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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
White Sox 3B Conor Gillaspie bulks up
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:52 pm ET) White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie says his offseason weight training program has enabled him to add 15-20 pounds of muscle, "which should translate into driving the ball harder," reports ESPN.com.

“Honestly I’m hoping that by taking the same swing that I did last year, because I’m stronger, I’m hoping that translates into more power,” Gillaspie said, per the website. “It may or may not. We have enough guys that do hit for power on this team now. There are quite a few of them, so truthfully, I think I might be just as valuable getting on base, drawing walks, moving runners.” 

Gillaspie hit .282 with seven homers and 57 RBI in 130 games last year.


Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg throwing bullpen sessions
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:36 pm ET) Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg, who missed the second half of last season with an elbow injury, is throwing bullpen sessions as he tries to prepare for spring training, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Thornburg went 3-1 with a 4.25 ERA in 27 appearances before getting shut down in June.

Yu Darvish: 'My elbow feels fine'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:17 pm ET) Speaking publicly for the first time since he was shut down late last season with right elbow inflammation, Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish said he's feeling no ill effects now, reports MLB.com. Darvish, who's throwing off flat ground, is on track to begin throwing off a mound early next month.

"My elbow feels fine and I am able to throw on my throwing program," Darvish said, per the website.

Darvish has been working out in Texas during the offseason and said his training is "going well." General manager Jon Daniels said Darvish is "right on schedule."

"I think Darvish is very in tune with his body as much as anybody and knows how he's feeling," Daniels said. "He's very confident. Like any of these guys, until they're out there you're always going to have some reservation, but that's the worrywart in me. From all the information we have, I'm encouraged. He's basically been cleared to do just about everything."

Darvish's last start came Aug. 9 against Houston. He went 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA in 22 starts, tossing two complete games and one shutout.


Brewers reliever Jim Henderson throwing again
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:13 pm ET) Brewers reliever Jim Henderson, who had shoulder surgery last August, began throwing off a mound last week and will toss bullpen sessions this week, reports MLB.com. Henderson hopes to be 100 percent by Opening Day, the report added.

Henderson was limited to 14 appearances last season. He went 2-1 with a 7.15 ERA.


Ryan Braun says his thumb feels 'significantly better'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:05 pm ET) Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun, who underwent a thumb procedure last October, said his thumb feels "significantly better" than at this time last year, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Braun was plagued throughout last season by a nerve issue at the base of his thumb, the paper noted.

"Knock on wood, I feel great; it feels really good," Braun told reporters.

"Everything is going well. Regular offseason, regular routine. I started hitting a little bit earlier than I typically do, just to see how it felt. So far, so good. It feels really good.

"I do everything I regularly do. I don't hit off live pitching but I take regular batting practice like we would during the season, and it feels good. I don't feel anything at all."

Added Braun: "I know it's significantly better than where it was this time last year, which I'm encouraged by. But as I told you guys the last time I saw everybody (at Thanksgiving) the real test will come in spring training, once we've played games for a couple of weeks and that everyday wear and tear. See how it recovers, see how it responds."


Stiff competition for fifth spot in Mariners' rotation
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez are the leading candidates for the fifth spot in the Mariners' starting rotation, reports the Tacoma News Tribune. "The more competition, the better," Walker told the paper.

"It brings out the best of everyone who is fighting for the spot."

Walker posted a 1.96 ERA in six outings last September after being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.


Report: Yankees decline reconciliation with Alex Rodriguez
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) After meeting with new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air over his year-long suspension in 2014, Alex Rodriguez also reached out to the Yankees to set up a meeting, but was turned down, reports the New York Post.

Rodriguez requested to meet with the Yankees to apologize for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, but was told to wait until spring training. Reports also surfaced that Rodriguez is looking noticeably thinner compared to recent seasons, a source told the New York Post.

Rodriguez is set to report to spring training Feb. 25.


Rockies' Boone Logan appears to be fully healthy
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said pitcher Boone Logan has completely recovered from elbow issues that ended his 2014 season, reports The Denver Post.

Boone struggled in 2014 and was placed on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. He produced a 6.84 ERA over 25 innings.


Report: Yelich, Hechavarria turn down offers from Marlins
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) The Marlins are no longer discussing multiyear contracts with outfielder Christian Yelich and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, reports the Miami Herald.

A significant gap between Yelich and the Marlins has caused contract talks on a long-term deal to stall. Hechavarria turned down the Marlins' multiyear contract because the offer was not significant enough. He can become a free agent after the 2018 season, while Yelich can become a free agent after 2019.


Rockies' Jhoulys Chacin ready for bounce back 2015 season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:46 am ET) Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin had a tough 2014 season. After injuring his shoulder in spring training, Chacin struggled in 11 starts, posting a 1-7 record with a 5.40 ERA in 63 1/3 innings. He suffered right rotator cuff strain, which forced him to miss nearly half the season.

However, manager Walt Weiss is happy with Chacin's progress this offseason.

"He's doing great. He's been throwing and working out really hard. He's had a really good offseason," Weiss said to The Denver Post.

Teammate and pitcher Jorge De La Rosa thinks 2015 will be much kinder to Chacin.

"He surprised me a lot," De La Rosa said. "He was playing catch with me every day (in Scottsdale, Ariz.), and his arm looks really good. His ball really had some life, and he's lost some weight. I think he's getting stronger. He's going to have a good year."


 
 
 
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