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Prospects Report: Minor details early on

Senior Fantasy Writer
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As the unexpected leadoff hitter for the Cubs, Emilio Bonifacio has been one of the best finds off the waiver wire so far this season and a lifesaver for Rotisserie owners who neglected speed on Draft Day.

But part of me is hoping he'll fail.

It's the same part that cringed when Starlin Castro hit two home runs Tuesday and rooted for Luis Valbuena to beat out Mike Olt for the starting third base job this spring.

What kind of Fantasy owner does that? The same kind that's anxious to see Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and, to a lesser degree, Arismendy Alcantara contribute in the big leagues.

Most owned minor leaguers
Player Own %
1. George Springer, OF, HOU 75
2. Archie Bradley, SP, ARI 61
3. Javier Baez, SS, CHC 57
4. Oscar Taveras, OF, STL 47
5. Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM 44
6. Byron Buxton, OF, MIN 40
7. Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT 35
8. Kevin Gausman, SP, BAL 32
9. Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC 29
10. Dylan Bundy, SP, BAL 24

In a perfect world, they'd be the Cubs' starting shortstop, third baseman and second baseman by season's end, but in this imperfect world of ours, when they arrive depends partly on when the Cubs can make room for them. With the unlikely emergence of Bonifacio, they're suddenly blocked at every turn.

Or so it seems. But then, a big reason why we had so much hope for them in the first place was because we thought only Valbuena and Darwin Barney stood in their way. By awarding those jobs to Olt and Bonifacio instead, the Cubs showed a willingness to move on, which was the biggest hurdle. And by assuming they didn't even have a chance, we showed our lack of faith in Olt and Bonifacio.

I'd be lying if I said I had just as little faith in Bonifacio today. My lack of faith was in response to what I perceived to be a league-wide lack of faith when the Royals released him just before spring training. He stabilized their second base vortex and rediscovered his form with a .285 batting average and 16 stolen bases in 42 games late last year after an ill-advised stint with the Blue Jays, who clearly didn't know what to do with him, so you'd think they could have gotten something in return. He hit .296 with 40 stolen bases in 152 games for the Marlins as recently as 2011, and I don't see why, back playing every day for a team that gives him free rein on the base paths, he couldn't do something similar at age 29. I also don't see why he has to stay at second base if he does. He's already getting some starts in center field and could move there full time if the needed arises.

Olt is a different story. Certainly, he has a pedigree, but his stock plummeted when he hit .197 between the Rangers' and Cubs' Triple-A affiliates last season. The Rangers blamed his struggles on a vision problem that they more than once claimed to have conquered only to unload him on the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal. He showed signs of turning the corner with his performance this spring, but already he's contending with a shoulder injury that diminishes his chances of putting his best foot forward. And even in his "good" minor-league seasons, he wasn't exactly contending for batting titles. The Cubs may not have the patience for a streaky Mark Reynolds type, especially when they have more talented players knocking on the door.

In other words, Baez, Bryant and Alcantara aren't any more blocked than if the Cubs went with the stiffs we originally thought they would at third and second base.

For Baez, anyway, Fantasy owners have already deduced as much. He's the third most owned minor leaguer at 57 percent, behind only must-stashes George Springer and Archie Bradley. Particularly in Rotisserie leagues, where home runs are scarce and middle infielders are in short supply, he might rank up there with them. Coming off an impressive spring power display that validated the Gary Sheffield comparisons, he figures to be first in line regardless of which position opens up first. From the day the Cubs selected him ninth overall in the 2011 draft, most assumed he'd have to move off shortstop eventually, if only to accommodate Castro.

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Of course, third base was supposed to be his fallback position, but that was before the Cubs made Bryant the second overall pick in the 2013 draft. Bryant doesn't have anywhere else he can go, which is why that Baez-to-second base talk gained momentum this spring. Why make the effort to transition Baez to third base if Bryant is coming up right behind him?

