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Down on the Farm: The need for speed

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's that time of year again.

With teams tiring of their journeyman stopgaps and no longer slaves to the arbitration clock, the gates to the majors are open wide.

Wil Myers and Zack Wheeler became the latest big-name prospects to step through them Tuesday, joining Yasiel Puig, Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole and Mike Zunino just since the start of June.

And oh, the pandemonium. The roster spots burned. The FAAB dollars spent. The fates forever altered by the actions of a fortunate few.

But that's behind us now. With so few resources still available and so few potential game-changers yet to arrive, I did the other day what any forethinking Fantasy owner would do with a free bench spot and a depleted waiver wire in a 12-team Rotisserie league.

I picked up Billy Hamilton.

He's sort of the last man standing, isn't he? Among the prospects many of us pegged as impact call-ups way back in spring training -- a group that included Myers, Wheeler, Puig, Cole, Zunino and Jurickson Profar -- Hamilton is the only one who hasn't gotten his shot yet.

Well, unless you count Oscar Taveras, Travis d'Arnaud and Dylan Bundy, but injuries have slowed their ascensions enough that you can't expect to see them much earlier than August or even September, if at all this year.

And of course, prospects such as Christian Yelich and Jonathan Singleton have since entered the discussion. Most talent evaluators don't perceive them as being as close to maximizing their potential as Hamilton, though, and their skill sets make them less assured of making an immediate impact when they arrive.

By now, we all know what Hamilton can do. He stole a billion bases last year. Or 155, whatever. He's not on pace for quite that many this season, but with 43 in 67 games, he hasn't exactly slowed down either. His .243 batting average at Triple-A Louisville may raise some concerns about his major-league readiness, but it's not as bad as it seems. Since May 9, he's batting .280 with enough walks to quiet concerns of the you-can't-steal-first-base adage.

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 6/20)
Player Name % owned
1. Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals 50
2. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals 45
3. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 35
4. Kevin Gausman, SP, Orioles 32
5. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Blue Jays 30
6. Ike Davis, 1B, Mets 30
7. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins 29
8. Dylan Bundy, SP, Orioles 29
9. Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians 28
10. Tyler Skaggs, SP, D-Backs 26

What makes his promotion seemingly all too easy is that the Reds have an opening for him. They have for months now, and they will for months more given Ryan Ludwick seemingly never-ending recovery from shoulder surgery. Xavier Paul and Derrick Robinson have done an adequate job in his absence, but neither has any business as a fourth outfielder at the major-league level, much less a starter, and both are running out of steam, with Paul batting .237 (9 for 38) and Robinson batting .212 (7 for 33) in June.

So why isn't Hamilton up already? A number of reasons. At the time of Ludwick's injury, the 22-year-old speedster was in the earliest stages of learning the outfield after playing shortstop last season and was off to a miserable start at the plate. Plus, the Reds probably felt like they could survive without him given the initial timetable for Ludwick's recovery. Now that Hamilton is up to speed and their only real hope of satisfactory production in left field for the foreseeable future -- and now that the dreaded Super Two distinction is no longer such a deterrent -- you have to think the Reds are more interested than ever in giving their top prospect his first go at it.

It's not a foregone conclusion, of course. Maybe at age 22, nothing short of a .300 batting average from Hamilton would motivate the Reds to clear a spot for him. But I have a feeling the playoff push will force the issue. The Reds have pitching coming out of their ears but can't keep up with the Cardinals offensively. Hamilton's near-mythical, once-in-a-generation-type speed will rattle opposing pitchers in a way numbers can't express. The Reds' management team of Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker will recognize it more than most. They're as old-school as old school gets.

And even if they don't, what do you stand to lose? So he eats up a roster spot for a few weeks. Considering he qualifies at one of the weakest positions in Fantasy (shortstop, remember), is virtually free for the taking on the waiver wire and could single-handedly vault you to the top of the steals category between now and season's end, stashing Hamilton is well worth the risk, provided he meets a need.

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

In a matter of weeks, Astros first base prospect Jonathan Singleton accomplished something it takes many baseball players years to do -- if they do it at all. Since late May, Singleton has been promoted from Class A to Double-A to Triple-A. He's ascended multiple levels in the minors and it took him only 17 games to get to Triple-A.

Now, if you didn't know Singleton's story, then you wouldn't know my opening is misleading and it's actually taken the 2009 eighth-round draft pick a few years to make it to Triple-A.

But, it is true he's joined the roster at Oklahoma City after missing the start of the season serving a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy, and Triple-A likely isn't his last stop in 2013.

"Why not?" Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said in early June when asked if Singleton was MLBbound this season. "Maybe this will all end up with him in Houston this summer."

If Singleton didn't have to serve a suspension to start the year, then it's likely he would have joined the wave of elite prospects promoted to the majors and could already be making a Fantasy impact.

Nonetheless, Singleton is working into game shape and getting his timing down at the plate. By the look of his stat line, which is highlighted by five home runs and .642 slugging percentage in 19 games, it doesn't appear Singleton's ascent will stop until Astros manager Bo Porter pencils his name into Houston's starting lineup.

"I made this perfectly clear to Jonathan when this whole situation came about," Porter said in early June, per MLB.com. "I told him, 'Your baseball skill set is one thing, but you getting this here situation under control and behind you and making better decisions moving forward is more about Jonathan 'The Man' than it is about Jonathan 'The Baseball Player.'

"Because if we get Jonathan 'The Man' right, then we're going to get the 'Baseball Player,' but if we don't get Jonathan 'The Man' right, we will never get the 'Baseball Player.' To his credit, he has gotten Jonathan 'The Man' right, and I think the baseball part of it will pretty much take care of itself."

