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Down on the Farm: Springing to action

Senior Fantasy Writer
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So Xander Bogaerts and Kolten Wong are both in the majors, but neither is playing every day. Swell.

Granted, I think both have a chance to play their way into regular at-bats, but in the meantime, Fantasy owners can either devote a precious bench spot to them or leave them to somebody else. Neither is anybody's idea of a good time.

And neither was anybody's hope for this time of year. Sept. 1 is just around the corner. Roster expansion, man. Is there anybody left who can save your season?

Maybe one. Maybe. No announcements have been made, but judging by how well he's performed in the minors, how close he is to the majors, how easily he could slide into the starting lineup and how much he could invigorate a frustrated fan base, George Springer has a chance for everyday at-bats with the Astros.

When exactly "down the stretch" will begin is anybody's guess. The one hint the Astros have given is that Springer will finish out the minor-league season, which ends Sept. 2. But then, what about the playoffs, which is where the Oklahoma City RedHawks are headed? What if the Astros' Triple-A affiliate goes so deep that the opportunity to get his feet wet passes Springer by? On the other hand, what if the Astros are just trying to shoo away reporters with no promises of tomorrow and actually plan to call him up this weekend? That's basically what they did with Jarred Cosart, right?

Clearly, I'm operating on nothing more than inferences and intuition here, so you can take it or leave it. But if I know my Fantasy team isn't quite good enough in its current state and I'm staring at a waiver wire of uninspiring types like Josh Reddick, Raul Ibanez and Nate Schierholtz, I'm making a play for Springer just in case "down the stretch" ends up being sooner than later.

Because if it does, I suddenly have first claim to a player who, with 36 home runs and 39 steals, has a chance to become the minor leagues' first ever 40-40 man, at least in modern history; a player who, with every step up the minor-league ladder, has only improved his production; a player who, with only the ever-illustrious Brandon Barnes standing in his way, will get every opportunity to thrive when his time comes.

And even if his strikeout rate (up from one every 2.84 at-bats to one every 3.27 since his move to Triple-A) is some cause for concern, what's the alternative? What other September call-up has any hope of making the impact Springer could? Most of the big-name prospects within shouting distance of the majors have already gotten the call, and some of the more recent ones that you still have a chance of adding off waivers, like Bogaerts and Wong, might not get the at-bats to make a relevant Fantasy contribution. Travis d'Arnaud will, but he's a catcher. Catcher isn't the deepest position, but because nobody starts a catcher at utility (or at least no one should), most leagues have enough to go around. As good as d'Arnaud is, chances are he's not toppling Jason Castro just yet.

Most Owned Minor Leaguers (as of 8/22)
Player % owned
1. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals 37
2. Michael Pineda, SP, Yankees 37
3. Tom Wilhelmsen, RP, Mariners 36
4. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds 32
5. Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners 30
6. Tyler Skaggs, SP, Diamondbacks 22
7. Nick Castellanos, OF, Tigers 21
8. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins 21
9. Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins 20
10. George Springer, OF, Astros 19

I'm not saying no September call-up but Springer will contribute down stretch. Maybe Billy Hamilton comes up and steals 10 bases as a pinch-runner extraordinaire for the Reds. But his bat isn't ready, and the Reds don't have room for him in their lineup. Maybe Taijuan Walker comes up and begins his audition for a spot in the Mariners rotation next spring. But considering he has already exceeded his previous career high in innings, he's a long shot to make more than a start or two. Maybe Andrew Lambo comes back up to give the Pirates a left-handed power bat off the bench. But the key phrase there is "off the bench." They don't seem inclined to pull the plug on Jose Tabata anytime soon.

You know that player you thought you were getting in Matt Kemp at the start of the season? That's who Springer has a chance to be. Maybe not right away -- even Kemp needed a couple years to get there -- but, then again, maybe. Wil Myers is the perfect example of just how quickly a top prospect, even one with strikeout concerns, can find his footing in the majors.

But Myers' ownership rate never dropped below 71 percent this season, which means his owner paid the price for his production. Springer's ownership rate is still only 19 percent.

A nothing investment with the potential to put my sorry excuse of a team over the top? I'll make way for that.

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

The Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals haven't had much in common in the last decade. The Mariners haven't been to the playoffs since losing to the Yankees in the 2001 ALCS, often sitting in the cellar in the AL West. The Cardinals, however, continue to be perennial contenders, making the playoffs nine times since 2000 -- winning the World Series twice.

