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Reality Check: Don't fear the prospects

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Have you gotten burned by Zack Wheeler? What about Kevin Gausman? Tyler Skaggs? Michael Wacha, maybe?

If you answered "no" to all of the above, you're not an active participant in Fantasy Baseball. You may "play" it, but in that disinterested sort of way that keeps Matt Harrison and Mike Fiers on your roster a good three months after they've lost all relevance.

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Wipe that smirk off your face, Gerrit Cole owners. Your little darling may be 4-0, but if his 9.6 hits and 4.1 strikeouts per nine innings are any indication, he's far from being a finished product. The Pirates have basically said as much.

Yep, when it comes to pitching prospects, about the only midseason call-up to live up to the hype so far is Tony Cingrani. He's what keeps you going back to the waiver wire, hopeful that one of these other call-ups will do something comparable.

But Wheeler was the last straw. You've tried four times to land another Cingrani, and so far, nothing. You're tired. Fed up, even. Angry. Looking for something or someone to blame. "How dare he make a fool of me? I'm the great whoever-I-am! Everything I touch must turn to gold!"

Please.

Not only is that line of thinking pathetically self-absorbed, but it's the wrong way to approach Fantasy Baseball. Measuring what you got right against what you got wrong? It's not a true-false test, for crying out loud. I'm wrong all the time, and you don't see me getting worked up about it.

You know why? Because it's an expected part of the game. There's just no predicting this stuff. All of Vegas depends on it.

Granted, a successful prediction can give you a head start. I've enjoyed having Domonic Brown and Matt Carpenter -- two players I targeted late in drafts -- on several of my teams. But I've benefited just as much from Josh Donaldson, and it's not like I saw him coming. Fortunately, I came to recognize his potential when I still had a chance to grab him and decided to give him a shot.

The key to success in Fantasy Baseball is adaptation. It's timing. It's surviving the unpredictable by maximizing all available resources.

Your bench is a resource for protecting what needs protecting. What needs protecting isn't a player just like all the others on the waiver wire. It's the blank slate with the potential to become something more. It won't be a blank slate forever, so it may not need protecting forever. But given its potential relative to what else is out there, it's worth protecting until it proves it isn't.

More often than not, a top prospect -- especially a pitcher -- won't hit the ground running in the big leagues. He's facing far and away the best competition he's ever seen, and the adjustment can take years.

The chance of one succeeding right out of the gate -- not necessarily meeting the full extent of his potential, but just performing well -- is, what, 40 percent? Maybe 33 percent? I'm factoring in Shelby Miller and Jose Fernandez as well. Just because they claimed their jobs in the spring doesn't mean they were any more assured of success.

So realistically, whenever you make a play for a recent call-up, you shouldn't expect it to work out. But the one in three times it does, you won't regret the two times it didn't.

Most Owned Minor League SPs (as of 7/2)
Player % owned
1. Michael Wacha, Cardinals 38
2. Dan Straily, Athletics 31
3. Tyler Skaggs, Diamondbacks 26
4. Trevor Bauer, Indians 25
5. Taijuan Walker, Mariners 23
6. Erasmo Ramirez, Mariners 18
7. Danny Hultzen, Mariners 18
8. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals 17
9. Jameson Taillon, Pirates 16
10. Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks 14

Whether or not it's worth the gamble comes down to what's at stake. If the player you're dropping is a consistent starter for you or hugely valuable on the trade market, then clearly your team is awesome, and you don't need to subject it to unnecessary risk by bringing in some hot-shot prospect.

But if, like 95 percent of Fantasy owners, your team has an expendable part or two and could use a little help, what do you have to lose? That part is expendable, right? So what if taking a flier on Wacha caused you to miss out on Bronson Arroyo? You can pick up Eric Stults now and be all the better for it.

Now obviously, if you could reduce all the potential pitching call-ups to the few with the best chance of making an immediate impact in Fantasy, you would. But no matter your eye for talent, it's more or less a crapshoot.

