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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 .

Want an edge in your draft? Download the Fantasy Draft Kit App.

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Player News
Drew Smyly turns in fantastic start Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:57 pm ET) Rays pitcher Drew Smyly turned in a strong start Wednesday against the Orioles. 

Smyly allowed one run on two hits over seven innings. He struck out six and walked one during the start. The Orioles picked up their only run in the second inning on a Chris Davis solo shot. Following that at-bat, Smyly retired the next 12 Orioles. His streak was broken by a two-out single in the sixth inning. Smyly threw 87 pitches during the appearance. 

With the win, Smyly improved to 9-10. He’ll take on the Red Sox in his next start.


Kevin Gausman goes four innings Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:56 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman lasted four innings Wednesday against the Rays.

Gausman allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits over four innings. He struck out four and did not issue any walks during the outing. Gausman was tagged early by the Rays. He gave up a double against the second batter he faced. With a runner on second, Matt Joyce reached on an error, causing the run to come home. Three straight singles managed to plate Joyce and load the bases. After a mound visit, Gausman escaped the inning. An error also hurt Gausman in the second inning. A throwing error put the leadoff man on base. That run would come around to score on a sac fly later in the inning.

With the loss, Gausman dropped to 7-6. He’ll take on the Twins in his next start.


Joe Kelly picks up no decision despite strong start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:51 pm ET) Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly turned in a strong start Wednesday against the Blue Jays.

Kelly allowed one run on three hits over six innings. He struck out four and walked two during the outing. Toronto was able to get to Kelly in the first inning. With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Jose Bautista belted his 26th home run of the year. Kelly was able to settle in at that point. While he put two men on in the second inning, Kelly was able to work around it, keeping the Blue Jays off the board. He wasn’t really threatened by Toronto over the rest of his start.

The Red Sox mounted a comeback in the sixth inning, putting Kelly in line for the win. He improved to 3-3. He’ll take on the Yankees in his next start. 


Marcus Stroman wins one Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:50 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman turned in an excellent start Wednesday against the Red Sox.

Stroman allowed two runs, one earned, on five hits over 7 2/3 innings. He struck out six and walked one during the outing. Stroman was fantastic early, tossing five scoreless frames to begin the game. He didn’t give up his first hit until the fourth inning, when David Ortiz managed to knock a single. Stroman did manage to get himself in trouble in the sixth inning. With one out, David Ross managed to reach on a fielding error. Stroman lost his composure briefly, giving up three straight singles to tie the game. He then threw a wild pitch, which scored another run. 

The Blue Jays were able to mount a comeback in the seventh, putting Stroman in position for the win. He improved to 8-5. He’ll take on the Rays in his next start. 


Homer Bailey not cleared to throw after MRI
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:13 pm ET) The Reds have not cleared pitcher Homer Bailey to resume throwing after learning the results of a recent MRI Wednesday, MLB.com reports.

"Unfortunately, it's not healing the way we thought it would," head trainer Paul Lessard said. "He's unfortunately very frustrated, [but] I have to think about his arm for the future as well, not just the next four weeks. We're trying to figure out what's the best thing for him."

Bailey has been sidelined since Aug. 8 with a strained flexor mass tendon. He could have a second PRP injection to help his healing, though that would delay his throwing scheduled by another week.


Joey Votto begins fielding ground balls
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:10 pm ET) Reds first baseman Joey Votto added fielding ground balls to his baseball activities Wednesday, MLB.com reports. He's eligible to come off the disabled list Sept. 4 but may have trouble being ready to go on a rehab assignment before the end of the minor-league season.

"I'd hate to say there's no chance, but I think because we're initiating baby steps that ... I don't know if he'll be ready by Sept. 4 or not. I have no idea. I really don't," manager Bryan Price said. "It's been a real gradual recovery, and it's an injury that needs -- more than anything, beyond strengthening and therapy -- it needs time to recover. ... We just haven't been able to force the recovery faster. There's just no quick fix to this quad problem to where he can play on it with the stability that's needed."

Votto remains without a timetable to rejoin the Reds.


Vic Black dealing with bone spurs on neck
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:52 pm ET) Mets pitcher Vic Black is dealing with irritation caused by bone spurs growing on vertabrae in his neck, MLB.com reports.

"I've just got some stiffness that came up in Oakland and I'm dealing with it right now," Black said. "As it pertains with getting back in a game, I think it's day-to-day. I've got today off and we heated it up and got some medication going, and we'll hopefully knock it out real quick so it doesn't linger."

Black has been dealing with neck pain for the better part of a week and underwent an MRI Wednesday.


Josh Edgin dealing with bone spurs
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:06 pm ET) Mets pitcher Josh Edgin is suffering from bone spurs in his left elbow, The Record reports. Edgin is questionable to pitch Wednesday after missing Tuesday's game with the elbow issue.

"There’s more bone spurs stuff than it is any other structural damage," manager Terry Collins said. "He’s fine otherwise I wouldn’t be pitching him. To quiet it down as we always know and it’s ligaments running across that bone spur flares up, so we got to quiet it down."


John Mayberry expected to return Monday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:02 pm ET) The Phillies expect to activate outfielder John Mayberry from the 15-day disabled list Monday, MLB.com reports.

Mayberry has been out since July 21 with inflammation in his wrist, but he was able to work out with the team Wednesday. He's 4 for 22 with one home run in six games with Triple-A Lehigh Valley during his current rehab assignment.


Bryan Morris diagnosed with groin strain
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:59 pm ET) Marlins pitcher Bryan Morris has been diagnosed with a right groin strain, MLB.com reports.

The issue may cause Morris to miss only a few days after he had to be sent back to Miami Tuesday to be examined. The Marlins head to Atlanta for a weekend series, and it's possible the reliever joins them there. He owns a 1.76 ERA and 48:22 K:BB ratio in 61 1/3 innings.


 
 
 
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