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Reality Check: What did you say?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Ah, the Internet.

Never has a medium allowed for commentary so immediate and unfiltered and real. Never has one granted so much authority to so many voices.

It's a jungle out there -- scary, sticky and hot. So hot that tempers flare at seemingly innocuous offenses such as an omitted comma or misused homophone. If you don't keep your wits about you, it will eat you alive.

With the oversaturation of commentary -- most of it corrective in tone -- some of the best can get lost in the shuffle, ending what could have been a compelling conversation before it even begins.

Somebody should really do something about that. This column is my half-hearted attempt.

I've compiled what I'm calling "user-generated discussion points" -- comments pulled directly from some of the most viewed player pages on CBSSports.com right now. What results is the kind of "discussion" you wouldn't have found in one of my now-defunct Dear Mr. Fantasy pieces. People knew they were being watched then. This is them in their natural element.

Just to give the column some semblance of organization, I've sorted the comments by where I found them. But rest assured, the conversation goes deeper than simple player evaluation, branching into strategy, philosophy and even self-realization.

Like I said, it's a jungle out there.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Mariners (40 percent ownership)

Since the time he arrived in the majors, Smoak has teased Fantasy owners with glimmers of potential amid mostly inadequate production, inviting a less-than-all-in mentality during what appears to be a breakout season.

To some, it's frustrating.

Hey CBS, thanks for the great advice here. If he's hot, something called Chris Cwik says I should add him. If he's cold, Senior Fantasy Writer (IALTO) Scott White says I should drop him. CBS Fantasy experts, please, just shut up and sit this one out. -- SteveBartman

Let it be known: Steve Bartman is an authority on knowing when to sit things out.

First of all, I'd like to confirm that Chris Cwik is a real person with real flesh and blood and a killer haircut. If he says you should add a player, he's reasoned it out as only we humans can and is baring his soul for no other purpose than to help his fellow man.

Which brings me to my role in this purported conspiracy: Humanity is finite. It can only operate within the present. I don't remember advising anyone to drop Smoak, but if it happened during that seven-game stretch in late July when he went 4 for 27, I'm fine with it. I was dropping him in a few leagues myself.

As much as I like him and believe in his upside, I can't deny he's an unproven player with a mostly discouraging track record at the deepest position in Fantasy. Like him or not, he's expendable, which means, at some point, he's likely to be -- and perhaps even should be -- expended.

I don't know about you, but at any given time in just about every league, I can come up with six or seven players I'd like to add off waivers. I want to make sure I wind up with the two or three that end up having staying power, and the best way to do that is to continually swap out the cold ones for the hot ones.

Now, with the way Smoak has performed since then, batting .361 with four homers in 10 games (giving him a .301 batting average and 10 home runs in 42 games since returning from an oblique injury), you could argue he's losing his expendability, and yes, I'd be less inclined to drop him now. But the bottom line is a certain percentage of the player pool deserves the on-again, off-again treatment for no other reason than to maximize roster space.

I've already gotten Smoak back in most of the leagues where I dropped him, which confirms that he simply wasn't worth protecting at the time I dropped him.

CBS Fantasy touts have a seriously misplaced obsession with this guy. They hype the crap out of him whenever he doesn't mess himself for a couple days. "THIS IS IT! HE'S ABOUT TO EMERGE!" Justin Smoak ain't winning anyone any Fantasy championships. -- PoundIt

At least this guy recognizes my continued praise of Smoak throughout my adding and dropping of him. I feel like I've been touting him to various degrees for all four years of his big-league career. But hey, his pedigree says he's worth it, and until he gets to be 28 or 29, he's still perfectly capable of fulfilling that pedigree.

Not every top prospect meets his upside within a year or two of reaching the majors. Some need a few years, much like ...

Chris Davis? You familiar with his work? That dude underperformed for years in the majors, and something finally clicked. -- J R Knox

Well, there you go. Granted, Davis is an extreme example because he hasn't just met his upside this year, but exceeded it. But the point is any player known to have a certain level of talent is just one small tweak -- whether to his approach, mentality or batting stance -- from tapping into it.

