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Prospects Report: Spring(er) has sprung

Senior Fantasy Writer
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George Springer owners were prepared to dig their heels in.

They saw what happened to Wil Myers owners last year. Those on the lookout for the next Mike Trout or Bryce Harper drafted the Rays outfielder hoping to have a leg up whenever he arrived, but he didn't arrive until mid-June. Maybe Springer would arrive sooner, maybe not. But after he turned down a long-term deal that would have bought out all Super 2 concerns this spring, the Astros wouldn't have much incentive to rush him.

Apparently, what little they had won out. Defying the most optimistic of timetables, they promoted the 24-year-old to the big leagues Wednesday. And they did it strictly on the basis of merit.

Most owned minor leaguers
Player Own %
1. Archie Bradley, SP, ARI 63
2. Javier Baez, SS, CHC 55
3. Oscar Taveras, OF, STL 47
4. Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM 43
5. Byron Buxton, OF, MIN 39
6. Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT 39
7. Kevin Gausman, SP, BAL 32
8. Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC 30
9. Trevor Bauer, SP, CLE 26
10. Dylan Bundy, SP, BAL 25

Nobody was injured. No clause required his promotion by a certain time. The Astros simply decided after seeing him hit .353 (18 for 51) with three home runs and four stolen bases in his first 13 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City that they couldn't keep up the charade any longer. Big boys belong in the big leagues. If it costs them a year of team control down the road, so be it.

That it happened so abruptly and without the usual pomp and circumstance only adds to the mystique. As much as it matters to us Fantasy owners, you'd think word of a Springer promotion would interrupt all regularly scheduled programming. It reminds me of that weekend in late April two years ago when, too quietly for comfort, Trout and Harper both got the call. Those who weren't predisposed by the demands of civilian life (what could I have possibly been doing then?) were richly rewarded.

Could Springer make that sort of impact?

His ability speaks for itself. With 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases last year, he fell just short of a 40-40 campaign -- an especially rare feat in the minors with the season being a month shorter and all. If Springer has one drawback, it's that he struck out 161 times in 492 at-bats last year, which is pretty much par for the course for him. Prior to his promotion this year, he struck out 15 times in 51 at-bats.

Striking out every fourth at-bat is less than ideal. Striking out every third at-bat is potentially a serious hindrance.

Now, Springer wouldn't be the first player to overcome it, and for the most part, scouts don't hold it against him. He has managed to hit .302 over his minor-league career, after all, and is often compared to Matt Kemp, who himself has overcome a high strikeout rate to hit .292 over his major-league career, injuries and all.

But because it's another hurdle for him to overcome, I see Springer being more Harper or Myers than Trout or, to use another example from last year, Yasiel Puig in his rookie season. Granted, I wouldn't in good conscious predict any rookie to make the immediate impact Trout and Puig did. The jump from the minors to the majors is so great that, generally speaking, even the most talented players require an adjustment period, whether it happens right away or a couple months in. But for Springer, the strikeout rate makes it especially likely.

That's not to say I'm a Springer detractor. Far from it, in fact. I was one of those drafting him in the middle rounds even though I fully expected him to miss the first one-third of the season, which should stress the kind of impact he could make on a per-game basis. As early as he's arriving, we should expect no less than a 20-20 campaign, but maybe with a batting average more in the .260 range than the .290 range.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, batting average is a small part of the equation. Giancarlo Stanton (or "Mike," as he was known at the time) hit only .259 as a rookie in 2010, but nobody who took a flier on him in early June was disappointed. The point of this exercise isn't to determine whether or not Springer is must-own (which should be obvious), but to pinpoint his exact value. Is it so high that you should reject an offer of Jay Bruce or Alex Rios for him? Let's not put the cart before the horse. Is it so low that you should pass him up for a trendy sleeper like Khris Davis or Michael Morse? Most assuredly not.

Whether he fills an immediate need or merely serves as a trade bait, today is a happy day for Springer owners and a painful lesson for those who couldn't bother with him when he didn't win a job out of spring training.

For players with his ability, it's only a matter of time.

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

The top of the most-owned minor leaguers in CBSSports.com leagues is a who's who of top prospects. Archie Bradley, Javier Baez, Oscar Taveras and Byron Buxton are just a few of the names near the top of the list and with ownership in more than 40 percent of leagues.

Astros outfielder George Springer had the highest ownership (74 percent) among minor leaguers before his promotion to the majors Wednesday. Springer topping the list wasn't surprising since he has the talent to be an impact Fantasy player and a quick recall was expected. However, he might not be the only Astros' prospect ready to make an impact for Fantasy owners this year.

I know we've been down this road many times before; speculating about when Astros first base prospect Jon Singleton will make it to the majors. But that time might finally be here.

