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Down on the Farm: Seattle's slew of prospects

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Mariners have an opening in their starting rotation, and they're not filling it with Taijuan Walker or Danny Hultzen.

At least, not yet.

It's not too surprising considering they've had Erasmo Ramirez in their back pocket all this time. He probably should have claimed a rotation spot in spring training, but a triceps issue forced the Mariners to go another route. An ugly one.

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 7/11)
Player % owned
1. Michael Pineda, SP, Yankees 62
2. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox 49
3. Dan Straily, SP, Athletics 41
4. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals 41
5. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 35
6. Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals 34
7. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets 28
8. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins 27
9. Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners 25
10. Trevor Bauer, SP, Indians 23

First, there was Brandon Maurer -- a 23-year-old with good potential but considerably less hype than his Tacoma teammates. His 6.93 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 10 starts showed why.

Then came retread Jeremy Bonderman, whose second wind in the majors was more like a last gasp. Nobody really expected him and his shadow of a fastball to last, but given the surplus of alternatives, nobody knew who the Mariners would turn to next.

Evidently, the choice is Ramirez, which is hardly a disappointment for Fantasy owners. He was a sleeper coming into the season, remember, after posting a 3.64 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings in eight major-league starts last year. His numbers at Triple-A weren't quite as impressive leading up to this latest promotion, but he was recovering from injury and pitching in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He still exhibited the improved velocity that made him a surprising success last year, which makes him a promising pickup in all leagues right now, perhaps even over the more publicized Kyle Gibson and Chris Archer.

But it's not quite the same, is it? Yes, Ramirez has a small sliver of track record that makes him not quite the stab in the dark most call-ups are this time of year, but he also has clear limits to his upside. You add him in Fantasy because he's a better bet to stabilize the back of your rotation than Eric Stults, Dillon Gee or whatever else the waiver wire has to offer, but he won't emerge as an ace overnight. Walker or Hultzen potentially could.

Of course, I said the same thing about Zack Wheeler, Gerrit Cole, Tyler Skaggs and Kevin Gausman, but just because they haven't done it doesn't mean no young pitcher will again. We'll never know what Walker and Hultzen can do if they don't get the opportunity.

Fortunately, Ramirez didn't steal theirs. The best part about the Mariners starting rotation (unless you have a rooting interest in the team) is that the fifth spot isn't its only hole. It's the one they've been willing to patch up so far this year -- more than once, actually -- but it's not the only one, not with Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang around.

Sure, they've done fine. In fact, they've been at their best in recent weeks, with Saunders posting a 2.70 ERA over his last eight starts and Harang boasting a 2.45 mark over his last five prior to getting knocked around Wednesday night against the Red Sox. But that's only because they were so bad to begin the year. Numbers tend to normalize over time, and "normal" for them is nothing to get excited about. At ages 32 and 35, respectively, they haven't learned any new tricks. They're bottom-feeders. Back-of-the-rotation types. Good only in the sense that they're predictably mediocre. And neither is signed beyond this year.

Translation: They won't be enough to get Seattle back in the race, and they'll be the first to go when it inevitably pulls the plug.

As with Bonderman, it's only a matter of time.

So how do I know Walker and Hultzen are next in line? In truth, Hultzen may not be. He's been dealing with a shoulder issue since late April, has already suffered one setback, and is at least 10 days away from throwing again. He's not a lost cause for this season, but he has a climb ahead of him.

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As for Walker, just look at what's been going on in Seattle over the last couple months. Between Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino and Brad Miller, the Mariners have initiated a full-fledged youth movement. And they've done it aggressively, anointing Zunino to the starting catcher role even though he was in a deep slump at Triple-A, batting only .238.

Walker may be only 20 years old, but he has surged up the minor-league ladder over the last two years, scorching every level of competition with electric stuff and uncommon poise. Baseball America just named him its seventh-best prospect entering the second half -- second among pitchers -- and quoted one scout as saying "he could pitch in the big leagues right now."

