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Down on the Farm: The next big prospect

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's a foregone conclusion, really.

The Red Sox, a team in contention, traded their starting third baseman for pitching help at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, leaving light-hitting, bench-fodder type Brock Holt to man the hot corner. Holt has no business playing third base for a contender, particularly not one with so much up-and-coming talent on the left side of the infield. Therefore, an upgrade is coming.

And though to some, Will Middlebrooks may seem like the obvious choice, I've been gravitating toward something a little more flavor-of-the-week in my Fantasy leagues.

Xander Bogaerts. Well, why not? He's going to be up next year anyway. Stephen Drew is an impending free agent. Jose Iglesias is out of the picture. Clearly, the Red Sox have made all the arrangements necessary for their top prospect to take over at shortstop in 2014.

Wait, shortstop? I thought you said he'd be playing third base.

For now, silly. Drew hasn't left yet, and presumably, the Red Sox will want to give Middlebrooks another shot at some point. Just not now.

No?

Well, I don't think so. Believe it or not, Bogaerts has emerged as the safer bet to contribute in the short term. Middlebrooks arrived with guns blazing last year, hitting 15 homers in 267 at-bats, but like Jeff Francoeur and Angel Berroa before him, his swing-at-anything approach eventually caught up to him, leaving him with a sub-.200 batting average and a return trip to Triple-A Pawtucket. Judging by his .259 batting average at Pawtucket, he hasn't exactly turned over a new leaf there, which isn't too surprising considering his marked opposition to changing his approach.

"I'm not there to walk. I'm not there to take pitches," Middlebrooks told the Boston Herald on April 23. "If it's close, I'm going to try to hit into the lights. That's my job."

Remember that? As a Braves fan who's been down this road before with Francoeur, I surely do. Historically, the Red Sox have put a premium on on-base types, so at this point, with a division title on the line, I'm guessing they'd be more likely to trust Double-A third baseman Garin Cecchini, himself a legitimate prospect, than Middlebrooks.

Granted, Bogaerts hasn't exactly rewritten the record books at Pawtucket either, hitting a modest .275 with eight homers in 182 at-bats, but much like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, he has that prospect-of-all-prospects pedigree that renders all minor-league numbers moot. His time in the minors is nothing more than a tune-up for him. At least with 25 walks in his 182 at-bats, he's shown he knows to wait for his pitch.

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 8/8)
Player % owned
1. Tom Wilhelmsen, RP, Mariners 53
2. Tommy Milone, SP, Athletics 50
3. Michael Pineda, SP, Yankees 44
4. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox 41
5. Oscar Taveras, SP, Cardinals 40
6. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox 38
7. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 32
8. Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners 30
9. Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets 29
10. Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals 28

And his other numbers are good, just in an understated sort of way. They remind me of the ones Hanley Ramirez put up during his time in the Red Sox system, and clearly, he took to the majors right away, winning NL Rookie of the Year for the Marlins in 2006. As a hitter, that's who Bogaerts projects to be. He won't have the same speed as Ramirez, but he should have even more power. So why wouldn't he transition to the majors as effortlessly as Ramirez did?

For what it's worth -- and I'd think it's worth plenty -- the Red Sox apparently feel the same way. Back before the trade deadline, when Iglesias was still in the picture, manager John Farrell more or less assured the Boston Globe that Bogaerts would arrive soon -- "whether that's this week or next month," he said -- and not so coincidentally, the 20-year-old shifted from shortstop to third base at Triple-A about that time. He's gone back and forth since, but the Red Sox have acknowledged he's an option at third base.

For a proud franchise in the thick of a pennant race looking to make amends for a historic collapse two years ago and a last-place finish last year, that acknowledgement means something. This isn't the Mariners calling up Mike Zunino to see what he can do or the Marlins calling up Christian Yelich to sell a few tickets. Much like the Orioles with Machado last year, this is a team in position to lose too much to hold back what clearly belongs.

Bogaerts could be that missing piece for the Red Sox, and with Everth Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta just handed season-ending suspensions for their involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, he could be for your Fantasy team as well.

