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Down on the Farm: Zunino's arrival imminent?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Justin Smoak is owned in only 19 percent of Fantasy leagues, and yet how he performs over these first few weeks could change the course of all of them.

That's because he's the path of least resistance for what figures to be the most impactful midseason call-up of 2013.

OK, the second-most. Naturally, I wouldn't want to sell Wil Myers short, but Mike Zunino's potential and perhaps his major-league readiness aren't far off.

How can that be, you ask, if he was the third overall pick just last year?

Well, not only did he play three years of college ball, which immediately gives him a leg up on every other player selected at that point, but he dominated there, winning the Golden Spikes Award in 2012. The last six recipients of that award -- Trevor Bauer, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Buster Posey, David Price and Tim Lincecum -- all made quick ascensions, and with the exception of Bauer and, to a lesser extent, Price, they all lived up to the hype right away.

Plus, all the scouting reports on Zunino are quick to mention his leadership ability, work ethic and baseball acumen -- you know, all those intangibles that might normally hold a player back even when he's hitting the daylights out of the ball.

Not that Zunino isn't hitting the daylights out of the ball.

He had eight extra-base hits in his first five games this season -- his first stint at Triple-A, mind you -- and though a mini slump has brought his batting average down to size, it doesn't change the fact that he's making good, hard contact against some of the best pitchers the minor leagues have to offer. And his plate discipline is exactly what you'd hope for. In 201 minor-league at-bats, he has 26 walks.

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 4/18)
Player Name Own %
1. Wil Myers, OF, Rays 78
2. Jurickson Profar, 2B/SS, Rangers 53
3. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals 50
4. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers 45
5. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 41
6. Zack Wheeler, SP, Mets 41
7. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets 41
8. Dylan Bundy, SP, Orioles 40
9. Jose Valverde, RP, Tigers 38
10. Dan Straily, SP, Athletics 35

It's all the right ingredients for a quick promotion.

In fact, if he had some silly placeholder like Francisco Cervelli or Nick Hundley blocking him, he might already be the most added player in Fantasy. But right now, the Mariners' starting catcher is Jesus Montero, who's only a year removed from being an elite prospect himself.

Of course, he's not quite the roadblock he appears to be. According to popular opinion, urban legend and perhaps even the naked eye, Montero isn't any more a catcher than David Bowie is an actor. He could do it in a pinch, but you wouldn't want to base the whole production on it.

The Mariners have to know that, despite their claims to the contrary. With Montero slumping in the early going, they've already taken to sitting him -- a 23-year-old whose development hinges on consistent playing time -- for backup Kelly Shoppach. If Montero was Charles Johnson back there, you can bet that wouldn't be happening, but he's a liability when he's not hitting.

Sounds like a perfect candidate for the DH spot, doesn't he?

Which brings me back to Smoak. You probably don't need me to connect the dots. If Smoak continues to hover around the Mendoza line, as he did for the first three years of his career, then the Mariners will likely pull the plug on him once and for all, allowing Kendrys Morales to move to first base, where he belongs anyway, allowing Montero to move to DH, where he belongs anyway, allowing Zunino to reach the majors.

Where he belongs anyway? The one making that decision wouldn't dispute it.

"He just needs to play," general manager Jack Zduriencik recently told ESPN.com. "He's a fast-tracker, and if you brought him to the big leagues today, he'd handle himself."

Granted, saying Zunino would "handle himself" isn't the same as saying he'd dominate, but rarely does a general manager give such a definitive take on a prospect who isn't already on a flight to meet up with the big club.

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And obviously, no one knows just how he'll perform once he gets the call, but my guess is his pedigree, skill set and effortless climb up the minor-league ladder put him more on the Posey track than, say, the Montero track.

And Posey won Rookie the Year.

Cautiously, I'll predict Zunino is the Mariners' starting catcher by June, but in all honesty, I wouldn't be surprised if they called him up next week, particularly if they have designs on competing this year.

In leagues where every team starts two catchers, that ETA makes him worth stashing already, ahead of all-or-nothing types like J.P. Arencibia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, not to mention fellow prospect Travis d'Arnaud, who was the preferred stash just two weeks ago.

And I was saying that even before the foot injury. Unlike Smoak, d'Arnaud's path of least resistance, John Buck, has made the transition more agonizing than it needs to be.

Five on the Farm ... by Michael Hurcomb (@CBSHurc), CBSSports.com

Like many first-round picks, the spotlight was focused on Jayson Werth when he was drafted in 1997. By 1999, he cracked Baseball America's Top 100 prospects list, checking in at No. 52. The following year, Werth moved up four spots on the list and made the Top 50. He was a rising star and seemed destined for major-league stardom.

Sometimes well-laid plans go awry. After a second straight poor season of middling performance between high Class A and Double-A, Baseball America dropped Werth from its Top 100 list heading into 2001 and he appeared headed for baseball obscurity.

