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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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Player News
Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ hit hard again in start Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ gave five runs on 11 hits in five innings of work Sunday against the Padres in his second consecutive rough outing.

"I was being way too tentative early on," Happ said to MLB.com. "I just wasn't finishing and as aggressive as I was later in the game. Maybe trying to be a little too fine after the previous outing. I think if I throw like I did the second part of that game, I'll be OK."

Happ, who is expected to be the fourth starter in Seattle's rotation, is now 1-3 this spring with a 7.90 ERA.


Rangers release outfielder Ryan Ludwick from minor league deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) The Rangers have released outfielder Ryan Ludwick from his minor league contract, the team announced Sunday.

Ludwick hit .200 with one home run and three RBI in 30 plate appearances during spring training.


Report: Yankees' Domingo German may need Tommy John surgery
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Yankees pitching prospect Domingo German may be on the shelf for awhile. German may reportedly need Tommy John surgery for his injured elbow, according to MLB.com.

The team is yet to confirm the report. German went 9-3 in 25 starts with a 2.48 ERA in Class-A Greensboro in 2014.


Indians pitcher Austin Adams still in contention for roster spot
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Indians relief pitcher Austin Adams still has a chance to make the final roster, reports MLB.com.

Adams, who was a non-roster invitee to camp, has posted a 5.87 ERA in eight appearances this spring with nine strikeouts and 11 hits allowed.

"We wanted to tell him he'd done a really good job," manager Terry Francona said of his morning conversation with Adams, "but we still don't know."


Rangers remain undecided on pitcher Keone Kela
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Rangers pitcher Keone Kela tossed one scoreless inning Sunday with no hits and two strikeouts against the Dodgers. Kela has now gone 8 1/3 innings without giving up a run this spring, but the team is undecided still on his role this season, reports MLB.com.

"I haven't said if he was or wasn't on the team," Banister said. "That decision will be made at the appropriate time. You see what he has done. He has been impressive this spring."


Indians pitcher T.J. House gives up four runs in six innings
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Indians pitcher T.J. House, who was given a spot in the starting rotation Sunday, struggled in his appearance Sunday. House gave up four runs on six hits with two walks in six innings of work against the White Sox.

"This spring it looks a little glaring, that one inning is kind of getting to me in the box scores," said House to MLB.com. "It's nice to get them out of the way now and maybe during the season we won't see them.

"My ball kind of flattened out a little bit [in the fourth]. Besides that, I felt good. I pounded the zone and got to see some guys I'm going to see during the season, so I'll make a mental note of that."


White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson has edge in position battle
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson appears to be in the lead for the position when the season begins, reports MLB.com. Manager Robin Ventura likes what he's seen from Johnson enough to give him a vote of confidence at the position, even though nothing has been officially set.

"He's done well enough to kind of be the leading guy," said Ventura of Johnson, who had two hits in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Indians.

Third base coach Joe McEwing likes the progress Johnson has sowed on defense this spring.

"Initially what we wanted to do was try to slow things down because everything Micah does, he does fast," McEwing said. "Everything in his game is fast. Just, defensively, try to slow him down and allow him to focus on his feet and his hands and everything working together."


Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman posts another stellar performance
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman continues to impress this spring. Sunday, he went 6 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits with three strikeouts and no walks. Manager Bob Melvin loves how the young pitcher has performed this spring, reports MLB.com.

"He doesn't blow you away, although you look at the radar gun and at times we've seen 93, 94 this spring," Melvin said. "But he's a pitcher; he's pretty cerebral in the way he does it.

"He reads swings very well. You know, it's late movement off the barrel of the bat, whether it's sink, whether it's cut, offspeed just enough. But he knows what he's doing and he's aware of what the hitters are trying to do against him."

Graveman has a minuscule 0.74 ERA in five starts this spring.

"There's a reason that he went from [Class] A-ball to the big leagues [in 2014 with Toronto], and then continued to pitch this well for us. It means he's real confident in what he's doing," Melvin said.


Nationals pitcher Doug Fister struggles again in outing Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Nationals pitcher Doug Fister surrendered six runs in four innings of work Sunday against the Marlins, pushing his spring training ERA to 7.02 in five starts. Fister gave up three more home runs in the outing.

"I can't let any of that affect me. I know I have to get the ball down regardless," Fister said to MLB.com. "I felt good today. I felt I was almost back in the swing of things. There are obviously some things I have to fine tune at the end of spring.

"I left the ball up, and it allowed the Marlins to get good contact on the ball. I don't let outside influences affect the game. It's a game I have to control and make adjustments."


Tigers targeting 200 pitches for pitcher Anibal Sanchez
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez tossed 10 strikeouts in Sunday's game against the Phillies, going 6 1/3 innings and surrendering four runs on five hits. 

"That means he's hitting his spots. It means he's locating," manager Brad Ausmus said to MLB.com. "When a guy takes a pitch, he thinks it's a ball or just off the corner and they end up getting the call. ... So he must have been locating. It looked like he was locating his fastball."

Ausmus also indicated he hopes to see Sanchez reach 200 innings this season.

"If we get 200 innings out of Sanchy, I'll be extremely happy. I think we'll be in a very good spot," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Sunday morning. "We talk about a lot of things, but if Sanchy can stay healthy, that would be an enormous plus for us."


 
 
 
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