I wouldn't say I'm stashing him in all leagues -- some are just too shallow, with rosters too small -- but anywhere I need a shortstop or middle infielder, I'm confident I'll get more from him than Zack Cozart or Brandon Crawford the rest of the way.

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

If you ever wondered what position in Fantasy Baseball could be the equivalent to running backs in Fantasy Football, I would make the strong case for closers earning that distinction. Why? Because of the scarcity of elite options and the volatility that comes with the position.

Running backs and closers are often the most scouted and coveted players in Fantasy. Throughout the season, you will find running backs and closers near the top of most-viewed players list, and owners in deep leagues often clear bench spots to stash running backs and closers given how difficult it could be to grab one of them off waivers.

Don't think position players are the only prospects that create interest in Fantasy Baseball. If you recall this spring the buzz Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon generated based on the possibility of him emerging as Detroit's closer. Alas, Rondon couldn't take hold of the job, and Detroit was eventually forced to put setup man Joaquin Benoit in the role after a failed experiment with Jose Valverde.

Rondon still has future closer-in-waiting potential, and owners in long-term keeper leagues haven't forgotten. Though, stashing relievers isn't usually a popular strategy in keeper formats given the instability of the position. Let's face it -- there are more Derrick Turnbows, Tom Wilhelmsens and Manny Corpases of the world than there are Mariano Riveras, Jonathan Papelbons and Trevor Hoffmans.

Still, scouting future closers is never a bad idea. This week, we take a look at reliever prospects that match the Rondon profile ...

Mark Montgomery, RP, Yankees
Affiliate: Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre
2013 stats: 1-2, 2.92 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 45 strikeouts, 23 walks, 33 hits and three home runs allowed in 23 outings (37 innings)
It seems very likely David Robertson is the top in-house candidate to replace the legendary Mariano Rivera as the Yankees' closer in 2014, but even if Montgomery never gets his chance to vie for the job in New York that doesn't mean he should be ignored. Not when you have a career 2.07 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, while striking out 13.7 batters per nine innings. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said this spring Montgomery had a chance to emerge at the major-league level in 2013 after entering the year as one of the team's top pitching prospects. Unfortunately, command issues and a shoulder problem have slowed Montgomery this season, but the scouts rave about his slider as a plus-plus pitch, which is why the 22-year-old right-hander is viewed as a future closer candidate.

Vic Black, RP, Pirates
Affiliate:Triple-A Indianapolis
2013 stats: 1-2, 2.25 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 15 saves, 52 strikeouts, 13 walks, 20 hits and one home run allowed in 30 outings (36 innings)
Black recently got his first taste of the majors and while it was hardly an impressive debut, don't throw in the towel on the hard-throwing right-hander. After the 2009 supplemental first-round pick failed as a starter, he was converted to a reliever in 2011. Unfortunately, Black didn't hit his stride until 2012, when he led Eastern League relievers with a .189 opponents' batting average and 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Much like Montgomery, Black thrives because of his fastball-slider combo. He's been plagued by command issues in the past, but this season Black has posted a career-low 3.2 walks per nine innings, providing hope he still has room to improve the farther he gets away from his days as a starter. Even with erratic control, Black's mid-90s fastball and hard slider could play well as a late-inning reliever in the majors.

Corey Knebel, RP, Tigers
Affiliate: Class A West Michigan
2013 stats: 1-0, 0.95 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 10 saves, 24 strikeouts, seven walks, nine hits and zero home runs allowed in 19 outings (19 innings)
The Tigers drafted Knebel in the second round (39th overall) in June with the idea of making him a starter after a standout career as a closer at Texas. However, the Tigers are now rethinking Knebel's future after he has dominated as West Michigan's closer. The reason Detroit drafted Knebel as a starter is four-fold -- he has strong command of his fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. Usually, closers have two above-average pitches and might develop a third. You can't blame Detroit for not wanting to undervalue Knebel, but it seems the Tigers are starting to realize you might not want to mess with success. It wouldn't surprise me if the Tigers choose to stretch out Knebel next season. With Rondon already in the system, they can afford to tinker with Knebel. The move could backfire like it did with Boston reliever Daniel Bard, whose career has spiraled out of control after trying to transition as a starter, but the Tigers are pretty confident Knebel has the makeup to start.

