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AFL Report: Hitters on the horizon

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The Arizona Fall League -- Major League Baseball's annual showcase for minor league talent -- doesn't have the same star appeal that it did a year ago. This year's rosters lack head-turning names like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen, all of whom participated in 2011, but several players familiar to Fantasy owners in long-term keeper leagues packed their bags for an extended stay in the desert this fall. Billy Hamilton, George Springer, Christian Yelich, Robbie Erlin, James Paxton and Jarred Cosart are some of the more notable prospects seeing AFL action. However, in this first review of the 2012 AFL class, we'll focus on players who have a chance to have a Fantasy impact in 2013, including a few who have been ignored in long-term keeper formats.

Below are ten AFL hitters who are worth keeping in mind in various formats on draft day next spring. I'll save the pitchers for a little later, since only a handful have amassed as many as 10 innings so far. For each hitter, I have identified a reason as to why he could be Fantasy-relevant as well as an area where he needs to improve in order to make an impact. AFL stats cited are current for games through Sunday, October 28.

Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, Tigers
Reason to get excited: He has demonstrated gap power at Class A and Double-A, showing strong potential for a high batting average.
Needs to work on: Home run power. Castellanos got a power boost upon his promotion to Double-A, banging seven homers in 79 games, but he was aided by playing home games in hitter-friendly Erie.
Early AFL returns: 50 AB, .220 Avg, 4 2B, 1 HR, 7 Runs.
2013 potential: Castellanos has a chance to compete to be the Tigers' everyday left fielder next spring, and if that happens, he would be draftable in deeper mixed leagues.

Mike Zunino, C, Mariners
Reason to get excited: The 2012 first-rounder mashed at Double-A (albeit in 51 at-bats) after getting skipped over Advanced Class A. In addition to power, Zunino demonstrated good plate discipline in his first exposure to pro ball.
Needs to work on: No clear weaknesses yet, but we will have to see how he fares as he logs more at-bats in the upper minors.
Early AFL returns: 46 AB, .283 Avg, 2 2B, 1 HR, 9 RBI.
2013 potential: Zunino ould become the Mariners' starting backstop at some point next season, though he's a long shot to make the team in the spring.

Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals
Reason to get excited: Wong is a speedy contact hitter who could supply steals, runs and a high batting average.
Needs to work on: Power hitting. Wong had the benefit of playing in a great hitter's park in Springfield (Texas League), but he produced just nine homers and 23 doubles in a full season.
Early AFL returns: 48 AB, .354 Avg, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 1 SB/3 CS.
2013 potential: There aren't any major roadblocks at second base, so by midseason, it could be the right time for Wong in St. Louis. As a starter, he could have some low-end appeal in standard mixed leagues.

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
Reason to get excited: The former Rice University standout has shown tremendous plate discipline during his limited time in the minors, and there have been some early signs of power as well. Owners should not be discouraged by Rendon's .162 batting average at Double-A Harrisburg; he appeared to be a victim of horrendous luck on balls in play (.163 BABIP).
Needs to work on: Staying healthy. A fractured ankle kept Rendon out for the majority of the 2012 season after he had been hampered by a shoulder injury during his college career.
Early AFL returns: 39 AB, .231 Avg, 4 2B, 0 HR, 5 RBI.
2013 potential: Rendon has the skills to contribute in Fantasy sometime in 2013, but a lack of opportunity could continue to be an obstacle. Rendon's primary position is third base, and he has been playing there in the AFL, but he is blocked in Washington by Ryan Zimmerman. A move to second base could be in Rendon's future, though the Nationals would need to move incumbent Danny Espinosa.

Grant Green, 2B, Athletics
Reason to get excited: After a disappointing 2011 campaign, Green's power numbers rebounded in 2012, and he also cut back on strikeouts and produced 13 steals.
Needs to work on: Patience. Green has yet to register a high walk rate, so he will have to maintain his gains in his strikeout rate if he is to help owners in leagues that use OBP.
Early AFL returns: 38 AB, .263 Avg, .349 OBP, 0 HR, 4 RBI.
2013 potential: After playing shortstop and outfield for most of his minor league career, Green's future now appears to be at second base. Not only does that move give him a better chance at playing time, but at that position, Green could have value for owners in deeper mixed leagues, should he become a regular.

