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Down on the Farm: Calling all prospects

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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September is often a forgotten month in Fantasy Baseball. Why you ask? Well, most owners are no longer in the hunt for a championship and interest starts to wane. Also, September brings the start of the football season, so many Fantasy players are more worried about starting Eli Manning than Matt Garza.

Though, paying attention in September does have its benefits, especially when it comes to September call-ups. When rosters expand Sept. 1, it provides teams with a chance to fill up on burgeoning prospects. That allows active Fantasy players to bolster their rosters with a promising bat or arm for the stretch run, and allows everyone to catch of glimpse of future stars.

Many players first burst onto the scene as September call-ups. Some of the more notable September debuts include:

Josh Beckett, SP, Marlins (2001): 2-2, 1.50 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 24 strikeouts (24 innings)
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals (2005): .397/.569/.988, 6 RBI, 10 2B (20 games)
Ian Kennedy, SP, Yankees (2007): 1-0, 1.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 15 strikeouts (19 innings)
• J.D. Drew, OF, Cardinals (1998): .417/.972/1.436, 1 3B, 3 2B, 5 HR, 13 RBI (14 games)

While all four of these players went on to be Fantasy relevant options, there are plenty cautionary tales as well. Two of the more notable names being Jeremy Reed and J.R. Towles.

Reed was ranked as high as No. 25 on Baseball America's top 100 list and had a stellar debut for the Mariners in September 2004. He hit .397 with a .466 slugging percentage and .935 OPS in 18 games. Sadly, Reed never was able to live up to his billing as a top prospect. He finished his eight-year career with a .252 average and .354 slugging percentage.

Towles has a similar story. Also a former Baseball America top 100 prospect, he hit .375 with a .575 slugging percentage and 1.007 OPS in 14 games for Houston after making his debut in September 2007. Towles never hit higher than .200 the following four seasons and never took hold of the starting job for the Astros.

We are now about a month away from September, so the latest bumper crop of elite prospects will be filling out MLB rosters shortly. Therefore, it's time to take a look at potential impact prospects in September and what the future might hold next spring.

Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox

Bogaerts is making a beeline for the majors. The 20-year-old shortstop prospect began the year at Double-A, but he was promoted to Triple-A in early June and appears on the verge of a major-league promotion. With Stephen Drew blocking his path this season at shortstop, Bogarets has started to work at third base for Pawtucket. With Jose Iglesias now with the Tigers, Bogaerts could join the Red Sox lineup prior to September, as long as he isn't a defensive liability at third base.

Early 2014 outlook: If Bogaerts proves he's ready to play in the majors, then the shortstop job will likely be his heading into 2014 since Drew is only in town on a one-year deal.

Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals

Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras has been hobbled by injury in 2013. If he was healthy, he'd likely already be in the majors. Taveras is having a slow recovery from a high ankle sprain, but the Cardinals will get him some at-bats in the minors before likely adding him to the roster in September. The Cardinals have a crowded outfield, but Taveras' presence could help spell veteran Carlos Beltran down the stretch, and Taveras has enough offensive potential to be an impact bat for the Cardinals' playoff push.

Early 2014 outlook: Taveras is likely to get a long look in spring training. If the team chooses to start him in the minors next year, it might not be long before he's promoted to the majors. If that happens, then he could be a similar draft-and-stash option like Bryce Harper and Wil Myers have been in recent years.

Archie Bradley, SP, Diamondbacks

It usually takes pitchers drafted out of high school a few years before they get their shot at the majors, but the new crop of talent is changing the game, i.e. Jose Fernandez, and Diamondbacks starting pitcher Archie Bradley might be the next young hurler to make the quick ascent. The 2011 first-round pick and 20-year-old hurler is dominating in the minors, and Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said he's not opposed to giving Bradley a look in September. Though, it could be as a reliever, similar to how David Price made his much-anticipated debut for Tampa Bay.

Early 2014 outlook: Bradley will probably be in the mix to win a rotation spot next spring, but with players like Randall Delgado and Tyler Skaggs in the system, Arizona could afford to start Bradley at Triple-A in 2014.

Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets

Likely a regular in the Mets' lineup by now had he not suffered a broken foot in April, d'Arnaud is back in action. He just returned to a rehab stint in the minors and isn't expected to be promoted until September. Though, if the Mets are out of contention in the final month, then don't be surprised if New York gives d'Arnaud a fair amount of starts to see if he's ready to take over as the primary catcher in 2014.

