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Down on the Farm: Five burning questions

Senior Fantasy Writer
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In case you haven't noticed, the minor leagues are constantly changing.

They get a thorough overview at the beginning of the season, but things that seemed so obvious then are significantly less so now. While some players have improved their stock, others have faded from relevance. And those that have graduated to the majors have since been replaced by a new class of draft picks.

So before we get back to the nitty gritty of the regular season, let's take this moment to reassess, addressing five of the questions most applicable to Fantasy owners. Michael Hurcomb and I will each have our say, giving you multiple takes on matters with no right answer.

Which minor-leaguer are you stashing for the second half?

White: Though the best midseason call-ups are probably behind us, Nick Castellanos' up-and-down season at Triple-A Toledo has held him up long enough to give Fantasy owners one last chance at an impact bat down the stretch. The good news is his high points this season have been the highest of his brief minor-league career, showcasing a dramatically improved batting eye and legitimate home-run power. The bad news is he's at his lowest of lows right now, batting .169 (10 for 59) so far in July. Still, his upside is as high as any minor-league hitter with a legitimate chance of contributing this year, and the Tigers have a clear opening for him in left field, where they're currently platooning Andy Dirks and Matt Tuiasosopo. They nearly called him up to help with the stretch run last year. Something tells me they'll follow through on it this year as soon as Castellanos heats up again.

Hurcomb: Had he not been sidelined by a rash of injuries, prospect Christian Yelich would have likely been roaming the Marlins' outfield by now and making significant contributions to your Fantasy lineup. Well, there's no sense crying over spilled milk and it's still highly recommended you stash Yelich (owned in 26 percent of leagues) in seasonal formats if you have playoff aspirations. Even if they don't deal Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins can still reconfigure their outfield alignment to find Yelich regular at-bats. After missing about a month with an abdominal strain, Yelich -- who is considered a top 15 prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America -- is back playing for Double-A Jacksonville. As long as he doesn't struggle, Yelich's MLB debut appears imminent.

Is Byron Buxton the clear No. 1 prospect going forward?

White: He is to Baseball America, which listed him ahead of Oscar Taveras and Miguel Sano in its midseason top 50. And I wholeheartedly agree. Buxton's tools were considered the best of any player in the 2012 draft. The question was whether he'd have the polish to match. The numbers speak for themselves as far as that goes. Not only was he batting .341 with eight homers, 14 doubles, 10 triples and 32 steals in 270 at-bats before his promotion to high Class A in late June, but he had 44 walks to go with only 56 strikeouts. Add plate discipline to the mix, and he's virtually without flaw. He's not the only minor-leaguer with a chance to emerge as a first-rounder in Fantasy someday, but of that group, he's the one with the best chance to take that next step into the realm of other-worldly Mike Trout types. Did I mention he's only 19?

Hurcomb: Don't get me wrong -- I'm a huge fan of Buxton. He's one of the best prospects in baseball and must-own long-term Fantasy keeper. Though, he's not No. 1 in my eyes just yet. What he is doing in the low minors is fantastic, but I want to see how he transitions to the high minors first before putting him atop my list. For that reason, I think Taveras and Diamondbacks starting pitcher Archie Bradley should rank above Buxton. Taveras was considered the top outfield prospect by many coming into the year and I don't think he deserves to lose that title because he's been hampered by injury in 2013. As for Bradley, he's improved his command and has future MLB ace written all over him.

Other than Mark Appel, which 2013 first-rounder has caught your eye?

White: Hunter Dozier may not have the most upside of any hitter in the 2013 draft, but so many publications have gone out of their way to say so that he's become something of a bargain in dynasty leagues. He's a product of the editorial standby "which pick was the biggest reach?" At eighth overall, he's the obvious answer, but it's not like the Royals found him on the street. He can hit a bit, boasting a better eye than most players at this stage of their careers and a 6-foot-4 frame that should help him develop power. And even if he's destined to move off shortstop, as every one of those publications pointed out, third base is still a relatively thin position in Fantasy. The best part is, at age 21, he might be only a year from reaching the big leagues. It doesn't change his upside, but a shorter timetable is easier to work with in dynasty leagues.

Hurcomb: Clint Frazier is the perfect example of why you never judge a book by its cover. At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, he's not the most imposing player, but this kid can rake. He clubbed 17 home runs and slugged .561 in 32 games as a senior in high school. He went on to win Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year honors, joining the likes of previous winners Dylan Bundy, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Upton and Zack Greinke. Frazier homered in his professional debut and has a .596 slugging percentage through his first 15 pro games. Given how well Buxton and Frazier have transitioned so quickly from high school to the pro ranks, they are changing the landscape of baseball and how high school hitters should be evaluated.

