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Prospects Report: A call to arms

Senior Fantasy Writer
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We've been here before with Trevor Bauer.

And by "here," I mean anxiously anticipating his arrival after rushing to pick him up in the hope he can cure everything that ails our Fantasy rotations.

We've been there more than once, actually, and every time, our hopes were dashed. He arrived all right, but to a chorus of "ball four" calls.

So why fall for it this time, especially when a certain newcomer named Marcus Stroman is also begging for a promotion with a 1.69 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings in five starts at Triple-A Buffalo?

I'll tell you why: Because he's a changed pitcher.

Most owned minor leaguers
Player Own %
1. Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT 68
2. Archie Bradley, SP, ARI 57
3. Trevor Bauer, SP, CLE 53
4. Javier Baez, SS, CHC 52
5. Oscar Taveras, OF, STL 51
6. Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM 41
7. Byron Buxton, OF, MIN 38
8. Kolten Wong, 2B, STL 35
9. Marcus Stroman, SP, TOR 32
10. Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC 30

For most of his professional career, Bauer has been his own worst enemy. Well-versed in concepts like biomechanics, effective velocity and pitch tunneling, he has repeatedly bucked conventional wisdom in pursuit of the perfect delivery. When something went wrong for him, like the groin injury he suffered in 2012, he wouldn't see it as just "one of those things" but something he could fix. And so he'd fix it -- or at least try.

But a key to development in baseball, on both the pitching and hitting end, is repetition. A player should be so familiar with what he does on the mound or at the plate that it becomes second nature. By constantly tinkering with his mechanics, Bauer became so helplessly lost that the Diamondbacks, perhaps fearing they couldn't salvage him, opted to trade him -- the third overall pick just one year earlier -- for what profiles as a league-average shortstop in Didi Gregorius.

Apparently, 2013 was the wakeup call he needed. Looking to bounce back from what he called his "worst year of baseball ever," with his walk rate rising to 5.4 per nine innings at Triple-A Columbus, Bauer set out to rediscover his old mechanics this offseason, heeding the advice of pitching coach Mickey Callaway to keep it simple. And according to The Plain Dealer, manager Terry Francona noticed the difference right away.

"It's night and day," he said at the start of spring training. "We're thrilled."

So why doesn't the story end there, with Bauer capturing a rotation spot and living happily ever after? Because like so many players of varying skill and standing, he was terrible in spring training. But to his credit, he didn't tinker. He stuck with the approach, trusted in the work he put in, and since the start of the regular season, it's paid off. In four starts at Triple-A, he has issued only seven walks. Throw in his spot start in the big leagues April 9, when he allowed one earned run on four hits with eight strikeouts in six innings, and that's nine walks in five starts, giving him a rate of 2.6 walks per nine innings that would not only be the best of his career, but more than twice as good as last year's.

That's a stunning turnaround -- so stunning that you're right to be skeptical of it. Maybe as soon as these words hit the website, Bauer falls back into his old habits and burns us all again. But if this uncharacteristic start is something he can sustain with his newly revamped mechanics, then he's worth the hype heaped on Gerrit Cole upon his arrival last year and then some. Remember: This is a pitcher with stuff so electric that everybody was counting down the days to his arrival two years ago. The only reason his stock has fallen is because he couldn't get out of his own way.

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So what of Stroman? Look, he's good, too, and has gotten plenty of attention in Fantasy since the Blue Jays aligned his throwing schedule with Dustin McGowan's this weekend. But whether or not McGowan was close to losing his job then, he's less so now after throwing a quality start against the Royals Monday. Plus, as CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman revealed on Tuesday's Fantasy Baseball Today, the Blue Jays say J.A. Happ is next in line should a need arise. Bauer already has his foot in the door with that eye-opener of a start against the Padres a few weeks ago, and the Indians have already made way for him by removing Carlos Carrasco from the starting rotation.

Of course, Stroman's six no-hit innings for Buffalo Tuesday may have the Blue Jays rethinking their pecking order, but even if he ends up getting the call sooner than later, for as good as he is, boasting a mid-90s fastball and averaging 10.7 strikeouts to 2.5 walks per nine innings over his minor-league career, he's a step behind the Gerrit Cole-Zack Wheeler savior-of-the-franchise class of pitching prospects. We can sometimes make too much of that, as Sonny Gray has proven already, but more often than not, those pitchers don't stick right away. Kevin Gausman is actually closer to being a savior-of-the-franchise type than Stroman, and look what happened to him last year. Bauer, as long as he keeps throwing strikes, you'll be rostering to the bitter end.

Of course, in an ideal world, you'd stash both Bauer and Stroman, but assuming you've been playing the waiver wire all year and don't have that kind of roster flexibility, Bauer is the choice for both his upside and how much closer he is to claiming a job.