Early 2014 outlook: In all likelihood, the Mets' starting catcher gig is his to lose next spring, so d'Arnaud is going to be a popular Fantasy sleeper on Draft Day 2014. He's an elite offensive prospect at a thin Fantasy position.

Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 8/1)
Player % owned
1. Michael Pineda, SP, Yankees 53
2. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox 40
3. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals 39
4. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox 32
5. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 31
6. Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners 30
7. Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals 29
8. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets 28
9. Tyler Skaggs, SP, Diamondbacks 25
10. Josh Rutledge, 2B, Rockies 23

Plenty of Fantasy owners used a late-round flier on Reds outfield prospect Hamilton this spring, hoping he would get a chance to make an impact in 2013. Sadly, Hamilton didn't force the Reds' hand and is now shaping up to earn a bench role in September. Though, his primary role will likely be as a pinch runner. He has shortstop eligibility at the moment, but that clock is ticking fast. Once this season is over, he will be outfield-only.

Early 2014 outlook: If the Reds opt not to re-sign Shin-Soo Choo, then a spot in center field opens up for Hamilton. He's shown he can handle the defensive responsibilities, committing just five errors in 90 games since moving from shortstop. Fantasy owners are going to be fighting over Hamilton in drafts next spring because of his stolen-base potential.

Nick Castellanos, OF, Tigers

Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday outfield prospect Castellanos can play in the majors "right now," but he didn't indicate if he would be up this season. Unless they really aren't happy with Castellanos' development or feel the rookie won't be able to handle the pressure of a pennant race, then it's difficult to imagine Castellanos won't be a bench option in September.

Early 2014 outlook: Castellanos will likely be in competition for the starting left field job next spring with the likes of Andy Dirks and Matt Tuiasosopo. If it looks like Castellanos is emerging with the starting job, then his Draft Day value will rise quickly.

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Player News
D-Backs' Aaron Hill making strong impression early on in camp
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:46 pm ET) Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill has left a strong impression on chief baseball officer Tony La Russa through the early days of spring training, per MLB.com.

"He definitely is in the competition for playing time," La Russa said. "That's just front office talking, remember that, because [manager] Chip [Hale] makes out the lineup. I'm just echoing what Chip has seen. I'm sure he would say the same thing to you."


D-Backs might find a way to keep Jake Lamb on roster
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:40 pm ET) While the Diamondbacks are trying to see if Yasmany Tomas can develop into a starting third baseman at the major-league level, Jake Lamb is doing his best this spring to make sure the Diamondbacks don't forget about him, per MLB.com.

"He just looks great," Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa said. "I didn't see him last spring so I don't have anything to compare it to. I saw him at the end of the season, he could have been worn down. His talent is oozing. Believe me, at the point we're a contending club there is room for both of those guys [Tomas and Lamb] on the team. It's not that tough to figure out. They can't both play third base, but you could be creative. Get the best players on the field."


White Sox's Robertson won't see 'ton of opportunities' in Cactus League
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:38 pm ET) Because his role on the team is already defined, White Sox closer David Robertson is not expected to see "a ton of opportunities" during the Cactus League season, according to ESPN.

"Even talking to him, he doesn't need a lot of appearances to really be ready," manager Robin Ventura said. "I think more goes on what he does right now (in workouts before games). I know he's not going to sit there and have 20 appearances in spring training just to be ready. I would say 10, or less. Really it's up to him. He's been around long enough to understand what he needs to be ready."

Robertson signed four-year, $46 million deal with the White Sox this offseason, and is entering camp with high expectations. He converted 39 of 44 save opportunities in 2014 for the Yankees, registering a 3.08 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP over 64 1/3 innings of work.

"I really ease into spring training," Robertson said. "We've got 45 days here to get ready. If I can’t be ready in 45 days, there's something wrong. I look at it as a chance to get out here and slowly get yourself acclimated and get back to playing baseball. Obviously I've done things in the offseason to get my body to where it needs to be. It's just a matter of getting back on the field and getting in tune with everything."


Mariners catcher prospect John Hicks on the radar for MLB callup
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:35 pm ET) Mariners catcher John Hicks might not be on the radar as an elite prospect, but after posting a .288/.337/.419/.756 slash line through four minor-league seasons, he at least has the attention of the Mariners' decision makers.

“He’s a catcher who has the ability to do a lot of things,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, per The News Tribune. “His bat plays. He’s got a bright future. He’ll probably see significant playing time this spring.”

Hicks is expected to open the season at Triple-A Tacoma, but he could make his MLB debut in 2015.

