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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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