Singleton has been very open about his battle with an addiction to marijuana, which led to him being suspended for 50 games last season in the minors for a second failed drug test. Though, after a stint at an inpatient rehabilitation center, Singleton emerged a changed person and it's impacting his on-field performance in a positive way.

The 22-year-old prospect is off to a promising start for Triple-A Oklahoma City. He is batting .333 with a .448 on-base percentage, .688 slugging percentage and 1.136 OPS in 12 games. He also has five doubles, four home runs, 13 runs and 16 RBI.

Singleton has reverted to the form he showed early in his pro career, when he was a fast-rising prospect. He is not only hitting for average and power, but he continues to show patience at the plate. Singleton does strike out a lot like most power hitters, but he is also very good at drawing walks. This season, he almost has as many walks (10) as strikeouts (16), and he has a career .388 on-base percentage.

The Astros have been cycling through first basemen for a few years and 2014 hasn't been any different. Jesus Guzman, Marc Krauss and Chris Carter comprise the team's three-man rotation at first base to begin the 2014 season. None of the players are showing staying power, and it seems they are just keeping the seat warm until the Astros deem Singleton major-league ready.

Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates
Affiliate: Triple-A Indianapolis
2014 stats:.465/.511/.744/1.255, two doubles, two triples, two home runs, 11 RBI, nine runs, three walks, four strikeouts and one stolen base in 11 games
Polanco is posting video game numbers through 11 games at Triple-A. He is one of the top prospects in baseball, but this is just ridiculous. He looks major-league ready right now. Perhaps if the Pirates needed an outfielder, the team would consider bringing him to the majors. However, Travis Snider has gotten off to a great start in right field, which will certainly delay Polanco's arrival. Looking back at when outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte -- both former top prospects -- made their debuts, McCutchen was in early June and Marte in late July. Much like Polanco, both players were beating down the door to the majors, but Pittsburgh opted against a quick promotion during the respective seasons they made their debuts. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pirates want Polanco to see more offspeed pitches in hitter's counts before promoting him. However, he has enough talent to force his way into the majors this season, so just remain patient.

Alex Guerrero, 2B, L.A. Dodgers
Affiliate: Triple-A Albuquerque
2014 stats:.600/.667/1.300/1.967, one double, two home runs, two runs, five RBI, one walk in three games
Guerrero entered spring training as the front-runner to start at second base for the Dodgers, but he ended up in the minors after Dee Gordon won the job. Guerrero then was ticketed for Triple-A after suffering an oblique injury in late March. Well, Guerrero is healthy again and off to a stellar start in the minors. He homered and produced three-hit performances in each of his first two games for Albuquerque, showing why the Dodgers signed the Cuban infielder to a four-year, $28 million deal in October. The scouts are torn on Guerrero. Some think he has the ability to be a solid offensive contributor and others feel he will be a fringe major leaguer. The Dodgers seem to be betting on the former, but right now they can keep him in the minors because of Gordon's promising start to the season. If you are holding onto Guerrero in Fantasy, be prepared to stash him for quite a while if Gordon continues to produce. Guerrero is a lot like Mariners infielder Nick Franklin. He's ready for the majors, but there is just no space for him.

Henry Owens, SP, Red Sox
Affiliate: Double-A Portland
2014 stats:2-0, 2.04 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 22 strikeouts, five walks, two home runs allowed, one complete game shutout in three starts (17 2/3 innings)
The Red Sox have plenty of high-end pitching prospects, including Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Trey Ball and Anthony Ranaudo, but Owens could be considered the best of the bunch. The thing that stands out for Owens is his strikeout rate. He is striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings through 52 minor-league appearances (51 starts). While Owens has proven to be unhittable at times -- he had a streak of 19 1/3 no-hit innings at high Class A Salem last year -- his control can get away from him. The left-hander is walking 4.2 batters per nine innings in his career. Owens really needs to work on his fastball command because he has an exceptional changeup that could be less-effective if he continues to experience control problems. The Red Sox have no need to rush Owens to the majors, so it might be another year or two before he becomes an impact Fantasy arm.