The stuff you read about him sounds a lot like what you used to read about Jose Fernandez, who skipped Double- and Triple-A to claim a rotation spot for the Marlins as a 20-year-old this spring. Now there's a young pitcher who emerged as an ace overnight.

Yes, the ever-evolving Mariners offer a little something for everyone. If you just want a little depth, you add Ramirez. If you need a big splash (albeit a short-lived one because of the expected innings cap), you add Walker. Ideally, you add both. The Mariners' decision to promote Ramirez before Walker gives Fantasy owners a rare opportunity to have their cake and eat it too.

That is, as long as Maurer doesn't get in the way again. Come on, man. At least prove it at Triple-A first.

Five on the Farm ... by Michael Hurcomb (@CBSHurc), CBSSports.com

It's only fitting that Athletics infielder Grant Green made his MLB debut Monday since it came days shy of the two-year anniversary of Green being named the MVP of the All-Star Futures Game in 2011.

As part of next week's All-Star festivities, the 15th installment of the Futures Game will take place. It's a chance to take a look at tomorrow's stars today. The game has featured its fair share of talent. From Alfonso Soriano, who took home the MVP honors in the inaugural game in 1999, to Felix Hernandez to Justin Verlander to David Wright to Bryce Harper to Mike Trout. It's the showcase of the elite.

This year's batch of players is no different. The game features standouts like Archie Bradley (U.S.), Byron Buxton (U.S.), Billy Hamilton (U.S.), George Springer (U.S.), Christian Yelich (U.S.), Miguel Sano (World), Xander Bogaerts (World), Francisco Lindor (World), Rafael De Paula (World) and Rafael Montero (World).

But the Futures Game is also full of talent flying under the radar or on the rise in the minors. This week's installment of Five on the Farm features players who meet this criteria and might be worthy of more attention in Fantasy leagues moving forward.

Michael Ynoa, SP, Athletics
Futures team: World
Minor-league affiliate: Class A Stockton
The 6-7, 210-pound hurler was a highly touted international prospect leading up to his signing in 2008, and at one point he was called a "once-in-a-generation-talent," according to Baseball America. Unfortunately, like other top prospects, Ynoa's career was stalled by injuries. He battled elbow problems in 2009 and missed the 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2012 to post an ugly 6.46 ERA and 1.83 WHIP in 14 outings (12 starts), but he really didn't let it fly until the offseason. Now, further removed from Tommy John surgery, Ynoa is back to pitching like an elite prospect and worthy of a Futures Game appearance. He recently moved to Stockton after dominating at low Class A Beloit. He is 2-1 with a 2.76 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 16 starts. Ynoa needs to work on his fastball command and changeup, but his career is back on track and he deserves consideration again as a viable long-term keeper.

Eddie Butler, SP, Rockies
Futures team: U.S.
Minor-league affiliate: Class A Modesto
We featured Butler in an earlier Five on the Farm, but he's worth mentioning again because he continues to dominate following his promotion from low Class A Asheville to Modesto in the hitter-friendly California League. Through 18 starts this season, the 2012 first-round pick (46th) is 8-3 with a 2.18 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He is striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings. Fantasy owners need to get familiar with Butler because he has the potential to speed through the minors because of his college pedigree. He's already proving he can handle the transition to pro ball, posting a 15-4 record, 2.16 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 171 innings. Sure, you can temper expectations given former elite pitching prospects Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich have had their troubles with the thin air in Colorado, but Butler will skyrocket up the prospect rankings and is a worthy long-term keeper.

