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AFL Report: Prospects making their pitch

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The Arizona Fall League is known for being hitter-friendly and not just because of the dry desert air. The quality of the league's hitters tends to be greater than that of its pitchers, and unlike last season, there is no one with the prospect buzz of a Gerrit Cole or a Danny Hultzen participating this time around.

That doesn't mean there aren't good pitching prospects in Arizona or that AFL rosters are bereft of arms who will have Fantasy relevance in the comning year. Sometimes a pitcher can raise his profile with a strong AFL campaign, like Josh Collmenter did two years ago or Cole De Vries did last year. In this review of 10 pitchers to watch in this year's AFL, we will focus both on some of the bigger names, like Robbie Erlin, Jarred Cosart and James Paxton, as well as a few lesser-appreciated pitchers who have a chance at helping Fantasy owners in 2013 and beyond.

As I did in my recent column on AFL hitters, I'll point out why these pitchers could matter in Fantasy for the coming year, what they'll need to accomplish in order to be relevant and what they have achieved so far in this year's AFL. We'll begin with Erlin, who has the best chance at helping mixed league owners. Each of the others are more likely to be targets in deeper leagues in the short term, though several have the potential to develop into top-flight starters in the coming years. Stats cited are current for AFL games through Tuesday, November 6. Ground out-to-air out ratios are from milb.com.

Robbie Erlin, Padres
Reason to get excited: Erlin has missed a lot of bats at every level. Most recently, at Double-A San Antonio, he notched 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, even though he missed more than half the season with elbow tendinitis.
Needs to work on: Reducing his flyball tendencies. Erlin doesn't get many grounders, and that wouldn't have been a problem at PETCO Park up through this season. With the fences coming in, he could give up his fair share of dingers.
AFL stats: 14 2/3 INN, 3.07 ERA, 17 Ks, 5 BBs, 1.00 ground out-to-air out ratio (GO/AO).
2013 potential: Having spent the bulk of the last two seasons at Double-A, Erlin should start next season at Triple-A. If he builds on the progress he made this year, Erlin should not only be ready for a midseason callup, but he would probably be one of the more coveted free agent pickups in mixed leagues.

James Paxton, Mariners
Reason to get excited: In his first full season at Double-A Jackson, Paxton continued to strike batters out at a rate of more than one per inning.
Needs to work on: Control. The hard-throwing lefty walked more than a batter every other inning at Jackson this season, and he has had problems with location at Class A as well.
AFL stats: 12 2/3 INN, 5.68 ERA, 16 Ks, 6 BBs, 0.75 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Paxton is expected to reach the majors sometime in 2013. The Mariners have a glut of young pitching, and other teams have shown interest in Paxton, so he could easily make his debut somewhere outside of the Pacific Northwest.

Kyle Gibson, Twins
Reason to get excited: He has been registering higher strikeout rates in the minors since returning from Tommy John surgery this year.
Needs to work on: Now that he is on the mend, there are no clear causes for concern with Gibson, though he has struggled with stranding baserunners in the upper minors.
AFL stats: 15 INN, 4.20 ERA, 20 Ks, 3 BBs, 3.60 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Gibson probably needs a little more time in Triple-A, but barring a setback or injury, it's hard to imagine that he won't be in the Twins' rotation sometime next season.

Jarred Cosart, Astros
Reason to get excited: Cosart has compiled high ground ball rates at each stop in the minors. Unfortunately, this won't help him as much in the Astros' new division -- the AL West -- as it would have in the NL Central.
Needs to work on: Command. Cosart's strikeout and walk rates have not been impressive above Class A.
AFL stats: 11 INN, 7.36 ERA, 7 Ks, 6 BBs, 2.86 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Cosart is expected to start the 2013 season at Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Astros don't exactly have a stacked rotation, so a quick start in Triple-A could lead to an early-season promotion.

Chase Anderson, Diamondbacks
Reason to get excited: Anderson rebounded from a strained flexor tendon in his right elbow that cost him most of the 2011 season. Moving up to Double-A Mobile, he exhibited the same sharp command that was in evidence in the lower minors.
Needs to work on: Keeping the ball down. Anderson's middling ground ball tendencies could get him into trouble when he pitches at Chase Field.
AFL stats: 13 2/3 INN, 3.29 ERA, 19 Ks, 5 BBs, 1.20 GO/AO.
2013 potential: The Diamondbacks are loaded with promising young arms, so there may not be room for Anderson to contribute in 2013. Based on performance alone, though, he appears to be on course to be major league-ready by late next season.

