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Down on the Farm: New Cubs in the den

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's no secret why the Rangers wanted Matt Garza. Their rotation decimated by injuries, with no fewer than three pitchers recovering from one surgery or another, they felt like they needed another big arm to get them over the hump.

But for keeper-league owners, the Cubs' side of the deal is the more intriguing one, primarily because of Mike Olt.

Granted, he's not the prize he would have been if this deal had gone down a year ago. An ongoing vision problem has decimated his numbers at Triple-A, dropping his stock significantly. Still, of the Cubs' haul -- which includes Justin Grimm, C.J. Edwards and the ubiquitous "player to be named later" -- he's the closest to claiming a major-league job.

True, his numbers are bad, but at age 24, he really doesn't have anything left to learn in the minors. His promotion is just a matter of overcoming the eye issue, which he seems be on his way to doing with a .247 (40 for 162) batting average and 11 homers in 46 games since he began using special drops. However he turns out once it's completely behind him is more or less what he'll be.

And with Anthony Rizzo entrenched at first base, the only available position for him is third base.

Not that it's a problem. He's a plus defender and doesn't have anyone blocking him at the major-league level, unless you count the perpetually inconsequential Luis Valbuena. No, the issue in Fantasy isn't what happens to Olt with this move, but what happens to everyone else with him now part of the equation.

In short, third base was already earmarked for prospect overflow, with some of the Cubs' very best seemingly destined to wind up there.

The list begins with Kris Bryant, a big-time power hitter who the Cubs selected second overall in the most recent amateur draft. He played third base in college and has continued to man the position to start his professional career. Granted, most talent evaluators assumed he'd move to the outfield eventually, but the acquisition of Olt makes it a near certainty.

The more interesting case is Javier Baez, who has played shortstop to this point in the minors and reportedly has the range to stick there. But given his enormous power potential (which has earned him comparisons to Gary Sheffield, the gold standard for bat speed) and the fact the Cubs already had a long-term shortstop in Starlin Castro, third base seemed the more likely destination.

Apparently, not anymore.

Which, of course, raises the question of where Castro will wind up. As good as he is, he's no Baez, and he doesn't bring much to the table defensively. He's already eligible at shortstop for 2014 and likely will be for 2015 as well, but after that, who knows? Second base, maybe?

Of course, a move there would cut out Arismendy Alcantara, a personal favorite of mine who's been putting up Jimmy Rollins-like numbers at Double-A Tennessee. Though a shortstop by trade, he has begun learning second base -- again, presumably because of Baez.

Notice I didn't even mention Junior Lake, who's playing outfield now but who came up as a shortstop. He's off to a great start, obviously, but in terms of upside, he doesn't compare to the rest of the group. Whenever the Cubs open the floodgates and allow the big boys to pour through, I imagine he'll get pushed to the bench.

So basically, I have three major takeaways from the Cubs' side of the Garza deal:

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 7/25)
Player % owned
1. Michael Pineda, SP, Yankees 57
2. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox 43
3. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals 40
4. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 33
5. Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners 32
6. Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals 29
7. Josh Rutledge, 2B, Rockies 28
8. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets 28
9. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox 23
10. Danny Salazar, SP, Indians 22

1. Mike Olt will be up soon, and though he may not offer much in the way of batting average, his patient approach will give him the at-bats he needs to make good on his power potential. If you need home runs and have no hope of finding any on the waiver wire, he's a reasonable choice to stash.

2. Javier Baez is staying at shortstop, which is a best-case scenario for his keeper-league owners. The top power hitter in the minors manning the lightest-hitting position in the majors has the makings of Fantasy gold.

3. Starlin Castro isn't the Cubs' long-term answer at shortstop. He may be someone else's, but if he sticks with the Cubs, a position change is likely in his future. Considering his shortcomings as a hitter, a loss of shortstop eligibility would drastically alter his long-term outlook.

Granted, all of this is nothing more than speculation, but isn't that what prospecting is all about? The bottom line is the Cubs' acquisition of Olt narrows down the potential avenues for some of their other long-term assets, giving you a better idea how to evaluate them going forward.

Five on the Farm ... by Michael Hurcomb (@CBSHurc), CBSSports.com

It's getting exhausting following the Phillies' trade rumors. It seems every day Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. flip-flops between the Phillies being buyers or sellers by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He's as bad as a politician.

As of now, Amaro is in buying mode as the Phillies chase down the Braves for the NL East crown. But who knows, by the time this column is published, Amaro could be in selling mode again. If that happens, then look to veteran third baseman Michael Young to be one of the players Amaro moves seeing how he's a highly coveted, veteran right-handed bat.

If Young is moved by July 31, don't feel sorrow for Amaro or the Phillies. Why? Because the Phillies' farm system is spoiled with burgeoning third-base prospects.

