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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
Astros SP Scott Feldman looks average in Double-A rehab start
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:35 am ET) Astros starting pitcher Scott Feldman didn't look overly impressive during a rehab start for Double-A Cospus Christi on Sunday.

Feldman allowed three runs, two of them earned, on four hits in three innings of work. He walked three batters, but did manage to strike out another three.

Feldman has been on the 15-day disabled list since late May because of a knee injury.


Yankees RP Andrew Miller could return after one rehab game
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:28 am ET) Yankees relief pitcher Andrew Miller might be able to return to the club after just one rehab appearance, per the New York Post.

Miller will pitch for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Monday, and could possibly come off the 15-day disabled list and rejoin the team after that.

“We will see where he is at. The thing is we don’t have to build him up [like a starter.] We have him throwing 25 pitches [Monday],’’ manager Joe Girardi said. “We will see how he feels. If he feels good we have to make a decision.’’


Mets manager Terry Collins reacts to Matt Harvey's complaints
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:12 am ET) After a 4-3 loss on Sunday, Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey put some of the blame over his recent struggles on the team's six-man rotation. On Sunday, manager Terry Collins fired back and told Harvey to get over it, per MLB.com.

Collins ultimately said that Harvey and the other pitchers need to "get over it"

"They've got to," Collins said. "Matt knows that. I know he's frustrated by it, and he and I have talked about it. But you've got to come up and be creative between starts. I certainly understand it. I certainly do understand it. He's a tremendous competitor and he wants to be out there as much as he can on a regular basis. I guess the easiest way for me to say it is, 'Matt, we'll go back to a five-man, but I hope you enjoy watching the rest of the season sitting on the bench in September when we need you.' So we've got to make the adjustment."


Rays OF Steven Souza gets stitches on hand after HBP
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7/5/2015) Rays outfielder Steven Souza had to get stitches on on the pinky of his right hand after being hit by a pitch during Sunday's game against the Yankees.

Souza remained in the game temporarily after being hit. He ran the bases and scored a run but didn't return to the game after that. He isn't sure how much time he will miss because of the injury.

"Right now it's just day to day," Souza said.

Souza received x-rays on the finger, which came up negative. He will undergo more tests on Monday.

"It was a really deep cut, it was deeper than the doctor thought it was when he opened it up," Souza said. "We don't know what's in there. We're going to see a specialist in Kansas City.

"It's just my pinky. A giant laceration that runs up my pinky. I can't really bend it too well now. I'm hoping I wake up tomorrow and it feels little better. But I don't have much feeling in my pinky right now, which is kind of a worry for us. So we'll go from there."


Mariners 2B Robinson Cano hit by pitch, should be OK
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7/5/2015) Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano says he should be OK after being hit by a pitch on the ankle during Sunday's game against the Athletics, per Mynorthwest.com.

Cano has a slash line of .248/.289/.363 this season with five home runs and 27 RBI.


Marlins recall 2B Jordany Valdespin from Triple-A
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7/5/2015) The Marlins have recalled second baseman Jordany Valdespin from Triple-A New Orleans on Sunday.

The Marlins called up Valdespin in a corresponding move after they optioned outfielder Marcell Ozuna earlier Sunday.


Giants SS Brandon Crawford slugs 12th home run of season
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7/5/2015) Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford was the lone offensive bright spot for his team during a 3-1 loss to the Nationals on Sunday.

Crawford went 1 for 4 with a solo home run, his 12th of the season.

Crawford is hitting just .228 over his last 10 games, but he does have eight hits, three home runs and seven RBI.


Nationals RF Bryce Harper enjoys multi-hit game in win
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7/5/2015) Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper went 2 for 3 with a double and a run scored in Sunday's win over the Giants.

Harper is hitting .414 with 12 hits, six doubles, a home runs and three RBI over his last seven games.


Nationals C Wilson Ramos homers, records two RBI in win
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7/5/2015) Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos went 2 for 3 with a home run and two RBI in Sunday's win over the Giants.

Ramos hit a solo shot, his eighth of the season, in the sixth inning. He followed that up with a single in the eighth inning that scored another run.

Over his last three games, Ramos is hitting .426 with five hits, a home run and three RBI.


Nationals closer Drew Storen notches 25th save of season
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(7/5/2015) Nationals closer Drew Storen shut the door on the Giants on Sunday and recorded his 25th save of the season while doing do.

Storen needed just 15 pitches to close out the ninth inning of a 3-1 win over San Francisco. He is second in the National league with 25 saves.

Storen (1-0) has a 1.97 ERA with 37 strikeouts and seven walks in 32 innings of relief this season.


 
 
 
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