Brian Flynn, Marlins
Reason to get excited: Flynn doesn't suffer from the wildness that has plagued several of the pitchers on this list, and the strong flyball tendencies that he showed in the lower minors would play well at Marlins Park.
Needs to work on: Inducing less contact. Not only have batters been able to avoid strikeouts against Flynn, but they have been getting hits on balls in play at a very high rate. That could just be random fluctuation, or maybe it's a sign that he's been just plain hittable.
AFL stats: 15 INN, 3.60 ERA, 12 Ks, 1 BB, 1.21 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Aside from Jose Fernandez, the Marlins don't have any top-tier pitching prospects waiting in the wings, so injuries or poor performances from Nate Eovaldi or Jacob Turner could present an opportunity for Flynn sooner than later.

Deck McGuire, Blue Jays
Reason to get excited: None, at least if you're going by McGuire's 2012 performance, but his 2011 professional debut showed that the former first-round pick has potential.
Needs to work on: Location. McGuire's command withered with the move to Double-A New Hampshire, and it showed in his 1.6 K/BB and 1.4 HR/9 ratios.
AFL stats: 8 2/3 INN, 6.23 ERA, 8 Ks, 5 BBs, 0.64 GO/AO.
2013 potential: The Blue Jays are still a little short on rotation depth, as Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison are both recovering from Tommy John surgery. If McGuire can get his act together next spring, he could have an opportunity to debut with Toronto by mid-summer.

Johnny Hellweg, Brewers
Reason to get excited: Hellweg's fastball can touch triple digits, and he gets ground balls galore, though he has not racked up big strikeout rates as a starter.
Needs to work on: Cutting back on walks. His minor league career 6.4 BB/9 rate simply won't cut it at the big league level.
AFL stats: 9 INN, 2.00 ERA, 5 Ks, 7 BBs, 5.00 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Hellweg is worth owning in long-term keeper leagues, but he could be a long shot for a callup next season. Then again, if he can hammer out his control issues, a late-season promotion wouldn't be out of the question. Should the Brewers decide to use him as a reliever, he would have little value even with a callup.

Dellin Betances, Yankees
Reason to get excited: Betances has posted high strikeout rates at every level of the minors.
Needs to work on: Control. After walking nearly a batter per inning at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Betances was demoted to Double-A Trenton. He improved, but his 4.8 BB/9 at Double-A still needs pruning.
AFL stats: 8 INN, 6.75 ERA, 11 Ks, 4 BBs, 0.86 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Betances is just two years removed from having good control, so if he can rediscover the strike zone this fall and next spring, he could have a shot at making an impact in Fantasy in 2013. Just bear in mind that right now, that looks like a long shot.

Jimmy Nelson, Brewers
Reason to get excited: Like fellow Brewer farmhand Hellweg, Nelson has been good at inducing grounders, and he's been far better at getting batters to strike out.
Needs to work on: Throwing strikes. While Nelson made strides in his control at Advanced Class A, he regressed at Double-A, dishing out 7.2 walks per nine innings.
AFL stats: 14 2/3 INN, 3.07 ERA, 16 Ks, 8 BBs, 2.71 GO/AO.
2013 potential: Nelson has made just 10 starts above Advanced Class A, so his chances of making a contribution next season are slim, but he is still worth keeping on your radar.

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
Angel Pagan scheduled for MRI on back
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:41 pm ET) A bulging disk has forced Giants center fielder Angel Pagan to undergo an MRI on Wednesday, per CSNBayArea. He has been out of the lineup in each of the last three games, including Wednesday in Arizona.

David Freese finally on roll for Angels
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:37 pm ET) Angels third baseman David Freese has struggled much of the season, but has saved his best stretch for the stretch run.

Freese has raised his average to a season-high .261. He has hit safely in 12 of the last 13 games with 17 hits in 45 at-bats and has slugged three home runs in the last nine games, during which time he has 10 RBI.


Alejandro De Aza on fire since joining Orioles
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:29 pm ET) Orioles outfelder Alejandro De Aza has sizzled since arriving from the White Sox and has started every game since Sept. 7.

De Aza has hit safely in 11 of 12 games and is 16 of 49 during that stretch with two home runs and nine RBI. He has fanned just seven times.


