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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
Yankees' Cashman to Didi Gregorius: Don't try to be Derek Jeter
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:13 pm ET) Yankees general manager Brian Cashman isn't concerned about Didi Gregorius replacing Derek Jeter heading into the 2015 year, reports the New York Daily News.

"I personally can't worry about a shadow of Derek's somehow affecting the next guy," Cashman said. "All you can do is tell the next guy, 'You're not Derek, so don't even waste your time trying to be. Just be the best you can be.’ It’s going to fall short of anything Derek did, because he’s one of the greatest players of all-time."

The 25-year-old hit .226 with six home runs and 27 RBI in 270 plate appearances in 2014 and Cashman likes what's he's seeing.

"He's a developing guy," Cashman said. "He's definitely not a finished product. He's got a big ceiling. We'll see if we can together reach that ceiling."


Brewers' Jimmy Nelson (hamstring) has BP session moved again
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:53 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson didn't throw live batting practice as scheduled Saturday, with the team choosing to let his injured hamstring rest, MLB.com reports.

Manager Ron Roenicke reiterated Saturday that Nelson's hamstring injury is minor and that the pitcher is scheduled to throw Sunday. Roenicke added that he "would be surprised" if the pitcher was pushed back again.

Nelson saw his first significant action with the Brewers in 2014, going 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA and 57:19 K:BB ratio in 69 1/3 innings.


White Sox's Jared Mitchel pushing to make opening day roster
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:52 pm ET) White Sox prospect Jared Mitchell was disappointed he didn't make it to the majors in 2014, but he's not letting that keep him from pushing to make it this spring, reports MLB.com.

"I took it as disappointment and then kind of like straight to, 'Now that's your motivation.' That helps prepare you for where you need to be," Mitchell said. "If you take it the right way, take it in stride and use it as motivation, it can springboard me into a really good year this year."

Mitchell, the team's top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, has the ability, but needs to get more consistent, according to some in management.

"Mitch's issue is that he has a different feel every day," said White Sox assistant general manager Buddy Bell. "He's got to trust what he can do, but certainly athletically, there's nobody better. He's as athletic as anyone we have."


Astros' Brad Peacock throws pain-free bullpen session Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:48 pm ET) Astros pitcher Brad Peacock threw 30 pitches in his third bullpen session of the spring Saturday and reported no pain in his hip, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"No pain," Peacock said. "I felt all right. My arm felt good. I was a little wild, but that’s normal. It was only my third bullpen, but no pain in the hip. I’ll take it."

Peacock is working his way back from offseason hip surgery. He'll take two days off and throw another bullpen Tuesday, when he hopes to increase his session to 35 pitches. If he continues to progrees, he hopes to throw his first live batting practice March 11.


Astros' Kevin Chapman trying to keep hitters guessing with changeup
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:43 pm ET) Astros pitcher Kevin Chapman is figuring out quickly the need for a third pitch in his arsenal. He posted a 2-0 record with a 4.64 ERA in 21 1/3 innings pitched in 2014. 

"[The changeup is] something I sort of messed with last year when I was sent down and I was in Triple-A," Chapman said. "I thought while I was there I'd try to throw it and get another pitch. When I came back up, I didn't use it that much, but when I did, it was effective. That's something I really wanted to explore and see what it's got for me."

He wants to be able to keep hitters on their toes for this season.

"Last year, it wasn't like key situations or a full count or something like that, but any time I had an opportunity to use it in a situation that's not vital to one pitch, I used it and I was getting good results and getting it for strikes, and when guys were putting it in play, it was weak contact," he said.


Athletics SP Barry Zito to make first spring start Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:42 pm ET) Athletics starting pitcher Barry Zito is scheduled to make his first Cactus Leauge start Thursday against the Cubs, MLB.com reports.

The outing will be Zito's first game action since 2013. Manager Bob Melvin said earlier in February that Zito would get one shot in a Cactus League start to see whether he deserves a shot at a major-league comeback. If Thursday's start goes well, he could receive more chances with an eye on potentially making the team's rotation.

Zito won the AL Cy Young Award in 2002 as a member of the A's. He took the 2014 season off after the Giants declined his $18-million option.

"I have a fresh perspective," Zito said last week. "I've got my passion back, and I just want to continue to work hard and go out and enjoy competing. I guess you could say I'm competing against all these guys, but for me, it's more about competing against myself. If I can be as good as I know I can be every time out here, I know the rest will take care of itself."

Zito put together a 102-63 record in his time with Oakland as well as a 3.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 1,096 strikeouts in 1,430 1/3 innings over seven seasons. He then signed a big free-agent deal with the Giants, 63-80 with a 4.62 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 787 strikeouts in 1,139 1/3 innings over seven seasons.


Angels 2B Alex Yarbrough working at multiple positions
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:32 pm ET) Angels second-base prospect Alex Yarbrough is working at first base and third base and in left field this spring, manager Mike Scioscia told MLB.com Saturday.

"Just to see if the versatility is there," Scioscia said.

Yarbrough has made all of his game appearances at second base since being selected in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. He hit 285/.321/.397 with five home runs, 77 RBI and six stolen bases in 544 at-bats.


Indians' Jason Kipnis (finger) making progress
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3:25 pm ET) Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is making progress in his return from a finger injury, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports.

Kipnis underwent surgery on the finger in December and could miss the first few Cactus League games as a precaution. He hit .240/.310/.330 with six home runs, 41 RBI and 22 stolen bases in 500 at-bats last season.


Brewers' Jim Henderson to face batters for first time since surgery
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:02 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Jim Henderson is scheduled to throw to live batters Sunday for the first time in nearly a year. For Henderson, it's a long time coming.

"I'll be curious after live BP, because that's when hitters step in and the intensity picks up more," said Henderson. "We'll see how it feels after that, and then once the games start, I'll be curious for sure. Then I'll be able to see how far away we are. Right now, it feels good, it feels strong, it feels healthy, but I've always been a velocity guy, so [seeing those numbers] will tell me how far I need to go."

Henderson underwent shoulder surgery during early in 2014, forcing him to miss the majority of the season.

"I feel like I'd be in the low to mid-90s if I wanted to let one go right now, but I really have no idea," Henderson said. "It's hard to tell without a hitter. For me, even when we're in season, I'll throw my last warmup pitch and look at the radar gun and it says 91 [mph]. Then the first pitch to a hitter will be 95 [mph]. So it's hard to tell with me."


Twins' Mike Pelfrey faces live hitters for first time in 9 months
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3:00 pm ET) Twins RHP Mike Pelfrey faced live hitters for the first time since last May. Pelfrey, who had season-ending elbow surgery nine months ago, threw to batters at Twins' spring training camp on Saturday. 

Pelfrey told MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger that he felt great and was able to locate his pitches. 


 
 
 
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