You probably have heard about Triple-A infielder Cody Asche. I know you have heard about Double-A third baseman Maikel Franco because he's been featured a few times in this column and is a favorite long-term keeper of mine. But 2012 third-round pick Zach Green is breaking out at Class A Williamsport, giving the Phillies another option at an already deep position.

As much as I would like to see Franco be the guy promoted to the majors if Young is dealt, Asche would probably get the call. He's not having a bad year with a .288 average and .957 fielding percentage. In fact, he was the higher-rated prospect of the duo coming into the year, but not by much. Baseball America had Asche No. 7 and Franco No. 8 on the team's top 10 prospects list. But thanks to a monster year from Franco (.322/.577/.939 slash line between Class A and Double-A), he's leapfrogged Asche in the eyes of many pundits and will probably emerge as a top 100 prospect heading into 2014.

As for Green, he was committed to Oregon State before the Phillies drafted him last year. The scouting report on Green was he had the potential to develop power with added strength. It seems Green is starting to live up to expectations. He is slugging .529 as a 19-year-old in the New York-Penn League, which has caught the attention of the team's front office.

"He's a big strong kid and he has some thunder in his bat," director of player development Joe Jordan told The Philadelphia Inquirer in June. "He can leave the ballpark to a lot of different fields. His offense is ahead of his defense right now."

While Asche is probably the strongest defender of the trio, the scouts worry if he will develop enough power to profile as a regular third baseman. Fantasy owners should have the same concern seeing how he has a career .423 slugging percentage in 295 minor-league games.

If Asche gets the call to the majors in 2013, there's no need for Fantasy owners to dash to waivers to add him. Franco is still the best long-term keeper of the trio, but Green is a rising prospect who might garner more attention in the future.

Now, it's time for five more players making headlines in the minors ...

C.J. Edwards, SP, Cubs
Affiliate: Class A Daytona
2013 stats (Class A Hickory): 8-2, 1.83 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .186 opponents' batting average, 61 hits allowed, 34 walks and 122 strikeouts in 18 starts (93 1/3 innings)
If you hadn't heard of Edwards prior to being part of the Matt Garza deal, don't worry, guys drafted in the 48th round (2011) usually don't receive a lot of publicity. But he went so late because he didn't play in many "high-profile showcases," according to Baseball America. However, in two pro seasons, Edwards has outpitched his draft stock and he's no longer an unknown prospect. Not after going 13-5 with a 1.68 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 160 1/3 innings. Edwards is also allowing just 5.3 hits and is striking out 11.6 batters per nine innings. Edwards has already made great strides in his young career. He increased the velocity on his fastball from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, and his curveball and changeup have become quality offspeed pitches. What makes Edwards particularly intriguing as he is just 155 pounds and the scouts can't wait to see what type of pitcher he develops into when he adds bulk to his frame. While Edwards' climb from obscurity made him a key piece in the Garza deal, it still could be a few seasons before we see him in the majors. He's truly a long-term keeper.

Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates
Affiliate: Class A West Virginia
2013 stats: 7-2, 2.27 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .154 opponents' batting average, 46 hits allowed, 48 strikeouts and 11 walks in 19 starts (87 1/3 innings)
After drafting Glasnow in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, one Pirates official said the right-hander would be the team's top prospect by the end of 2013, according to Baseball America. Well, that team official deserves a raise because Glasnow could very well challenge Jameson Taillon as the Pirates' top pitching prospect heading into 2014. It's not like Glasnow didn't have a successful first pro season in 2012 (1.88 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 10.3 K/9), but he only threw 38 1/3 innings, so it was tough to gauge if those numbers would project as the 6-7 hurler progressed in his career. Fortunately for the Pirates, they have. Glasnow has not only kept pace with what he did last season, he's improved his hits (4.7) and strikeouts (12.6) per-nine-inning rates this season. Gerrit Cole moved quickly though the Pittsburgh farm system because of his college pedigree. But seeing how slowly the Pirates have moved Taillon through the minors since he was a high-school product, expect a similar path for the 19-year-old Glasnow.

Tony Sanchez, C, Pirates
Affiliate: Triple-A Indianapolis
2013 stats: .291/.368/.512/.880, 10 home runs, 26 doubles, 35 runs, 42 RBI, 58 strikeouts and 26 walks in 74 games
Sanchez climbed as high as No. 46 on Baseball America's top 100 prospects list in 2011 before his career spiraled out of control. He broke his jaw on two occasions and fell way down the prospect rankings after hitting a disappointing .241 in 2011 and .251 in 2012. Scouts began to doubt whether or not he would have enough offensive abilities to be a starting catcher in the majors. Therefore, Sanchez got to work in the offseason improving his approach at the plate and the result has been a notable resurgence for the former 2009 first-round pick (fourth overall). It's kind of funny, too. Sanchez was mostly lauded for his defense while many questioned his offensive potential as his pro career began. Now, he's being lauded for his offense and his defense is keeping him from a spot in the majors. General manager Neal Huntington said Sanchez has to work through his "throwing challenges" before he's up in the majors for good.

