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Down on the Farm: Drawing the line on prospects

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Zack Wheeler is currently the most owned minor-league pitcher in Fantasy, ahead of Dan Straily, Trevor Bauer and Chris Archer, among others.

From a long-term perspective, that's completely understandable. Baseball America rated him the 11th-best prospect entering this year, with Dylan Bundy (who's visiting Dr. James Andrews because of elbow pain), Jose Fernandez (who's already in the big leagues), Shelby Miller (who's already in the big leagues) and Gerrit Cole (who's owned in 34 percent of leagues himself) the only starting pitchers ahead of him.

But at 42 percent, Wheeler's ownership covers more than just the dynasty leagues that would care about his long-term viability. At 42 percent, it extends even into some 10- and 12-team mixed leagues, where the emphasis is squarely on the now.

And the now for him is looking mighty tenuous.

In theory, he had a shot at winning a rotation spot this spring, which means in theory, he should be the first one up if something goes wrong.

But Shaun Marcum's neck already went wrong, and the Mets opted to go with Aaron Laffey instead, which means either they don't want to take the chance of Wheeler earning Super Two status, bringing on arbitration a year sooner, or they don't think he's quite ready.

The former is a plausible enough explanation. So far in his two-plus years on the job, general manager Sandy Alderson has yet to delude himself into thinking his team is on the verge of contention. No one knows better than he does that the Mets, as they're currently projected to perform, risk losing more than they gain by promoting Wheeler prior to July.

Of course, even for non-contenders, when a top prospect has so thoroughly mastered the minor leagues that the only possible next step is a big-league promotion, then what may or may not happen to his salary two or three years down the road becomes an afterthought.

Which brings me to that other reason why Wheeler isn't already in the majors. If the Mets didn't think he was ready coming out of spring training, then what he's done so far in 2013 surely hasn't changed their minds.

After looking like a finished product in his six starts at Triple-A Buffalo late last year, Wheeler has a 4.91 ERA and 1.75 WHIP in four starts at the team's new Triple-A affiliate, Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League.

Now, the PCL is a hitter-friendly league -- so hitter-friendly that you could argue the rocky start is somewhat predictable -- but you can't blame it for Wheeler's sudden loss of command. His six walks over 4 1/3 innings last time out had manager Terry Collins quickly changing course after campaigning for Wheeler's promotion just days earlier.

And then came this line from a Mets official, as reported by the New York Post.

"If Zack Wheeler wants to be here, start throwing strikes. I don't want to hear about anything else. Throw strikes."

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 4/25)
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 44
5. Zack Wheeler, SP, Mets 42
6. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 40
7. Dan Straily, SP, Athletics 39
8. Dylan Bundy, SP, Orioles 38
9. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets 36
10. Gerrit Cole, SP, Pirates 34

Seeing as I recommended rostering Jose Fernandez as soon as he came up and Tony Cingrani about a week before he came up, I'm not opposed to gambling on talent for talent's sake, particularly in shallower leagues, where only the most talented move the needle.

But where do you draw the line? Why not go ahead and stash Christian Yelich? Not like anyone's standing in his way in Miami. Or why not Tyler Skaggs? His path to the majors is just as clear as Wheeler's.

You know whose path is clearer? Straily, who already has an 11-strikeout game in the majors this year and is just a Brett Anderson or Bartolo Colon injury away. You know who else? Archer, who might be up with the next Roberto Hernandez meltdown.

Not to mention all the legit major-leaguers who are ripe for the taking on waivers right now, such as Jose Quintana, Patrick Corbin and Travis Wood. Or heck, even Drew Smyly, who hasn't quite overtaken Rick Porcello in Detroit. Any of them are worthier than Wheeler in short-term formats.

Maybe I'm wrong about Wheeler needing to win the Mets over again. Maybe his next great start earns him a promotion, and this column ends up being the only reason someone else beats you to him on the waiver wire.

Based on what his struggles say about the ground he still needs to cover, it wouldn't be the end of the world in a standard 12-team league, particularly if you can fall back on one of those other pitchers I mentioned.

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

When the Pirates didn't get the opportunity to draft the best player and bat -- Bryce Harper -- in the 2010 MLB draft, they opted to take the best pitcher available with the No. 2 selection -- Jameson Taillon, who is on track to join the major-league ranks within the next year or two.

The Pirates didn't make another selection until 50 picks later, but when their turn in the draft came up again they couldn't believe high school pitcher Stetson Allie was still on the board. The Pirates viewed Allie as another Taillon and were ecstatic he was still available at the start of the second round.

The scouting report on Allie was he had a live arm with a fastball that touched the high-90s, much like Taillon. The biggest knock against Allie, who was also a standout hitter and corner infielder, was his lack of command, but clearly the Pirates felt it was an issue Allie could potentially iron out as he progressed in his career.

Unfortunately, control continued to elude Allie, who walked more batters (37) than he struck out (20) in 17 career appearances (eight starts), prompting the Pirates to convert him to a position player before it was too late. Although, success wasn't immediate after Allie was converted to a corner infielder last season. He hit a disappointing .213 in rookie ball and it seemed Allie was in line to be another draft-day bust.

But as quickly as Allie's prospects declined, his rebirth has been just as swift. Allie is terrorizing pitchers in the South Atlantic League (low Class A) to the tune of a .704 slugging percentage and 1.150 OPS through 17 games for West Virginia this season. Allie has mashed five doubles, six home runs and knocked in 20 runs. He's also sporting a .380 average.