With Singleton taking care of business on and off the field, the Astros no longer have to guess about his future, and he's turning "Why not?" into "Why wait?"

Now, it's time for five more players making headlines in the minors …

Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners
Affiliate: Double-A Jackson
2013 stats: 3-7, 2.56 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .190 opponents' batting average, 84 strikeouts, 30 walks, 52 hits and six home runs allowed in 13 starts (77 1/3 innings)
We have seen the likes of Michael Wacha, Kevin Gausman and Alex Wood -- all 2012 draft picks -- speed through the minors and make their MLB debuts in 2013. Yet, Walker -- a 2010 supplemental first-round pick -- continues to toil in Double-A despite some impressive numbers. What gives? Well, Wacha, Gausman and Wood were drafted out of college, so they began their pro careers with the promise of moving fast. Walker was a high-school draftee, and while he has potential Cy Young ability, he's far from polished, which is evident by his career walk rate (3.6 BB/9). Though, Walker finally appears ready for the next step in his career -- Triple-A. He hasn't walked more than two batters in eight straight starts and has walked just one batter in his last 13 1/3 innings. It wouldn't surprise me if Walker and Danny Hultzen are both in the Mariners' rotation by season's end, but it's questionable if Walker will make a significant Fantasy impact this season. If I had the choice of stashing either pitcher in a seasonal format, then I'd make it Hultzen, despite the fact he's still working his way back from a shoulder injury.

Maikel Franco, 3B, Phillies
Affiliate: Class A Clearwater
2013 stats: .296/.349/.565/.914, one triple, 15 home runs, 23 doubles, 41 runs, 49 RBI, 20 walks and 39 strikeouts in 64 games
Franco was the best third baseman in the first half in the Florida State League not named Miguel Sano. If Sano started the year in another league or at another level, then Franco might have been the star of the first half in the FSL. Nonetheless, what Franco accomplished was nothing short of spectacular and his star is on the rise after entering the year as the team's second-best third-base prospect behind Cody Asche. You really have to take notice because Franco's power numbers in the pitcher-friendly FSL are impressive. Franco never slugged better than .439 coming into 2013, but it appears he's finally filling out his 6-1 frame as he gets older. Keep in mind he's only 20 years old, so we could be witnessing his emergence. Franco is expected to move onto Double-A shortly and could emerge next spring as a candidate to make the major-league roster, along with Asche, if Philadelphia chooses not to bring back Michael Young, who is in town on a one-year contract.

Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox
Affiliate: Triple-A Pawtucket
2013 stats (Double-A, Triple-A): .305/.399/.498/.897, six triples, seven home runs, 12 doubles, 37 RBI, 42 runs, 57 strikeouts, 36 walks and six stolen bases in 60 games
Bogarets is closer to the majors than you might think. No, it's not time to run out and add him in all formats, but it appears the 20-year-old shortstop prospect is an injury away from his MLB debut. Like many folks, it was a bit puzzling to see Bogarets promoted to Triple-A last week since Jose Iglesias has emerged as a legitimate replacement for Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew. Boston manager John Farrell clarified, while Bogarets' long-term projection remains at shortstop, he's going to work at second and third base at Pawtucket as well. Farrell said if "unforeseen things take place" and Bogarets is the "best bat available," then the team wants to make sure he's been "exposed" to the other positions. Farrell calls Bogarets a "pretty special player" and "he's well ahead of the age curve." Drew is a free agent in the offseason, so next spring we could see a pretty special shortstop battle between Bogarets and Iglesias.

Cesar Puello, OF, Mets
Affiliate: Double-A Binghamton
2013 stats: .330/.403/.604/1.007, two triples, 11 doubles, 13 home runs, 40 runs, 46 RBI, 46 strikeouts, 14 walks and 17 stolen bases in 53 games
Puello, like Franco, is enjoying a breakout campaign. It's also a bit of a career revival after Puello -- who was ranked by Baseball America as a top 100 prospect (No. 77) in 2011 -- fell off the map following an injury-plagued 2012. Unfortunately, Puello hasn't been able to enjoy his spoils lately as he has been linked in an ESPN report to the Biogenesis scandal. The 22-year-old outfielder is an intriguing prospect because he grades out at 70 for raw power on the 20-80 scale used by scouts, according to Binghamton manager Pedro Lopez (MLB.com). He said Puello's biggest shortcoming is learning the strike zone and controlling the barrel of the bat. But if Puello's breakout season doesn't turn out to be a fluke, then he could be a player making a Fantasy impact down the road. Given the horrendous state of the Mets' outfield, you wonder why Puello hasn't been promoted to the majors given his potential. Well, it seems while he might be devouring Double-A offerings, there is still a hole in his swing that would get exposed by major-league pitchers.

Albert Almora, OF, Cubs
Affiliate: Class A Kane County
2013 stats: .402/.434/.543/.978, one triple, one home run, eight doubles, 11 RBI, 16 runs, 13 strikeouts, five walks and three stolen bases in 22 games
Everyone knew Almora was good when the Cubs drafted him with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, but batting .402 in 22 games is nothing short of jaw dropping. Almora missed the start of the season with a broken bone in his left hand, but it doesn't seem the down time affected him. In fact, it seems like he feels like he needs to make up for lost time. Surely there will be debate as to who is the better Cubs' outfield prospect -- Almora or Jorge Soler -- but everyone can agree that the Cubs' long-term outfield situation looks promising, and it could get even better if Brett Jackson solves whatever has been ailing him at Triple-A. Scouts rave that Almora has more polish and better makeup than most high schoolers in recent years, and the 19-year-old outfielder isn't disappointing. Cubs president Theo Epstein is usually adamant about a prospect logging heavy at-bats at Triple-A before his pro debut, so it will be interesting to see if Almora is the player that breaks the mold.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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