Gary Brown, OF, Giants
Reason to get excited: Though he's not quite Billy Hamilton, Brown's 86 steals over the last two years bode well for future contributions in that category. His combination of speed and contact skills also provide the potential for a .300 average, though that promise wasn't met in Double-A, where Brown batted .279.
Needs to work on: Hitting the long ball. Brown's home run power faded after leaving the hitter-happy California League, and barring signs of development, owners should probably not expect him to hit double-digit homers as a big leaguer.
Early AFL returns: 35 AB, .257 Avg, 0 HR, 3 Runs, 1 SB/3 CS.
2013 potential: Brown probably won't contribute much in '13, but if he takes a step forward in the minors and the Giants need reinforcements down the stretch, he could be a handy late-season pickup.

Nick Franklin, SS, Mariners
Reason to get excited: Franklin maintained his power after making the jump from Double-A to Triple-A in June.
Needs to work on: Reducing flyouts and strikeouts. Increases in both rates left Franklin with a .240 batting average at Triple-A Tacoma.
Early AFL returns: 38 AB, .342 Avg, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 7 Ks.
2013 potential: Franklin has been playing second base in the AFL, which is not a good sign for those who envisioned him as a power-hitting shortstop. He also has a bigger roadblock at the keystone, which should be occupied for years to come by Dustin Ackley. The Seattle Times has reported that the M's have concerns about Franklin's defense at shortstop, so his short-term future doesn't look nearly as bright as it did earlier this year.

Didi Gregorius, SS, Reds
Reason to get excited: The 22-year-old is a good contact hitter who has shown a little bit of pop in a few of his minor league stops. In fact, Gregorius had been the last qualifying batter to strike out in the AFL heading into last weekend..
Needs to work on: Drawing walks. Also, though Gregorius has been a good triples hitter, his speed hasn't translated into many stolen bases.
Early AFL returns: 43 AB, .302 Avg, 3 2B, 0 HR, 3 BBs.
2013 potential: There is nowhere for Gregorius to play in Cincinnati, but with an injury to Zack Cozart or a trade of either him of Cozart, Gregorius would have a chance to show his stuff. As a regular or a utility player with consistent playing time, he would have value for owners in deeper leagues.

Kyle Jensen, OF, Marlins
Reason to get excited: Jensen has power aplenty. While he knocked out 24 home runs at Double-A Jacksonville this past season, it's even more impressive that he belted 22 in the offense-squelching Florida State League in 2011.
Needs to work on: Contact skills. Jensen's penchant for striking out has worsened as he has climbed the Marlins' organizational ladder, and he fanned 162 times in 445 at-bats at Jacksonville.
Early AFL returns: 49 AB, .408 Avg, 5 2B, 2 HR, 11 Ks.
2013 potential: It depends on how the Marlins' address their left field situation in the offseason. Jensen is likely to start the year in Triple-A, but if Logan Morrison shifts to first base and the team fails to find a reliable left field option, the door could be open for Jensen by midseason.

Rafael Ynoa, 2B, Dodgers
Reason to get excited: Speed and plate discipline. Ynoa has the potential to be a stolen base threat and his .364 on-base percentage at Double-A Chattanooga speaks to his promise as a leadoff hitter and run scorer.
Needs to work on: Hitting for power. While Ynoa showed a little bit of home run thump at lower levels, he failed to leave the park in 421 at-bats at Double-A.
Early AFL returns: 47 AB, .319 Avg, .358 OBP, 2 HR, 9 RBI.
2013 potential: The 25-year-old is hardly a prospect, but he has shown some intriguing skills at various stages of his career so far. The combination of a strong showing at Triple-A and a Mark Ellis injury could open the door for an opportunity to help deep league owners.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Rangers remain undecided on pitcher Keone Kela
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:20 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Keone Kela tossed one scoreless inning Sunday with no hits and two strikeouts against the Dodgers. Kela has now gone 8 1/3 innings without giving up a run this spring, but the team is undecided still on his role this season, reports MLB.com.

"I haven't said if he was or wasn't on the team," Banister said. "That decision will be made at the appropriate time. You see what he has done. He has been impressive this spring."


Indians pitcher T.J. House gives up four runs in six innings
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:15 pm ET) Indians pitcher T.J. House, who was given a spot in the starting rotation Sunday, struggled in his appearance Sunday. House gave up four runs on six hits with two walks in six innings of work against the White Sox.

"This spring it looks a little glaring, that one inning is kind of getting to me in the box scores," said House to MLB.com. "It's nice to get them out of the way now and maybe during the season we won't see them.

"My ball kind of flattened out a little bit [in the fourth]. Besides that, I felt good. I pounded the zone and got to see some guys I'm going to see during the season, so I'll make a mental note of that."


