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Down on the Farm: Being frank about Franklin

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Homer Bailey, who hits ninth every fifth day for the Reds, is batting .250 with a .583 OPS this year. Travis Wood, who hits ninth every fifth day for the Cubs, is batting .235 with a .572 OPS.

That's not great, but it could be worse. They're pitchers, after all. For them, hitting is secondary. Outs are assumed.

Then, there's the No. 9 hitter for the Mariners, an AL team whose pitchers don't see the batter's box apart from occasional interleague games. He's batting .129 with a .332 OPS.

He's also not a favorite of manager Eric Wedge, getting benched early last year for an "accountability issue" and again early this year, presumably for a lack of production.

Yes, all signs point to Brendan Ryan being more trouble than he's worth to the Mariners, and yet because their only recourse at the major-league level is Robert Andino, a starter he remains.

True, he's arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game, and for some teams, that might be enough. But the Mariners rank 26th in runs scored this year and weren't any better off with Ryan in 2012 or 2011. For too long now, they've had to resort to an NL lineup for the sake of his glove. At some point, general manager Jack Zduriencik has to realize what Wedge already has: Enough is enough.

Nick Franklin is making it oh so easy for him.

A top prospect since putting together a 20-20 campaign for Class A Clinton in 2010, his stock had slipped along with his power numbers over the last couple years. But he made strength training a priority this offseason, adding bulk to his wiry frame with the help of a 6,500-calorie-per-day diet, and if his numbers at Triple-A Tacoma have any say in the matter, it's made all the difference.

In 109 at-bats, he's batting .339 with four homers, five steals and a .982 OPS. And though at age 22 he's one of the younger players in the Pacific Coast League, his 24 walks compared to only 16 strikeouts suggest he's hardly lacking in polish.

As much as the numbers can tell us, Franklin is ready for the next step, which is of course the last step and the only one Fantasy owners care about. The Mariners just need to decide they're ready for him.

So ... what's the holdup?

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (5/16)
Player % owned
1. Wil Myers, OF, Rays 75
2. Zack Wheeler, SP, Mets 49
3. Jurickson Profar, 2B, Rangers 48
4. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals 47
5. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers 40
6. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 36
7. Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians 33
8. Gerrit Cole, SP, Pirates 33
9. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins 32
10. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets 32

It could be another "Super Two" situation, though I get the feeling most baseball executives care less about that than we outsiders think they do. Trying to predict a magic date that won't become apparent until three years down the road is pretty much a fool's errand. Plus, if the player really ends up being the bee's knees, his general manager can buy out the extra arbitration year with a club-friendly long-term deal. Just look at the Cubs with Anthony Rizzo.

It could be a matter of the Mariners resisting another defensive downgrade after acquiring Michael Morse to man left field and moving Jesus Montero back behind the plate, but they didn't come this far to again rank near the bottom in runs scored.

It could simply be an abundance of caution. Franklin has had some ups and downs over his minor-league career, after all, and he wouldn't be the first player to overachieve in the Pacific Coast League.

But you know what I think? The Mariners don't want to commit to Franklin just yet because they're not sure he's their best option long-term. Some reports this spring suggested they actually prefer Brad Miller -- a gritty, contact-hitting, look-ma-no-batting-gloves type in the Matt Carpenter mold who's batting .305 with five home runs, four steals and an .879 OPS at Double-A Jackson. He's a level lower than Franklin, but he's 18 months older and stuck around for just about all of spring training. Yes, the Mariners wanted to get a good long look at him.

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Of course, that was before Franklin went all Troy Tulowitzki on the PCL.

Hey, it's just a hunch. For all I know, each of these factors is contributing in some way to the holdup. But sooner than later, something will change here, be it someone getting hurt, someone getting traded, Franklin forcing the Mariners' hand or Ryan pushing Wedge over the edge. It may take until the All-Star break, but rest assured Franklin's power-speed combo will make him an interesting Fantasy option to close out the season.

So interesting that you should go ahead and stash him now in a standard 12-team league? Well, I can think of 12 shortstops I'd rather start than Franklin whenever he does arrive, so probably not. But chances are by that point in the season, you'll have a roster spot to play with, and his upside will make him a good fit for it.

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

Down in the Midwest League (Class A), scouts have been flocking to Cedar Rapids' games to no doubt catch a glimpse of Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios, who are among the Twins' top prospects. To their credit, Buxton and Berrios haven't disappointed.

