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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
Kyle Gibson lined up for Saturday start
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:35 pm ET) Ron Gardenhire is hopeful that Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson, who was scratched from his Wednesday start, can pitch Saturday instead. If not, another pitcher must be promoted, per Fox Sports.

Gibson is dealing with a stiff back.


Ryan Zimmerman unable to start Wednesday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:34 pm ET) Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was held out of the starting lineup Wednesday at Colorado after leaving Tuesday's game due to a strained right hamstring. Anthony Rendon moved over from second base to start in Zimmerman's absence at third base.

Wil Myers slowly working his way back
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:29 pm ET) Rays outfielder Wil Myers has begun some light throwing and hitting as he continues his recovery from a wrist injury that has prevented him from playing since May 30, per the Tampa Bay Times.

Myers is not expected back on the field until at least mid-August.


Chad Qualls: I want to remain with Astros
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:21 pm ET) Astros closer Chad Qualls might not remain a closer if he's traded before the deadline. That could be one reason he has expressed a desire to stay in Houston.

"I can't have any control over that," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I've been traded numerous times in my career. But you know, I signed here obviously to try to help this team win. And like I said from the beginning, if we could start to turn this organization around and start bringing winning ways to Houston, I thought that'd be pretty cool, and I always want to be a part of it."

Qualls went on to say that's why he signed a two-year deal with the Astros with a team option for another year and that he would like to retire with Houston. He has certainly done his part in helping the team improve this year by taking over the closer duties and nailing down 11 saves in 13 chances with a 1.78 ERA.


Ryan Hanigan takes step toward recovery
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:12 pm ET) Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan has resumed throwing as he ramps up his recovery from a left oblique injury that has landed him on the disabled list.

Hanigan is still more than a week away from eligibility to return to the lineup.


Report: Edwin Encarnacion might be back next week
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:08 pm ET) The Blue Jays believe slugger Edwin Encarnacion could return to the lineup as early as next week, according to Fox Sports.

Encarnacion has been sidelined since July 5 with a quad injury that landed him on the disabled list. He has accelerated his return by taking batting and fielding practice.


Jose Abreu back on field Wednesday for White Sox
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:02 pm ET) White Sox slugger Jose Abreu has recovered enough from a back ailment to return to the lineup Wednesday against Kansas City. He missed the game Tuesday night.

Abreu returns on a tear. He has hit safely in 30 of his last 31 games and has raised his average from .260 to .292 during that stretch. He leads the majors with 29 home runs.


Jeff Francoeur's promotion among Padres transactions
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:01 pm ET) The Padres are making some changes to their rosters throughout the organization, according to MLB.com. One of the bigger transactions will be promoting veteran outfielder Jeff Francoeur from Triple-A El Paso to the major-league roster.

Outfield prospect Rymer Liriano is being promoted from Double-A San Antonio to El Paso, and outfielder Alex Dickerson will be promoted from Class A Eugene to San Antonio.


Jordan Zimmermann's poor outing due to long layoff
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:52 am ET) Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann blamed his struggles during a five-inning no-decision Tuesday at Colorado on the long layoff between starts and not the biceps injury he had been recovering from. Due to the All-Star break, Zimmermann went 11 days between starts.

"My command was way off," Zimmermann said, per The Washington Post. "I’m hoping it’s because of the days off. I was just missing over the middle. I’d get two strikes, and I’d miss over the middle, and it seemed to be a double or a triple every time. It was a battle tonight. I seemed to have my hands full every inning. I had to work extremely hard. I’m glad we got the win.

"It wasn’t the bicep. The bicep felt great. I was a little rusty, but I made it through it just fine. I feel I’ll be a lot better next time."


Anthony Rizzo remains on roll with two-homer game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:49 am ET) A tremendous power display continued Tuesday night for Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who snagged the National League lead in home runs by adding two to his total.

Rizzo, who has 25 on the season, slugged solo blasts in the third and seventh innings. He has five home runs and six RBI in the last four games. He has also raised his batting average from .272 to .283 with 15 hits in his last 40 at-bats.


 
 
 
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