The Cubs have kept Baez at shortstop for the time being, which could indicate they have something else up their sleeve. They've shown they're open to trading just about anyone at the big-league level, making Castro's resurgence not such a bad thing. He was never the Theo Epstein type, so if he can resuscitate his value enough to fetch what a 24-year-old All-Star shortstop signed to a team-friendly long-term deal should, Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer may choose to break up the logjam that way. That's mere speculation, of course.

I should point out Alcantara isn't the same caliber of prospect as Baez or Bryant, who are practically superstars already without even setting foot in the big leagues, but he showed with a breakthrough performance at Double-A Tennessee last year that he can be an impact player in the majors. Maybe even a Jimmy Rollins type, though he probably won't reach quite the heights Rollins did.

The Cubs have done such a good job accumulating minor-league talent during this first stage of their massive rebuild that they'll have to get creative to fit it all onto a big-league roster. But while their big-league talent already appears to have improved, the changes they've made so far aren't intended for a long haul. Baez, Bryant and Alcantara still determine when the second stage begins by how quickly they progress in the minors.

So despite any early season developments, my short-term outlook for them hasn't changed. I'll be keeping a close eye on all three -- especially Bryant, who seems too distant to stash just yet but too high-end to pass up if that changes.

Now then, about that Jorge Soler ...

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

In recent years, the Reds have not been shy about quickly getting their top pitching prospects to the majors.

They skipped the minor leagues entirely with Mike Leake, who in 2010 became the 21st player since the MLB draft was instituted in 1965 to play in the majors without first playing a game in the minors. Last season, Tony Cingrani was added to the roster in mid-April after Johnny Cueto landed on the disabled list, despite Cingrani barely getting any service time above Double-A and only logging 197 1/3 innings in his first two pro seasons.

The next great pitching prospect in the Reds' pipeline is Robert Stephenson, who was a 2011 first-round pick (27th overall), and Fantasy owners are wondering how quickly can he ascend to baseball's highest level.

Stephenson is considered the Reds' top prospect by Baseball America and MLB.com, as well as a top 100 prospect by both outlets. Baseball America has Stephenson rated as the 19th-best prospect, while MLB.com ranks him 18th overall.

Stephenson has clearly blazed a trail in his first two pro seasons, and his third year is off to a stellar start. In his season debut for Double-A Pensacola, Stephenson allowed one hit and one walk over five scoreless innings, while striking out 11. In 38 career appearances (37 starts), the right-handed pitching prospect has a 2.98 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, while striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings.

Stephenson has added velocity to his fastball since being drafted. Coming out of high school, his fastball was in the low-to-mid-90s. He now throws it in the mid-to-high-90s. Stephenson also has a curveball with a big 12-to-6 break and a changeup that gives him the potential to have three above-average offerings.

When Mat Latos returns from the disabled list, the Reds will have a pretty solid five-man rotation, making it difficult for Cincinnati to carve out an opening for Stephenson. Even if someone goes down with an injury, Alfredo Simon has proven he can be a viable replacement.

It will probably take a trade or long-term injury for the Reds to even consider bringing Stephenson to the majors. While there's no guarantee Stephenson will get a chance to make his MLB debut in 2014, if he continues to progress at his current pace, you can bet the Reds will probably make room for him in the rotation next spring.

Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota
Affiliate: Extended Spring Training
2014 stats: N/A
Buxton is being stashed in 41 percent of leagues, which is a strong indication Fantasy owners believe Buxton could make a significant impact this season. However, he remains sidelined due to a wrist injury suffered late in spring training. The Twins are going to do nothing to risk Buxton's future, and have indicated he's not likely to join the roster at Double-A New Britain until May. However, there's probably a good chance Buxton will have to get some at-bats in Triple-A before his promotion to the majors, especially after the Twins saw how Aaron Hicks struggled with the jump from Double-A. If all went according to plan, Buxton might have forced his way into the majors in June. Unless he goes on an absolute tear once healthy, Buxton now might be looking at a late-summer promotion or September callup to the majors since the start of his season has been delayed.

