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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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