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Down on the Farm: Who's got next?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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Do you remember the good ol' days of baseball? Like when the word "pitch count" didn't exist, closers would often go multiple innings to record saves and prospects were given time to develop in the minor leagues.

There's nothing wrong with change, and often change is a good thing. But now that teams are rapidly moving prospects through their farm system, it's getting tougher to guesstimate MLB debuts.

There was a time when a player would get drafted and it would be a few years before we would see him in the majors. Now, guys get drafted and months later they're donning big league uniforms.

This season, we have seen a pair of 2012 first-round picks -- Kevin Gausman and Michael Wacha -- and one second-round pick -- Alex Wood -- make their MLB debuts. Let's not forget that 2012 second-round pick Paco Rodriguez made his debut for the Dodgers last season.

The list goes on and on with players spending little time in the minors, hardly seeing time at the upper levels or even making the jump from the low minors. Some of the more notable names meeting the criteria have been Yasiel Puig, Anthony Rendon, Jose Fernandez and Carlos Martinez.

We truly live in a world where calling a prospect a long-term Fantasy keeper is taboo. And that means bench spots in seasonal formats are being occupied more by minor leaguers than true reserves. Everyone rather not miss out on the next great prospect and bypass a player that could pay immediate, but likely short-lived dividends.

Which leads us into the topic of who is among the next wave of prospects speeding through the minors that could be worth a bench spot in your league?

The Mariners have already begun the transition of bringing up their stars of tomorrow. Mike Zunino is calling games behind the plate, while Brad Miller and Nick Franklin are manning the middle infield. But the call-ups aren't likely to stop with those three.

We're anticipating starting pitchers Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker joining the Seattle rotation by season's end. The duo has a combined 19 Triple-A starts, but Hultzen would have likely already been in the majors had a shoulder injury not sidelined him for several weeks. Walker has tossed 11 shutout innings since his promotion from Double-A Jackson. I've been pushing Fantasy owners all season to stash Hultzen as an impact arm, but now I'm changing my tune about Walker, given his surge this season and the recent trend of unlikely promotions.

The Orioles' rotation certainly could use a boost, but look to outfielder Henry Urrutia to provide a lift to the team's offense in the second half. He was recently promoted to Triple-A Norfolk after the organization got a little more comfortable with his defensive and baserunning skills. However, Urrutia can rake. He hit .365 with a .550 slugging percentage and .983 OPS in 52 games at Double-A Bowie, and the Orioles can always stick him at DH if they feel he's too much of a liability in the outfield.

The Red Sox are trying to solidify the back-end of their rotation. Allen Webster hasn't panned out yet and while Felix Doubront has been much better as of late, if the Red Sox don't trust Rubby De La Rosa or Franklin Morales to help the rotation, then Boston could turn to Brandon Workman. After going 10-8 with a 3.50 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 25 starts last season, the right-hander is 8-2 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.19 WHIP between Double-A and Triple-A this season, while striking out a career-high 9.8 batters per nine innings. He has gone 3-1 with a 3.41 ERA in five starts since his promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket.

The Royals and White Sox are both under .500, but with plenty of games left they are still in the playoff hunt. Even if they fall out of the playoff chase, personnel moves could lead them to promote some of their top pitching prospects, particularly Kansas City's Yordano Ventura and Erik Johnson of the White Sox.

Ventura has struggled a bit since his promotion to Triple-A Omaha, posting a 4.94 ERA in 23 2/3 innings, but if the Royals trade soon-to-be-free-agent Ervin Santana, then Ventura could get the call. Remember, he was in the final pool of players vying for a spot in the rotation this spring.

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 7/3)
Player % owned
1. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox 50
2. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals 43
3. Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals 38
4. Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds 36
5. Ike Davis, 1B, Mets 32
6. Dan Straily, SP, Athletics 31
7. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets 30
8. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins 28
9. Tyler Skaggs, SP, D-Backs 26
10. Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians 25

As for Johnson, the 2011 second-round pick is 9-2 with a 2.21 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 16 starts between Double-A and Triple-A. The White Sox are unlikely to make the playoffs, so it might be worth giving Johnson a taste of the majors in 2013 so he's ready to compete for a rotation spot next spring.

Lastly, Phillies third baseman Michael Young's name has been mentioned heavily in trade rumors. If the Phillies choose to be sellers at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, then Young is a strong candidate to be moved. If he's dealt, who replaces Young at the hot corner?

Cody Asche is a strong candidate since he's done well at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but I'm not convinced Maikel Franco wouldn't leapfrog Asche. After rivaling Miguel Sano as the top power hitter in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (high Class A), Franco has been on a ridiculous tear since his promotion to Double-A Reading. He hit .431 with a .765 slugging percentage, four home runs and 11 RBI in his first 12 games. If Franco has star potential, then much like Johnson, the Phillies might not wait until next spring to give him a major-league audition.