The Orioles, who drafted Werth, shipped the young outfielder to the Blue Jays in December 2001 and the change of scenery seemed offer the proper motivation. During the 2001 season, his slash line between Class A and Double-A was .271/.382/.472/.853. Werth found himself once again on Baseball America's Top 100 list in 2002 and stayed there into 2003.

It took Werth several more years before having a breakthrough year at the major-league level, but he isn't the first -- and won't be the last -- prospect to endure some trials and tribulations on his path to the majors.

Therefore, this week is dedicated to five players who are following a similar path as Werth endured. They were once highly touted prospects who are starting to make a comeback in the minors and could once again be reappearing on Fantasy radars.

John Lamb, SP, Royals
Last Top 100 ranking: No. 18 by Baseball America in 2011
Lamb was considered the Royals' top pitching prospect before blowing out his arm in 2011. Unfortunately, his return from Tommy John surgery was delayed last season because of tendinitis in his left foot. Lamb made only six starts, posting a 6.92 ERA, and showcased reduced velocity before being shut down. However, the Royals are confident Lamb's velocity will return the farther he distances himself from his surgery date. Baseball America still considers Lamb to have the best changeup in the organization, but he's still working on refining his curveball and getting his command back. Lamb is off to a good start at Class A Wilmington and is on the 40-man roster, so Kansas City thought enough of him to protect the left-handed hurler from the Rule 5 draft. If Lamb can regain his pre-surgery form, he has frontline starter potential.

Michael Choice, OF, Athletics
Last Top 100 ranking: No. 59 by MLB.com and No. 80 by Baseball America in 2012
It's not like the 2010 first-round pick has completely fallen off the radar since MLB.com and Baseball America consider Choice a Top 3 prospect in the A's system. But to drop him off the Top 100 list after one tumultuous season is a little harsh, especially since he is off to a torrid start at Triple-A Sacramento this season. Through 12 games, Choice has four home runs, 15 RBI and is slugging .604. He made some tweaks to his swing last season before breaking his left hand in July, but he's clearly fully recovered. Choice has ridiculous power -- he has a career .507 slugging percentage -- but he might strike out too much to hit for a decent average. Remind you of any former top A's prospect? Chris Carter certainly comes to mind. Choice could make a push to join the A's outfield rotation next season.

Bryce Brentz, OF, Red Sox
Last Top 100 ranking: No. 64 by MLB.com in 2012
It's amazing Brentz didn't crack Baseball America's Top 100 list after he hit 30 homers and slugged .574 in 2011. While his production dropped off last season, it's still not like Brentz's major-league trajectory took a major hit. He hit 17 home runs and slugged .465 in 127 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Not only is Brentz lauded for his power, but he has a cannon for an arm. Eastern League managers rated Brentz's arm tops in the league last season. The knock on Brentz is that he will strike out a lot and chase breaking balls, but if he has a good season at Triple-A Pawtucket he could threaten for regular at-bats at the major-league level in 2014.

Tyler Matzek, SP, Rockies
Last Top 100 ranking: No. 32 by Baseball America in 2011
Matzek's career got off to a stellar start before it quickly spiraled out of control. His problem proved to be he was overly analytical and it messed him up on the mound. The 2009 first round pick took some time off in 2011 to work with his youth pitching coach before resuming his pro career. Matzek ended up leading the California League in strikeouts (153) in 2012, but he also led the league in walks (95). There's no denying Matzek has the arsenal to pitch his way into the major league rotation, but his command needs serious improvement. Matzek is walking 7.0 batters per nine innings in his career. It's clear what's keep him on prospect radars: Matzek's career K/9 rate is 9.7 in 70 career starts.

Jared Mitchell, OF, White Sox
Last Top 100 ranking: No. 55 by Baseball America in 2010
Mitchell's career was derailed in 2010 after tearing tendons in his left ankle. He sat out that season and didn't adjust well once he returned to the lineup in 2011. However, Mitchell had a promising season in 2012, showcasing all the raw tools that made him a first-round pick in 2009. All the White Sox did this spring was rave about Mitchell, who is considered one of the team's Top 10 prospects by MLB.com and Baseball America. However, Mitchell is not without his flaws. He has a huge hole in his swing, which has resulted in 423 strikeouts in 304 minor-league games, and doesn't hit left-handed pitchers well. Mitchell is a patient hitter, but he's batting just .234 in his career and is off to a slow start (.156) at Triple-A Charlotte this season. He's a great athlete, but Mitchell is teetering on that ominous starter or platoon-player line in the majors.

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
Rays' Matt Moore to pitch in extended spring training Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:47 am ET) Rays pitcher Matt Moore is scheduled to throw 35 to 40 pitches in two innings of work during an extended spring training game on Saturday, the Tampa Tribune reports.

Moore had no issues after Wednesday's bullpen session, putting him line to take the next step on Saturday. He was limited to just two starts last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery.