Red Sox promote slew of players from Pawtucket
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:51 pm ET) Ballyhooed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is far from the only promotion from Triple-A Pawtucket made by the Red Sox on Wednesday. But he is certainly the most significant.

The team has also brought up left-hander Edwin Escobar, right-hander Heath Hembree, third baseman Garin Cecchini, outfielder Bryce Brentz and catcher Ryan Lavarnway.


Hanley Ramirez targeting weekend return
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:41 pm ET) Don Mattingly has claimed that Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez is feeling better Wednesday and could rejoin the lineup this weekend against the host Cubs.

Ramirez pinch-hit Tuesday and is not starting Wednesday in Colorado. He has been dealing with an elbow strain.


Michael Morse not ready for return Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:36 pm ET) Giants left fielder Michael Morse is still absent from the lineup Wednesday against the host Diamondbacks.

Morse has been out since Aug. 31 with a strained oblique, but is expected back soon. He will return with a stat line of .280/.338/.477.


Angel Pagan still a no-go Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:33 pm ET) A back ailment continues to sideline Giants center fielder Angel Pagan in Arizona on Wednesday afternoon. He is out of the lineup.

Pagan has been sidelined since Sunday and has been limited to 95 games this season.


Wilmer Flores upping his stock for 2015
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 pm ET) Granted, if the Mets make a play for Starlin Castro or some other high-profile shortstop this offseason, all bets are off, but Wilmer Flores' two-homer performance Tuesday against the Marlins was just the latest indication that the 23-year-old is on the verge of turning the corner.

And that's an exciting prospect for Fantasy owners now that he's proven at least competent at the weakest position in the game.

In his last 18 games, he's batting .303 with five home runs and a .984 OPS. He has struck out just twice in 66 at-bats during that stretch. In 43 games since the All-Star break (or since his return from the minors, more accurately), he has struck out just nine times in 140 at-bats.

That was his calling card in the minors, where he never struck out even 80 times in a season and was typically between 60 and 70. The high contact rate often resulted in a .300 batting average -- particularly in the upper levels, when he began to develop the power to hit 15-plus homers and 30-plus doubles.

It's a skill set similar to the one Edgardo Alfonzo brought with him to the majors in the late 90s. If you were playing Fantasy then, you'll probably remember he had a few years when he was a pretty stellar option even at the height of the steroids era. And he wasn't even a shortstop during that time.

Sleeper alert?


Report: Twins contemplating shutting down Glen Perkins
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:52 pm ET) The Twins could be considering shutting down closer Glen Perkins for the season, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Ron Gardenhire has admitted he's worried about the struggling veteran left-hander.

"Yes, I'm concerned," he said about Perkins' recent drop in velocity. "We're going to talk with him (Wednesday). There's a lot of frustration involved right now. We're going to definitely talk with him and see where we're at and see how he's feeling because he just came off that (neck/shoulder) thing and he's had a couple outings where we think the velocity is down. We just want him to be honest with us and not hurt himself."

Perkins has blown three of his last five save opportunities, including Tuesday night, when he surrendered a three-run homer to Detroit slugger J.D. Martinez in the ninth inning. He has allowed five homers in his last eight appearances and at least one hit in each of his last nine.


Jake Arrieta gives owners something to remember
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:32 pm ET) Just in case you were beginning to have some doubts about Jake Arrieta, noticing that he hasn't been quite as dominant in recent weeks with a 3-4 record, 3.67 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 12 starts since his breakthrough June, he made sure that line of thinking wouldn't haunt you in the offseason, regardless of how his final two starts go, with his performance Tuesday night.

Not only did he record his first complete game and shutout, but he threw a one-hitter, setting a career high with 13 strikeouts. It was a start even better than any of those he had in June, and he did against the same Reds team that beat him up for six earned runs in four inning back on Aug. 28 -- one of two ugly starts that served to inflate his ERA during that 12-start stretch.

The 28-year-old right-hander has maintained his velocity throughout and, apart from a trio of three-walk games at the beginning of July, hasn't encountered any of his past control issues. And for all his strikeouts, he has one of the lowest home run rates in the majors, making him the best of both worlds as far as quality pitchers -- a groundballer who won't give up a bunch of cheap singles pitching to contact.

In other words, he checks off every box on the list.

The one exception, of course, is durability. Until he goes 200 innings, you have reason to wonder if he can. But once all the established aces go off the board, Arrieta will rank as high as any pitcher in 2015. Top 25 seems like a lock.


 
 
 
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