Reymond Fuentes
Futures team: World
Minor-league affiliate: Double-A San Antonio
If Fuentes' name sounds familiar it should, since he was in the Futures Game in 2011. Though, he might be more recognized as the cousin of Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran. While Fuentes doesn't stack up to his cousin since he lacks the power Beltran possesses, the 2009 first-round pick has always been lauded for his athleticism and plus speed. It's just that he fell off the map after hitting .218 at San Antonio last season. Fuentes really struggled with the strikeouts, whiffing every 3.6 at-bats last season. This year, he's cut down on the strikeouts (striking out every 4.6 at-bats) and that's helped in his resurgence. Fuentes, who told U-T San Diego he worked in the offseason to become "mentally tougher", is batting .333 with a .471 slugging percentage and .885 OPS in 68 games. After recording a career-worst 35 stolen bases last season, Fuentes' speed is also back as he has 23 steals in 2013. Padres vice president of player development Randy Smith said Fuentes has re-established himself as "a player to watch," and we agree.

Miguel Almonte, SP, Royals
Futures team: World
Minor-league affiliate: Class A Lexington
You have to give the Royals a lot of credit for spotting pitching talent. They might not know how to develop it, but they have littered prospects lists the last few years with top pitching talent and Almonte might be in the next crop of Royals' pitching prospects worth keeping on the radar. The right-hander burst onto the scene in 2012 with an 8-2 record, 1.75 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 16 outings (12 starts) in rookie ball. While he is just 3-6 through 16 starts for Lexington this season, he is still pitching well, posting a 3.30 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and striking out 9.1 batters per nine innings. The scouts feel the 20-year-old hurler might develop three solid offerings (fastball, changeup, curveball) as he progresses in his career. They also love the fact he repeats his delivery well and can diagnose his own mechanical flaws. Almonte projects as a mid-rotation arm, but he still has time to change his outlook for the better.

Arismendy Alcantara, SS, Cubs
Futures team: World
Minor-league affiliate: Double-A Tennessee
Alcantara was having the best season of his pro career in 2012 before a broken foot prematurely ended his season. Luckily, it doesn't seem to have stalled his career. Alcantara is slugging a career-high .464 in 86 games for Tennessee and already has a career-high 12 home runs and 22 doubles. The knock on Alcantara in the past has been he gives away at-bats and needs to be more selective at the plate, but the scouts have compared him favorably to Jimmy Rollins and he finally seems to be living up to expectations. Fantasy owners will also like Alcantara because he's a very good base stealer. He already has 20-plus stolen bases for the third time in his career and has been caught stealing just 20 times in 101 career attempts (80.2 percent conversion rate). While Alcantara has a strong arm, his defense remains a work in progress (.904 career fielding percentage), which could delay his arrival to the majors or force the Cubs to deal him since they already have Starlin Castro at the major-league level and Javier Baez surging his way through the minors.

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
Elbow tightness forces Dodgers RHP Brandon McCarthy from game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:50 pm ET) The injury that forced Dodgers right-hander Brandon McCarthy to leave his Saturday night start against San Diego has been revealed to be elbow tightness, MLB.com has reported. Its severity has yet to be determined.

McCarthy called for trainers after giving up three runs in the sixth inning and was removed from the game.


Athletics expect call up Max Muncy to play mostly third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11:24 pm ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin likes what he's got in prospect Max Muncy, who played in his first game after being called up Saturday. Melvin expects to primarily use Muncy at third base with his infield battling a multitude of injuries, reports MLB.com.

"He can play a little first, he can play a little third, and with [Eric Sogard] being able to play all the positions, it's probably going to be mostly at third," said Melvin. "He's a grinder. He made an impression right away. You know he can hit, and he's coming in here swinging the bat well. We've always felt he was quite the hitter.

"Moved him over to third to make him a little bit more versatile, especially with [Matt] Olson in the system. We like what we saw this spring."

Muncy went 1 for 4 in the game with a single and a strikeout.


Dodgers RHP McCarthy removed from game with possible injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:19 pm ET) Dodgers starter Brandon McCarthy left the game Saturday night against the Padres in the sixth inning after asking for team trainers to come out of the dugout, SB Nation is reporting.

McCarthy was soon removed in favor of Sergio Santos. He entered the inning with a 10-3 lead, but allowed two singles and a homer before his departure. It has yet to be revealed if McCarthy suffered an injury of was taken out merely as a precaution.