Braves' Cameron Maybin provides spark in No. 2 spot Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:08 am ET) Braves center fielder Cameron Maybin batted second for the first time this season on Thursday, going 1 for 4 with a walk, two RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base in his team's 10-1 win over the Brewers.

"It was cool, man," Maybin said of hitting second after the game, per MLB.com. "I didn't really change my approach, tried to keep the same approach -- be a tough out, get a good pitch to hit and just make sure I'm on base, somehow, someway. Whenever I can do that good things happen, and good things happened tonight."

Maybin has excelled since taking over the full-time starting role in center field on May 2, going 17 for 54 with nine runs and 21 RBI.

"My confidence is high," Maybin said. "I've been able to put in some really good work with [hitting coach Kevin Seitzer] in the cage. And every day is a competition. Every day I feel like you have to fight to keep the job, win the job. So my mentality is to come out and go hard everyday and things will work out."

Maybin has hit .255/.352/.426 with four home runs, 17 RBI and five stolen bases in 94 at-bats.


Red Sox's Clay Buchholz takes fifth loss Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz was stuck with a loss on Thursday, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits and two walks in 7 1/3 innings while striking out four in his team's 3-1 defeat against the Rangers.

Buchholz (2-5) delivered his third straight quality start but continues to be plagued by little run support, as the Red Sox have scored just one run in five of his nine outings. He gave up two runs in the first inning, with one coming on an error, and then surrendered a solo home run in the fourth.

"I've been trying to mix my pitches each time out and each time through the order," Buchholz said after the game, per MLB.com. "It's a little bit easier whenever you have your pitches working. It's the times you go through when you've got one or two pitches working and you have to filter out the other pitches."

Buchholz owns a 4.58 ERA and 58:15 K:BB ratio in 53 innings. He's slated to face the Twins in Minnesota on Tuesday.


Rangers OF Josh Hamilton goes 1 for 4 in Triple-A rehab game
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton went 1 for 4 in a rehab assignment game with Triple-A Round Rock on Thursday. 

Hamilton's lone hit of the game was a double. 

It's possible that Hamilton could return to the majors next week. He hasn't been able to play in the majors yet since he's been recovering from shoulder surgery. 

When Hamilton was with Double-A Frisco, he slashed a .387/.424/.516 with four doubles and three RBI. 


Royals' Erik Kratz drives in two runs in rehab debut Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Royals catcher Erik Kratz began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Omaha on Thursday, going 1 for 4 with two RBI in his team's 9-6 win.

Kratz played all nine innings at catcher in the game in addition to driving in two runs. He's working his way back from a foot injury.


Rangers 1B Mitch Moreland hits 3rd HR of year
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland hit a solo home run in the fourth inning of Thursday night's 3-1 win over the Red Sox. 

For Moreland, this is the third home run he's hit this season. He finished the game 3 for 4 and also hit an RBI single. He now has drove in 14 runs this year. Moreland has now recorded a hit in five consecutive games and has hit a home run in two of his past four. 

Moreland holds a slash line of .312/.382/.506. 


Rangers P Shawn Tolleson gets save in win over Red Sox
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Rangers reliever Shawn Tolleson picked up his second save of the season in Thursday night's 3-1 win over the Red Sox. 

Tolleson struck out two batters and gave up just one hit. His ERA is now 3.26 for the season. 

This was Tolleson's second career save opportunity and he came through once again. It's only the fourth time this year Tolleson has entered a game in the ninth inning.  


Cubs' Addison Russell knocks third home run on Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Cubs second baseman Addison Russell went 2 for 4 with a solo home run in his team's 3-0 win over the Padres on Thursday.

For the first time in their major-league careers, rookies Russell and Kris Bryant smacked home runs in the same game, while pitcher Kyle Hendricks did his part by delivering a complete-game shutout to give the Cubs a win. Russell has hit .253/.302/.434 with three home runs, 11 RBI and one stolen base in 99 at-bats.


Blue Jays 2B Devon Travis heads to 15-day DL
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) The Blue Jays placed second baseman Devon Travis on the 15-day disabled list due to his shoulder injury, according to Sportsnet. 

The injury has kept Travis out of the lineup since last Saturday. It has been nagging Travis, who saw his average dip from .368 on April 27 to .271. 

With Travis going on the DL, the Blue Jays are filling his roster spot by selecting the contract of second baseman Munenori Kawasaki.


Cubs' Kris Bryant slugs fifth home run Thursday vs. Padres
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant went 1 for 4 with a two-run home run in his team's 3-0 win over the Padres on Thursday.

Bryant's homer came in the top of the first inning after leadoff man Dexter Fowler took a walk to reach first base. That extended his hit streak to 10 games, and he's managed to rack up four home runs during that stretch. Bryant has hit .289/.411/.482 with five home runs, 27 RBI and four stolen bases in 114 at-bats.


 
 
 
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