“Listen, you’re on the 40-man roster,” McClendon said. “You’re on that roster for a reason. That’s to (the club to) protect you in case we have injuries. Then you move up.

“So, yeah, there’s a chance he could see time in the big leagues this year if there’s an injury.”


Twins P Ryan Pressly hoping to earn bullpen spot
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:25 pm ET) Relief pitcher Ryan Pressly was able to crack the Twins' roster in 2013 only to spend most of last season in the minors, thanks to three minor-league options he had left. 

This spring training, Pressly is looking to do enough to prove he deserves a spot on the Twins roster once camp is over. 

"We'll see how everything kind of plays out," Pressly said. "It's going to be interesting. You've got guys like [Michael] Tonkin and Lester [Oliveros] who are going to come out of the gates swinging. I just have to control what I can control. So, it's about who shows up and who has a good spring, and I'm hoping I have a good spring like I did in 2013."

With Triple-A Rochester, Pressly posted a 2.98 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. When he was called up to the Twins in July, he posted a 2.86 ERA in 25 games. 


Padres shortstop Alexi Amarista grateful to have starting job
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:21 pm ET) Padres shortstop Alexi Amarista is ready for the challenge of entering the season as a starter for the first time in his career, per MLB.com.

"I'm blessed that they gave me the opportunity and that gave me more confidence, being an everyday player," he said.

Monitoring Amarista's progress will be one thing Padres general manager A.J. Preller will watch closely this spring.

"I think, in general, we're really more anxious just to see how the spring training goes for the infield, in the middle of the infield, with Alexi and Clint Barmes, we're hoping we're covered," Preller said.


Twins C Josmil Pinto has eyes set on improving defensively
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:20 pm ET) Twins catcher Josmil Pinto struggled defensive last season. He was unable to throw out a base steals in all 20 attempts in 2014. Pinto, who is an early favorite to secure a backup spot behind Kurt Suzuki this season, told reporters he played Venezuela this offseason to get more reps and improve his skills defensively, according to MLB.com.

"That's the first reason I went to Venezuela," Pinto said. "I wanted to catch a couple games and improve my defense. It was the first year I played a complete season. So it was good.

"Improving my defense is the most important part to me making the team," Pinto said. "And I want to make the team."


Hernandez's absence could hurt chances of making Astros' rotation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:13 pm ET) Astros starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez, who is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation, has still not arrived for spring training due to visa issues.

While he is throwing bullpen sessions in the Dominican Republic, manager A.J. Hinch said Friday that Hernandez's absence could cost him a chance to earn a spot in the rotation.

"It's going to depend upon him showing up ready to go," Hinch said, per MLB.com. "He is a veteran guy, so I don't sense that he's going to come in unprepared. But once games start, we're starting to get a little bit behind."


Royals' Yost: We're going to give Raul Mondesi a 'good look' in camp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:11 pm ET) Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters he's going to give shortstop prospect Raul Mondesi a "good look" during spring training, per MLB.com.

"We are just here to give him a good look, let him play and get some experience and let him enjoy big league Spring Training," Yost said. "Everything jumps out. He's that kind of guy. He just stands out a little bit. He's going to be a special player."

Mondesi, the son of Raul Mondesi Sr. and the youngest player in camp at 19, is the top prospect in the organization, after signing for $2 million as an international free agent in 2011, according to MLB.com. He hit .211/.256/.354 over 435 at-bats in the Carolina League in 2014. He could be in line for a Double-A promotion in 2015.


Royals OF Alex Gordon says he feels great after hitting off tee
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:06 pm ET) Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, who had surgery on his right wrist in December, remains on track to be ready for the start of the season, according to MLB.com.

"We don't have a progression. It's just day by day," Gordon said. "After we swung it today, we talked about how we are going to approach it [Saturday], and I think that's how we are doing it right now. If it was during the season, obviously it would be pushing it forward a lot quicker, but we are just taking it slow and trying to be smart about it."

Gordon has taken the next step in his rehab after hitting off a tee Thursday and Friday.

"I had about 20 or 30 swings, and it felt great," Gordon said. "As long as it doesn't come back with any pain or suffering tonight, I'll probably have a little soft-toss. It's pretty exciting. Honestly, it is. That's not a joke.

"I turned it loose the last 10 swings [Friday], and it almost felt like the more I turned it loose, the better it got. That's a good sign that most of the discomfort, if there is any, comes from lack of swings and being stiff."


 
 
 
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