Buxton -- who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft and the consensus No. 2 prospect in Minnesota's system behind Miguel Sano -- is destroying pitching (.349/.597/1.049) in the Midwest League. Berrios -- who ranks up there with Alex Meyer, Kyle Gibson and Trevor May among the team's top pitching prospects -- hasn't lost in his first four starts (3-0) and is striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings.

But there is another name starting to grab the attention of scouts, team executives and long-term Fantasy keeper owners -- Adam Brett Walker II. It sounds more like a name that belongs at an upscale country club than in a baseball lineup, but there's no mistaking Walker can hit.

Walker's slash line (.309/.655/1.010) is equally impressive as Buxton's, and he was taken 95 picks after Buxton in the 2012 MLB draft. Walker leads the Midwest League with 44 RBI and hit his third grand slam of the season Tuesday. Baseball execs and scouts have been enamored with Walker's power potential since his college days at Jacksonville, but he slipped into the third round for multiple reasons -- most notably a high strikeout rate, a susceptibility to breaking pitches and having an average arm for an outfielder.

While Walker is slugging .555 and has belted 24 home runs in his first 93 games, he's still striking out a lot -- averaging 1.2 strikeouts per game in his career -- and scouts feel he's destined to end up as a first baseman. But there's little denying this kid can rake if he makes contact.

When talking about Walker's ceiling, Giancarlo Stanton comparisons often arise in scouting reports. A quick look at Stanton's minor-league numbers compare favorably to what Walker has done early in his career, including Stanton averaging 1.14 strikeouts per game.

While no one, not even this writer, is ready to deem Walker the second coming of Stanton, his blistering start has warranted attention. At this pace, it might not be long before Walker is talked about in the same breath as Sano and Buxton.

Now, let's move onto five other players in the minors grabbing headlines …

Yordano Ventura, SP, Royals
Affiliate: Double-A Northwest Arkansas
2013 stats:3-0, 1.57 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 47 strikeouts, 14 walks, one home run allowed in seven starts (34 1/3 innings)
Despite coming into spring training having made just six starts above Class A, Ventura was in the mix to make the starting rotation and remained in the thick of it until the end of camp. Though, the decision to start Ventura in the minors hasn't been a bad move for either party. The Royals are winning without Ventura's presence and the Dominican right-hander is building confidence dominating batters in the hitter-friendly Texas League. Ventura is striking out a career-high 12.3 batters per nine innings and allowing a career-low 5.5 hits per nine innings. Although Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza have ERAs north of 5.50, it's difficult to envision the Royals making a brash move to promote Ventura, who isn't even on the 40-man roster. Ventura is more likely to receive a promotion to Triple-A Omaha before landing in Kansas City.

Eddie Butler, SP, Rockies
Affiliate: Class A Asheville
2013 stats: 4-1, 1.49 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 45 strikeouts, 22 walks, two home runs allowed in eight starts (48 1/3 innings)
Although the Rockies lost Mark Ellis to NL West rival Los Angeles in free agency a few years ago, Colorado used its compensatory pick in the 2012 draft on Butler, who has the potential to be a frontline starter for years to come. It's a tradeoff that could have long-lasting implications. Since turning pro, Butler has gone 11-2 with a 1.86 ERA and 0.97 WHIP through 21 outings (20 starts). He commands a fastball that can touch the high 90s, his breaking pitches (curveball and slider) are overmatching minor-league hitters and the right-hander is working on developing a changeup. Given his college pedigree, Butler has the ability to move quickly through the Rockies' system and could be an impact arm in a few years.

Addison Russell, SS, Athletics
Affiliate: Class A Stockton
2013 stats: .171/.302/.343/.644, two triples, three home runs, three stolen bases, five doubles, 11 RBI, 15 runs, 20 walks, 30 strikeouts in 27 games
Russell entered 2013 with hefty expectations following a stellar pro debut in 2012. The Athletics invited their consensus top prospect to spring training less than a year after being drafted in the first round, giving the appearance Russell had the makeup to sprint through the minor leagues despite being a high-school draftee. Sadly, Russell has struggled to start the season in the hitter-friendly California League. All Russell has to do is make contact and the baseball should have no problems traveling great distances. Although, let's not be too quick to write off Russell because of a slow start. He spent time on the disabled list in April because of a back injury and he still might be trying to find his rhythm. Although, if he's dealing with any lingering issues, it might not be such a bad thing. At least we would have a reason for his struggles. It's better than the talent evaluators missing on Russell or knowing Russell's struggles stem from him buckling under the pressure of being an elite prospect.

