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Desert Report: Storylines are starting to take shape

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The Arizona Fall League's six-and-a-half week schedule is nearly at its halfway mark, and some interesting stories are starting to take shape. Some of the prospects mentioned in our earlier Desert Reports, such as Joseph Terdoslavich and Sean Gilmartin, continue to put up impressive stats, but several others are starting to draw attention as well. Jesus Aguilar, Terry Doyle and Kevin Munson are not household names just yet, but they may be names that you'll need to know in Fantasy in the near future.

What have these prospects and others done to deserve a place in Fantasy owners' mental databases? Read on, as we will take a look at the achievements of several AFL standouts -- and a few disappointments -- and see what it all means for the upcoming Fantasy season.

Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Cleveland (Phoenix): Aguilar turned heads with his 23 homers hit in Class A and Advanced Class A this season, and he continues to hit with authority. In Arizona, the 21-year-old is batting .354 with three home runs and six doubles in 48 at-bats. He hasn't been especially whiff-prone in the minors, but Aguilar's 15 strikeouts are a bit concerning. He's not a big-time target in long-term keeper leagues just yet, but with a hot fall, his stock could rise in time for drafts next spring.

Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco (Scottsdale): Brown lived up to the hype of being a first-round pick in 2010, delivering power, speed and a high batting average in his first full year out of Cal State Fullerton. His impressive California League numbers have yet to translate to the AFL, as Brown is just 11 for 50 (.220) with no homers and two steals. He is already a favorite in long-term keeper leagues, but if he has a good year in Double-A, Brown has a shot at a late-season callup. That would make him a target for steals during Fantasy's home stretch.

Michael Choice, OF, Oakland (Phoenix): Choice is leading the AFL in slugging percentage by a wide margin with a .933 mark. Making contact has been Choice's biggest struggle in the minors, but he has only six Ks in 30 at-bats so far this fall. This season, Choice benefitted from a good hitter's park in Class A Stockton, and the thin Arizona air is probably helping him this fall. It will be interesting to see if Choice's power holds up when he heads to pitcher-friendly Double-A Midland in 2012.

Tyler Cloyd, SP, Philadelphia (Scottsdale): Cloyd had a strong campaign at Double-A Reading, which was backed up by a high strikeout-to-walk ratio. He is replicating the feat so far in the AFL, as he is tied with Anthony Bass for the lead in strikeouts with 15, and he has walked only three batters in 14 innings. Cloyd has been hit hard in his last two starts, so his ERA is a bloated 5.79. Still, he may show enough to earn a spot on the Phillies' 40-man roster, and if he doesn't, he could be an intriguing Rule 5 pick for someone.

Hank Conger, C, L.A. Angels (Scottsdale): Conger played in 59 games for the Angels, but he's spending the fall in Arizona in order to work on his defense. He didn't do much with the bat in his rookie year, as his tendency to get under the ball led to too many popups. At least Conger is hitting for a decent average so far, going 9 for 31 (.290). If he can improve his defense to the satisfaction of Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Conger should wrest more at-bats from fellow catcher Jeff Mathis next season.

Terry Doyle, SP, Chicago White Sox (Mesa): In our kickoff Desert Report, I wondered who might be this year's Josh Collmenter -- a relatively unheralded prospect who could use the AFL to get himself a look at the big league level. Perhaps it's Doyle. About to turn 26, he's roughly a year older than Collmenter was last fall, but the former math teacher is a soft-tossing control artist, much like his Diamondbacks counterpart. Doyle's 1.08 ERA and 0.42 WHIP over 16 2/3 innings are the lowest for any AFL pitcher with at least nine innings pitched. It's unlikely that Doyle, who has yet to pitch in Triple-A, will start the year in the White Sox's rotation, but he could find a role there by midseason if he continues to find success in the minor leagues.

Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona (Salt River):Eaton is usually noted for his diminutive 5'9" stature, but he has been putting up outsized on-base percentages wherever he plays. Not to be confused with the former big league pitcher with the same name, the younger Eaton is getting on base in the AFL at a .431 clip, and he is tied for third in stolen bases with five. He has moved quickly through the Diamondbacks' system, finishing at Double-A this year, so it's not a stretch to think we may see him in the majors sometime in 2012.