Nick Franklin, SS, Seattle
Affiliate: Triple-A Tacoma
2014 stats: .533/.563/.933/1.496, two home runs, three runs, five RBI and one stolen bases in four games
Franklin was banished to the minors after losing out to Brad Miller for the starting shortstop job this spring. Franklin hasn't sulked about the demotion, as he's off to a stellar start in Triple-A. He could always force his way back onto the Mariners' roster if he continues to rake in the minors, but it's likely going to take an injury to either Miller or Robinson Cano before he sees regular at-bats. A trade likely remains Franklin's best chance of becoming a regular in the majors again, and it could very well happen later this summer if he continues to prove he's too good for Triple-A. Franklin showed last season he could hit in the hitter-friendly PCL, and he's doing it again this season. Though, what's really hurting Franklin was his disappointing debut last season and his so-so spring. Franklin has showcased his potential on occasion, which is likely going to be enough for another organization to make an offer the Mariners will eventually take. Franklin could be worth stashing in keeper and deeper seasonal formats, but you could be waiting until July's trade deadline before putting him in your active lineup.

Joc Pederson, OF, L.A. Dodgers
Affiliate: Triple-A Albuquerque
2014 stats:.429/.529/.857/1.387, two home runs, two RBI, six runs and two stolen bases in four games
Offensively, Pederson looks ready for the majors. However, the Dodgers have a glut of outfielders at the major-league level, which is blocking Pederson's path. The Dodgers would probably like to trade Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier to free up at-bats for Pederson, but their bloated salaries make it difficult. Though, given Matt Kemp's and Crawford's recent history with injuries, Pederson might still be a phone call away from his MLB debut. Again, if Pederson was in another organization, we would be telling seasonal-league owners to stash him with confidence. But if all things remain the same in Los Angeles, owners could be waiting indefinitely for Pederson to be an impact Fantasy player. It's a shame too, since Pederson can really rake. In 324 career games, he is batting .302 with a .395 on-base percentage, .507 slugging percentage and .902 OPS.

Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard, SPs, N.Y. Mets
Affiliate: Triple-A Las Vegas
Montero stats: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, five strikeouts, four hits and no walks in one start (six innings)
Syndergaard stats: 1-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, five strikeouts, two earned runs, six hits and one walk in one start (six innings)
The Mets have to be giddy after watching two of their top pitching prospects -- Montero and Syndergaard -- breeze through their first starts in the hitter-friendly PCL. If the Mets were in dire need of starters, then both players probably could have been serious contenders for the rotation this spring. But the Mets weren't pressed for arms, so both players headed back to the minors to delay the clock on their arbitration years and continue to refine their mechanics. There's a good chance both players make their MLB debuts this season, but I'm not so sure it will be as soon as you would hope as a Fantasy owner. Right now, the Mets have a pretty decent rotation with Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia. All these pitchers are capable of keeping their rotation spots, barring injury, so the Mets would be faced with some tough decisions if they wanted to bring Syndergaard or Montero to the majors, let's say, in June. Both players are still worth stashing in deeper Fantasy formats, especially Syndergaard, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if neither player is a regular in the rotation until July at the earliest.

Tom Murphy, C, Colorado
Affiliate: Double-A Tulsa
2014 stats: .357/.400/.786/1.186, two home runs, five RBI and four runs in four games
Murphy is being viewed as the Rockies' catcher of the future given Wilin Rosario's inconsistency on defense. Murphy is likely to push Rosario to first base or a corner-outfield position one day, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Murphy gets called to the big leagues later this summer, especially around the time top pitching prospects Eddie Butler and Jon Gray could be making their MLB debuts. Murphy is currently working with both players at Tulsa, so the Rockies might promote Murphy at the same time to ease the transition of Gray and Butler to the major-league level. Fantasy owners want to keep tabs on Murphy's progress since he has been a pretty outstanding offensive option in the minors. He is batting .290 with a .367 on-base percentage, .537 slugging percentage and .904 OPS in 159 career games.