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Player News
Red Sox outright pitcher Zeke Spruill to Triple-A
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:48 pm ET) Red Sox pitcher Zeke Spruill, who was designated for assignment Friday, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday.

Report: Red Sox send P Steven Wright back to Pawtucket
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:19 pm ET) The Red Sox on Sunday dispatched knuckleballer Steven Wright back to Triple-A Pawtucket one day after promoting him, multiple league sources have told the Boston Globe.

Wright did not pitch during his latest stay. He owns a 3-2 record and 4.15 ERA in 11 outings for the Red Sox this season.


GM: Pirates have no plans to demote RF Gregory Polanco
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:13 pm ET) Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco is batting a disturbing .148 (12-for-81) over the last month, but if he's going to work his way out of his slump, he's going to do it with Pittsburgh.

The team has no plans to demote Polanco so he can work on his hitting.

"We believe [he] is going to be a quality major league player but there are growing pains," general manager Neal Huntington told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And [a demotion] hasn't even been a conversation."

Polanco, who has been benched often against left-handers and sat against Cleveland righty Danny Salazar on Sunday, owns a .231 average that is at its lowest point since May 25.


Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli struggling mentally as well
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:52 pm ET) The struggles of Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli are starting to take a toll on him mentally.

"I'm on what's supposed to be a winning team and I'm not producing," he complained to the Boston Globe. "...If you're not mentally frustrated, there's something wrong. But I come here every day to work and try to fix it ... I wake up every day thinking that today's the day. I'm just going to keep working, keep doing what I've done in my career, to get out of this thing."

Only Napoli and Yankees second baseman Stephen Drew own a batting average under .200 and on-base percentage under .300 among 116 qualifying regulars in the majors. Napoli owns a slash line of .192/.294/.358.

And it's not getting any better. He is on skids of 2-for-27 and 5-for-46. He has only one RBI in 15 games since June 19.


Report: Teams believe Braves could deal CF Cameron Maybin
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:36 pm ET) Braves center fielder Cameron Maybin has never achieved at the plate anything close to what he has recorded this season. And other teams believe Atlanta might be looking to sell high and trade him by July 31, according to ESPN MLB Insider Buster Olney.

Maybin has been hot in July with nine hits in 24 at-bats, including two doubles and a home run, to break a 6-for-35 skid. He boasts a slash line on the year of .294/.363/.416. All three numbers represent career-bests.


Royals SP Kris Medlen goes six innings in fourth rehab start
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:27 pm ET) Royals starting pitcher Kris Medlen (elbow) took the hill Sunday for his fourth start on a rehab assignment. It was his second start with Triple-A Omaha.

Medlen allowed two runs on five hits and one walk in six innings. He struck out two during his first win in four starts. 

The six innings were the most the right-hander has thrown since beginning his rehab assignment June 19. He also threw 81 pitches (50 strikes), which was also the most he has thrown on his rehab assignment.

Medlen still dealt with some control issues Sunday as he hit a batter. It is the fourth batter he has hit in four starts.


Pirates hopeful prospect Jameson Taillon can pitch in September
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:25 pm ET) Pirates premier pitching prospect Jameson Taillon could return to action in September if his recovery from hernia surgery, which he is scheduled to undergo this week, goes smoothly.

"We'll see how the recovery goes," general manager Neal Huntington told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It is two months-ish. I mean, we have been told it is roughly two months until he is ready to compete."


Rays 1B James Loney hits safely in first three games off DL
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:22 pm ET) So far, so good for Rays first baseman James Loney in his return from a fractured middle left finger, which forced him to miss six weeks. He has hit safely in all three games since he returned to the lineup Friday.

Loney drove in two runs on a single in the first inning Sunday against the Yankees, giving Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead. They won the game 8-1.

He is batting .308 (4 for 13) with three RBI, two runs and two strikeouts since his activation from the disabled list.


Cardinals LF Matt Holliday weighing ASG participation
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) That invitation Cardinals veteran left fielder Matt Holliday received from the fans to start the All-Star Game? He might just have to reply, "thanks, but no thanks."

Holliday was voted in, but he's still dealing with a quad injury that has kept him sidelined for nearly a month. The news, however, is not all bad.

"It's getting better," he told MLB Network Radio.

Holliday added that he will take the next couple days to decide if he can participate.


D-Backs rookie SS Nick Ahmed batting .313 in last 23 games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:14 pm ET) Diamondbacks rookie shortstop Nick Ahmed tied a career best with three hits Sunday against the Rockies. He has accomplished the feat twice this season.

Ahmed had two singles and his eighth double this season in the 6-4 loss. He also scored a run.

The rookie middle infielder has been on a nice run offensively since early June. He is batting .313 with a .360 on-base percentage, .475 slugging percentage and .835 OPS in his last 23 games. He has three home runs, four doubles, nine RBI, 11 runs, six walks, eight strikeouts and two stolen bases in that span.


 
 
 
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