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Reality Check: Sorting through minor details

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It was a fun weekend, wasn't it? One filled with laughter and amusement -- a fine diversion after another tough week.

Yes, it's always nice to break from the daily grind, whether it's your job or your job away from your job: Fantasy Baseball owner.

But it makes the return to reality that much more difficult, and if you did check out mentally this weekend, you've no doubt awoken to a world so strange and new that a brief moment of panic might set in as you pause to consider whether the blur you left behind actually measured in days or ... gulp ... weeks.

Really, it was a fun weekend.

But relax. A weekend is all it was. You still have your job, and you still have a competitive Fantasy lineup. You just can't expect Bryce Harper or Mike Trout to be a part of it.

Both are major-leaguers now, and it happened with so little buildup or warning that you'd think each was just another Cody Ransom or Will Rhymes getting called up to fill out a bench spot.

Where were the press releases chronicling every lineup change at Triple-A Salt Lake? Where were the swarms of reporters around general manager Mike Rizzo every time he set foot out of his office? Where were the countdowns to this date on every scoreboard at every stadium across the country?

In these days of Twitter, smart phones and 24-hour sports networks, how could this have caught anyone by surprise? Someone, somewhere surely had to know in time to relay you the message before you, ahem, "got your weekend on."

At worst, news this big should have interrupted your weekend. Given the hype over these two all these years in advance, you'd think someone would stop you on the street, slap you in the face, scream, "It's now! They're here! We're saved!" and leap into the arms of the next passerby without even giving you a chance to ask what he meant by "it," "they" or "we."

Not that you'd need to, of course.

But it didn't happen that way. The world kept turning, the clock kept ticking, and baseball kept happening whether you were aware of it or not. And with that, your grand plan to wait on Harper and Trout, convinced they wouldn't arrive until midseason, backfired. You're too late. You missed the rush. Both are owned in more than 80 percent of leagues already.

And while we could argue whether or not they'll be able to stick in the majors at ages 19 and 20 -- it's little more than a guessing game at this point, especially since, in Harper's case, the Nationals have suggested he's just a DL fill-in -- we can't argue whether or not they're worth owning. The upside is too enticing to pass up. Harper is the LeBron James of baseball prospects, as Sports Illustrated put it back in 2009, and Mike Trout is good enough that at least a few publications were willing to rank him ahead of Harper entering this season.

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 4/30)
Player % owned
1. Trevor Bauer, SP, D-Backs 47
2. Jair Jurrjens, SP, Braves 40
3. Andy Pettitte, SP, Yankees 38
4. Julio Teheran, SP, Braves 27
5. Shelby Miller, SP, Cardinals 27
6. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs 26
7. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies 24
8. Brett Jackson, OF, Cubs 19
9. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Indians 17
10. Danny Hultzen, SP, Mariners 17

So there you have it. If they do break out, it'll be to someone else's delight, and there's nothing you can do about it. Maybe next time you'll think twice about unplugging yourself during the most critical period of the Fantasy Baseball season for no other reason than to savor the short-term thrills of a weekend hootenanny.

Or maybe you could just take a preemptive approach and make room on your roster for the next wave of impact call-ups, which I plan to tell you about right now.

Guess that makes me an enabler, huh? That's all I need on my conscience right now.

Obviously, the minor leagues have no shortage of prospects, so this list could go on forever if I let it. But I want to focus on the real game-changers -- the ones special enough that, like Harper and Trout, claiming them off the waiver wire could be the Fantasy equivalent to winning the lottery. And while Will Middlebrooks, Anthony Rizzo and Leonys Martin have caught the attention of Fantasy owners early this season, all have obvious enough drawbacks -- such as a questionable ceiling (Martin), a patient front office (Rizzo) or a shortage of openings in the majors (Middlebrooks) -- that stashing them might just end up being a fool's errand.

No, when I narrow down the infinite list of prospects to the ones with the right combination of ability and opportunity to become legitimate game-changers in every Fantasy format this season, I'm left with only two names: Trevor Bauer and Nolan Arenado.

So what makes them so alluring? The sizzle is a little louder on Bauer, who has so far gotten the most attention of any 2011 draft pick even though Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen both went off the board ahead of him.

Part of the reason is the Diamondbacks' own doing -- they gave the 21-year-old a shot at a rotation spot in spring training -- but part of it is a reflection of how close the scouts think Bauer is to being major-league ready. He's an intelligent player, having studied biomechanics and effective velocity in an effort to maximize a delivery that has earned him comparisons to Tim Lincecum. With Daniel Hudson on the DL and Josh Collmenter to the bullpen, the Diamondbacks rotation has already taken some hits, and though they've figured out ways to patch it up for now, Bauer's double-digit strikeout performances will become too tempting to confine to Double-A Mobile if the trend continues.

