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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
Red Sox want to talk extension with Yoenis Cespedes
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told MLB.com the team plans to discuss a contract extension with outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who hit .260 with 22 homers and 100 RBI. Cespedes is owed $10.5 million next season, the final year of his contract.

Josh Donaldson says his knee feels more 'stable'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson, who's been dealing with a knee injury, said he's encouraged because it feels more "stable" than it did the past couple days, reports CSNCalifornia.com. Donaldson should be in the lineup when Oakland visits the Royals in Tuesday's Wild Card game.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis to stay in the hospital longer
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Updating an earlier report, Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis is expected to remain in the hospital the next few days while undergoing tests related to the infection he contracted, reports Newsday.

Tanner Roark expected to come out of the bullpen
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark is expected to be used as a reliever in the NLDS despite going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA in 31 starts this season, reports MLB.com.

Mariners bring Jesus Montero back to 40-man roster
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) The Mariners activated designated hitter Jesus Montero from the suspended list, which puts him back on the 40-man roster. Montero was suspended after getting into an altercation in late August with a team employee in the minors.

Corey Hart designated for assignment
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) The Mariners designated Corey Hart for assignment. The designated hitter had six homers and 23 RBI in 232 at-bats.

Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter 'are locks' for Arizona rotation in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) New Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart said Monday starting pitchers Josh Collmenter and Wade Miley "are locks" for the rotation in 2015, according to FOX Sports Arizona. Stewart added the team will "have a nice competition for the other spots."

A's reliever Eric O'Flaherty (elbow) throws live BP Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Athletics reliever Eric O'Flaherty threw live batting practice Monday after missing eight days due to a sore elbow, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Offseason foot surgery not needed for Red Sox OF Allen Craig
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told reporters that outfielder Allen Craig will not need surgery to repair his foot, per MassLive.com.

Craig suffered Lisfranc tear which interrupted his 2013 season and led to a disappointing .215 batting average in 2014. He is hopeful that a full offseason will have his foot back at 100 percent.

"He's just focused on having a good offseason," Cherington said. "I think we've done everything we can to make sure that the foot is OK going forward. No further testing needed."


Red Sox 3B Will Middlebrooks chooses not to play winter ball
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9/29/2014) Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks will forgo playing winter ball and instead spend the offseason in Dallas working out in prep for the 2015 season, according to The Providence Journal.

The Red Sox wanted Middlebrooks to make up for some of the at-bats he lost this season due to injury. However, Middlebrooks decided it was best for him to work on being 100 percent by spring training.

"He’s made a decision he’s going to focus on other things," general manager Ben Cherington said. "He feels like he can address what he needs to address without playing winter ball, so that’s the decision that he’s made. Ultimately, the offseason belongs to the players."


 
 
 
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