The right-hander performed well from the second through the fifth innings, allowing just one hit during that stretch. He had given up home runs to Wil Myers and Upton in a three-run first. He finished having surrendered six earned runs in five innings as his ERA soared to 5.87.


Rockies outfielder Corey Dickerson leaves with undisclosed injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11:13 pm ET) Rockies outfielder Corey Dickerson was forced to leave Saturday's game against the Giants with an undisclosed injury, according to the Denver Post.

Dickerson was removed before the seventh inning for Drew Stubbs. He went 0 for 3 in the game. He is hitting .317 in 63 at-bats this season.


Pirates reliever Mark Melancon earns fifth save Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11:06 pm ET) Pirates relief pitcher Mark Melancon worked a nearly perfect ninth inning Saturday in Pittsburgh's 2-1 win over the Diamondbacks, earning his fifth save of the season.

Melancon got past a single with one out to start the inning after Nick Ahmed was caught stealing second. Melancon finished things off by forcing a groundout to second by Yasmany Tomas. Melancon lowered his ERA to 5.79 in 9 1/3 innings of work this season.


Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett strikes out four in no decision
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11:06 pm ET) Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett allowed one run on five hits in seven innings of work in Pittsburgh's 2-1 win over the Diamondbacks Saturday. 

Burnett worked efficiently through his start, only running into one issue in the second inning. Burnett allowed a single to Chris Owings, who then stole second base. Tuffy Gosewich then singled to right to bring home Arizona's only run. 

Burnett, who remains 0-1 on the year, lowered his ERA to 1.80 and added four strikeouts to his totals.


Diamondbacks pitcher Rubby De La Rosa strikes out eight in ND
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11:06 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Rubby De La Rosa allowed one run on four hits in seven innings of work in Arizona's 2-1 loss to the Pirates Saturday. He was in control throughout the start, adding eight strikeouts with no walks to his totals.

De La Rosa's only blemish came in the fourth inning. He allowed a double to Neil Walker, who advanced to third on a Starling Marte ground out. Then, Pedro Alvarez doubled to right field, scoring Walker.

De La Rosa, who remains 2-1, lowered his ERA to 4.68 on the season. 


Pirates reliever Seth Maness earns rare save Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:04 pm ET) Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal was unavailable Saturday after having pitched three straight days. So Seth Maness took over the role and rolled with it.

Maness, who arrived in the eighth, induced one popout and two groundouts in the ninth to shut down the Brewers and register his first save of the year and fifth of his career.


Jean Segura, Aramis Ramirez both pound three hits for Brewers
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:56 pm ET) The woeful Brewers lost again Saturday night, but they can take at least a bit of solace that two of their key players had big games.

Both leadoff hitter Jean Segura and veteran third baseman Aramis Ramirez slammed two singles and a double.

The effort of the latter was particularly encouraging. Ramirez has emerged from a four-game hitless streak to hit safely in four of his last five. The multi-hit game was only his second since the opener.

Segura, on the other hand, has been pretty much raking all year. He has been the subject of trade rumors and his hot hitting can only raise his stock.


Twins' Paul Molitor considering Joe Mauer in leadoff role
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:48 pm ET) Twins manager Paul Molitor is looking for a spark at the top of the batting order. He thinks that spark may be in his top player, Joe Mauer, according to MLB.com.

"I had him potentially doing that," Molitor said. "I had him also hitting second behind [Brian] Dozier. There were points made regarding Dozier's propensity to be able to score runs last year and Joe hit behind him quite a bit, so we talked about different combinations of how to get those guys in there."

Mauer has never hit lead off in his career.

"You can go to your sabermetrics experts and a lot of times they're going to come up with Joe at the top of the lineup, and I understand that. How that would play in terms of him getting a chance to get hits with men in scoring position and do some other things that he's been doing pretty well, I'm not sure."

Mauer is hitting .271 with five RBI in 59 at-bats this season.


 
 
 
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