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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
Astros' Roberto Hernandez arrives at camp, throws in bullpen
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:28 am ET) Astros starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez arrived for spring training Thursday and threw in the bullpen. Hernandez missed the first two weeks of camp due to visa issues.

Hernandez, who is competing for a spot in the rotation, said he will throw in the bullpen again Saturday and then should be ready for his spring debut.

“We’ve got to get him off the bullpen mound and then gauge,” manager A.J. Hinch said, per MLB.com. “He’s prepared. He’s been working out at the main stadium in Santo Domingo. When he tells me he’s ready, he’ll be inserted. I’m just glad he’s here. Let’s get through one day first and then we’ll plan it out.”


Report: Mariners' Choi likely to miss 4-6 weeks following surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:24 am ET) Mariners first base prospect Ji-Man Choi will undergo surgery Thursday after suffering a fractured fibula during Wednesday's spring game against the Padres, according to MLB.com. He is expected to be sidelined 4-6 months.

Astros catcher Hank Conger dealing with left wrist injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:19 am ET) Astros catcher Hank Conger is dealing with a minor left wrist injury, according to the Houston Chronicle. However, he could catch in a game this weekend.

Padres' Upton crushes HR off batter's eye in CF in spring debut
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:16 am ET) Padres outfielder Justin Upton, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Braves, wasted little time showing the kind of impact he can bring to the San Diego lineup. Upton homered in his spring debut Wednesday against the Mariners, and it wasn't a shot that barely made it over the wall.

"That ball was crushed," manager Bud Black said, per U-T San Diego.

Upton blasted an 0-1 breaking ball from Mariners pitcher Forrest Snow off the batter's eye in center field at Peoria Stadium, which sits 410 feet away from home plate.

"You try to stay within yourself, under control," Upton said. "Most of the time, if you swing the bat with good path, you can get some backspin. I got lucky today and ran into one."


Redmond: Giancarlo Stanton on same plan as everybody else
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:07 am ET) Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton hit third and started in right field for his spring debut Thursday against the Cardinals.

Stanton, who hasn't played in a game since getting hit in the face by a pitch in September, hit off coaches and participated in a few live batting practices before getting into a spring game Thursday.

“It’s been great to see him, he looks good, I know he’s in great shape and know it’s the start of the process to prepare yourself for the season,” manager Mike Redmond said, per The Palm Beach Post. “He’s on the same plan as everybody else.”


Marlins SP Jose Fernandez (elbow) throws second bullpen session
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:58 am ET) Marlins starting pitcher Jose Fernandez (elbow) threw 20 pitches Thursday during his second bullpen session this spring, per The Palm Beach Post. Fernandez threw in front of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and the training staff.

Fernandez is expected to throw two bullpen sessions a week for most of March.


Dodgers' Turner: Joc Pederson only talks about hitting, ever
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:50 am ET) Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, who is competing for the starting job in center field, got his spring campaign started off on the right foot Wednesday against the White Sox. The highly touted prospect went 2 for 2 with one double and one run.

One person who was likely happy to see Pederson get off to a quick start was teammate Justin Turner, who spent the offseason working out in Los Angeles with the 22-year-old outfielder.

"He doesn't talk about anything but hitting, ever," Turner said, per the Los Angeles Times. "He loves to talk hitting. He's not afraid to ask questions, which I love. One of my pet peeves is when you're around guys who have a lot of valuable information and you don't ask them anything. When I'm around guys, I ask questions. I want to know what they're doing, what they're thinking, because I want to learn."


Rangers' Alexander Claudio hoping to earn a role
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:27 am ET) Rangers pitcher Alexander Claudio is hoping to be the team's lefty in the bullpen, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Claudio is one of three lefties in camp competing for the job. He performed well in his first taste of spring training, retiring two lefties during his inning of work. He allowed one hit, and struck out two batters. While Claudio's fastball barely registers on the radar gun, manager Jeff Banister still came away impressed.

"I like the secondary stuff," Banister said. "He's accepted the type of pitcher he is and is willing to be that guy. He’s really intriguing with the kind of deception he brings."

Claudio posted a 2.92 ERA over 12 1/3 innings last season.


Dodgers' Erik Bedard willing to go to Triple-A
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) Dodgers pitcher Erik Bedard is willing to go to Triple-A if he doesn't break camp with the major-league club, according to MLB.com.

Bedard allowed one run over two innings in his first taste of spring action on Wednesday. The veteran said he knows that if the Dodgers five starters are healthy, he'll be sent to the minors. "I know where I stand," Bedard said. "The game is still fun. I like to play baseball."

Bedard posted a 4.76 ERA over 75 2/3 innings last season. 


Dodgers' Alex Guerrero willing to play third base
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) Dodgers infielder Alex Guerrero has been willing to learn third this spring, according to MLB.com.

Guerrero is in a bit of a unique position. With Howie Kendrick entrenched at second, Guerrero doesn't really have a spot in the team's infield. Due to his contract, however, the team can't just send him to the minors. Guerrero can block the move, and has already said he plans to do so if the team tries to send him down. If he can play third well, that may not be a problem.

For what it's worth, manager Don Mattingly believes Guerrero has looked better this spring. "I really do think the second year [in camp] he looks a lot different as far as being relaxed," Mattingly said. "He's swinging the bat well and he keeps improving."

The 28-year-old hit .333/.371/.621 over three minor-league levels last season. 


 
 
 
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