Stephen Fife, SP, L.A. Dodgers (Salt River): Fife was part of the three-team trade that sent Erik Bedard from the Mariners to the Red Sox and Trayvon Robinson from the Dodgers to the Mariners. In that deal, the Red Sox shipped Fife and two other prospects to the Dodgers, and once Fife arrived in the Dodgers' system, he continued to do a good job of getting hitters to ground out. Control is not Fife's strongest suit, and he has already walked eight batters in 11 2/3 AFL innings. His ability to improve his walk rate in Triple-A next year could be an important indication of whether Fantasy owners should target Fife in long-term keep leagues.

Ryan Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee (Peoria): Gennett, more commonly known as "Scooter," is doing what he does best, hitting for average. He batted .300 in Advanced Class A this season and is now hitting .381 in the AFL. What's new is that he is also hitting for power (two home runs, three doubles) and taking walks (six BBs). Time will tell if this is merely the result of a very small sample, but Gennett would be an exciting second base prospect if he could add power and patience to his arsenal of skills.

Robert Grossman, OF, Pittsburgh (Mesa): Grossman came into this season overshadowed by Starling Marte as the Pirates' top outfield prospect, but it was Grossman who emerged as the organization's minor league player of the year. The 22-year-old has continued his hot hitting into the fall, putting up a .385/.474/.662 slash line in Arizona. His power in the minors has been more of the doubles variety, but Grossman already has five homers in 16 AFL games. One weakness in Grossman's game has been inefficiency in base stealing, and that has persisted, as he has been thrown out on four out of seven steal attempts. That's an area where he will need to improve at Double-A next year.

Bryce Harper, OF, Washington (Scottsdale): After getting off to an ice-cold start in the AFL, Harper is finally starting to pick up his pace. He now has a six-game hitting streak, going 8 for 23 (.348) with four extra-base hits over that span. Considering that Harper is the youngest player in the circuit, it's easy to forgive him his early struggles and to be impressed by his recent string of games.

Danny Hultzen, SP, Seattle (Peoria): Hultzen hasn't been getting many strikeouts, but the No. 2 overall pick from last June's draft has been tough on AFL hitters nonetheless. He has allowed only two earned runs in nine innings, and in his last start, Hultzen pitched four no-hit innings. He has only two strikeouts so far, and none in either of his two most recent starts.

Kevin Munson, RP, Arizona (Surprise): The Diamondbacks' relief prospect has 13 strikeouts in only 7 1/3 innings, but that's not the best part of his performance so far. After walking close to a batter per inning in Advanced Class A this season, Munson has yet to issue a walk in the AFL. With a 1.23 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in seven appearances, Munson has been one of the best pitchers in the AFL so far this fall.

William Myers, OF, Kansas City (Surprise): Myers' numbers at Double-A Northwest Arkansas this year were a downer, but he's picked himself back up in the fall league. He leads all qualifying hitters with a .500 on-base percentage, and seven of his 13 hits have been for extra bases. Though we still have to see how Myers will do in the minors next year, maybe there's enough bat here for him to be a big league outfielder after all.

Kyle Skipworth, C, Florida (Surprise): Skipworth has shown some pop in the minors, but his plate discipline has been atrocious. After only 24 plate appearances this fall, it's far too early to know if Skipworth is making progress, but at least he is hitting .333. That's a much nice number to look at than .207, which is what he hit in Double-A this season. He is still only 21, so there is time for Skipworth to live up to the expectations that came with being a first-round pick in 2008.

Sammy Solis, SP, Washington (Scottsdale): Solis showed good control in Advanced Class A this season, but so far, he has struggled to find the strike zone in Arizona. The lefty has issued eight walks in his first ten innings, and it's come back to hurt him in the form of an 8.10 ERA. Despite these difficulties, Solis should still be viewed an important member of the Nationals' impressive cadre of young arms.

Mike Trout, OF, L.A. Angels (Scottsdale): Trout has yet to get untracked, as he is batting only .222 through his first 10 games. Most surprising is his lack of power, as he has mustered a total of three extra-base hits, which have all been doubles. Trout's Fantasy owners should not worry about tracking his AFL power numbers; he has already shown in his first 40 games with the Angels that he is capable of walloping big league pitching. His batting average is another story, and 14 Ks in 45 fall league at-bats should not inspire confidence that Trout is making progress on that front. Though the 20-year-old could have some value in standard mixed leagues next season, his rookie season is likely to be a bumpy ride.

