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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
Brewers' Khris Davis to work on being a patient hitter in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Brewers outfielder Khris Davis realizes he didn't show patience at the plate last year in his first full major-league season, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I built a reputation in the organization of being a patient hitter," Davis said. "I felt like I wasn't a patient hitter at all last year. I was a little eager, wanting to please too much, too early. I found out I'm human."

Davis drew just 32 walks in 549 plate appearances while posting a .299 OBP in 2014, a number far away from his career .392 OBP in the minors.

"He was different last year," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Everybody goes through different phases. Guys change. (His walk total) was too low. He's a guy I think should be fairly patient. He sees pitches well. When he starts getting anxious, he becomes more aggressive and chases more. He realizes it, which is the first step. If you don't realize it and don't listen to other people when they tell you that, then you have issues. You have to have good self-awareness to be a good player. Sometimes these players don't have good self-awareness. But if they had better self-awareness they'd be a better player."

Davis is determined to fulfill the potential that caused the organization to move Ryan Braun to right field before the 2014 season and plug Davis into the regular left-field role.

"I can't thank them enough for having patience with me," Davis said. "I'm going to work it out. When you get here, you want to stay. That's the toughest part at first. I don't think this league has seen the best of me yet. I'm ready to pull that out and prove it day by day. I learned so many lessons there are too many to name."

Davis hit .244/.299/.457 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI in 501 at-bats.


Indians' Francona keeping a close eye on Giovanny Urshela
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Indians manager Terry Francona has been keeping a close eye on third-base prospect Giovanny Urshela, who was only recently cleared for a full range of activities after tweaking his knee during winter ball, MLB.com reports.

"He has a tremendous reputation of being a really good defender," Francona said. "I think I've been more wanting to watch his gait, just to make sure he's not favoring that leg. He promised us that, if he was, he'd let us know, but I also know he's a young kid in his first major-league camp."

Urshela suffered the injury on Nov. 15 and has rehabbed the injured knee at the team's spring-training facility in Goodyear, Ariz.

"He's worked really hard to get himself to where he can go through a normal spring," said Indians' director of player development Carter Hawkins. "We're very excited about the spot he's in right now, given the possible outcomes of the injury."

Urshela saw his first action at the Triple-A level in 2014, hitting .276/.331/.473 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI in 395 at-bats with Columbus.


Reds' Brennan Boesch to see time at first base this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Reds manager Bryan Price indicated Friday that outfielder Brennan Boesch would see time at all three outfield spots as well as at first base as he competes for a roster spot this spring, MLB.com reports.

"We already know he's a terrific player," Price said of Boesch, who has never played first base professionally. "He kind of got banged up and lost his way a little bit, but I think he feels -- and we feel -- that he's back on top of his game, and maybe his best days are ahead of him."

Boesch said he doesn't see the battle for a reserve outfield role as a "competition."

"I only care about the competition against the pitcher, and that's really as basic as I keep it," Boesch said. "You aren't competing against other players. We're all on the same side here. We're all wearing Red jerseys. Let the chips fall where they may."

Boesch struggled in limited time with the Angels in 2014 but hit .332/.381/.636 with 25 home runs, 85 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 374 at-bats with Triple-A Salt Lake.


Dodgers' Mattingly: Turner has 'put a lot of time in and it shows'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Dodgers infielder Justin Turner earned a nonroster invitation to the team's camp last year and ended up leading the team in batting average, and he's been working on his body like a fiend over the winter, MLB.com reports.

"Going into last year, we felt if he played every day, he'd get in trouble, and we found that out, but this year maybe he can handle more," manager Don Mattingly said Friday. "He's really been diligent about his work, been at Dodger Stadium almost daily. He's put a lot of time in and it shows."

Turner credited strength-and-conditioning coach Brandon McDaniel for his workout success.

"Brandon did everything. He's been a one-man wrecking crew," said Turner. "He and his family deserve the credit. I've been able to establish a routine and train consistently. Before I signed a year ago, I was on my own, going to 24 Hour Fitness, had to coordinate everything myself."

Turner added that he lost 18 pounds this winter through a healthier diet. Mattingly said that he intends to use the infielder at the corner-infield positions and also potentially up the middle.


Nationals' Matt Skole: 'I'm eating healthy and working hard'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Nationals first baseman Matt Skole missed most of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and struggled at the plate in 2014 but showed up to camp in better shape and will look to rebound in 2015, MLB.com reports.

