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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
Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts (forearm) avoids fracture
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:19 pm ET) X-rays have confirmed that Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts did not suffer a fractured forearm on Thursday, the Boston Globe reports.

Bogaerts was hit by a pitch in the second inning of Thursday's win over the Rangers but initially stayed in the game before being replaced by a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning. With his X-rays coming back negative, the shortstop is day-to-day with the injury.


Red Sox's Hanley Ramirez slugs 11th homer Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:00 pm ET) Red Sox left fielder Hanley Ramirez went 2 for 4 with a walk, a double and a solo home run in his team's 5-1 win over the Rangers on Thursday.

Ramirez, who was serving as the team's designated hitter on Thursday, was able to extend his team's lead to 2-0 with his sixth-inning home run, his first of May after smacking 10 of them in April. He has hit .257/.311/.479 with 11 home runs and 24 RBI in 167 at-bats.


Red Sox's Eduardo Rodriguez tosses gem in major-league debut
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:57 pm ET) Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez earned the win in his major-league debut on Thursday, giving up just three hits and two walks in 7 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out seven in his team's 5-1 victory over the Rangers.

Rodriguez (1-0) was dominant in the outing, needing just 90 pitches to get through seven innings. He was removed with two on in the eighth, but the bullpen was able to snuff out the potential rally, letting the rookie finish his debut with no runs to his credit.

Rodriguez was brought up to make a spot start for the team, but with the Red Sox rotation struggling through most of the year, his excellent performance on Thursday will certainly cause management to think long and hard about keeping him in the rotation.


Rangers' Nick Martinez allows two runs in loss vs. Red Sox
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:56 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Nick Martinez was stuck with a loss on Thursday, giving up two earned runs on nine hits and two walks in seven innings while striking out five in his team's 5-1 defeat against the Red Sox.

Martinez (4-1) did a fine job limiting the damage in Thursday's start while throwing a career-high 112 pitches, but he surrendered an RBI single in the fifth inning to fall behind and added to his deficit with a solo homer in the sixth. The starter has yet to give up more than three earned runs in an outing after winning a rotation spot in the spring.

Martinez owns a 2.03 ERA and 35:19 K:BB ratio in 62 innings. He's slated to face the White Sox at home on Wednesday.


Report: Brewers to call on pitcher Tyler Wagner for Saturday's start
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:53 pm ET) The Brewers will promote pitcher Tyler Wagner from the minor leagues so he can start Saturday's game at Minnesota, sources told Fox Sports.

Wagner has never pitched in the big leagues. He is 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA at Double-A this season.


Padres SP Brandon Morrow said he feels good after simulated game
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:18 pm ET) Padres pitcher Brandon Morrow threw 45 pitches during a simulated game Thursday and he said the outing went well, reports MLB.com.

"It felt good,'' Morrow said. "It's all been positive."

Morrow tossed three 15-pitch innings during the simulated game and manager Bud Black was pleased with what he saw from Morrow.

"I thought he did well," Black said."I thought his stuff, in a situation like this, was really good. His fastball had some good life to it and his secondary pitches had sharpness, his changeup was good."

Morrow is on the 15-day DL with right shoulder inflammation, but he said the shoulder is feeling good.

"This is the best [my shoulder] has felt all year,'' Morrow said.

If he does not suffer any setbacks over the weekend, Morrow could begin pitching in rehabilitation games next week.


Brewers C Jonathan Lucroy collects one hit in rehab assignment game
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:12 pm ET) Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy went 1 for 3 at the plate during a rehab assignment game Thursday with the team's Class A affiliate.

Lucroy is on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured big toe. He has not played since April 20. He is expected to play three more rehab games before returning to the team.


Pirates OF Gregory Polanco trying to gain consistency
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:59 pm ET) With Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco hitting just .242 with one home run in 2015, Polanco said he's trying to find consistency in his game in the hopes of producing more at the plate, reports MLB.com.

"That's where my focus is right now," Polanco said. "Just trying to be me and do what I can do and not try to do too much."

Polanco is in his full season in the big leagues and general manager Neal Huntington said Polanco needs to rely more on his natural ability.

"Our [coaches] are working hard to get him back to just trusting his abilities, because he has the ability to play up here," Huntington said.

Polanco has particular trouble with left-handed pitching. He is hitting .173 against southpaws, but he plans to overcome his struggles.

"I know I'm going to be as I've always been. In the Minor Leagues, I hit the good lefties," Polanco said. "I'm going to get it. I just have to keep working at it every day and trust what I'm working on."


Rangers' Ryan Rua takes BP, works in outfield
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:45 pm ET) Rangers outfielder Ryan Rua took batting practice and worked in the outfield on Thursday for the first time since suffering a broken ankle on April 11, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Rua had no problems with Thursday's work. He's targeting a return from the 60-day disabled list in June.


Pirates SP Jameson Taillon dealing with cut on heel
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:44 pm ET) Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon sustained a cut on his left heel, which altered his running and pitching schedule, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Taillon was able to continue to throw after suffering the cut. He is trying to recover from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent in April 2014.


 
 
 
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