D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
Affiliate: Class A Clinton
2013 stats (Class A Everett): .312/.382/.532/.914, six doubles, six home runs, 20 runs, 27 RBI, 18 strikeouts and 13 walks in 29 games
Peterson is among a pool of players from the 2013 MLB draft class already making a significant impact in the minors less than two months after being drafted. Though, Peterson is arguably one of the most impressive since he has already earned a promotion from short-season Everett to low Class A Clinton. Peterson was the 12th overall pick in June's draft, and if you can believe it he wasn't the first third-base prospect drafted. He was third behind Kris Bryant (second overall) and Colin Moran (sixth). But that's hardly a knock against Peterson. It's just the crop of third baseman this season was as strong as the 2005 draft class that featured Alex Gordon (second), Ryan Zimmerman (fourth) and Ryan Braun (fifth). Peterson had an outstanding career at New Mexico, batting .381 with a .691 slugging percentage and 1.154 OPS in 177 games. The scouts feel Peterson can hit for power and a high average, and he's already proving that. Peterson has the ability to move quickly like Seattle's 2012 first-round pick, Mike Zunino, who is the team's everyday catcher a little more than a year after being drafted. However, if Peterson has to change positions, which some scouts believe is inevitable, then it could delay Peterson's arrival.

Max Stassi, C, Astros
Affiliate: Double-A Corpus Christi
2013 stats: .258/.327/.489/.817, 10 home runs, 14 doubles, 27 runs, 37 RBI, 47 strikeouts and 15 walks in 52 games
It would be interesting to see where Stassi might be had his career not been beset by injuries. Stassi has played more than 100 games just once since being drafted in the fourth round in 2009. His propensity for injury finally forced the A's to give up on the 22-year-old catcher and ship him to Houston in the offseason, where the start of his Astros career was delayed by a strained oblique in spring training. However, healthy once again, Stassi is making headlines in the minors. He homered in five straight games from July 15-21 and is slugging .489 in 52 games. Unfortunately, Stassi continues to hit for a poor average and strikes out a lot. Stassi is basically profiling as a catcher with pop, but will hit for a poor average. I'd say he's closer to John Buck than J.P. Arencibia, who has more power potential than Stassi, who might max out at 15-20 homers per season. Also, his path to the majors is now blocked by another injury-prone catcher -- Jason Castro -- so if Stassi stays with Houston, a backup role in the majors might be in his future.

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
Hinch: Astros 'likely' to use seven-man bullpen in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Astros manager A.J. Hinch indicated that the team is likely to use a seven-man bullpen this season, leaving two spots open for competition this spring, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"Likely," Hinch said of a seven-man bullpen. "There’s always a chance that (changes) depending on how the schedule plays out, and there’s always a debate on how many pitchers to carry during interleague. Now interleague is pretty much year round, so I mean, in a perfect world with our roster, it’s likely to carry a seven-man ‘pen. If we feel like we need an extra pitcher or injury happens, there’s different ways to shape our roster, then we will, but likely 12."

The two open spots will likely be filled by a left-handed pitcher and a long reliever. The competition for the second lefty in the pen likely comes down to Kevin Chapman and nonroster invitees Joe Thatcher and Darin Downs. The long relief role has a broader list of candidates, including Alex White and Asher Wojciechowski, who will prepare both as starters and relievers.

"We’re going to stretch out a lot of our guys," Hinch said. "Some of them are because they’re competing in that fifth starter spot, some of them are bullpen guys. Will Harris is going to throw multiple innings. Obviously (Sam) Deduno has been a starter in the past, he’s in a competition for the fifth man spot. Wojo, White, those guys are going to need to, going to plan for the season on both fronts, whether it’s a starter or reliever. But we’re preaching multiple innings. It’s important if you have a seven-man bullpen that you have a couple of guys that can get four, five, six outs if needed and be a bridge to the rest of the bullpen."


Rangers' Tolleson: 'I'd like to be that bridge' between starters, closers
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Shawn Tolleson told reporters he would like to become the link between the starting rotation and back-end relievers Tanner Scheppers and Neftali Feliz this season, according to the Dallas Morning News.

"I would like to be that bridge," Tolleson said.

Tolleson led the club with 71 2/3 innings of relief last season. He pitched more than one inning 20 times and held left-handed hitters to a .282 on-base percentage.