Which under-the-radar prospect are you snatching up in dynasty leagues?

White: Arismendy Alcantara hasn't gotten nearly the attention he deserves during what looks like a breakout season. Maybe people assume he's blocked in the Cubs organization by Starlin Castro, with the higher-profile Javier Baez also working his way up the ladder at shortstop, but none of those three is a defensive wiz. Chances are two of them will have to move off the position anyway, and the Cubs have seemingly begun preparing Alcantara for that possibility by playing him some at second base (which might be just as weak as shortstop by the time he's ready to contribute in Fantasy). Alcantara has always had great tools, but only when he made the big leap to Double-A this year did he begin to put it all together, batting .280 with 13 homers, 22 steals and an .829 OPS in 339 at-bats. Jimmy Rollins-type numbers might not be so far-fetched for him if he continues down this road.

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 7/17)
Player % change
1. Michael Pineda, SP, Yankees 61
2. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox 46
3. Dan Straily, SP, Athletics 43
4. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals 40
5. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 34
6. Tyler Skaggs, SP, Diamondbacks 34
7. Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals 32
8. Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners 31
9. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets 27
10. Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins 26

Hurcomb: Being part of a 24-team dynasty league means you spend hours researching prospects. In my research this preseason, I stumbled across Yankees starting pitcher prospect Rafael De Paula. Thankfully, he was hardly a blip on the radar, so I was able to snag the right-handed hurler and he has not disappointed. De Paula is shooting up prospect lists everywhere, checking in at No. 45 on Baseball America's midseason Top 50 list. De Paula has had a few bad starts since being promoted from low Class A Charleston to high Class A Tampa, but the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder has a live arm. He struck out 13.4 batters per nine innings in 13 starts with Charleston and is striking out 12.3 batters per nine innings in his career. He also is 14-6 with a 2.69 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. If he produces those numbers when he gets to the majors and you put him on a perennial winner like the Yankees, he could have Felix Hernandez or Kershaw-type potential. I'll take that any day.

Whose stock has dropped the most this season?

White: At age 21, Kaleb Cowart still has time to make good on his potential, but his performance at Double-A Arkansas doesn't inspire much confidence. He's been completely overmatched, striking out every third at-bat with a .221 batting average and .284 on-base percentage, and his five home runs in 330 at-bats suggest he's not the middle-of-the-order threat all the preseason rank lists made him out to be. It's possible the Angels simply moved him too fast. He didn't exactly flourish with a midseason promotion to high Class A last year, and that was in the most hitter-friendly league in the minors. But even if promoting him before his numbers have a chance to catch up is part of some brilliant new approach by the Angels, it's too much of a leap of faith for Fantasy owners, especially when the results just keep getting worse.

Hurcomb: There was a point in time when Cubs outfield prospect Brett Jackson was making a beeline for the majors and was a can't-miss prospect. Unfortunately, he's missed a lot at the plate and there's no telling when he might even make it back to the majors. Jackson got a small taste after a call-up in 2012, but he wasn't ready, as his .175 average and 59 strikeouts in 44 games would suggest. Jackson has really struggled since getting to Triple-A. In three seasons at the highest level in the minors, he's batting .257 with 299 strikeouts in 215 games. That's not a typo -- 299 strikeouts! He's been particularly bad in 2013, batting .223 with a .367 slugging percentage in 61 games. Few people will argue Albert Almora has surpassed Jackson as the Cubs' center fielder of the future, and with Jorge Soler in the system and 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant potentially making a Ryan Braun-esque move from third base to left field, Jackson's future with the Cubs is looking bleak.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Giants CF Angel Pagan scratched Monday due to knee issues
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:45 pm ET) Giants center fielder Angel Pagan was scratched from Monday's lineup against the Braves due to issues with his knees. Manager Bruce Bochy said Pagan's left knee is inflamed and his right one is sore.

Since July 1, Pagan is batting .265 with four doubles, six RBI, 12 runs, three walks, 21 strikeouts and two stolen bases in his last 24 games.


Pirates add 1B/OF Michael Morse to roster; OF Jaff Decker optioned
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(5:40 pm ET) The Pirates have added first baseman/outfielder Michael Morse to the active roster on Monday. Morse was acquired from the Dodgers in exchange for outfielder Jose Tabata just before Friday's trade deadline.