Though, next spring the two teams will have some common ground as both franchises will have difficult decisions to make when it comes to young pitching talent. Expect Seattle pitching prospects Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton to compete for rotation spots in the spring, while the Cardinals' Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez will be doing the same in the Grapefruit League.

The only Mariners starting pitchers guaranteed rotation spots heading into next season are ace Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Therefore, barring major offseason acquisitions, the headline of Mariners camp will likely be the battle for the final three spots in the rotation. Scouts, analysts and fans will all flock to Arizona to get a look at Walker, Hultzen and Paxton -- who all entered the 2013 season as top 100 prospects by Baseball America and MLB.com.

Walker, who began the year in Double-A, had the best 2013 campaign of the three, but Hultzen would likely already be in the majors had shoulder problems not set him back this year. If healthy, Hultzen would have to have a disastrous spring to miss out on a rotation spot. The same could probably be said for Walker, who could get a taste of the majors in September. Paxton has taken a step back in 2013, going 7-10 with a 4.26 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in the hitter-friendly PCL, but he's been a top 100 prospect for two straight seasons, so the potential is there.

The Cardinals are likely to have three rotation spots solidified heading into next spring, with Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller leading the charge. The fight for the final two spots in the rotation is going to be interesting.

With the amount of young pitching talent in the system, the Cardinals are likely to let Jake Westbrook walk after the season. Jaime Garcia is coming off major shoulder surgery and expects to be ready by spring training. However, as we have learned, recovery from that particular kind of procedure is unpredictable, so it's no guarantee Garcia will lock down a rotation spot. Therefore, the Cardinals could have the likes of Wacha, Martinez, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal all competing for starting jobs next spring.

Kelly is holding his own since joining the rotation this summer and Rosenthal is thriving as a reliever, but can the Cardinals afford to keep Wacha and Martinez out of the rotation given their high ceilings? Wacha proved this past spring he could handle major-league hitters and Martinez has been a top 40 prospect the last two years, and neither player has much left to prove in the minors.

These five names are going to be rookies Fantasy owners will be keeping close tabs on next spring, but they won't be the only top prospects with a great chance at earning a starting job when spring training rolls around. In this week's Five on the Farm, we will take a look at other prospects who will draw plenty of attention when camp opens.

Jackie Bradley, OF, Red Sox
Affiliate:Triple-A Pawtucket
Top 100 Rankings: No. 31 (Baseball America) and No. 32 (MLB.com)
Fantasy owners are going to have a lot of distrust in Bradley after the grave disappointment he was during his first stint in the majors. It just goes to show how sometimes you can't have a lot of faith in spring numbers, especially with prospects. Though, don't completely discredit Bradley because he struggled with his first taste of the majors. His slash line at Pawtucket is .280/.379/.495/.874 and his career minor-league slash line is .300/.408/.481/.889. Bradley's presence could mean the Red Sox let Jacoby Ellsbury walk in free agency and hand the starting center field job to Bradley. If that happens, he should re-emerge as a popular Fantasy sleeper like he was on Draft Day 2013.

Andrew Heaney, SP, Marlins
Affiliate:Double-A Jacksonville
Top 100 Rankings: No. 43 (Baseball America and No. 81 (MLB.com)
The Marlins shocked the baseball world when they decided to promote Jose Fernandez to the majors before the start of the season. The gamble paid off, so if the same front-office personnel remain in place next year, Heaney has a legitimate chance to break camp with the Marlins. The former Oklahoma State standout and 2012 first-round pick (ninth overall) had the potential to move fast coming out of college, and he hasn't disappointed. The left-handeder began the year on the disabled list because of a lat strain, but he's been stellar since stepping on the mound and earned an in-season promotion to Double-A Jacksonville. He's 8-3 with a 1.42 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 17 outings (16 starts) between Class A and Double-A. Heaney relies on strong accuracy (career 2.4 BB/9) to fuel his success. If he emerges next spring, then the combo of Fernandez/Heaney could rival the Mets' Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler as the top young pitching duo in the NL East.

Nick Castellanos, OF, Tigers
Affiliate:Triple-A Toledo
Top 100 Rankings: No. 21 (Baseball America and MLB.com)
It's disappointing to hear the speculation the Tigers might not make Castellanos part of the roster in September. It seems only beneficial once the minor-league season ends to give Castellanos a taste of the majors to have him ready to compete for the starting left field job next spring. However, the Tigers are fighting for a playoff berth, so having an inexperienced rookie in the lineup down the stretch might do more harm than good -- no matter how talented he might be. While he's proven he can make the transition from third base to left field, his offense has been an issue in 2013, especially his 15 home runs and .445 slugging percentage. Castellanos, who owns a career .444 slugging percentage, is more of a doubles than home run hitter. His power swing might develop with time, but even if Castellanos is handed the left field job next spring, he might be more of a late-round Fantasy option on Draft Day since he doesn't quite have the power we seek from elite outfield options.