Arenado, meanwhile, was already considered the best third base prospect in baseball before winning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League, where he played with Harper and Trout, among other top prospects. So far, his promotion to Double-A Tulsa hasn't interrupted his .300-hitting ways. With Quadruple-A player Chris Nelson currently starting at third base for the Rockies, little stands in the way of Arenado reaching the big leagues. The Rockies need his bat to contend this season, and every weak Nelson grounder brings them closer to realizing it.

So if you want to make sure you get the highest-impact prospects but don't necessarily have the flexibility to rush to your computer the moment they get the call, you don't have to relive the Harper-Trout disaster. Pick up Bauer and Arenado now and keep living it up on the weekends.

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In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value

Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros: As the second-ranked second baseman in Head-to-Head leagues, Altuve deserves far more attention than he's getting in Fantasy. Yes, his .359 batting average is a little high, but nothing else he's doing is inherently unsustainable. With six doubles, three triples, one homer and four steals, he's simply providing a little bit of everything, which is exactly the kind of player he was in the minors. Maybe if Altuve was some 33-year-old journeyman with a mostly unappealing track record, I could understand the skepticism, but considering he's only 21, these numbers could be the start of something special. Think Shane Victorino, only at second base.

Mark Reynolds, 1B/3B, Orioles: Yes, Reynolds' all-or-nothing approach makes him inherently streaky, and if that streakiness causes him to hit three homers tomorrow, which then propels him to have another 35-homer season, this whole blurb will be moot. Never has he started this slowly, though -- not even last year, when he hit .169 in April. And even if streakiness is the cause, it won't matter if the Orioles don't let him play his way out of it. Lately, they've been sitting him every other day, unwilling to accept his subpar defense when he's also providing nothing at the plate. Again, Reynolds is the type of player who can make up for lost time quicker than most, but if I drafted him to be my starting third baseman, I'm testing the market right now.

Henry Rodriguez, RP, Nationals: When Drew Storen went down with an elbow injury to begin the season, most Fantasy owners assumed Brad Lidge, owner of 223 career saves, when get the first crack at the role. He did but wasn't quite dominant enough to prevent Rodriguez from stealing a few opportunities of his own. Eventually, Rodriguez was the one getting the majority of those opportunities, and now that Lidge is on the DL with an abdominal strain, that's it. Competition over. Rodriguez is the closer in Washington now, and with his 100-mph fastball, he may just be beginning a lengthy career in the role. Eventually, Storen will come back, but Rodriguez has time to turn plenty of heads between now and then. If saves count for anything in your league, don't let him go unowned.

Ryan Roberts, 2B/3B, Diamondbacks: When manager Kirk Gibson sat Roberts for four consecutive games last week, he said he was only trying to clear the 31-year-old's head. But if you own Roberts in Fantasy, you have to see the writing on the wall here. He's not going to keep his job if he can't get on base at a decent rate -- something he also had trouble doing last September, when he hit.205. Roberts isn't a lost cause offensively, but the Diamondbacks may ultimately decide he's better off in a utility role. With journeyman Cody Ransom filling in admirably now and prospects Ryan Wheeler and Matt Davidson waiting in the wings, Roberts doesn't need to be the answer at third base. Don't let him be yours in mixed leagues.

Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B, Blue Jays: Streakiness is nothing new for Encarnacion, which is why his hot start this season is hardly cause for celebration in Fantasy. That's the assumption, anyway. But I'm not convinced he's entirely a finished product at age 29. For one thing, his "hot streak" last year lasted an entire second half, yielding a .291 batting average and 11 homers in 234 at-bats. Combine it with this hot start, not to mention a spring training in which he hit .306 with four home runs, and Encarnacion is batting .296 with 21 homers in his last 382 at-bats. Hot streak? Maybe. But if I was lucky enough to draft him late in Fantasy, I'm cautiously optimistic he has found enough consistency at this stage of his career to keep me happy at third base.

Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners

Patrick Corbin, SP, Diamondbacks: When the Diamondbacks ousted Josh Collmenter from the starting rotation on Saturday, the Trevor Bauer watch began anew. But it's actually Corbin, another of the organization's many pitching prospects, getting the first crack at major-league duty. Corbin doesn't have quite the pedigree of Bauer, but he's a little older and obviously has more professional experience. He lasted deep into spring training and posted a 3.00 ERA in 21 innings there before moving on to Double-A, where he compiled a 1.67 mark in four starts. He may ultimately just be keeping the seat warm for Bauer, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is encouraging enough that he's worth an NL-only flier in his own right.