"This offseason, I had a little more time to work on my body," Skole said. "I really got after it in the weight room. I ate right. I ate healthy. I think that was probably the biggest difference for me. I'm about the same weight as I was. I just leaned out a little bit. I'm eating healthy and working hard."

Skole worked with hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich for a month after the season and learned to keep his hands up in order to hit the ball consistently after having his hands too low during his down 2014 season.

"After taking a year off, it was more difficult than I thought it would be," the left-handed-swinging Skole said. "But coming back, I turned some corners, made some strides as far as getting to know myself as a player and know the things I need to fix. I think everything I did last year was a stepping stone for this year."

Skole hit .241/.352/.399 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI in 461 at-bats with Double-A Harrisburg last season.


Report: Dodgers sign center fielder Travis Witherspoon
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) The Dodgers signed center fielder Travis Witherspoon to their organization, according to a report from Baseball America

Witherspoon has previously been in the Angels and Mariners organizations. In six years of minor-league ball, Witherspoon has posted a career batting average of .252 with 68 home runs. He hit a minor-league single-season best 15 home runs in 2014 with the Mariners' Single-A affiliate High Desert Mavericks. 


Phillies' Buchanan 'working on being a complete pitcher'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Phillies pitcher David Buchanan is "working on being a complete pitcher," manager Ryan Sandberg said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The team's coaches spoke with Buchanan in the fall about command and pitch sequencing, executing bunts and thwarting would-be base-stealers, and Sandberg noted while examining the players that arrived early that the pitcher had taken the advice to heart.

"My biggest goal [this spring] is to show our front office and our coaches that I can throw the ball over the plate," Buchanan said. "That's one thing I had success with last year. I wasn't walking guys. I was throwing strikes, and that's what I'm known for. That's why I succeeded in the minor leagues; I was throwing strikes. So that's what I want to do this spring training, is continue to do that, pound the zone, force early contact and keep the ball on the ground."

Buchanan is scheduled to pitch the team's Grapefruit League opener Tuesday against the Yankees.


Giants' Bochy: Hunter Strickland 'needs to get a little smarter'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland is ready to learn from his mistakes from the tail end of his 2014 season.

Starting strong once he was called up from Double-A Richmond, Strickland gave up six home runs in the postseason. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said the remedy to put Strickland back on track is simple. 

"He needs to get a little smarter," Bochy said, per MLB.com.  

Strickland will be competing for a spot in the bullpen during spring training. His fastball is a strength, though it's a matter of his command improving on the mound. 

"The failures are what make guys better, I feel like," Strickland said. "I feel like they made me better. Just being in tune with yourself and knowing who you are and what you've got to do. In this game, you're not going to make it too far if you don't have confidence. If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to believe in you?"


Mets' Nieuwenhuis, den Dekker competing for roster spot
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Mets left-handed hitters Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker will be battling for one roster spot this spring, MLB.com reports.

While Nieuwenhuis is out of options, manager Terry Collins indicated that den Dekker has responded to the team's request that he reduce his strikeouts when sent to Triple-A last season.

"We'll just see how it translates this spring into what kind of an offensive player he can be," Collins said of den Dekker. "We know he's got the defensive skills."

Collins said that whichever outfielder shows the most promise will make the initial 25-man roster.

"He plays the game right. He's fearless," Collins said of Nieuwenhuis. "But right now, we've got to get some offense from one of those two guys. Which one of those two guys is going to be able to come off the bench as a pinch-hitter? The best closers in our division are all right-handed, so the left-handed hitter off that bench is going to be a big piece."


Stephen Strasburg wants to stay with Nationals
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Though Stephen Strasburg's agent Scott Boras denied a report that he wanted to be traded in January, the right-handed pitcher said himself that he wants to remain with the Nationals and has no issues with the organization. 

"I haven't said anything like that," Strasburg said in an interview with MLB.com. "I don't feel like that. You have to accept it because that's how the system works. It's like they pick up on any little thing and they twist it. Some people want to turn it to see how many clicks they can get on the webpage."

Strasburg is set to be the ace of a deep rotation that looks to be on of the best in baseball this coming season. With the Nationals winning their second divisional title in the past three seasons, Strasburg said he's happy with the organization. 

"It's the team that drafted me. I love the players here, I love D.C. Winning cures everything, that's for sure," Strasburg said. "I'm excited to be part of the resurgence so far. It's great to see the type of players we bring in here every year. The expectations keep going up and up. Hopefully, we can do big things this year."


 
 
 
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