Morse was slashing a disappointing .213/.276/.313 with four home runs and 12 RBI in 53 games with the Marlins, before being dealt to Los Angeles in a three-team deal last week. 

To clear room on the 25-man roster, outfielder Jaff Decker was optioned to Triple-A Indianpolis, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune


Cubs call up Matt Szczur; DFA Clayton Richard
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5:40 pm ET) The Cubs promoted outfielder Matt Szczur from Triple-A on Monday, reports ESPNChicago.com. Szczur hit .211 with one home and eight RBI in 32 games earlier this season.

To make room for Szczur, the team designated pitcher Clayton Richard for assignment. Richard went 2-0 with a 4.29 ERA over three starts this season.


Counsell: Kyle Lohse scheduled to start Friday vs. Cardinals
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:39 pm ET) Brewers starting pitcher Kyle Lohse remains on track to start Friday against the Cardinals, manager Craig Counsell told reporters Monday. Counsell indicated Sunday that Lohse's spot in the rotation was in jeopardy following a third straight loss. 

The veteran right-hander has struggled all season, compiling a 5-13 record and 6.31 ERA through 22 starts. He is winless in his last five starts, going 0-4 with a 6.58 ERA in that span.


A's recall RP Arnold Leon from Triple-A; Dan Otero sent down
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(5:33 pm ET) The Athletics have recalled right-handed reliever Arnold Leon from Triple-A Nashville. Leon has made seven appearances for the A's across several trips between the big leagues and Triple-A. In those seven games, Leon owns a 3.72 ERA over 9 2/3 innings.

He is taking the roster spot of Dan Otero, who was optioned to Triple-A on Monday. Otero has pitched frequently over the last few weeks, throwing 8 1/3 innings over his last six appearances. So it appears Oakland is making a move to get a fresh arm in the bullpen.


Mariners 1B Logan Morrison remains sidelined Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5:28 pm ET) Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison was held out of Monday's lineup at Colorado, reports the Seattle Times. Morrison was replaced at first base by Jesus Montero, who will bat sixth.

Morrison is dealing with a thumb injury and has not started a game since last Wednesday. He is hitting .158 with one double and four RBI in his last 14 games (10 starts).


A's RF Josh Reddick (back) unable to start on Monday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(5:27 pm ET) Athletics right fielder Josh Reddick is indeed out of the starting lineup for Monday's game against the Orioles. Reddick was forced to exit Sunday's game in the fifth inning with lower back tightness. The injury is not considered serious at this point, but it will cost him at least on start.

Sam Fuld is getting the start in right field while Reddick recovers.


A's option OF Jake Smolinski to Triple-A on Monday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(5:24 pm ET) Athletics outfielder Jake Smolinski has been optioned to Triple-A Nashville. Smolinski, who was acquired as a waiver claim from the Rangers, was batting .320 (8 for 25) with two home runs and seven RBI over his first 11 games with Oakland.

His demotion clears a spot on the 25-man roster for Coco Crisp, who is returning from the disabled list on Monday.


Coco Crisp activated from DL, starting in LF on Monday for A's
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(5:21 pm ET) The Athletics activated outfielder Coco Crisp from the 15-day disabled list prior to Monday's game against the Orioles.

Crisp has been on the DL with a neck injury since around Memorial Day. He hasn't played a big-league game since May 19, and he has just two hits in 45 at-bats this season. However, he is in Monday's starting lineup, batting second and playing left field. 

In a corresponding move, Jake Smolinski was optioned to Triple-A to clear room on the 25-man roster.


Nationals OF Denard Span getting close to live batting practice
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:14 pm ET) Nationals outfielder Denard Span, who began baseball activities Saturday, could be close to taking live batting practice, manager Matt Williams said Monday.

“In the next couple of days we’ll get him out for a live BP session and then look for him to get some live BP later in the week," Williams said. "Then running the bases. That’s kind of of the final step. Depending on how he feels, we’ll progress to that. We’ll see."

Span, who is on the disabled list due to a back injury, will go on a rehab assignment before returning.

“Volume. It’s going to be volume, probably,” Williams said. “Limited in the cage is one thing, but getting out there and just reacting without having to think about it is key, too. But if he can go through multiple BP sessions and early work and regular defensive work that he does, then he should be fine to get out there and play somewhere.”


 
 
 
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