Rubby De La Rosa, SP, Red Sox
Affiliate: Triple-A Pawtucket
2013 stats: 0-0, 4.35 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 26 strikeouts, 10 walks, three home runs allowed in seven starts (20 2/3 innings)
De La Rosa was considered a top 100 prospect by Baseball America in 2011 before blowing out his arm and needing Tommy John surgery. He has had a slow road back, but he's finally ramping up the intensity at Pawtucket and returning to the form he had before reconstructive elbow surgery. Although he's still on a strict pitch count, De La Rosa has tossed four straight scoreless outings, spanning 14 innings. He's also had a 19-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in that span. The Red Sox were over the moon when they landed Allen Webster and De La Rosa in a trade with the Dodgers last season, and their patience with De La Rosa could pay major dividends down the road. In fact, once De La Rosa gets his pitch count up, he might even have a spot in the Boston rotation later this summer.

Rob Refsnyder, 2B, Yankees
Affiliate: Class A Tampa
2013 stats (two levels of Class A): .377/.476/.507/.983, one triple, one home run, 13 doubles, 13 stolen bases, 22 RBI, 22 walks, 23 strikeouts, 25 runs in 35 games
The 2012 fifth-round pick needed only 13 games this season before he was promoted from low Class A Charleston to high Class A Tampa. What's been most impressive is that Refsnyder has a higher batting average (.381) in more games (22) for Tampa than he did (.370) in fewer games for Charleston. Refsnyder was a key cog on Arizona's College World Series-winning team from 2012, picking up Most Outstanding Player honors along the way. Refsnyder was lauded for having great plate discipline and the ability to hit to all fields. Although he was an outfielder in college, the Yankees have transitioned Refsnyder to second base because they are unsure if his power will translate to the major-league level. It's been a rough go at second base for Refsnyder, who has committed 13 errors in 32 games this season, but the Yankees are committed to him as an infielder. Though, it won't be his defense that eventually sends him to the majors. It will be his bat -- making him an ideal candidate to put on your radar in long-term keeper leagues.

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Player News
Hernandez's absence could hurt chances of making Astros' rotation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:13 pm ET) Astros starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez, who is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation, has still not arrived for spring training due to visa issues.

While he is throwing bullpen sessions in the Dominican Republic, manager A.J. Hinch said Friday that Hernandez's absence could cost him a chance to earn a spot in the rotation.

"It's going to depend upon him showing up ready to go," Hinch said, per MLB.com. "He is a veteran guy, so I don't sense that he's going to come in unprepared. But once games start, we're starting to get a little bit behind."


Royals' Yost: We're going to give Raul Mondesi a 'good look' in camp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:11 pm ET) Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters he's going to give shortstop prospect Raul Mondesi a "good look" during spring training, per MLB.com.

"We are just here to give him a good look, let him play and get some experience and let him enjoy big league Spring Training," Yost said. "Everything jumps out. He's that kind of guy. He just stands out a little bit. He's going to be a special player."

Mondesi, the son of Raul Mondesi Sr. and the youngest player in camp at 19, is the top prospect in the organization, after signing for $2 million as an international free agent in 2011, according to MLB.com. He hit .211/.256/.354 over 435 at-bats in the Carolina League in 2014. He could be in line for a Double-A promotion in 2015.


Royals OF Alex Gordon says he feels great after hitting off tee
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:06 pm ET) Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, who had surgery on his right wrist in December, remains on track to be ready for the start of the season, according to MLB.com.

"We don't have a progression. It's just day by day," Gordon said. "After we swung it today, we talked about how we are going to approach it [Saturday], and I think that's how we are doing it right now. If it was during the season, obviously it would be pushing it forward a lot quicker, but we are just taking it slow and trying to be smart about it."

Gordon has taken the next step in his rehab after hitting off a tee Thursday and Friday.

"I had about 20 or 30 swings, and it felt great," Gordon said. "As long as it doesn't come back with any pain or suffering tonight, I'll probably have a little soft-toss. It's pretty exciting. Honestly, it is. That's not a joke.

"I turned it loose the last 10 swings [Friday], and it almost felt like the more I turned it loose, the better it got. That's a good sign that most of the discomfort, if there is any, comes from lack of swings and being stiff."


Reds' Billy Hamilton given green light to work on bunting in spring
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:00 pm ET) Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton told reporters he feels less pressure this season now that he's entering his sophomore season in the majors, per MLB.com.

"I'm just more comfortable, more relaxed," the Reds sophomore speedster said before Friday morning's workout. "I've been able to come here and not put so much pressure on myself. My work ethic is going to be the same, always, every single year. But it's more relaxing now. I come in every day being able to breathe."