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Player News
Brewers' Khris Davis to work on being a patient hitter in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Brewers outfielder Khris Davis realizes he didn't show patience at the plate last year in his first full major-league season, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I built a reputation in the organization of being a patient hitter," Davis said. "I felt like I wasn't a patient hitter at all last year. I was a little eager, wanting to please too much, too early. I found out I'm human."

Davis drew just 32 walks in 549 plate appearances while posting a .299 OBP in 2014, a number far away from his career .392 OBP in the minors.

"He was different last year," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Everybody goes through different phases. Guys change. (His walk total) was too low. He's a guy I think should be fairly patient. He sees pitches well. When he starts getting anxious, he becomes more aggressive and chases more. He realizes it, which is the first step. If you don't realize it and don't listen to other people when they tell you that, then you have issues. You have to have good self-awareness to be a good player. Sometimes these players don't have good self-awareness. But if they had better self-awareness they'd be a better player."

Davis is determined to fulfill the potential that caused the organization to move Ryan Braun to right field before the 2014 season and plug Davis into the regular left-field role.

"I can't thank them enough for having patience with me," Davis said. "I'm going to work it out. When you get here, you want to stay. That's the toughest part at first. I don't think this league has seen the best of me yet. I'm ready to pull that out and prove it day by day. I learned so many lessons there are too many to name."

Davis hit .244/.299/.457 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI in 501 at-bats.


Indians' Francona keeping a close eye on Giovanny Urshela
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Indians manager Terry Francona has been keeping a close eye on third-base prospect Giovanny Urshela, who was only recently cleared for a full range of activities after tweaking his knee during winter ball, MLB.com reports.

"He has a tremendous reputation of being a really good defender," Francona said. "I think I've been more wanting to watch his gait, just to make sure he's not favoring that leg. He promised us that, if he was, he'd let us know, but I also know he's a young kid in his first major-league camp."

Urshela suffered the injury on Nov. 15 and has rehabbed the injured knee at the team's spring-training facility in Goodyear, Ariz.

"He's worked really hard to get himself to where he can go through a normal spring," said Indians' director of player development Carter Hawkins. "We're very excited about the spot he's in right now, given the possible outcomes of the injury."

Urshela saw his first action at the Triple-A level in 2014, hitting .276/.331/.473 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI in 395 at-bats with Columbus.


Reds' Brennan Boesch to see time at first base this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Reds manager Bryan Price indicated Friday that outfielder Brennan Boesch would see time at all three outfield spots as well as at first base as he competes for a roster spot this spring, MLB.com reports.

"We already know he's a terrific player," Price said of Boesch, who has never played first base professionally. "He kind of got banged up and lost his way a little bit, but I think he feels -- and we feel -- that he's back on top of his game, and maybe his best days are ahead of him."

Boesch said he doesn't see the battle for a reserve outfield role as a "competition."

"I only care about the competition against the pitcher, and that's really as basic as I keep it," Boesch said. "You aren't competing against other players. We're all on the same side here. We're all wearing Red jerseys. Let the chips fall where they may."

Boesch struggled in limited time with the Angels in 2014 but hit .332/.381/.636 with 25 home runs, 85 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 374 at-bats with Triple-A Salt Lake.


Dodgers' Mattingly: Turner has 'put a lot of time in and it shows'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Dodgers infielder Justin Turner earned a nonroster invitation to the team's camp last year and ended up leading the team in batting average, and he's been working on his body like a fiend over the winter, MLB.com reports.

"Going into last year, we felt if he played every day, he'd get in trouble, and we found that out, but this year maybe he can handle more," manager Don Mattingly said Friday. "He's really been diligent about his work, been at Dodger Stadium almost daily. He's put a lot of time in and it shows."

Turner credited strength-and-conditioning coach Brandon McDaniel for his workout success.

"Brandon did everything. He's been a one-man wrecking crew," said Turner. "He and his family deserve the credit. I've been able to establish a routine and train consistently. Before I signed a year ago, I was on my own, going to 24 Hour Fitness, had to coordinate everything myself."

Turner added that he lost 18 pounds this winter through a healthier diet. Mattingly said that he intends to use the infielder at the corner-infield positions and also potentially up the middle.


Nationals' Matt Skole: 'I'm eating healthy and working hard'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Nationals first baseman Matt Skole missed most of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and struggled at the plate in 2014 but showed up to camp in better shape and will look to rebound in 2015, MLB.com reports.