Mike Olt, 3B, Cubs
Affiliate:Triple-A Iowa
Top 100 Rankings: No. 22 (Baseball America and MLB.com)
It was interesting to hear Cubs president Theo Epstein say recently the team feels starting pitcher prospect C.J. Edwards is going to be the headlining piece of the Matt Garza trade in a few years, especially since Olt was part of that deal. Unfortunately, Olt has had a down year in the minors due to vision problems. The 2010 first-round pick has a .193/.383/.668 slash line in 93 games this season. It hasn't gotten better since joining the Cubs organization, batting .122 in his first 25 games for Iowa. Perhaps an offseason of rest will allow Olt to recuperate, but next spring is going to be a very important time for him. Unless the Cubs sign a third baseman in the offseason, Olt is going to be a prime candidate to take over the hot corner. If he returns to his 2012 form (.288/.579/.977) and wins the job, Olt is going to be another popular rookie sleeper on Draft Day.

Yordano Ventura, SP, Royals
Affiliate:Triple-A Omaha
Top 100 Rankings: No. 60 (MLB.com) and No. 85 (Baseball America)
Ventura was in the running for a spot in the Royals' rotation until the very end this spring before being sent to the minors for more seasoning. He progressed to Triple-A during the season, posting an 8-5 record, 2.92 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in two hitter-friendly leagues (Texas, Pacific Coast). Ventura does have some control issues, but Fantasy owners will love his strikeout potential (career 9.9 K/9). Even if the Royals add arms via free agency, Kansas City will probably leave at least one rotation spot open next spring, priming everyone for a competition between Ventura and Danny Duffy. The Royals are proving this season they are ready to contend, so if Ventura emerges as a starter next spring on a contender, that certainly makes him an intriguing Fantasy option.

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
Royals OF Jarrod Dyson agrees to $1.225M salary for 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:54 pm ET) Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson avoided arbitration Tuesday by agreeing to a $1.225 million salary for 2015, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. He will also receive a $25,000 bonus for 350 plate appearances.

Dyson is in his first year of arbitration. He hit .269 with one home run, 24 RBI and 36 stolen bases in 120 games in 2014.


Angels invite reliever Frank Herrmann to spring training
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:22 pm ET) The Angels announced they've invited reliever Frank Herrmann to spring training as a non-roster invitee. Herrmann, 30, spent the previous five years in the Indians' organization, last pitching in the majors in 2012.

Padres' Bud Black: Jedd Gyorko 'learned a lot' from 2014 struggles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:07 pm ET) Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko definitely went through a sophomore slump in 2014 after belting 23 home runs as a rookie in 2013. Although, dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot certainly didn't help his cause.

Still, Gyorko seems to indicate the injury wasn't the main reason he struggled offensively last season. He hit .210 with 10 home runs in 111 games.

"I think I maybe put a little too much pressure on myself," Gyorko said, per MLB.com. "We were struggling as a team. And I think all of us, not just myself, felt like we needed to come up with that big hit to get us going. It's hard to hit when you put that kind of pressure on yourself."

Gyorko missed nearly two months of games last season due to the foot injury, but once he returned, his numbers began to improve. He hit .260 with a .347 on-base percentage over his final 55 games. 

"He was better. I think he started making some adjustments, some mechanical, some at-bat to at-bat in terms of pitch selection," manager Bud Black said. "Before, you saw him chasing pitches up in the strike zone and also sliders away. I think that a lot of that was him wanting to be aggressive and wanting to help the team."

The Padres are expecting better results from Gyorko in 2015, especially with a revamped lineup that includes Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks.

"We saw in 2013 what Jedd can be, and I think there's more to Jedd based on 2013," Black said. "I think last year there were a lot of factors that went into his season that he expected or adjusted to, but that is something he's hopefully learned from. It's a tough game. You've got to work and stay on top of it. In that regard, I think he learned a lot."


Infield shifts have become an issue for players like Reds' Bruce
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:46 am ET) Reds outfielder Jay Bruce is not going to use infield shifts as an excuse for his low batting average, but he admits it does play a factor, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"That's definitely taken some hits away from me," Bruce said. "I don't use it as an excuse. But the bottom line is it takes hits away. You smoke a ball up the middle and you think it's a hit. But the shortstop is playing right behind second base.

