these players," Luhnow said. "For the high guys, it's really more of a discussion, because we've seen them a lot."

The 2014 Draft will take place on June 5-7, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 5, at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on June 6.

MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Worth noting

• Luhnow said the arrival of the Draft serves as a good checkpoint to gauge possible promotions among Minor League clubs. Among those expected to be promoted at some point this year is Class A Advanced Lancaster shortstop Carlos Correa, the top pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, as well as some pitchers.

"There might be some moves soon, but the reality is, we've got a full eight-man rotation at basically every level," Luhnow said. "At Oklahoma City, we're bouncing between a six- and seven-man rotation, depending on what's happening at the big league club.

"There's not a lot of upward room right now, but obviously as players continue to perform, we're going to move them to the appropriate level. There might be some moves. We're going to sit down and discuss it this week. You could argue there's several players that merit consideration [for a promotion] at every level right now."