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Down on the Farm: Wait-and-see on Wheeler

Senior Fantasy Writer
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What's that? Zack Wheeler might be only a week away?

What are you doing, guys? Come on, let's clear some roster space for him! Figure out who's most expendable and cut him loose! It's now-or-never time! Let's move, move, move, move!

(Crickets)

Hey, didn't you all hear me? I'm talking Zack Wheeler here! Remember how we all passed on Patrick Corbin for him on Draft Day? It's happening! He's coming! What's the matter with all of you!?

Forget it. I already know. I may play the fool on TV, but when the lights go out and the camera stops, I'm right there with you on Wheeler.

He's a little late to the party.

Since finding out about his probable promotion for the Mets' three-game series against the Cubs June 14-16, you know how many leagues I've added him in? Zippo. Shoot, I'm still trying to find space for Dan Straily.

Or Kevin Gausman. Or Michael Wacha. Or Brandon Beachy. Or Tyler Skaggs. Or Francisco Liriano. Or Jarrod Parker. Or John Lackey. Oh, and now Tony Cingrani might come back for another start with Johnny Cueto on the DL. Wonderful.

When it comes to high-upside starting pitchers, the waiver wire abounds, more now than ever before in my 14 years playing Fantasy Baseball.

I mean, it's June already. Regress, I say!

Now, I realize it's mostly the shallower-league owners yawning with me on Wheeler. In deeper leagues -- ones where teams roster 350 players or more -- adding him is as obvious as adding any of those other pitchers I rattled off just now.

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 6/6)
Player % owned
1. Wil Myers, OF, Rays 77
2. Zack Wheeler, SP, Mets 67
3. Tony Cingrani, SP, Reds 58
4. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals 45
5. Josh Rutledge, SS, Rockies 41
6. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 35
7. Gerrit Cole, SP, Pirates 34
8. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins 31
9. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets 31
10. Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians 30

But in most of those leagues, Wheeler is already owned. At 67 percent, he's less available than Straily, Gausman or Lackey -- pitchers who I'd say deserve a roster spot over him.

In other words, if I told you to do with Wheeler what I usually tell you to do with top prospects getting the call -- drop what you're doing and pick him up now -- I don't know exactly who I'd be talking to.

So instead, I'll use this space to prioritize, assessing Wheeler in relation to other recent and/or eventual call-ups such as Gausman, Wacha, Skaggs and Cingrani.

First of all, I want to stress that if you happen to play in a league where Wheeler is the only one of these pitchers available, add him. Add him now. In a vacuum, I'd be thrilled to own a player with his potential. It's not always possible, but it's always advisable.

Baseball America rated him the best of this crop coming into the season and fifth-best among all pitching prospects, behind only Dylan Bundy, Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller and Gerrit Cole. So yeah, big deal.

Of course, with that ranking, you'd think he'd automatically take priority over Gausman, Wacha, Skaggs and Cingrani. You'd think.

But of course, those four have improved their stock since then. Gausman, the first pitcher selected in the 2012 draft, now has some sort of professional track record to go along with his sparkling pedigree. And it's already propelled him to the majors, where he's already shown he can keep his head above water. That's important.

Wacha, another elite arm downgraded to begin the year by his limited minor-league track record, dominated this spring and kept it up with a 2.05 ERA and 0.95 WHIP over nine starts in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, making the jump to Triple-A after only 21 innings in the lower levels of the minors. And, oh yeah, he two-hit the Royals over seven innings in his major-league debut May 30. Also important.

Meanwhile, Skaggs struck out nine in his season debut May 27 and began this season one spot behind Wheeler in the Baseball America rankings, and Cingrani has already proven his penchant for strikeouts will translate to the majors with his six-start stint earlier this year. But since both are short-term fill-ins for well-established pitchers who've recently gone on the DL (with Cingrani not even guaranteed that much), safe to say they belong at the back of the line.

And Wheeler? In that same Pacific Coast League where Wacha dominated, he's gone back and forth, settling at a 3.86 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. Granted, minor-league numbers don't tell the whole story. Matt Harvey's were similarly uninspiring last year, and he dominated the majors upon his arrival. But while they're far from the end-all, be-all, they say something.

And for Wheeler, they say "hmm."

Hmm. I wonder if his struggles at Triple-A are really just the product of a hitter-friendly league. Hmm. I wonder if he can get away with walking four batters per nine innings in the big leagues, as he has throughout his minor-league career. Hmm. I wonder if he's as ready as the Mets think he is.