"It's definitely cut down on average. You look at a player like Mark Teixiera. He was a .300, .280 hitter. You put the shift on him. He's a guy who drives the ball, pull hitter. He uses the other side of the field some. But guys like that are hitting in the .250s."

Bruce added that beating the shift is difficult. 

"Everyone's like, 'Hit a ground ball to shortstop or hit one down the line.' Like you can do whatever you want." he said. "A lot of times, pitchers pitch to the shift. And shifts are getting more sophisticated. In New York, (shortstop Derek) Jeter was playing third, in on the grass. So you can't bunt. Ideally, you want to get a hit. It's hard to do."

Reds hitting coach Don Long said eventually hitters will be taught in the minors to beat the shift.

"Not everybody's going to be the perfect hitter and be able to do everything," he said. "But I think you're going to find guys who want to have the ability to hit to both sides of the field."


Royals invite C J.C. Boscan to spring training
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:38 am ET) The Royals signed catcher J.C. Boscan to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, according to multiple reports. Boscan, 35, spent 2014 with the Dodgers' organization, batting .259 with a homer and seven RBI in 52 games for Double-A Chattanooga.

Adrian Gonzalez confident in 'deeper lineup' for Dodgers
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez had an MLB-best 116 RBI in 2014, mostly batting in front of the likes of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. While both players are no longer part of the Dodgers' batting order, Gonzalez is not worried about lineup protection, per the Los Angeles Times.

"I think we're deeper, so I don't think we're going to be so dependent on the middle of the order," Gonzalez said Monday. "People say that we lost power, but I think we just put the power in different areas of the lineup."

Some of the key acquisitions this offseason for the Dodgers have been shortstop Jimmy Rollins, catcher Yasmani Grandal and second baseman Howie Kendrick. Gonzalez is confident in the new additions to the lineup.

"They're going to battle every at-bat," Gonzalez said. "They're going to be prepared. I'm not saying that we didn't before, but I think the guys that we got are guys that are going to be tougher to game plan for. From that end, it will be a deeper lineup."


Orioles' Matt Wieters has goal of being ready by opening day
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who is throwing from 150 feet in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, said he is preparing to be ready by opening day.

"The rehab's going well and going how it's supposed to from all the talk I've gotten with Dr. (James) Andrews and my physical therapist down here and Richie (Bancells)," Wieters said, per MASNsports.com. "Everything's kind of moved along and we're preparing for me to be ready for opening day. We still have a good couple of months before we're there, so it's still going to be a lot of work to put into it, but that's what I'm preparing for. We're trying to get all the steps checked off before we get there.

"We'll see when I'm actually going to be able to get behind the plate and catch in games during spring training, but it's just a matter of making sure the arm has been tested enough to where when we do get into games with adrenaline and a little bit of pressure that we're ready to go."

Wieters added making sure his shoulder is also in good shape is part of the rehab process coming off elbow surgery.

"(Monday) we went out to 150 just to test it out a little bit," he said, "and everything has kind of checked out and we've had nothing really major to set back the progression."


Indians want Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Indians want outfielder Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways, according to the Plain Dealer

Prior to joining the team, Bourn had compiled five straight seasons with at least 40 steals. Since joining the team, he's stolen 33 bases in two seasons. Injuries have played a role in his decline. Bourn admitted he had some trouble adjusting to the American League in his first season with Cleveland. He tore his hamstring on the final day of the season, and had offseason surgery, but the issue still plagued him in 2014. 

Manager Terry Francona agreed, saying "When he gets on base, he has to disrupt the game." Francona added, "he wants to do it really bad, he just wasn't in position to do it the last couple of years. Hopefully, those injuries are limited and he can use his legs because he's a huge part of what we do."

Bourn, 32, hit .257/.314/.360 over 444 at-bats last year.


Rockies, Adam Ottavino avoid arbitration
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Rockies have avoided arbitration with pitcher Adam Ottavino, according to MLB.com.

Ottavino agreed to a one-year deal with the club. Ottavino will make $1.3 million next season, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The 29-year-old posted a 3.60 ERA over 65 innings last year.


Astros looking at pitcher Kevin Correia
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Astros are looking to add pitcher Kevin Correia, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Houston is said to be seeking a backend starter, and Correia fits the bill. The 34-year-old posted a 5.44 ERA over 154 innings with the Twins and Dodgers last year. 


 
 
 
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