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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
Southpaw Cesar Jimenez signs one-year deal with Phillies
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:36 pm ET) The Phillies have avoided arbitration with left-hander Cesar Jimenez by agreeing to a one-year contract for next season.

The 29-year-old Jimenez pitched just 16 innings for Philadelphia in 2014 and compiled a career-best 1.69 ERA.


OF Grady Sizemore sticking around with Phillies
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:29 pm ET) Outfielder Grady Sizemore has received a one-year deal worth $2 million to remain with the Phillies. Various reports claim that the contract includes performances bonuses.

In his first extensive play since a spate of injuries began to curtail his career in 2010, Sizemore compiled a .233/.299/.354 stat line with Boston and Philadelphis this season. He ended the season on a 3-for-37 slide.


Report: Mets targeting free agent OF Michael Cuddyer
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:56 pm ET) The Mets are quite interested in potential free agent Michael Cuddyer, according to the New York Daily News. They are contemplating a two-year deal for Cuddyer, who will be 36 years old when the 2015 regular season begins.

Cuddyer is coming off an injury-plagued year, but still batted .332 with 10 home runs in 49 games. However, he hit .400 with six homers and 23 RBI in hitter-friendly Coors Field and .282 with four home runs and eight RBI on the road. Citi Field is considered far more of a pitcher's park.


Pablo Sandoval likely to receive qualifying offer from Giants
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:44 pm ET) The Giants are expected to extend the qualifying offer of $15.3 million to potential free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval, sources have told CBSSports.com MLB Insider Jon Heyman.

The two sides broke off contract talks in spring training. The team claimed its unwillingness to sign Sandoval for more than three years while he was seeking a nine-figure contract, per Heyman.

Several teams appear interested in Sandoval, including the Red Sox and Yankees, both of whom are seeking major upgrades at that position, as well as the Marlins.

Sandoval rebounded from a .171 start to the season to bat .279 with 16 home runs. He owns a .333 postseason batting average and is again thriving in that role in 2014.


Red Sox LHP Craig Breslow feels destined for free agency
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:27 pm ET) Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow is pessimistic about the team picking up his $4 million option for 2015 after a poor season.

The left-hander pitched 54 1/3 innings in 60 games for Boston and compiled a disturbing 5.96 ERA. He believes that last statistic will preclude the Sox from moving forward with him and will result in free agency.

"If you were to strictly look at 2014 with blinders without what had happened previously and what you might expect going forward, $4 million is probably a hefty price tag," he told WEEI.com. "But I think if (you) look at the body of work from 2008-13, you can better appreciate the pitcher I've been and the pitcher I will (be)."

Breslow, who yielded five runs without retiring a batter in his last appearance, performed well in the title season of 2013, compiling a 1.81 ERA in 61 games.


Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum (back) headed for MRI
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:04 pm ET) Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, who left Game 2 of the World Series due to back tightness, will undergo an MRI Thursday, sources connected to the team told CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Twins' Chris Colabello set for MRI, X-rays on injured thumb
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:20 am ET) Twins first baseman/outfielder Chris Colabello is scheduled to undergo an MRI and X-rays this week on his ailing right thumb, according to the Pioneer Press. Colabello said he still feels numbness and tingling in his right thumb as a result of getting jammed on a pitch during an April 23 game against the Rays, according to the Worcester Telegram.

Tigers expected to keep Soria
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:32 am ET) The Tigers are expected to exercise their option on pitcher Joakim Soria, according to MLB.com.

Soria has a $7 million club option for next season. The team will need to make a decision on the option shortly after the end of the World Series. While general manager Dave Dombrowski said the final decision hasn't been made yet, he hinted at the club picking up Soria's contract. "It's a situation where we look at him as being an important acquisition toward this [coming] year also," Dombrowski said. 

Soria posted a 3.25 ERA over 44 1/3 innings split between Texas and Detroit. 


Giants will know more about Tim Lincecum Thursday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) The Giants will have more information on pitcher Tim Lincecum Thursday, according to Bleacher Report.

Lincecum left after his back tightened up in the eighth inning. The club expects him to be OK, but will have a better idea about the severity of his injury Thursday. Lincecum was able to pitch 1 2/3 innings before departing. 


Royals' Lorenzo Cain won't stop hitting
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:06 am ET) Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain continued to assault baseballs Wednesday against the Giants.

Cain has been on a tear during the postseason, and that didn't stop Wednesday. After doubling in his first at-bat, Cain would come around to score the team's first run of the night. He would later single to lead off the sixth inning, and would come around to score again later in the frame. Cain finished 2 for 4, with two runs scored and no RBI. 


 
 
 
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