"He's got the skill set to be one of those that we use in the latter portions of the game," manager Jeff Banister said. "He seems to love the competition."


Nationals faced with tough decision regarding Michael Taylor
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:10 pm ET) The Nationals are faced with a tough decision when it comes to outfield prospect Michael Taylor, who appears to be on the cusp of being ready for a regular role at the major-league level.

A major issue is playing time since the Nationals have a starting outfield of Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Denard Span. Taylor would be a solid fourth outfielder, but having him coming off the bench is not ideal for his development.

“It’s the same age-old decision that must be made regarding guys that are just on the cusp of being big-league ready and everyday players,” manager Matt Williams said, per NatsInsider.com. “And a question of depth on your team, too. … It’s a question of depth on your team, it’s a question of how much playing time they’re really going to get, and are they better served staying in the minor leagues and getting those at-bats until their opportunity arises. But Mike’s close. He’s really close.”


Nationals' Aaron Barrett: 'I'm ready for a full season'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:06 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Aaron Barrett worked on strengthening his shoulder and legs in the offseason to improve his longevity throughout the entire season. Barrett admitted he wasn't used to a full major-league schedule, which contributed to him feeling "tired" in the middle of his rookie season.

"I'm ready for a full season," Barrett said. "Last year was a long season for me. It was my first year up. I had a lot of appearances, a lot of warm-ups and stuff like that. I think that is part of the process of coming up and working on that. I did as much training as I possibly could for this year."


Daniel Descalso brings versatility, playoff experience to Rockies
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:06 pm ET) Rockies infielder Daniel Descalso is ready to fill the role of versatile veteran who can play second base, third base or shortstop as needed, the Denver Post reports.

"I'll be ready for whatever comes my way," Descalso said Monday. "It's been a while since I've played just one position for any length of time, so I've worked hard to reach a comfort level at all three spots. I have an idea of what it takes to stay sharp."

Another factor that piqued the interest of the Rockies this offseason was his postseason experience, as he has played in 44 postseason games and won one championship.

"All of that factored in quite a bit," manager Walt Weiss said. "I think we sometimes underestimate the value of that — guys that have played in big games, pennant races, and have won a World Series. Those types of players are valuable, and that's a big reason why we brought Danny in here."

Descalso has made 110 starts at second base, 91 at third base and 88 at shortstop in his five-year career, seeing at least 100 appearances at all three poitions. He hit .242/.333/.311 in 161 at-bats last year with the Cardinals.


Francona: Jason Kipnis likely to make spring debut this weekend
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:02 pm ET) Indians manager Terry Francona said Tuesday second baseman Jason Kipnis (hand) will likely make his spring debut this weekend, per MLB.com.

Cubs' Kyle Hendricks targeting 200 innings in 2015
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:01 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who was awarded the No. 4 spot in the starting rotation, told MLB.com that he's targeting 200 innings in 2015.

"That's one of the biggest goals I have for myself is consistency, No. 1, but then eating up innings," Hendricks said. "That's something I pride myself on is staying in ballgames and giving my team a chance to win. I think with the number I threw last year, 200 shouldn't be out of the question for me."

Hendricks put together a solid rookie campaign in 2014, registering a 2.46 ERA and 47:15 K:BB ratio over 80 1/3 innings with the Cubs. Overall, he totaled 183 innings between his time at Triple-A and the majors.


Francona: Indians' Raburn (knee) to make spring debut Wednesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) Indians manager Terry Francona said outfielder Ryan Raburn will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Reds, per MLB.com. Raburn underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee in mid-September.

Royals RP Ryan Madson (back) expects to play catch Tuesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:52 am ET) Royals reliever Ryan Madson, who injured his back doing squats over the weekend, expects to play catch Tuesday after being scratched from throwing Monday, per The Kansas City Star.

Nationals' Ian Stewart: I feel confident again in the batter's box
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:47 am ET) Ian Stewart is in camp with the Nationals this spring looking to land a spot on the team's bench. Stewart has a lot to prove since his career has been in decline since a 25-homer campaign in 2009 with the Rockies.

Stewart said his offensive struggles had a lot to do with wrist and hand injuries he sustained the last few years, per The Washington Post. He also feels the changes he made to his swing and hitting style to please other organizations also didn't help. 

However, he appears confident going back to his old routine will suit him well this spring.

“This offseason, I just tried to get back to my old ways of hitting and ways of working out in the past,” he said. “Really, just trying to be as comfortable as I can in the box. I’ve gotten into my own head a lot the last few years. Just struggling and letting that affect different parts of my game. … I’m at a point where I’m completely comfortable in the box. I feel like my head is clear because I really felt so good hitting this winter that I feel confident again in the box. I’m comfortable, I’m loose, I’m not in my own head.”


 
 
 
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