Jake Barrett and Jimmie Sherfy, RP, Diamondbacks
Affiliates: Double-A Mobile (Barrett) and Class A Hillsboro (Sherfy)
2013 stats (Barrett -- Class A and Double-A):3-2, 1.49 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 23 saves, 44 strikeouts, 12 walks, 33 hits and four home runs allowed in 42 outings (42 1/3 innings)
2013 stats (Sherfy):0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, two saves, 11 strikeouts, no walks, three hits and zero home runs allowed in six outings (six innings)
The Diamondbacks' closer situation is temporarily at ease now that Brad Ziegler is bringing the reliability J.J. Putz and Heath Bell couldn't sustain. While Ziegler might be just a short-term fix for Arizona, the team's long-term outlook appears promising thanks to Barrett and Sherfy -- two players drafted since 2012.
Barrett was a third-round selection last year after moving from the rotation to the closer's role at Arizona State. Barrett appears destined to be a closer since his top two pitches are his mid-90s fastball and hard slider. The scouts also feel his big frame (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) and demeanor will play big as a late-innings reliever.
Sherfy slipped to the 10th round in this year's draft because of past command problems and his fastball didn't have much life at the start of the college season this year. However, the right-handed reliever could end up being a steal. Sherfy, who recorded 40 saves the last two seasons for Oregon, lowered his BB/9 rate from 4.99 to 3.15 this past college season and has yet to walk a batter in his pro career. Also, his fastball velocity is back in the mid-90s and scouts have also commented his slider is catching up to his fastball. Sherfy struck out 13.1 batters per nine innings in college and is already striking out 16.5 batters per nine innings as a pro. If Barrett and Sherfy continue on their current path, then the future looks bright for the Arizona bullpen.

Colby Suggs, RP, Marlins
Affiliate: Class A Jupiter
2013 stats (Rookie, low Class A, high Class A) 1-1, 3.06 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 24 strikeouts, 11 walks, 12 hits and zero home runs allowed in 15 outings (17 2/3 innings)
When Suggs was drafted in the second round in June's draft he had the prospects of moving quickly, and it's already coming to fruition since he's with his third team since turning pro. The scouts love Suggs' power arm. He has a fastball that reaches the high 90s and a power curveball. Unfortunately, Suggs continues to be plagued by command issues. After walking 5.96 batters per nine innings in three seasons at Arkansas, he's allowing 5.6 free passes per nine to begin his pro career. Suggs is a great strikeout pitcher, which has helped him overcome his command problems. While he had a high walk rate in college, he posted a 1.35 ERA in 65 appearances, working his way out of many jams. The Marlins have proven in 2013 they have no problems promoting young players, so Suggs might have a quick rise to the majors.

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
Tulowitzki testing surgically-repaired hip with simulated game action
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:24 pm ET) Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is testing surgically-repaired hip with extensive workouts at Salt River Fields in Arizona. Tulowitzki is creating game scenarios at the plate, on the field and on the bases to see how his hip responds, per MLB.com.

"I'm trying to put myself in game situations with all the things that I'm doing so that something doesn't sneak up on me that I haven't done before," Tulowitzki said Friday morning. "There are a lot of situations in a game that happen, and there are only so many days to work on those. I can't just throw them into one big session."


Rangers' Derek Holland to appear in a game soon
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:23 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Derek Holland is hoping to pitch in a game on March 14, according to the Dallas Morning News

Holland was scratched from an intrasquad game due to shoulder soreness, but is working his way back. Holland missed a fair chunk of last season due to a knee injury, but looked strong in his return. He's expected to open the season in the team's rotation.

The 28-year-old posted a 1.46 ERA over 37 innings last season. 


Cubs OF Junior Lake departs after second-base collision
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:20 pm ET) Cubs outfielder Junior Lake departed Friday's Cactus League contest against the Reds after an apparent collision at second base. Lake's head collided with Brandon Phillips of the Reds while advancing on a wild pitch in the fourth inning, per the Chicago Sun Times.

