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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
Athletics' Jesse Chavez happy with spring showing
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Athletics pitcher Jesse Chavez allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings while striking out one in Thursday's 6-4 win over the Giants.

Chavez, who was on the mound just two days after the birth of his daughter, is happy with his performance this spring, the Bay Area News Group reports.

"I feel good," Chavez said. "I’ve put some men on, but I’ve pitched out of some jams. I’ve showed them I won’t let it snowball."

Chavez believes he needs to improve at changing the eye level of batters.

"I’ve got to get them to change eye levels better," Chavez said. "The last two or three starts, I haven’t been able to do that. The pitches that I’m trying to elevate they’re fouling off (instead of swinging and missing) and that runs up my pitch count."

Chavez has posted a 4.50 ERA in 16 innings as he competes for a spot in the rotation.


Giants' Bochy: Joe Panik pressing, remains starter at second base
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:09 am ET) Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday that while infielder Joe Panik might be pressing, he remains the team's starter at second base without reservations, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Panik is just 8 for 50 this spring after going hitless in four at-bats Thursday, though he has delivered three doubles and two home runs. He's looking for a strong follow-up to an impressive rookie season in which he hit .305/.343/.368 in 269 at-bats.


Pirates P A.J. Burnett changes tune about shifting
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:38 am ET) Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett has not had the highest of opinions when it comes to infield-shifting in the past. In 2013, he let some reporters know what he thought about shifting at the time.

When asked about a shift of shortstop Clint Barmes that year, Burnett stated, “I do not have a problem with (Barmes), I had a problem with the (expletive) shift. We play people in the wrong spot.”

But Burnett seemed to change his tune when reflecting upon the subject.

“As much as I complained about the shifts, they helped,” Burnett said. “They really did. It's that one a game, you've got a no-hitter for four or five innings and one gets through, and where you're like … ‘(expletive) shift.'

“But (shifts) saves you more than anything, and that's the truth.”

The 38-year-old has lost some steam on his fastball at this point in his career and he knows that.

“It took me getting a little older to realize that I'm not able to blow it by guys anymore and ground balls are just as good,” he said.

Burnett has posted a 6.39 ERA with nine earned runs, eight walks and 12 strikeouts in four starts this spring.


Time running out for Matt Lindstrom to win spot with Angels
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:35 am ET) Angels pticher Matt Lindstrom can opt out of his contract if he's not placed on the active roster five days before the regular-season opener, and he believes he may not have an opening to fill in the bullpen, MLB.com reports.

"There's a ton of guys in here that have shown they can compete at this level," Lindstrom said. "I just hope I can be one of those guys that breaks camp with the team. It'd be fun to be on a team like this, that has so much potential, especially with how many games they won last year. The pitching staff's going to be solid no matter which way they go, but I'm hoping to be a part of that."

Lindstrom has given up seven runs in 4 2/3 spring innings but is excited about how his arm feels this spring.

"I can just tell the ball's coming out better," Lindstrom said. "Hopefully, that can just translate to outs."


Giants' Tim Lincecum strikes out seven Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:22 am ET) Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum allowed four runs (three earned) on four hits and two walks in five innings while racking up seven strikeouts in Thursday's spring start against the A's.

"It comes down to one or two pitches per inning," Lincecum said on alternating good and bad innings, per MLB.com. "I just have to keep my pitches down. The ones that they're hitting are the ones that are up. Leadoff batters are locking in to some of the first pitches."

Lincecum has dealt with neck issues and mediocre performances but has looked much better over the last week, following a one-run outing Saturday by matching his seven strikeouts in his previous four outings. He appears on track to open the season as the team's No. 5 starter.


Rockies' Brandon Barnes displays new swing this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) Rockies outfielder Brandon Barnes brought a brand-new swing to spring training that features a high leg kick as he looks to cut down the strikeouts and "be the best version of me," the Denver Post reports.

"I tried to refine who I am and what type of player I am in the box," Barnes said Thursday. "I'm not a guy who's going to hit 30 home runs. I know that. I'm the big guy who needs to be a pest, drive the ball into gaps, hit doubles, use my speed to my advantage, bunt, all those things."

Barnes lost 10 pounds this offseason as he looked to come to camp more athletic and less stiff in the batter's box.

"We have this tremendous athlete, and you see him in the outfield and it shows up daily," manager Walt Weiss said. "But you saw him in the box last season, and there was some stiffness to his approach. And I'm saying, 'Be that guy in the box.' It made sense to him."

Barnes indicated that he's committed to the new approach that pulls the focus away from home runs.

"I had to go back and do some soul-searching to figure out who I was," Barnes said. "I'm the guy who goes out and plays really hard."


Rangers' Shin-Soo Choo goes hitless in return Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo (triceps) returned to the lineup Thursday, going 0 for 4 while serving as the designated hitter in his team's 6-3 win over the Rockies.

Choo had been sidelined since March 15 due to a triceps injury and was reported to be targeting a return Saturday, but he was able to remain in for the entire game Thursday, picking up four at-bats in his role as DH. He's managed just four hits in 22 at-bats this spring.


Rangers' Fujikawa confident in return from Tommy John surgery
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Rangers pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa is scheduled to pitch Friday, and the Rangers will be keeping a close eye on the pitcher to determine if he has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery or if he'll need time in the minors to open the season, MLB.com reports.

Fujikawa hasn't allowed a run in four Cactus League outings but has struggled a bit in two camp games. He remains confident his recovery is on track.

"This is still spring training, not the regular season," Fujikawa said. "It's only going to get better. Coming into spring training, the surgery was out of my mind. As a player, I am really confident. I am not sure what my role will be, but I'll be confident whatever the situation is."

Manager Jeff Banister is looking for the pitcher to build off his spring success.

"The guy is coming off Tommy John," Banister said. "There are good days and bad days. He has logged a couple of good ones. Let's see that continue."


Twins Trevor Plouffe wants to cement his place at third
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe is completely aware of the threat that Miguel Sano brings when it comes to the third base spot. Sano is considered by many to be a can't-miss player. But Plouffe is trying not to let that affect him or his play. 

“You can’t think about anything like that,” Plouffe said. “You can’t worry about what other people are saying about you. I’m more focused on getting this organization out of this rut that we’ve dug ourselves over the last four years.”

After moving around the infield for years, Plouffe seems to have found his place at third. The 28-year-old has a batting average of .245 with 62 home runs, 224 RBI and 398 strikeouts in five seasons.


Rangers' Ross Ohlendorf (groin) leaves Thursday's game
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/26/2015) Rangers pitcher Ross Ohlendorf was removed from Thursday's game against the Rockies due to recurring tightness in his right groin, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

Ohlendorf tossed a scoreless inning and struck out two Thursday in his first appearance since March 15 but continued to battle groin issues. He's competing for a spot in the bullpen.


 
 
 
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