For every Chris Davis there are 10 examples of Ike Davis. -- PoundIt

Hey now, have you seen what Ike Davis has done since coming back from the minors? A .306 batting average and .903 OPS, with an astounding 29 walks in 32 games? Certain level of talent? Hello?

Smoak has shown scant evidence he's among the former, and if it does happen, it's likely to come about as a result of offseason adjustments, the kind you can't easily make in-season (like with Chris Davis). -- PoundIt (continued)

Well, some might argue Davis -- Chris, not Ike, though maybe Ike, too -- actually made his adjustments in-season. Over his final 36 games last season, he hit .326 with 15 homers and a 1.104 OPS. Likewise, Josh Donaldson became the player he is today in August of last year, and Jose Bautista became the player he is today in September 2009.

But even if offseason adjustments are more common, as you claim, part of why I'm buying into Smoak's breakthrough is that it's been going on all season. He's been at his best since returning from an oblique injury in mid-June, but in the 26 games before then, he hit .282 with three homers and a .402 on-base percentage. And looking at his season-long numbers, he has a higher on-base percentage than Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez and a higher OPS than Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer.

Yes, I'm a believer. He's taken a winding road there but has reached the point where he's a viable starter any given week. `

Danny Salazar, SP, Indians (71 percent ownership)

Held back by injuries for much of his minor-league career, Salazar wasn't on most top prospect lists coming into the season but looked like Jose Fernandez in his first two major-league starts, prompting a dash to the waiver wire for what appeared to be a two-start Fantasy Week 20 (Aug. 12-18).

But his first start was a wash -- he lasted only four innings -- and his next one is likely to be pushed back with Scott Kazmir reentering the rotation Sunday, leaving his owners high and dry.

Oh boy. Trusted this punk for his two starts, and this is my playoff week. -- tbird11763

Well, that's a typical sour-grapes response, calling one of the most exciting waiver claims of the season a "punk" just because he didn't do what you wanted him to do when you wanted him to do it.

I mean he didn't pitch THAT bad aside from the two home runs and some control issues in the fourth. My issue is that they pulled him after only 70 pitches. He could have turned it into a quality start. -- TheBriman1969

Yeah, he wasn't getting shellacked. Just a couple ill-timed homers did him in. So was his removal part of some vast conspiracy to hold him back or some clever plan to keep him around?

Well, I guess they're going to pull him out early when he has a bad start so they can extend the leash when he's going well, though I agree he could have gone at least another inning. -- SpeedyPotato

A good theory. Part of what made Salazar such an attractive pickup in Fantasy is that the Indians turned him loose for his first two starts, allowing him to throw six-plus innings despite his strict limitations in the minors. And the efficiency he showed, striking out seven on 89 pitches over six innings in the first start and 10 on 103 in 7 2/3 in the second, made it pretty easy to justify.

But with 110 2/3 innings between the majors and minors this season, he's already 3 1/3 over his previous career high, which means he may have only 30-35 innings left. If pulling him early when he doesn't have his best stuff allows him to make an extra start or two, it's probably worth it.

Until I find out he's just a five-inning pitcher the rest of the way, I'm still high on him in mixed leagues.

Junior Lake, SS/OF, Cubs (68 percent ownership)

I expected to find more unabashed praise of Lake on his player page given the kind of start he's had. For the most part, our users seem to be taking a reasonable approach to a player that, prior to this year, was a complete non-entity even in dynasty leagues. Which is where our discussion on minor-league numbers and what they say about a player begins.

There's no way he's legit. His minor-league numbers are very mediocre at best. -- Myshorts180

Yeah, there's no way anybody could actually hit better in the majors than in the minors. It's just not humanly possible. -- UA_Fumbler

I'll assume I'm not just imagining the sarcasm in UA_Fumbler's response, and if that's the case, he makes an important point. Too often, Fantasy owners fall into the trap of assessing a recent callup on his minor-league numbers, when really, they're just a half step up from spring training numbers in terms of significance.

