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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
Nationals' Max Scherzer faces live hitters for first time this spring
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:02 pm ET) New Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer is already looking like the ace of the staff. Scherzer faced live batters for the first time Sunday since signing with the club.

"It felt great. It has been a few months since I've been out there facing hitters," Scherzer said. "It actually seemed like I knew what I was doing. It was a good feeling."

One of the hitters who faced him, Dan Butler, said his pitches were moving well around the strike zone.

"He threw his fastball down," said Butler, who hit a weak ground ball on the second-base side of the diamond. "It looked like he was throwing from both sides of the plate. ... It looked like the breaking ball was sharp. As he got settled in with the hitters in there, the fastball was coming out. He was doing a good job of it."


Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish: I never quit on the team in 2014
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:31 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish squarely battled off the notion he quit on the team last season and he did so in English for the first time since joining the club in 2012, reports the Dallas Morning News.

"I never quit on the team," Darvish said. "I love this team. That is not true."

Darvish was diagnosed with elbow inflammation early in August last year and did not pitch again during the season. He felt that some of the problem may have been because of the language barrier.

"I know that when people come to Japan and they don't speak Japanese, we feel bad," he said Sunday. "I have to look at it the same way since I'm here. If I can speak English more and we can communicate better, it's good for all of us."


Phillies to hold Chase Utley out of spring training opener
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:25 pm ET) Citing his ankle issue and need to be ready, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said second baseman Chase Utley will not play in Tuesday's spring training opener, reports The News Journal.

Utley injured his ankle in January and is not 100 percent recovered, but Sandberg said Utley will play in spring training games down the road.


Phillies' Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez pushing for starting role in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:22 pm ET) Phillies pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is pushing for a spot in the starting rotation in 2015. He and David Buchanan look to be fighting for the final spot in Philadelphia's rotation, reports MLB.com.

"I've always been a starter," Gonzalez said through a translator Sunday. "That's important. I'm used to that. I've always been one."

Gonzalez appeared in six games in 2014, posting an 0-1 mark with a 6.75 ERA in 5 1/3 innings.

"It didn't go as well as I wanted last year," Gonzalez said. "This year I'm much better prepared, and much more mentally focused on what I have to do. The setbacks last season … I thought I was physically ready and I'd have a setback. If it wasn't one thing it was another. This year, all that stuff is out of the way."


Wandy Rodriguez will start spring training opener for Braves
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:17 pm ET) Braves pitcher Wandy Rodriguez is scheduled to start the team's first spring training game, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Rodriguez is competing for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.


Report: Rangers sign pitcher Mark Rogers to minor-league deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:16 pm ET) The Rangers have reportedly signed pitcher Mark Rogers to a minor-league contract, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.

Rogers spent 2014 as a member of the Mariners, making two appearances in Triple-A Tacoma, posting a 1-0 record with a 3.86 ERA and striking out five.

Rogers is a former first-round pick of the Brewers in 2004.


Orioles' Matt Wieters to begin last step in recovery from elbow surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:09 pm ET) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters will take the last step in his recovery from elbow surgery when he begins catcher-movement drills Monday, reports The Baltimore Sun.

Wieters is recovering from elbow ligament reconstruction surgery and is slated to be cleared March 17 to begin throwing in games.


Mets first baseman Lucas Duda could take swings this week
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:06 pm ET) Mets first baseman Lucas Duda may be able to take some swings this week after being held out of batting practice for the first week of camp with an oblique injury, reports MLB.com.

Duda hasn't been able to pick up a bat since suffering the injury in mid-February.

"I told him to be patient," manager Terry Collins said on Sunday. "Hopefully by this particular time next week, maybe he's taking BP."


Tigers' Yoenis Cespedes feels comfortable in Detroit
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:04 pm ET) Tigers outfielder Yoenis Cespedes said he feels comfortable in Detroit and wants to remain a Tiger for a long time, reports the Detroit Free Press.

"I would like to be in a Tigers uniform for a lot of years," he said. "This is a good team now and will be for a lot of years to come."


Tigers' Jose Iglesias runs 'extremely well' Sunday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(3:59 pm ET) Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias was able to run the bases Sunday and manager Brad Ausmus said Iglesias ran 'extremely well,' reports the Detroit Free Press.

Ausmus added that Iglesias has shown no side effects from his leg injury. Iglesias missed the entire 2014 season with fractures in his shins.


 
 
 
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