Tyler Moore, 1B, Nationals: Moore's power has never been in question. He hit 31 homers back-to-back years in the minors before connecting for seven in 77 at-bats at Triple-A Syracuse this year. Yet at age 25, he's only now getting his first taste in the majors. Clearly, the scouts have never thought much of him, and given his all-or-nothing approach, you can understand why. But Mark Trumbo's success last year gives fringe prospects like Moore renewed hope. The Nationals say phenom Bryce Harper is only up until Ryan Zimmerman returns from the DL, but Zimmerman's return won't solve their crisis in left field. Don't be surprised if Moore ends up getting the majority of the starts there in the weeks ahead.

Dylan Axelrod, SP, White Sox: Sticking with the theme of unheralded prospects suddenly getting a look in the majors, Axelrod was mowing down hitters at Triple-A Charlotte at the time of his promotion Friday, posting a 1.08 ERA and 26-to-4 strikeout ratio in 25 innings. The White Sox don't have an opening in their starting rotation right now and, therefore, plan to use Axelrod in long relief, but if his newfound success (which he attributes to an improved changeup) continues in the majors, don't be surprised if he's the one shifted to the starting five when something inevitably does go wrong. Hey, the same thing happened for David Phelps.

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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Player News
Albert Pujols pops 20th home run
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:13 pm ET) Angels first baseman Albert Pujols hit his 20th home run Wednesday against the Blue Jays. 

Pujols hit a go-ahead shot in the seventh inning. He worked a four-pitch at-bat against Aaron Loup. On the final pitch, he smashed a 94 mph fastball out to center for the two-run shot. Pujols also singled in the game. He finished 2 for 4, with two runs scored and two RBI. 


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Murphy was designated for assignment recently, but rejected the move. He was hitting .196 over 112 at-bats. 


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Lind will get a second opinion on the injury in hopes that he might be able to return to action sooner. He's hitting .320/.389/.489 over 178 at-bats. 


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Johnson has a 2.75 ERA over 98 1/3 innings in Triple-A. Johnson made one start with the club earlier this season. He tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings. 


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Grilli wound up being a victim of circumstance. After tossing a scoreless inning in the seventh, Albert Pujols put the team on top in the bottom of the inning. The Angels were able to hang on, giving Grilli the win. He's now 1-1 on the year. 


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But taking a flier on him isn't the same as putting your trust in him, and I'm not quite ready for the latter yet.

For one thing, his high strikeout rate is mostly the result of four starts: an 11-strikeout effort May 31 at the Phillies, a seven-strikeout effort June 21 at the Marlins, an eight-strikeout effort July 2 at the Braves and the latest 11-strikeout effort Tuesday, also against the Braves.

The Marlins have struck out the most of any team in baseball, and the Braves have struck out the fourth-most. The Phillies aren't quite as bad, but they've struck out the ninth-most and have several notable high-strikeout hitters.

deGrom wasn't a strikeout pitcher in the minors, never averaging more than 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings in a full season -- and that was in the lower levels. He wasn't a pitcher of any note in the minors, compiling a 3.62 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 58 starts, and if you look at his game log, you'll see he's been just as spotty so far in the majors, with his innings and walks varying as much from start to start as his strikeouts.

But watching him pitch, I'll admit he looks better than the numbers would suggest, and I would have said the same for Corey Kluber early last year. For that reason, I'm not overlooking deGrom in Fantasy. I'm just not ready to commit to him yet.


Danny Santana not ready to return just yet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:45 pm ET) Twins infielder Danny Santana won't return this weekend, according to MLB.com.

Santana was aiming for a weekend return, but will need a rehab assignment first. Santana is hitting .328 over 134 at-bats. 


Marco Scutaro scheduled to return Friday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:42 pm ET) Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro is expected to return from the disabled list Friday if he doesn't suffer a setback over the next few days, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area reports.

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But the ERA doesn't trouble me as much as the 1.34 WHIP and especially the 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Much of Peralta's success earlier in the year was the result of an improved ability to miss bats. His ground-ball tendencies predispose him to a higher-than-usual hit rate, so when he allows more contact overall, the damage can pile up quickly. And when he goes back to walking batters at the same rate he did last year, as he has in his last 10 starts, he's barely mixed-league viable.

That said, the starting pitcher position has thinned out enough in recent weeks that quality replacements are no longer so available. For all my concerns about Peralta, I still rank him in the top 75 at the position, so the better choice than dropping him in most leagues is to bench and hope he regains the form he showed at the beginning of the year. He has the stuff to get back there.


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(7:38 pm ET) Angels reliever Joe Smith picked up a save Wednesday against the Blue Jays.

Smith pitched a perfect inning, striking out two batters. He got Jose Reyes to fly out to left to end the game. Of the 13 pitches he threw, 10 were strikes. Smith notched his 12th save. His ERA sits at 2.50 on the year. 


 
 
 
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