White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson has edge in position battle
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:05 pm ET) White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson appears to be in the lead for the position when the season begins, reports MLB.com. Manager Robin Ventura likes what he's seen from Johnson enough to give him a vote of confidence at the position, even though nothing has been officially set.

"He's done well enough to kind of be the leading guy," said Ventura of Johnson, who had two hits in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Indians.

Third base coach Joe McEwing likes the progress Johnson has sowed on defense this spring.

"Initially what we wanted to do was try to slow things down because everything Micah does, he does fast," McEwing said. "Everything in his game is fast. Just, defensively, try to slow him down and allow him to focus on his feet and his hands and everything working together."


Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman posts another stellar performance
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:55 pm ET) Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman continues to impress this spring. Sunday, he went 6 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits with three strikeouts and no walks. Manager Bob Melvin loves how the young pitcher has performed this spring, reports MLB.com.

"He doesn't blow you away, although you look at the radar gun and at times we've seen 93, 94 this spring," Melvin said. "But he's a pitcher; he's pretty cerebral in the way he does it.

"He reads swings very well. You know, it's late movement off the barrel of the bat, whether it's sink, whether it's cut, offspeed just enough. But he knows what he's doing and he's aware of what the hitters are trying to do against him."

Graveman has a minuscule 0.74 ERA in five starts this spring.

"There's a reason that he went from [Class] A-ball to the big leagues [in 2014 with Toronto], and then continued to pitch this well for us. It means he's real confident in what he's doing," Melvin said.


Nationals pitcher Doug Fister struggles again in outing Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:49 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Doug Fister surrendered six runs in four innings of work Sunday against the Marlins, pushing his spring training ERA to 7.02 in five starts. Fister gave up three more home runs in the outing.

"I can't let any of that affect me. I know I have to get the ball down regardless," Fister said to MLB.com. "I felt good today. I felt I was almost back in the swing of things. There are obviously some things I have to fine tune at the end of spring.

"I left the ball up, and it allowed the Marlins to get good contact on the ball. I don't let outside influences affect the game. It's a game I have to control and make adjustments."


Tigers targeting 200 pitches for pitcher Anibal Sanchez
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:45 pm ET) Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez tossed 10 strikeouts in Sunday's game against the Phillies, going 6 1/3 innings and surrendering four runs on five hits. 

"That means he's hitting his spots. It means he's locating," manager Brad Ausmus said to MLB.com. "When a guy takes a pitch, he thinks it's a ball or just off the corner and they end up getting the call. ... So he must have been locating. It looked like he was locating his fastball."

Ausmus also indicated he hopes to see Sanchez reach 200 innings this season.

"If we get 200 innings out of Sanchy, I'll be extremely happy. I think we'll be in a very good spot," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Sunday morning. "We talk about a lot of things, but if Sanchy can stay healthy, that would be an enormous plus for us."


Rays pitcher Drew Smyly targeting April for a return to the mound
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:39 pm ET) Rays pitcher Drew Smyly threw a fourth bullpen session Sunday to rehab from shoulder tendinitis and his hoping to be back in action in April, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

"I'm very hopeful that I'll be pitching in April, for sure," he said. "Something would have to go wrong, there'd be a step backward for me not to pitch in April I feel like."

Smyly is hoping to throw batting practice at some point this week.


Rays to use Brad Boxberger as fill in closer to start season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:36 pm ET) Rays pitcher Brad Boxberger is expected to fill in to the closer role for at least the first month of the season while Jake McGee recovers from elbow surgery, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

"He will be in a lot of meaningful situations," manager Kevin Cash said. "With some other guys, but for what Box did last year and the confidence we have in him, I would definitely anticipate him pitching in those leverage situations."


Brewers release pitcher David Herndon
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:33 pm ET) The Brewers have decided to part ways with pitcher David Herndon, the team announced Sunday. Herndon last pitched in the majors in 2012, posting an 0-1 record with a 4.70 ERA in five appearances.

Rangers pitcher Nick Tepesch struggles in outing Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:25 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Nick Tepesch surrendered seven runs on nine hits, including one home run, in just 3 2/3 innings of work Sunday against the Dodgers.

"He threw the ball well for three innings, then it got a little loose," manager Jeff Banister said. "He got the ball up a little and got it flat. But he had three solid innings. The fastball was there and the breaking ball was in play."

Tepesch is now 1-2 in spring training with a 10.38 ERA.


 
 
 
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