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Player News
Giants' Sabean: No plans to talk to Max Scherzer
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) Giants general manager Brian Sabean said that the Giants have not talked to free-agent pitcher Max Scherzer and have no plans to do so, the Mercury News reports.

Scherzer is the biggest name on the pitching market and could be seeking a deal north of the $155-million pact signed by Cubs pitcher Jon Lester. His price tag may not be feasible for the Giants' budget. The 2013 AL Cy Young winner went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA and 252:63 K:BB ratio in 220 1/3 innings with the Tigers in 2014.


Report: Nick Hundley has two-year offer, unlikely to rejoin Orioles
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) Free-agent catcher Nick Hundley has a two-year offer on the table from an unidentified team, making him unlikely to return to the Orioles, masnsports.com reports.

The Orioles declined a $5-million option on Hundley for the 2015 season but had interest in bringing him back into the fold at a lesser salary. He hit .243/.273/.358 with six home runs and 22 RBI in 218 at-bats between Baltimore and San Diego in 2014.


Report: Phillies could join Asdrubal Cabrera market
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Phillies could become involved in the market for free-agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, ESPN.com reports.

The Phillies traded their longtime starter at shortstop to the Dodgers this offseason and will be looking to fill that hole in the infield. However, the team will have to shed some additional payroll in order to make a run at the infielder, according to the report. Cabrera hit .241/.307/.387 with 14 home runs, 61 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 553 at-bats between Cleveland and Washington in 2014.


Rangers release Ben Rowen
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Rangers have released relief pitcher Ben Rowen . Rowen, who was designated for assignment earlier in the week, posted a 4.15 ERA in 8 2/3 innings with the Rangers in 2014 as well as a 3.45 ERA and 31:9 K:BB ratio in 47 innings with Triple-A Round Rock.

Nationals sign Mark Minicozzi to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Nationals have signed infielder Mark Minicozzi to a minor-league deal.

Minicozzi, 31, hit .298/.400/.470 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI in 315 at-bats with Triple-A San Jose in 2014. He has yet to appear in a regular-season game in the majors.


Indians sign pitcher Scott Downs to minor-league contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Indians announced they signed pitcher Scott Downs to a minor-league contract Saturday.

Downs also received a non-roster invite to MLB camp.


Red Sox, Padres complete Hanigan-for-Middlebrooks trade
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) The Red Sox and Padres completed a trade Friday, with catcher Ryan Hanigan heading to Boston in exchange for third baseman Will Middlebrooks, the Red Sox announced.

Hanigan, 34, is signed for two more seasons with a team option for 2017. He hit .218/.318/.324 with five home runs and 34 RBI in 225 at-bats in 2014.

Middlebrooks, 26, is eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2015 season. He hit .191/.256/.265 with two home runs and 19 RBI in 215 at-bats in 2014.


Giants get Class A hurlers for Marlins 3B McGehee
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) The Giants are trading minor league right-handers Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo for Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee.

Both pitched at a Class A level last season and averaged more than a strikeout per inning.


Dodgers dump RHP Brian Wilson
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) Three days after designating reliever Brian Wilson for assignment, the Dodgers have released him.

Wilson struggled in 2014 after a strong stint upon his arrival with Los Angeles in 2013. He finished the year with a 4.66 ERA and 29 walks in 48 1/3 innings.


Report: LHP Craig Breslow staying with Red Sox
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) Left-hander reliever Craig Breslow is set to sign a one-year deal with the Red Sox for $2 million, per WEEI.com.

Breslow pitched for Boston the last two years, but collapsed in 2014 after compiling a 1.81 ERA the previous year. He finished with a 5.93 ERA and 73 hits in 54 1/3 innings.


 
 
 
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