Lake left the game under his own power, and Albert Almora replaced him as a pinch-runner. His status, however, remains uncertain for Saturday's spring game against the Rangers.


Cardinals' Marco Gonzales goes two scoreless innings
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:19 pm ET) Cardinals pitcher Marco Gonzales tossed two scoreless innings in his spring debut on Friday.

Gonzales is competing for the fifth spot in the team's rotation, and needed a nice start to keep pace with Carlos Martinez. Gonzales allowed one hit and one walk over two innings during the appearance. He did not strike out any batters.

Gonzales, 23, posted a 4.15 ERA over 34 2/3 innings last season. 


Tigers P David Price debuts new curveball grip vs. Mets
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:09 pm ET) Tigers pitcher David Price showcased his new curveball in his spring debut Friday afternoon against the Mets, per MLive.com. Price revealed that A's starter Sonny Gray taught him the pitch while they were working together at Vanderbilt in the offseason.

"We worked on it quite a bit, and it feels good," Price said. "I feel like I can change speeds on it."

He tossed two innings without allowing a hit. Price, who walked only 38 batters last year, was a bit uncharacteristic in the second inning when he walked a batter and hit one before his outing was over.

"I just couldn't slow myself down that second inning," Price said. "I couldn't find my release point."


Blue Jays' Johan Santana throwing off flat ground
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:08 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Johan Santana is throwing off flat ground, according to MLB.com.

Santana is attempting a comeback this season, but dealt with some arm issues during the offseason. There's currently no timetable for Santana to throw off a mound. At this point, it seems unlikely Santana will be ready by opening day.

Manager John Gibbons said Santana will know when he's ready to go. "It's just kind of [depends on] how it feels," Gibbons said. "He'll let those guys know when he's ready."

Santana posted a 4.85 ERA over 117 innings in 2012. 


Tigers P Bruce Rondon had 'very positive' batting practice session
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5:06 pm ET) The Tigers were pleased with what they saw out of pitcher Bruce Rondon during his live batting practice session on Friday. 

Pitching coach Jeff Jones told manager Brad Ausmus that Rondon took a "very positive" step as he continues to come back from Tommy John surgery, according to the Detroit Free Press. This would mean that, barring any unforeseen setbacks, Rondon is still on schedule with his rehab.

Rondon did not play in 2014. In 2013, he posted a 3.45 ERA over 28 2/3 innings in 2013.  


Danny Salazar issues apology to family, teammates, Indians
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:53 pm ET) Indians pitcher Danny Salazar declined to talk about his offseason sexual assault investigation. Instead, he told reporters that he apologized to his family, teammates and the Indians' organization.

"I will talk about it, but at another time," Salazar said on Friday, per the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Salazar was investigated and had no charges filed against him in relation to a sexual assault investigation stemming from a January incident at a Cleveland club. Salazar is set to enter his third major league season. He posted a 4.25 ERA in 2014.


White Sox P Carlos Rodon makes spring debut
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:46 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon, the the third pick in the 2014 draft, made his spring debut Friday afternoon against the Padres. He struck out four in two shutout innings. Of his 31 pitches, 21 were called for a strike.

According to MLB.com, Rodon threw more in the bullpen following his debut.

"I didn't really expect anything, just try to go out there, pound the zone, fastball-slider and I felt good," Rodon said, per Comcast SportsNet Chicago.


Marlins' Koehler to work on breaking ball before next spring start
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:38 pm ET) Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler told reporters he was pretty impressed with his effort on Friday against the Red Sox. Koehler, who is slated to be the No. 5 starter in Miami's rotation, gave up four singles and one run in two innings of work.

"I had situations where I couldn't put guys away and kind of left the breaking ball up trying to do too much with it," Koehler said. "I'm happy I was able to get into the count to where I can put them away. I know by the end of spring those pitches have been there for me.

"That's a quality lineup and they're going to make you work and if you don’t execute those pitches every without banging any homers they can still put some (runs) on the board."

Koehler told reporters he will work on changeup before his next scheduled start.

"I threw a couple of changeups for a strike," Koehler said. "That was good. There's no doubt I need to go into my next side session and make sure I get a little crisper with my breaking stuff."


 
 
 
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