Don't believe me? Consider the varying circumstances.

Cingrani and Fernandez are two of this season's biggest success stories, right? Both had insane minor-league numbers, with Cingrani compiling a 1.65 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 45 appearances and Fernandez compiling a 2.02 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 10.7 strikeouts per nine in 27 appearances. So then, what they're doing now makes all the sense in the world.

But then how do you explain Miller's success after he posted a 4.74 ERA at Triple-A last season? How do you explain why Wheeler hasn't looked anything like Matt Harvey even though his numbers at Triple-A this year are nearly identical to Harvey's last year? How do you explain why Dan Straily's 1.87 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League hasn't translated to the big leagues?

And how do you know when any underachiever will turn the corner? Julio Teheran was a disaster in his first two stints in the big leagues, but look at him now. Rick Porcello endured four seasons of mediocrity before showing even the first glimpse of his potential this year. Cliff Lee needed six seasons before he finally turned the corner.

You see any patterns there? Not me.

Athletics general manager Billy Beane is known to believe that only one in three pitching prospects lives up to his potential. If he knew which one ahead of time, he wouldn't have to stockpile so many.

How can you expect to do what he can't?

"But ... I'm the great whoever-I-am, master of the marketplace, interpreter of inefficiencies, prophesier of prospects. Billy's brain is but a bean next to mine!"

OK, now you've gone from self-absorbed to delusional.

So when do we reach the point when the blank slate is no longer worth protecting? Have we reached it with Wheeler? Depends. If you cut him, do you think, even with his diminished value, he would still stand out as the most valuable pitcher available, making him an easy claim for someone else who could then reap the rewards after you put in the legwork? You don't want that.

Don't trust yourself to recognize it? Well, that's exactly why we introduced the rest-of-season player rankings this year. I've moved Wheeler down with his rocky first three starts, and I'll continue to move him down until he reverses the trend. Then, whenever he puts together a start that demonstrates his sky-high potential, I'll move him up.

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What, you thought you could just drop him and be done with it? Doesn't work that way. Particularly for a prospect of Wheeler's caliber at this early stage of his career, every start has a huge impact on his value. If you're unwilling to reassess with every high and low point -- not necessarily to act, but to review your options -- you're playing Fantasy Baseball wrong.

Of course, there's such a thing as overreacting, and generally speaking, it's a greater danger to Fantasy owners than inattentiveness. But it's a little more common in April and May than halfway through the season. By now, you should have a pretty good idea which players are fixtures and which are expendable.

For what it's worth, this year's crop of hitting prospects hasn't made you jump through those same hoops. Yeah, Jurickson Profar, Mike Zunino, Aaron Hicks and Jackie Bradley haven't offered much, but with everything Nick Franklin, Anthony Rendon, Wil Myers, Nolan Arenado, Jedd Gyorko, Evan Gattis and, of course, Yasiel Puig have done for Fantasy owners, who cares?

Any takeaways from that? Hard to say. Certainly, plenty of hitting prospects in recent years have bombed in their first opportunities. Anthony Rizzo and, believe it or not, Mike Trout immediately come to mind. Still, hitter prospects have an advantage over pitcher prospects in that they play more regularly. Thus, they can adjust more gracefully, their growing pains lost in a sea of at-bats. So maybe to some degree, the big-name hitting prospect should take precedence over the big-name pitching prospect in Fantasy.

But in the end, I want both. I want anyone with the potential to be more than just depth for my Fantasy team, and I'll be just as excited to see what Taijuan Walker and Carlos Martinez can do as I was Gausman, Wacha and Wheeler.

Don't let a couple disappointments scare you away from a potential game-changer. You won't find many of those types off the waiver wire this time of year, so when you have a shot at one, you take it. You expect the worst, hope for the best, and trust yourself to adjust regardless of the outcome.

And that's how you play Fantasy. It's not about guessing right. It's about assembling a team. And to do it right, you should expect a few misses along the way.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite .

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