"This offseason, I had a little more time to work on my body," Skole said. "I really got after it in the weight room. I ate right. I ate healthy. I think that was probably the biggest difference for me. I'm about the same weight as I was. I just leaned out a little bit. I'm eating healthy and working hard."

Skole worked with hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich for a month after the season and learned to keep his hands up in order to hit the ball consistently after having his hands too low during his down 2014 season.

"After taking a year off, it was more difficult than I thought it would be," the left-handed-swinging Skole said. "But coming back, I turned some corners, made some strides as far as getting to know myself as a player and know the things I need to fix. I think everything I did last year was a stepping stone for this year."

Skole hit .241/.352/.399 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI in 461 at-bats with Double-A Harrisburg last season.


Report: Dodgers sign center fielder Travis Witherspoon
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) The Dodgers signed center fielder Travis Witherspoon to their organization, according to a report from Baseball America

Witherspoon has previously been in the Angels and Mariners organizations. In six years of minor-league ball, Witherspoon has posted a career batting average of .252 with 68 home runs. He hit a minor-league single-season best 15 home runs in 2014 with the Mariners' Single-A affiliate High Desert Mavericks. 


Phillies' Buchanan 'working on being a complete pitcher'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Phillies pitcher David Buchanan is "working on being a complete pitcher," manager Ryan Sandberg said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The team's coaches spoke with Buchanan in the fall about command and pitch sequencing, executing bunts and thwarting would-be base-stealers, and Sandberg noted while examining the players that arrived early that the pitcher had taken the advice to heart.

"My biggest goal [this spring] is to show our front office and our coaches that I can throw the ball over the plate," Buchanan said. "That's one thing I had success with last year. I wasn't walking guys. I was throwing strikes, and that's what I'm known for. That's why I succeeded in the minor leagues; I was throwing strikes. So that's what I want to do this spring training, is continue to do that, pound the zone, force early contact and keep the ball on the ground."

Buchanan is scheduled to pitch the team's Grapefruit League opener Tuesday against the Yankees.


Giants' Bochy: Hunter Strickland 'needs to get a little smarter'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland is ready to learn from his mistakes from the tail end of his 2014 season.

Starting strong once he was called up from Double-A Richmond, Strickland gave up six home runs in the postseason. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said the remedy to put Strickland back on track is simple. 

"He needs to get a little smarter," Bochy said, per MLB.com.  

Strickland will be competing for a spot in the bullpen during spring training. His fastball is a strength, though it's a matter of his command improving on the mound. 

"The failures are what make guys better, I feel like," Strickland said. "I feel like they made me better. Just being in tune with yourself and knowing who you are and what you've got to do. In this game, you're not going to make it too far if you don't have confidence. If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to believe in you?"


Mets' Nieuwenhuis, den Dekker competing for roster spot
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Mets left-handed hitters Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker will be battling for one roster spot this spring, MLB.com reports.

While Nieuwenhuis is out of options, manager Terry Collins indicated that den Dekker has responded to the team's request that he reduce his strikeouts when sent to Triple-A last season.

"We'll just see how it translates this spring into what kind of an offensive player he can be," Collins said of den Dekker. "We know he's got the defensive skills."

Collins said that whichever outfielder shows the most promise will make the initial 25-man roster.

"He plays the game right. He's fearless," Collins said of Nieuwenhuis. "But right now, we've got to get some offense from one of those two guys. Which one of those two guys is going to be able to come off the bench as a pinch-hitter? The best closers in our division are all right-handed, so the left-handed hitter off that bench is going to be a big piece."


Stephen Strasburg wants to stay with Nationals
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Though Stephen Strasburg's agent Scott Boras denied a report that he wanted to be traded in January, the right-handed pitcher said himself that he wants to remain with the Nationals and has no issues with the organization. 

"I haven't said anything like that," Strasburg said in an interview with MLB.com. "I don't feel like that. You have to accept it because that's how the system works. It's like they pick up on any little thing and they twist it. Some people want to turn it to see how many clicks they can get on the webpage."

Strasburg is set to be the ace of a deep rotation that looks to be on of the best in baseball this coming season. With the Nationals winning their second divisional title in the past three seasons, Strasburg said he's happy with the organization. 

"It's the team that drafted me. I love the players here, I love D.C. Winning cures everything, that's for sure," Strasburg said. "I'm excited to be part of the resurgence so far. It's great to see the type of players we bring in here every year. The expectations keep going up and up. Hopefully, we can do big things this year."


 
 
 
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