Hmm. Maybe I should just stick with Gausman and/or Wacha.

Those are my top two. Because they've already mastered the strike zone, their talents are more likely to translate right away. No, their leashes aren't as long as Wheeler's, who arrives for good when he arrives, but given the alternatives, their teams shouldn't have much trouble keeping them around if they perform up to expectations.

Wheeler is a not-so-distant third -- 75th in my starting pitcher rankings compared to 59th and 60th, at last update -- and to be honest, each pitcher's next start (or in Wheeler's case, his first) could reshuffle the deck. It's that close.

But for now, I like what I have in Gausman and Wacha enough to let Wheeler go to someone else, if that's my only choice.

Put it that way, and I'm almost glad Cingrani isn't coming back for good.

Five on the Farm ... by Michael Hurcomb (@CBSHurc) , CBSSports.com

If I asked you to guess who is leading the minor leagues in stolen bases, undoubtedly your first guess would be Reds prospect Billy Hamilton and your second guess would probably be Astros prospect Delino DeShields. You'd be wrong in both cases.

It's quite shocking, especially since both players broke 100 steals in the minors last season and Hamilton set an all-time record with 155 steals, which broke Vince Coleman's 30-year-old record. What Hamilton and DeShields did on the base paths last season was nothing short of spectacular and boosted their long-term Fantasy keeper appeal.

Sadly, neither player is close to White Sox prospect Micah Johnson, who has a baseball-best 47 steals through Monday's games. Hamilton is among the top 10 minor leaguers with 30 steals, but DeShields is barely in the top 100 with 14 steals.

What happened?

It seems in both cases Hamilton and DeShields are focusing on other aspects of their games and have cooled it on the base paths. It's not like their speed has disappeared, which certainly isn't the case with Hamilton, who legged out an inside-the-park home run in 14.3 seconds Monday for Triple-A Louisville.

For Hamilton, he's been tasked with improving his presence as a left-handed hitter and transitioning to the outfield. Louisville manager Jim Riggleman, who also managed Hamilton in Double-A last season, recently told MLB.com that Hamilton slowing down on the base paths isn't necessarily bad for his development.

"There were a couple of times (last year) where we were losing, his run didn't mean as much and we allowed him to run," Riggleman said. "In the big leagues, that's not going to happen. It's something he will adjust to -- just because you can steal a base doesn't mean that you should."

As Fantasy owners, that's not what we want to hear. Once in the majors, we want Hamilton to run as much as possible because the more stolen bases he has, then the more valuable he is as a Fantasy option. But there's no need to worry about Hamilton's drop in stolen bases in 2013. He should run plenty once in the majors, which could be later this summer, so he remains a viable long-term keeper in all formats.

The bigger concern should be for DeShields, who could see his Fantasy ownership decline if he doesn't start to flash the stolen-base potential he showcased in 2012.

DeShields has been caught stealing eight times in 41 games this season after he was caught 19 times in just 135 games last season. And it's not like moving up the organizational ladder is the problem. DeShields did have 18 stolen bases in 24 games for Lancaster last season, so tougher opposition doesn't appear to be a legitimate excuse.

Now on to five more players making headlines in the minors ...

Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Astros
Affiliate: Double-A Corpus Christi
2013 stats (Class A): .286/.400/.810/1.210, two doubles, three home runs, four walks, five strikeouts, six runs in six games
Singleton made his season debut May 28 after finishing off a 50-game suspension and homered in his first three games for Class A Quad Cities. You think he was eager to start the season? It's great to see Singleton hasn't lost his power swing after having to sit out a few months. He moved onto Double-A Wednesday and will be there for a short stint before joining the lineup at Triple-A Oklahoma City. The suspension really hurt Singleton's chances at making a significant impact in Fantasy this season. He's never played above Double-A, and the Astros are finally getting reliable production out of Chris Carter and Carlos Pena at first base, so Singleton is likely to see a fair amount of at-bats at Oklahoma City before sniffing the majors. Singleton remains a legit long-term keeper because of his power potential, but there's no need to stash him in seasonal formats since he might not debut until late this season.