The 24-year-old hit .250 as a rookie in 2014. He also finished second in the National League with 56 stolen bases. Hamilton revealed that he's working more on his bunting this spring, after registering 15 bunt hits last season. The club has given him the green light to experiment on his bunting in game action this spring.

"Bunting can be a big part of my game, which I didn't use as much as I should have last year," Hamilton said. "Bunting for base hits can get you out of different kinds of slumps and when you're not feeling good at the plate.

"If it's two outs or two strikes, this is the time to work on it," Hamilton said. "Even if it's 3-2, they gave me permission to [bunt]. It's something I might not do during the season, but you want to work on it in a game versus just here in practice."


Braves OF Melvin Upton Jr. out at least two months with foot injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:52 pm ET) The Braves announced Friday outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. could miss at least two months after tests revealed inflammation in his left foot. Upton will be in a short leg cast fot two weeks, then a walking boot for 4-6 weeks.

Upton missed Friday's workout after he was seen limping following batting practice Thursday, per MLB.com. He went through a round of treatment Friday before being sent for an MRI.

The Braves initially declined to speculate on the severity of the injury until Upton went for further testing.

"[The discomfort] is more in the toe area, but we're calling it a foot [injury]," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Friday morning.

Upton was listed as the starting center fielder on the depth chart on the team's official website. The backups were listed as Todd Cunningham and Eury Perez.

Upton is entering the third year of a five-year, $72.25 million contract. However, his first two years with the Braves have been largely disappointing. He has a .198/.279/.314/.593 slash line in two seasons in Atlanta.


A's claim Alex Hassan off waivers, place A.J. Griffin on 60-day DL
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:39 pm ET) The Athletics announced a pair of roster moves on Friday, per the team's official website. The club claimed outfielder Alex Hassan off waivers from Baltimore, and placed pitcher A.J. Griffin on the 60-day disabled list, as he continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery.

Phillies P Cliff Lee to start Thursday's Grapefruit League game
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3:36 pm ET) Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure announced that pitcher Cliff Lee is slated to start in Thursday's Grapefruit League game against the Astros, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

Lee strained his elbow in 2014 and missed the final two months of the regular season. He's scheduled to pitch two innings in Thursday's start. 

“He’s thrown well," McClure said. "He feels really good, so he’s right on schedule.”


Athleitcs' Matt Olson back at 100 percent from shoulder tear
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:33 pm ET) Athletics first base prospect Matt Olson, who suffered a grade three tear of the AC joint in his right shoulder while playing in the Arizona Fall League, is back at 100 percent and is looking forward to his first big-league camp with the club, MLB.com reports.

"It's good, 100-percent strength," Olson said. "Occasional soreness, maybe once every two weeks, but it feels good. No setback at all."

Olson, considered the organization's top prospect, hit .262 with 37 home runs and 97 RBIs in 138 games with Class A Advanced Stockton last year. Although he played all but 10 of his 284 games in the minors at first base, Olson is showing some versatility and has seen some working in the outfield during camp.

"Whatever they want me to do," Olson said. "I feel pretty comfortable out there. Whatever gets me in the lineup."


Report: Rangers won't discuss extension with Gallardo in spring
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:23 pm ET) Yovani Gallardo is interested in signing a long-term deal with the Rangers in the near future, though the club is not interested in opening to extension talks with the right-hander during spring training, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reports.

Gallardo was acquired by the Rangers in a trade with the Brewers this offseason. The 28-year-old is in the last year of his contract. He won less than 10 games in 2014 for the first time in the last six seasons. He is 89-64 with a 3.69 ERA in eight MLB seasons.


Astros manager A.J. Hinch offers advice to C Max Stassi
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3:18 pm ET) During a batting practice session Friday, Astros manager A.J. Hinch noticed he could assist with some fundamental work behind the plate with catcher Max Stassi

With Stassi catching pitcher Chad Qualls, Hinch advised him to turn his shoulder on certain pitches, according to the Houston Chronicle

“There’s some angles you try to create both for the visual for the pitcher and also for the benefit of the umpire,” he said. “With all the talk of the framing stuff, we want to get the most strikes out of our pitchers. There’s certainly techniques to pay attention to even in side sessions and live BPs.”

For Stassi, it appears he was happy with the advice from Hinch, a former major-league catcher. 

“He’s caught in the big leagues," Stassi said. "He’s been there and done that. He was just giving me a few tips. It’s just framing and the positioning of your body too. It’s just real simple, a better presentation of the pitch for your pitcher and the umpire.


 
 
 
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