Mookie Betts, 2B, Red Sox
Affiliate: Double-A Portland
2014 stats:.450/.500/.725/1.225, one triple, one home run, six doubles, five RBI, 12 runs, five walks, five strikeouts, four stolen bases
Betts made tremendous strides in 2013, going from a low-level prospect to one of the Red Sox's top 10 prospects heading into 2014. He's gone from a prospect with no extra-base hit ability to a player with legit power. He slugged .506 in 127 games last season and is already slugging .725 through 10 games this season. The Red Sox still don't feel he is going to be a great home run hitter, but he's going to find the gaps because of his line-drive swing. The Red Sox and scouts rave about Betts' plate discipline and pitch recognition skills. Boston has a legit second-base prospect in Betts, but the only problem is that his path to the majors is blocked by Dustin Pedroia, who is one of the best second baseman in baseball and locked up through the 2021 season. The Red Sox haven't been hesitant to shift prospects to different positions (i.e. Xander Bogaerts to third base in 2013), so if Betts is good enough, they will find a way to get him to the majors. There's always the chance that Betts becomes a trade chip, but the key takeaway for Fantasy owners is that he's picking up steam as a long-term keeper.

Andrew Heaney, SP, Marlins
Affiliate: Double-A Jacksonville
2014 stats:2-0, 1.56 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16 strikeouts, three walks, one home run allowed in three starts (17 1/3 innings)
Heaney is off to a tremendous start at Double-A. After allowing three runs in his season debut, he's tossed two straight scoreless outings, spanning 12 innings. This coming after Heaney went 9-3 with a 1.60 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 19 outings (18 starts) between high Class A and Double-A last season. Minor league hitters appear to be no match for Heaney, so the left-handed pitching prospect might not be far off from his promotion to the majors. The Marlins promoted Jose Fernandez after just 138 1/3 innings in the minors. Heaney is now at 139 2/3 innings, so a low amount of minor-league innings might not be an issue for the Marlins. Heaney's biggest weakness is holding runners, which could be the reason he's not in the majors yet. Perhaps if the Marlins were concerned about Jacob Turner's shoulder injury being a long-term issue, then Heaney would have already been promoted. But right now that's the only need the Marlins have in the rotation after the surprising start by Tom Koehler, who is 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA through three starts. MLB.com reports the Marlins' objective is to make sure Heaney is ready for the majors and is not a candidate to be sent down if he struggles. Also, it appears they might want to delay his service time clock, so it would be surprising if we see Heaney before June.

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Player News
Angels' Matt Joyce to see ample work against lefties this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:39 pm ET) Angels outfielder Matt Joyce will see plenty of opportunities against left-handed pitching during spring training as well as extra work in the cage and against the breaking-ball machine as the team primes him for a potential everyday role, MLB.com reports.

"I don't want him looking over his shoulder every time a lefty comes in, thinking he's going to get pinch-hit for," hitting coach Don Baylor said. "I'm trying to get him out of that mentality. He's on a new ballclub now."

Just 323 of Joyce's 2,182 career at-bats have come against left-handers, against whom he has hit .189/.258/.316 with nine home runs and 50 RBI.

"This is something that I've wanted and asked for for a while," Joyce said. "I really don't feel there's a lot of pressure on me. I've done it in the minor leagues. I feel it's something I'm going to have to put some time and extra effort into, but, without a doubt, I know I can do it."

Joyce will have the opportunity to serve as the team's everyday left fielder with Josh Hamilton recovering from injury and dealing with a potential disciplinary issue.


Indians' Francona disagrees with metrics on Brantley's defense
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) Indians outfielder Michael Brantley was ranked 13th in FanGraphs' overall defensive rating out of 15 players who logged at least 800 innings in left field in 2014, a ranking manager Terry Francona "can't understand," Cleveland.com reports.

"For the life of me, I can't understand it," Francona said. "I really don't. That's something that perplexes me to no end. He is one of the better left fielders in the game. I don't get it. I don't know if I ever will."

Brantley was one of three finalists for the American League Golden Glove Award last year for his position despite finishing the season with a minus-6.3 UZR/150. His minus-10.4 overall defensive rating marked his second season with a mark worse than minus-10 in the category.

"I think the [advanced] stats are deceiving," Francona said. "We see him every time. We see Brantley for 162 games and he does it over and over and over and over and over. He's so consistent and his arm is such a factor. I don't know where they came up with that. I don't care."

Brantley committed just one error in 2014 while racking up a career-high 12 outfield assists. He also delivered his finest season at the plate, hitting .327/.385/.506 with 20 home runs, 97 RBI and 23 stolen bases in 611 at-bats.


Braves' Markakis apologizes for comments about the Orioles
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:27 pm ET) Braves outfielder Nick Markakis apologized for calling out the Orioles organization, according to MASN.

Markakis was recently quoted saying the Orioles organization couldn't be trusted after he felt they were disingenuous about why contract negotiations broke down. "Don't believe a word they say," Markakis said. "It was all because of my neck. They can say what they want to make them look good."

He backpedaled from those comments on Thursday. "What I said wasn't directed at any way to the Orioles organization or ownership. It's just one of those things where I kind of said sarcastically, 'B.S., I wouldn't believe everything you hear. Don't believe them.'" he said. "I just want to put it behind me and I apologize for what I did, but there's a reason why it came out of my mouth." 