Chris Owings, SS, Diamondbacks
Affiliate: Triple-A Reno
2013 stats: .348/.365/.465/.830, two triples, four home runs, 14 doubles, 33 RBI, six walks, 49 strikeouts, 49 runs, 10 stolen bases in 58 games
Owings entered 2013 as a top 10 prospect in the Diamondbacks' organization, but his 22-game hit streak through Monday and career-high .348 batting average has garnered him a little more attention. Owings could always hit for average, but he's never hit for a ton of power (.431 slugging percentage) and always had a high strikeout rate compared to a low walk rate. Owings said his spike in production this year is because of advice Paul Goldschmidt gave him this summer about a consistent routine and sticking with it during the tough times, according to MLB.com. Perhaps if Owings was on a team in need of shortstop help, then he would be on the radar for a promotion to the majors, but Didi Gregorius is blocking his path for Arizona. Owings has begun to work at second base for Reno, but Aaron Hill isn't a free agent until 2017, so don't be surprised if Owings ends up being trade bait down the road. Don't write off Owings because of his shortcomings. There are plenty of current players who strikeout a lot but are viable Fantasy options, including Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Will Middlebrooks, Mark Trumbo and Starling Marte.

Andrew Heaney, SP, Marlins
Affiliate: Class A Jupiter
2013 stats: 0-0, 1.46 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .245 opponents' batting average, 18 strikeouts, four walks in three starts (12 1/3 innings)
Although the 2012 first-round pick (ninth overall) isn't even close to sniffing the majors, it's nice to see Heaney's career off to a promising start. Heaney was sidelined for the first six weeks of the season because of a strained lat muscle, but he's made a seamless transition since his season debut May 20, when he struck out nine batters in 4 1/3 innings. Heaney was the top college left-hander in last year's draft after leading the NCAA with 140 strikeouts in 118 innings. His advanced age and excellent control (2.3 BB/9 rate) should allow Heaney to move quickly through the Marlins' system, barring any health setbacks. Heaney's attractive strikeout rate (11.0 K/9) makes him a solid long-term Fantasy keeper.

Henry Urrutia, OF, Orioles
Affiliate: Double-A Bowie
2013 stats: .343/.409/.538/.947, five home runs, 13 doubles, 19 runs, 27 RBI, 16 walks, 29 strikeouts, one stolen base in 37 games
Urrutia spent a few extra weeks in extended spring training because of visa issues, but it doesn't seem the late start has had a negative impact on the Cuban outfielder. Urrutia is an interesting case. He didn't play much the last two years after defecting from Cuba. While the scouts aren't concerned about Urrutia hitting for average, they are worried about his lack of power and being an average runner. He did have his first two-homer game Tuesday, so maybe he's hearing the critics loud and clear. Urrutia is also an older prospect at 26 years old, so it's not like he has a ton of time to develop. Some scouts feel Urrutia might be destined to be a fourth outfielder in the majors, but the book is far from closed on the 6-5, 200-pound outfielder. The Orioles haven't even compiled a full scouting report on Urrutia. They are still evaluating him as he gets back to playing regularly in the minors. The team recently balked at promoting Urrutia to Triple-A because they want to see how opposing pitchers adjust to Urrutia and vice versa. However, executive vice president Dan Duquette told The Baltimore Sun Wednesday Urrutia was "an option to help our major-league team this year," so he's worth keeping on your Fantasy radar.

Tom Murphy, C, Colorado
Affiliate: Class A Asheville
2013 stats: .313/.408/.641/1.049, two triples, nine doubles, 10 home runs, 30 runs, 38 RBI, 17 walks, 41 strikeouts, two stolen bases in 36 games
In a 24-team, long-term keeper league this preseason, I used a flier on Rockies catcher prospect William Swanner. In hindsight, I should have used the pick on Murphy, who is leaving Swanner in the dust as the team's top catching prospect. It's not like the Rockies need to rush Murphy, a 2012 third-round pick, through the minors given Wilin Rosario's presence at the major-league level. However, the Rockies will surely be keeping tabs on Murphy's progress and so should long-term keeper owners, seeing how the scouts project Murphy to possess the ability to slug 25 homers annually in the big leagues. Like many young catchers, Murphy is raw defensively, but if he makes it to the majors, it won't be because of his defense. Murphy is slugging .531 with a .903 OPS through his first 91 pro games. Don't think his power is a fluke either. In three seasons at the University of Buffalo, Murphy slugged .589 with a 1.001 OPS. This kid seems to be legit and could emerge as a top 5 catcher prospect in the minors heading into next season.

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