I understand why it happens. You want something to go on, and minor-league numbers aren't nothing. But they've misled me often enough over the years that I try to treat them more like an important footnote than the end-all, be-all of player evaluation.

Many times players just don't have the same motivation playing with and against players that aren't -- or that they believe aren't -- as good as they are. -- gregsl41

That's one of the many theories for why so many players end up performing better in the majors than the minors. Also, certain pitchers get stuck in hitter's leagues, and certain hitters get stuck facing pitchers incapable of throwing them strikes. And then you have to account for the progression factor. Players should get better as they get older, just by the course of nature.

The minor leagues were even worse to Manny Machado than Lake. They weren't so kind to Hanley Ramirez and they had some people doubting Bryce Harper.

Of course, the difference between those three and Lake is pedigree. Smart people told us Machado, Ramirez and Harper would hit for power someday. Lake, not so much. Without the reassurance of a pedigree, minor-league track record becomes doubly important, particularly for a player just beginning his major-league career.

I'm shocked he doesn't steal more bases. As a matter of fact, he's not running at all. His minor-league numbers suggest he steals bags. -- jlotze

Yeah, but so did Andrelton Simmons'. Development takes priority over winning in the minors, so a player who can run almost assuredly will. But only the most successful get the same opportunity in the majors, where an out does far more harm than an extra base does good. Lake got thrown out in three of his first four attempts in the majors after succeeding in less than two-thirds of his attempts over his last two seasons in the minors. Apparently, the Cubs have decided the risk isn't worth the reward with him.

Junior Lake is not Wil Myers, Yasiel Puig or even Christian Yelich. But he IS better than most of the retreads in the free agent pool. -- ralphn3

Bingo. And that's why, for all my "hating" on Lake, I've made a point to add him in a few leagues myself, particularly the ones where I lost either Everth Cabrera or Jhonny Peralta to suspension.

The fact of the matter is he qualifies at shortstop and has shown he can hit home runs in the majors. His minor-league track record suggests he won't keep it up, but he wouldn't be the first player to step up his production at the highest level. Clearly, Theo Epstein and company see something in him or they wouldn't have promoted him to play full time.

I can make enough of an argument for him to add him on a nothing-to-lose sort of whim, but in all honesty, I don't have much confidence in him.

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Darin Ruf, 1B/OF, Phillies (40 percent ownership)

Ruf is the perfect followup to Junior Lake in a discussion about the relevance of minor-league numbers. Unlike Lake, he has them, which helps make up for his startling lack of pedigree.

So why are the Phillies, with all their offensive shortcomings, just now turning to him? A couple reasons ...

He only had a bad spring training, and that cost him his spot. His minor-league numbers are amazing! -- psharks

Well, they were last year, when he hit .317 with a .408 on-base percentage and minor-league-leading 38 home runs. At Triple-A this year, his numbers were underwhelming, but I can't help but think he was less than completely motivated after getting passed over in spring training. He hit for average at every other stop in the minors, compiling a .299 mark over five seasons.

Still, if he had hit like he was capable, the Phillies might have had an easier time overlooking his most notable shortcoming ...

Looks like most scouts say he's too fat and slow and just getting lucky when he gets a hit. I don't know. Sounds like Kent Hrbek! -- Jayrrock

And Mark Trumbo. And Michael Morse. And Evan Gattis. I'm telling you, the only phenotype that slips through the cracks more often than the hulking slugger is the gap-tastic second baseman, a la Matt Carpenter, Martin Prado and Jose Altuve.

The Phillies seem to be fully on board now, though. With Ryan Howard out, they could easily play Ruf at first base, his natural position, but they're willing to let him prove himself in right field for when Howard returns next year. Clearly, they want him in their lineup for the long haul.

I'm taking a flier on him for now, too, especially since he has outfield eligibility. I'm one of the ones who need more outfielders now that I have a guy on my bench who is suspended but undroppable because of keeper implications. -- URABandwagoner

Great point. Actually, I've been propping Ruf as a potential replacement for both Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz owners for weeks now. Obviously, he's not on their level and probably never will be, but he may be your only hope of replacing their power off the waiver wire at this stage of the season. To reiterate, he led all minor-leaguers with 38 homers last year.