The 31-year-old hit .276/.342/.386 over 642 at-bats last year.


Blue Jays agree to a deal with Johan Santana
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:04 pm ET) The Blue Jays have agreed to sign pitcher Johan Santana, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Santana, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012 due to various arm injuries, is attempting to make a come back this season. He pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League, but was shut down after having some shoulder discomfort. Santana resumed throwing in late February. 

The 34-year-old posted a 4.85 ERA in 117 innings back in 2012. 


Reds' Jon Moscot standing out early in camp
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:02 pm ET) Reds pitching prospect Jon Moscot stood out during the team's live batting practice Wednesday, drawing praise from manager Bryan Price, MLB.com reports.

"He throws efficiently," Price said. "He throws plenty hard enough. He's an 89-92 [mph], maybe a touch better at times. It's command. It's bottom-of-the-zone command, side to side. A very, very good slider. His changeup has made great strides over the last season. As I tell the starters, if you're going to start, you need that offspeed pitch, some kind of change-of-pace pitch, but primarily a changeup, if you're going to be really good."

Moscot wasn't aware that the Reds manager, who caught three or four minutes of his session while roving around, was watching the prospect.

"They're all walking around. We've got three fields going on," Moscot said. "Everyone is trying to make an impression, so I just know that any moment, you can turn a head. Keep your head down and work hard."

Moscot spent most of his 2014 season with Double-A Pensacola, going 7-10 with a 3.13 ERA and 111:43 K:BB ratio in 149 1/3 innings over 25 starts.


Rangers' Michael Kirkman progressing after having soreness
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:00 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Michael Kirkman has made progress after experiencing shoulder soreness early in camp, according to MLB.com.

Kirkman was able to play cath for the second straight day on Thursday. He'll attempt to take part in long toss on Friday. The 28-year-old posted a 1.59 ERA in 12 games last year. 


Rangers' Tanner Scheppers impressing early
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:53 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Tanner Scheppers has impressed during camp, according to MLB.com.

Scheppers missed a large portion of last season due to an elbow issue. He was able to throw batting practice on Thursday, and drew rave reviews from pitching coach Mike Maddux. "He's coming out free and easy with a loose arm," Maddux said. "He's got a little attitude, but he always does."

Scheppers said he was just glad to be back on the mound. "I'm seriously just happy to be out there," Scheppers said. "It has been seven months since I've faced hitters. I'm just happy to be playing baseball and feeling great."

The 28-year-old posted a 9.00 ERA over 23 innings last season. 


Mariners' Felix Hernandez: I'll be ready for game action soon
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:51 pm ET) Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, who shed six-to-seven pounds in the offseason, told reporters he's off to a strong start this spring following a 30-pitch bullpen session, according to the Tacoma News Tribune on Thursday.

"Pretty good," Hernandez said. "I'm telling you, that was pretty good."

Hernandez also hinted that he's practically ready for game action.

"I don't need to throw a lot of bullpens," Hernandez said. "Two or three, a live BP and I'll be ready for a game."


Rangers' Shin-Soo Choo won't push himself early
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:46 pm ET) Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo isn't going to go all out yet, according to MLB.com.

Choo had season-ending elbow surgery last August, but feels pretty good in camp. He's been able to participate in every drill with outfielders thus far, but added that he's not going to push himself too hard. "It's a long Spring Training," Choo said. "There are going to be some days when I'm sore, but no issues. I'm not worried about it."

Choo, 32, hit .242/.340/.374 over 445 at-bats last year. 


Mariners' Morrison spends offseason working on improving durability
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:43 pm ET) Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison has struggled to stay healthy through his first five years in the majors. In order to improve his durability, Morrison said he hired a new trainer in the offseason, per The News Tribune.

“I think I’m a little more educated about my body,” he said. “He’s given me a program to do -- whether it’s a warm-up every day or a three-day-a-week workout program. Hopefully, that will keep me healthy.”

Morrison is confident he will be a valuable part of the lineup, as long as he can stay healthy.

“Just put me in the lineup every day,” he vowed, “and I’ll produce. It’s up to me to stay in the lineup, but if I’m in the lineup every day, I know I’m going to hit, and I know I’m going to hit well and be a force in the lineup.”

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is optimistic Morrison can reach his full potential.

“LoMo is relatively young as far as active years under his belt,” McClendon said. “He’s still maturing from that standpoint. He’s still learning. I think his ceiling is very high.

“I think, all in all, he’s got a chance to be  a guy who can hit 25 home runs for us and drive in 100. He’s a good hitter. He hits left-handers and right-handers. He takes his walks."


 
 
 
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