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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
Royals lefty Brandon Finnegan to join rotation at Triple-A
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:26 am ET) Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo has revealed that promosing left-hander Brandon Finnegan is set to join the starting rotation at Triple-A Omaha, per the Kansas City Star. It can be assumed that the team is grooming him for the same role in the majors, but he remains a bullpen option if promoted this season.

Finnegan had been serving as a reliever in the big leagues, including a stunning stint in 2014 in which he helped the team win the American League pennant.

He had started eight of 19 games in the minors, including three of six this season. But all 12 of his appearances in the majors have been out of the bullpen.


Cody Ross receiving interest for minor-league deals
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:24 am ET) Outfielder Cody Ross is getting interest from teams about a minor-league deal, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. However, at this stage, the veteran outfielder can afford to wait for the right team, per Heyman.

Ross was designated for assignment by the Athletics in early May. He was also released by the Diamondbacks in early April.


Orioles C Matt Wieters might pass target date to return
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:13 am ET) The absence of Orioles catcher Matt Wieters following Tommy John surgery is approaching 13 months, so one might think a few extra days would be no big deal, especially considering that replacement Caleb Joseph has performed surprisingly well at the plate.

But the team definitely misses Wieters and his return could take a bit longer than expected, per CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman, who is reporting that the Orioles were targeting June 5 for him to come back.

Wieters has caught two games for Double-A Bowie, but took a day off between them. He is 2-for-9 with one RBI.


Mets promote OF prospect Michael Conforto to Double-A
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:06 am ET) Mets outfield prospect Michael Conforto was promoted from Class A St. Luice to Double-A Binghamton, the team announced Friday.

The 2014 first-round pick hit .283 with seven home runs, 12 doubles and 28 RBI in 46 games for St. Lucie. He has a career .305/.375/.455/.830 slash line.


Yankees SP Ivan Nova getting closer to rehab assignment
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:53 am ET) Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova (elbow) threw 63 pitches in his sixth extended spring start Thursday, according to the New York Daily News. Nova is slated to make one more extended spring start before beginning a rehab assignment.

Mariners SP Hisashi Iwakuma continues to progress with rehab
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:46 am ET) Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma (lat) played catch again Thursday and is inching closer to throwing off a mound, per The News Tribune.

"He feels real good," manager Lloyd McClendon said, "and we’ll continue to progress with his rehab and see how that goes."

McClendon added, however, he would be "surprised" if Iwakuma can throw a bullpen session within 7-8 days.


Rays RP Kirby Yates makes appearance in extended spring game
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:38 am ET) Rays reliever Kirby Yates (strained right pectoral) threw 16 pitches in one inning during an extended spring game Thursday, according to The Tampa Tribune.

Rays SP Nathan Karns focused on not giving away at-bats
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:32 am ET) Rays starting pitcher Nathan Karns might have taken a loss in his last start Saturday against the A's, but he hasn't allowed more than two runs in his last five starts and he's really happy he has gotten his walk rate under control.

The right-hander had walked 14 batters in his first four starts, which included three outings of four walks. However, he hasn't walked more than two batters in his last five starts. He has a 2.30 ERA in his last five outings after posting a 5.32 ERA in his first four starts.

"I’m not making the mistakes that I made at the beginning of the year," he said, per The Tampa Tribune. "I’m kind of growing and understanding how the game works at this level. I’m just trying to stay on top of throwing strikes and limiting my walks.

"There’s still a lot to work on, but those are the things I’ve focused on: to challenge hitters and not give away free at-bats."


Padres' Bud Black: Ian Kennedy 'bummed' about Thursday's loss
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:09 am ET) After it appeared Padres starting pitcher Ian Kennedy turned the corner in his previous start against the Dodgers, his issues resurfaced in a loss Thursday against the Padres, as he allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings.

"He is bummed because he was looking forward to this one,'' manager Bud Black said, per MLB.com. "He got some pitches elevated and they didn't miss them.''

Kennedy has now lost his last four starts and has seen his ERA balloon to 7.15.

"I'm falling behind hitters and it's tough to pitch like that,'' Kennedy said.

The right-hander said the strained left hamstring that landed him on the disabled list is not the reason for his woes. 

"There is definitely no pain,'' he said. 

Kennedy struggled with his fastball command Thursday.

"I don't know if I'm yanking the ball, pushing the ball,'' he said. "I've been up and down and it's very frustrating. My fastball command was all over the place."

Kennedy, who did record his 1,000th career strikeout on Thursday, said he will work with pitching coach Darren Balsley to figure out how to end this slide.

"You have to be as consistent as possible and my career has been about that,'' Kennedy said. "This has been a real test with the way I've pitched."


Pirates SP A.J. Burnett on 5-1 start: 'I'm sticking to the things I do'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:58 am ET) Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett won a fifth straight start Thursday at San Diego, improving to 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA through 10 starts.

Thursday was actually the first time all season the 38-year-old veteran allowed more than two runs in a start, but he's enjoyed a nice turnaround after totaling a career-worst 18 losses in 2014 with the Phillies.

"I'm throwing the same stuff I threw when I was here before, or even last year," Burnett said, per MLB.com. "People are saying I'm doing more because I'm executing more. The difference between the last couple of years and this year is that I'm executing more pitches than I'm not, that's the bottom line. I'm just sticking to the things I do."


 
 
 
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