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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 And those that have graduated to the majors have since been replaced by a new class of draft picks.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
Reds' Price: Votto's absence from lineup shouldn't last too long
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:34 am ET) Reds manager Bryan Price reiterated Tuesday first baseman Joey Votto's absence from the spring lineup shouldn't be a lengthy one, per the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Votto, who will not play in Tuesday's spring opener against the Indians, is behind other players in drills, including lateral movement and sliding.

"I don't anticipate it being in the middle of the schedule, it's really hard for me to say an exact date," Price said. "It really comes down to getting enough reps to where we're comfortable enough to put him out there and letting him play. It's not like we're going to see a huge separation between him and the rest of the guys."

Price added the team is just being cautious with Votto, who missed 100 games last season with a left knee injury.

"He's come this far, he's put in all the work to do this," Price said. "It just didn't make sense between the medical staff and myself until he gets as many ground balls and the opportunity to slide and cut and do all the drills and do all the things he wasn't able to do before he got to spring training."


McClendon: Mariners' Paxton feeling good after playing catch Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:23 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said Tuesday starting pitcher James Paxton (forearm) felt great after playing catch Monday, per The Seattle Times. Paxton will long toss Tuesday.

Josh Johnson scheduled to throw to catcher on flat ground next week
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:19 am ET) Padres starting pitcher Josh Johnson (elbow) said he is scheduled to throw to a catcher on flat ground next week, per U-T San Diego. He will long toss from 240 feet this week.

Rangers' Andrus feeling better, but unlikely to play in spring opener
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said his left knee felt better Tuesday, but he is unlikely to play in Wednesday's spring opener against the Royals, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Andrus added the injury is not considered serious.

Blue Jays' Santana slated to start throwing program Tuesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:13 am ET) Blue Jays starting pitcher Johan Santana is slated to start a throwing program Tuesday, as he is scheduled to play catch, according to the National Post

Santana, who suffered a torn Achilles in June, was shut down in January after having some shoulder discomfort while pitching in the Venezuelan winter league.


Marlins delay Giancarlo Stanton's spring debut until Thursday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:07 am ET) The Marlins opted to push back outfielder Giancarlo Stanton's spring debut to Thursday. Stanton, who hasn't played since getting hit in the face in September, was originally scheduled to face the University of Miami in an exhibition game Tuesday.

"It just made more sense -- he can get more at-bats on the backfield," manager Mike Redmond said, per The Miami Herald. "We have simulated games going on back there. So, it just made more sense for him instead of going over there for one at-bat, keep him back here and he can get more at-bats and more work done back here and then he'll be ready to roll for Thursday."


Reports: Mets eyeing third game of season for Matt Harvey's debut
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:52 am ET) It appears the Mets are leaning toward having starting pitcher Matt Harvey, who has not pitched in a regular season game since Aug. 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, make his season debut in the third game at Washington, several team sources told the New York Post.

The Mets are targeting the third game on the road, as opposed to the season and home openers, because they don't want Harvey to feel added pressure given the circumstances, particularly if he makes his first start in front of an exhilarated home crowd.

"All that has been discussed,’’ one source said.

“Things can change, but that schedule makes sense,’’ another source said.

Harvey seems fine with whatever the Mets have in store.

“Anything they want to do is good,’’ Harvey said.


Phillies' Harang opts to skip spring debut Wednesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:41 am ET) Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Harang was scratched from his spring debut Wednesday against the Yankees.

Although Harang had an ice pack on his lower back Tuesday, according to The News Journal, he told reporters he will miss Wednesday's start because he needs to work on his mechanics and is not ready to pitch in a game. Harang added he does intend to be ready the next time his turn in the rotation comes up. 

Harang dodged questions about his back issues, but he did mention he went to see a chiropractor a few days ago to get his back realigned.

Kevin Slowey will start in Harang's place Wednesday.


Nationals' Yunel Escobar returns after dealing with fever Monday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:35 am ET) Nationals second baseman Yunel Escobar was back practicing Tuesday after missing on-field workouts Monday due to a fever, according to The Washington Post. Escobar said he was feeling better Tuesday.

Pirates' Cumpton to meet with Dr. Andrews concerning elbow issue
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:31 am ET) Pirates pitcher Brandon Cumpton is slated to meet with Dr. James Andrews on Monday after feeling discomfort in his elbow, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Cumpton first noticed an issue when he was throwing live batting practice last week.

 
 
 
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