I just came home from spending the weekend at Sands Bethlehem. When my dog saw me, all he said was "Ruf ... Ruf ... is back!" -- SteamGenius

Comments like this one make me seriously regret those few weeks last season when I pronounced his name "roof." So much wasted potential.

Andrew Albers, SP, Twins (13 percent ownership)

After he threw 8 1/3 shutout innings in a memorable major-league debut Aug. 6, Albers' player page had more than a few unique visitors. So I took the opportunity to say how I honestly feel about him, that he's "nothing special" in terms of Fantasy value. Naturally, he was even better next time out, allowing just two hits in a complete game shutout against the Indians Monday. The performance didn't exactly change my feelings about him, but it did create a greater need for me to defend myself and all I stand for.

Hahaha! Nothing special? This guy has been solid in the minors before and after his Tommy John surgery. Scott White just made himself look like a fool. -- engphotog21

And apparently, I'll do it again, because what I said about Albers after his first start still applies. He has no pedigree to speak of, which means the scouts have no confidence in him, and considering all the trouble the Twins have had finding just one adequate option for their starting rotation, the fact they're only now turning to Albers, already a finished product at age 27, shows they have no confidence in him either.

For a pitcher to survive as much contact as Albers gives up with his mid-80s fastball, his control has to be impeccable every time he takes the mound. That's a lot to ask of a pitcher who needed until age 27 to reach the majors.

There was no bashing in what Scott said. Simply his opinion on Albers' outlook rest of the year ... Fantasy analysis is a lot of speculation, and he brings up valid points. Whether accurate or not, only time will tell. -- TheBriman1969

Well, at least someone gets it.

Does Scott White really believe he can analyze talent? I have to think it's just a big joke he's playing to see who will believe what he says. You would be much better off doing your own research than listening to what the "analysts" here have to say. -- eto2ipi

No, I don't really believe I can analyze talent, at least not in the way you're thinking, but then again, I never claimed I could. In fact, at every possible opportunity, I've made a point to remind everyone that I'm not a scout. What I am is a knowledgeable baseball fan with a penchant for strategy games who can store away a crapload of information, recall it on the spot and communicate it in a way that's both coherent and interesting. That's my job. Nothing more, nothing less.

So what I lack in talent evaluation, I make up for in research, application and intuition. I'm a shortcut, basically, and if you'd like to supplement what I have to offer with something else, I fully encourage it.

When it comes to going out on limbs for players, I'd guess most analysts have about the same success rate over the course of time, which is why I make an effort to educate on the process behind the picks. If you use it to make your own picks that end up being even more successful than mine, that's a win as far as I'm concerned.

OK, calm down ... calm down. Yes, you looked at Albers all week. No, you didn't pick him. Now, what can we learn? Survey says ... trust yourself and not a writer! Yes! I'll go with that from now on. -- sbarko

Well ... some of both is ideal, but your point is well taken. It's your team and your fate. Ultimately, you have to answer to yourself, so ultimately, you should do what makes you most comfortable. When that means listening to me, fine. When that means trusting in yourself, fine. Neither approach is inherently wrong. In the end, I'm here to help, but if I ran your team for you, it would defeat the purpose of playing, wouldn't it?

And maybe this is one of those cases where you should trust in yourself, because if you looked hard at Albers last week, you'll look even harder at him now, and my response to that hasn't changed:

If you are HERE, you are desperate! -- qutjs1

"Here" being his player page, of course. So he's had two starts in a row where his command was so good that hitters could muster only weak contact off him. It happens from time to time for pitchers of his ilk. Joe Saunders had a nine-start stretch earlier this season in which he compiled a 2.37 ERA. Clearly, that didn't last. Of course, Albers has the allure of the unknown working for him, which makes him appear to be a safer bet than Saunders. Keep in mind, though, Scott Diamond -- another control-and-command lefty -- began his career in a similar way last year, with seven shutout innings in each of his first two starts.

And where is he now, huh? Where is he now?

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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