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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
Masahiro Tanaka says his elbow feels good
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:17 pm ET) Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka told the Japan Times that his elbow feels fine as he prepares for spring training, per The Star-Ledger. Tanaka has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament that could eventually require Tommy John surgery.

Tanaka missed more than two months last season due to the injury. After the layoff, he was able to make two starts toward the end of the season and finished 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA.

"So far, so good -- including that [elbow]," Tanaka said.

The Yankees signed Tanaka last offseason to a seven-year, $155 million contract.


Mariners sign catcher John Baker to minor-league contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:51 am ET) The Mariners signed catcher John Baker to a minor-league contract Wednesday, reports CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The deal includes an invite to spring training. Baker will be given an opportunity to compete for the backup catching position. In 2014, Baker hit .192 with no home runs and 15 RBI in 182 at-bats.


Indians 3B Giovanny Urshela expected to be ready for spring training
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:15 am ET) Indians third base prospect Giovanny Urshela, who sprained a knee ligament in a Venezuelan winter league game in November, should be ready for spring training, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Urshela, 23, is considered the most skilled defensive third baseman in the organization.

He likely will begin the season at Triple-A Columbus, but "could get a look" if Lonnie Chisenhall falters, the paper said.


Report: Nationals sign pitcher Casey Janssen to one-year contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) The Nationals agreed to a one-year, $5 million contract with pitcher Casey Janssen on Wednesday, sources told FOXSports.com.

The deal also includes a mutual option for the 2016 season and a buyout. In 2014, Janssen made 50 relief appearances and produced a 3.94 ERA.


Hector Neris considered a 'sleeper' to make Phils' bullpen
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:41 am ET) Coming off an outstanding performance in the Dominican Winter League, reliever Hector Neris is a "sleeper candidate" to earn a spot in the Phillies' bullpen, reports Philly.com. Neris, 25, did not give up a run in 18 innings during the league's regular season, then allowed two runs in 8 1/3 postseason innings.

“It will be interesting to see who kind of takes the bull by the horns,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the website. “We’re going to give some people opportunities to pitch, and typically what happens is the guy that’s performing the best and the guy that’s throwing the most consistently toward the end of spring, those are the guys that will make the club.”

Neris made his major-league debut last August, earning a win with one scoreless inning. That was his only appearance with the Phils.


Report: Mets not close to trading pitcher Dillon Gee
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:11 am ET) While various clubs have expressed interest in Mets pitcher Dillon Gee, the Mets are not in negotiations to trade him anytime soon, reports MLB.com.

In 2014, Gee went 7-8 with a 4.00 ERA. The Mets are less than a month away from spring training and are also believed to be hesitant to depart with any of their starting pitchers.


Report: Matt Albers to throw in Houston on Feb. 10
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:59 am ET) Wanting to prove his health, free-agent pitcher Matt Albers will hold a throwing session Feb. 10 in Houston, reports 1500ESPN.

Albers was shut down last season because of shoulder tendinitis after throwing 10 innings for the Astros. All teams were invited to the session.


Report: Angels talk extension with closer Huston Street
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:30 am ET) The Angels have broached the subject of a contract extension with closer Huston Street and plan to start negotiations during spring training, reports MLB.com. The team exercised its $7 million opion on Street early in the offseason and "would like to lock the 31-year-old right-hander up before he hits free agency next winter," the report said.

Street converted 41 of 44 save opportunities last year, going 2-2 with a 1.37 ERA.


Marlins announce signing of Ichiro Suzuki
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) The Marlins announced Tuesday they signed outfielder Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year contract.

The deal was expected to be announced once Suzuki passed his physical. He is expected to be the Marlins fourth outfielder as well as a left-handed bat off the bench.


Rays pitcher Matt Moore begins throwing off mound
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Rays pitcher Matt Moore took a significant step forward in his receovery from Tommy John surgery when he threw off a mound Tuesday, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

"It felt pretty good," Moore said.

Moore had the surgery in April and said he is pleased with the progress he has made.

"I would have thought a while ago I would have been nervous, but I was looking forward to it," Moore said. "And I felt like I had a lot more that could have come out. That's a feeling I've had the last month or so, and that's a feeling I like to have. I think we're in a good spot right now."


 
 
 
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