Perhaps the scouts were right all along. Allie had first-round potential. It just was as a hitter and not a pitcher.

In this week's Five on the Farm we highlight players similar to Allie who are off to promising starts in 2013 and could soon be surging up prospect lists.

Rafael De Paula, SP, Yankees
Affiliate: Class A Charleston
2013 stats: 0-2, 3.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 33 strikeouts, nine walks, no homers allowed in four starts (17 1/3 innings)
Yankees fans need a starting pitcher prospect to get excited about after Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances have been colossal busts, and De Paula could be that guy. He is finally stateside after a lengthy investigation trying to confirm his name and age. His talent, on the other hand, has never been in question. The 22-year-old Dominican right-hander first impressed in the Dominican Summer League in 2012, striking out 12.4 batters per nine innings, and is beginning to showcase that same dominance in the South Atlantic League, striking out 17.1 batters per nine innings. De Paula has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a curveball which projects as an above-average pitch. He needs to iron out his consistency with his secondary pitches, but he throws strikes, has a clean delivery and good work ethic, which could help land De Paula in the Bronx one day.

Chris Colabello, 1B, Twins
Affiliate: Triple-A Rochester
2013 stats: .333/.394/.667/1.061, three doubles, six home runs, 11 runs, 12 RBI in 18 games
The baseball world got their first look at Colabello during the World Baseball Classic -- leading Italy with two home runs and seven RBI in five games. Colabello is not a traditional prospect at 29 years old, but the Twins brought him into the fold in 2012 after a successful seven-year career playing independent ball and all Colabello has done is hit since starting out at Double-A last season. His slash line last season was .284/.358/.478/.836 and he hit .333 (6 for 18) in 10 spring games before Minnesota placed Colabello at Triple-A, where he's managed six home runs and a .667 slugging percentage through 18 games. Colabello's primary position is first base, which is obviously blocked by Justin Morneau or else Colabello might be in the majors by now. He proved this spring he could hit major-league pitching, so even though he's advanced in age, he still might have an opportunity to make an impact in the majors.

Anthony Ranaudo, SP, Red Sox
Affiliate: Double-A Portland
2013 stats: 2-0, 1.15 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 17 strikeouts, five walks, no home runs allowed in three starts (15 2/3 innings)
Ranaudo has had an up-and-down career dating back to his college days at LSU. At one point, Ranaudo was the top pitching prospect coming into the 2010 MLB draft, but he had a stress reaction in his elbow his junior year, which allowed the right-hander to slip into the supplemental first-round. To make a long story short, Ranaudo has been equally promising as frustrating in his young pro career. Every time it looks as though Ranaudo has turned the corner, he has another injury setback. He's dealt with a myriad of injuries that has messed with his mechanics and some believe his psyche as well. If that's the case, then the 6-7, 231-pound hurler isn't showing it this year. After going 1-3 with a 6.69 ERA in nine starts for Portland last season, Ranaudo is chewing up Eastern League hitters in his second stint, holding them to a .184 opponents' batting average. Ranaudo appears to be getting his much-maligned career back on track. There's still hope Ranaudo might develop into a No. 2 starter, but he has to get past his durability issues.

Preston Tucker, OF, Astros
Affiliate: Class A Lancaster
2013 stats: .324/.373/.588/.962, three doubles, five home runs, 14 runs, 16 RBI in 17 games
Good luck finding Tucker on any prospect lists. Although he was taken in the first 10 rounds of the 2012 draft and had a promising pro debut last season, Tucker still flew under the radar coming into 2013. Well, it might not be much longer before the baseball world starts to take notice of the 6-0, 217-pound outfielder. Tucker is once again hitting for power and average after posting a .321/.390/.509/.899 slash line in 42 games in short-season Class A last year. Poking around the Internet, one will discover Tucker hasn't been a well-liked prospect throughout his career, but all he has done is hit since he was in high school. The scouting report on Tucker is he is a one-tool player -- a left-handed power bat -- with some people comparing him to Mike Carp and Jack Cust. Well, those guys have never been elite Fantasy options, but they still made it to the majors and had impacts at one point or another. Tucker has seemed to defy the odds throughout his career, so we shouldn't doubt a possible path to the majors.

Asher Wojciechowski, SP, Astros
Affiliate: Double-A Corpus Christi
2013 stats: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 19 strikeouts, eight hits allowed, four walks in four outings (two starts, 18 innings)
Wojciechowski was once considered a top 10 prospect in the Blue Jays' system and had a ceiling as high as being a No. 2 starter in the majors. Unfortunately, his career stalled out in high Class A. The 2010 supplemental first-round pick spent the entire season in the Florida State League in 2011 and was sent back there in 2012 before Toronto finally moved him to Houston last summer in the J.A. Happ trade. That deal has allowed Wojciechowski's career to flourish. He finally progressed to Double-A last season, where he posted a 2.06 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in eight starts. He's back in the Texas League again to start 2013, but he's showing as much promise in the hitter-friendly league as he did last season. The pluses for Wojciechowski are he has a durable frame and throws strikes, but he needs to work on pitch efficiency and pitching deeper into games. Some feel Wojciechowski still might end up in the bullpen, but since the trade he's rekindled the hope he might live up to the potential as a major-league starter.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyBB . You can also follow Scott at @CBSScottWhite .

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