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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
Report: Rafael Furcal to miss winter league with torn hamstring
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Free-agent infielder Rafael Furcal will miss the winter league playoffs after suffering a torn hamstring, according to ESPN Deportes. 

The 37-year-old Furcal struggled with injuries last year, playing in just nine games. He hit .171 over 35 at-bats with Miami. Furcal went on the disabled list two separate times with hamstring issues last season.


Report: Wandy Rodriguez close to signing with the Phillies
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Pitcher Wandy Rodriguez is traveling to Philadelphia in order to take a physical, according to Phillies Spanish play-by-play man, Angel Castillo. 

If that physical goes well, Rodriguez is expected to sign with the club. The 35-year-old had knee surgery in June, but decided to pitch in winter ball in order to show major-league teams he had something left in the tank. Rodriguez posted a 6.75 ERA over 26 2/3 innings with the Pirates before he was shut down for the season. 


Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to return to Japan
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda will return to pitch in Japan next season, confirms CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. A Hiroshima newspaper was the first to have the report.

The 39-year-old Kuroda spent seven seasons in the United States. He posted a career 3.45 ERA over 1319 innings. After spending the first four seasons of his career with the Dodgers, Kuroda joined the Yankees. He remained with the organization for three seasons, but made sure his contract went year-to-year so that he could return to Japan when ready. Kuroda plans to continue his baseball career in Japan, and will pitch for the Hiroshima Carp next year. 


Report: Giants my look at Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Giants may look into acquiring Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist, according to Gammons Daily. 

Gammons notes that several general managers believe the club will deal prospects to acquire the 33-year-old Zobrist. San Francisco is currently slated to start Joe Panik at second, but Zobrist can play multiple positions. It's unclear where the Giants would elect to use Zobrist the most. He hit .272/.354/.395 in 570 at-bats last season. Zobrist is entering the final year of his contract, and is due $7.5 million next season.


Report: Yankees have yet to be informed of Hiroki Kuroda's plans
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Yankees have yet to be informed of pitcher Hiroki Kuroda's plans for next year, according to the New York Times.

A Hiroshima newspaper reported Kuroda will return to Japan next season, ending a seven-year run in the United States. The 39-year-old posted a 3.71 ERA over 199 innings with New York last season. Kuroda had signed one-year deals the past couple of offseasons so that he could return to Japan when ready.


1B Clint Robinson hooks up with Nationals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Nationals have signed first baseman Clint Robinson to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.

Robinson had been in the Dodgers organization. He compiled a strong .312/.401/.535 slash line at the Triple-A level a year ago.


Report: RHP Hiroki Kuroda heading back to Japan
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda is heading back to Japan, thereby ending his career with the Yankees, per various reports.

Kuroda, who will be 40 years old in February, pitched seven seasons in the major leagues, including the last three in the Big Apple. He finished 2014 with an 11-9 record and 3.71 ERA.


Astros LHP Downs, IF Petit heading to Fresno
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Astros have outrighted left-hander Darin Downs to Triple-A Fresno after having cleared waivers. 

The team has also announced that infielder Gregorio Petit has accepted an assignment to Fresno. He and Downs are set to join the squad in spring training.


Nationals taking chance on 2B Dan Uggla
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Second baseman Dan Uggla, who has spent most of his recent years creating a breeze at the plate, has signed a minor league deal with the Nationals with a spring training invite.

Uggla received a career-low 141 at-bats last season with Atlanta and San Francisco. He compiled a disturbing slash line of .149/.229/.213 with 46 strikeouts. His batting average has fallen in each of the last four years.


Diamondbacks bring in LHP Dan Runzler
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Left-hander Dan Runzler did not stick around in Japan for long. He spent the last two months of the 2014 season there, but is back in the states after signing a minor league contract with the Diamondbacks.

Runzler compiled a 3.30 ERA and fanned 53 in 46 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level for San Francisco last season before bolting to Japan.


 
 
 
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