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

Pirates outfield prospect Gregory Polanco has surged to the top of the most-owned list of minor leaguers in CBSSports.com Fantasy Baseball leagues thanks to a blistering start at Triple-A Indianapolis. The speculation is Polanco isn't far away from his MLB debut, which warrants his status as the most-coveted minor leaguer. But don't forget about Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, who I think might be promoted to the majors earlier than you think.

In response to a disappointing start offensively, the Cardinals reacted Monday by demoting second baseman Kolten Wong and outfielder Shane Robinson to the minors and recalling outfielder Randal Grichuk and infielder Greg Garcia. Perhaps if Taveras hadn't missed time with a left ankle injury, he would have been one of the players St. Louis promoted to help spark the offense. But he continues to bide his time in the minors.

It can't be overlooked that the Cardinals' slow start offensively has a lot to do with the fact they faced a lot of quality pitching in April. They've played the Reds, Pirates, Brewers, Nationals and Mets. All of these teams have ERAs lower than the league average (3.81). That could have gone into the Cardinals' thinking of promoting a reserve outfielder like Grichuk over a top prospect like Taveras, who will only be promoted to the majors if he can play every day.

Taveras homered Sunday and Monday for Memphis, bringing his season total to five in 23 games. He is batting .326 with a .558 slugging percentage, .941 OPS, five doubles, 16 RBI and 15 runs. Taveras hardly got any at-bats this spring because of a hamstring injury, but he's healthy now and producing.

The Cardinals were ready to give Taveras a chance to be their everyday center fielder before acquiring Peter Bourjos in a trade with the Angels this offseason. Well, the Bourjos/Jon Jay rotation in center field isn't working out. Taveras can play all three outfield positions, but he's primarily been a center fielder in the minors. The team's one weakness right now is center field, so affording Taveras regular at-bats shouldn't be an issue. Also, his versatility would allow the Cardinals to spell Matt Holliday and Allen Craig at the corner outfield spots.

Byron Buxton is considered by many to not only be the best outfield prospect, but the best prospect in baseball. There's no doubt he's a top-level talent and worthy of the recognition, but I really wonder if he would have been the top prospect had Taveras been healthy last season.

In 396 minor league games, Taveras is batting .320 with a .376 on-base percentage, .521 slugging percentage and .897 OPS. It also can't be overlooked that Taveras has performed well against advanced pitching in the high minors, and Buxton hasn't played above Class A.

I'm not trying to downplay Buxton's upside by any means. He's a future star in the making and definitely deserving of all the recognition he gets. I just think after one injury plagued season in 2013, owners have quickly forgotten about Taveras, who could be as big of an impact Fantasy option this season as George Springer and Polanco.

Ben Lively, SP, Reds
Affiliate: Class A Bakersfield
2014 stats:5-0, 0.31 ERA, 0.48 WHIP, 40 strikeouts, one walk, one run allowed in five starts (29 innings)
The Reds' scouting department is developing a reputation for drafting pitchers with unorthodox deliveries that turn into draft steals. Tony Cingrani slipped into the third round in 2011 because of his unusual delivery for a left-handed pitcher, and the Reds nabbed Lively in the fourth round last year because some scouts were concerned about his delivery. Well, the scouts can't really argue with the results from the right-handed hurler. Lively has been nothing short of outstanding in his pro career, posting a 0.64 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in 18 starts (70 innings). He is also striking out 12.3 batters per nine innings. Plenty of Lively's success comes from his deceptive delivery, which allows him to hide the ball until late in his delivery, but his ability to command his four-pitch arsenal and work low in the zone are also key. What stands out is his 40-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio through five starts. Cingrani was able to speed through the minors because of his college pedigree, which is a similar path Lively could follow. However, with Robert Stephenson ahead of him in the minors and equally as impressive, the Reds likely won't have to call on Lively to start in 2014. He could still be a year or two away from making a Fantasy impact.

Ryan McMahon, 3B, Rockies
Affiliate: Class A Asheville
2014 stats:.289/.385/.697/1.082, four doubles, nine home runs, 22 RBI, 18 runs, 13 walks, 24 strikeouts in 22 games
It's time for Fantasy owners to start familiarizing themselves with McMahon, who has done nothing but rake since turning pro last year. The 2013 second-round pick is batting .313 with a .612 slugging percentage and 1.009 OPS in 81 career games. His numbers this year are really impressive because he's putting up big numbers in the pitcher-friendly South Atlantic League. McMahon, who was a two-sport star in high school and was the quarterback for California powerhouse Mater Dei, projects to hit for a high average and plus power, which is great news for Fantasy owners. Even though he was a high school draftee, McMahon could move quickly through the minors because of his advanced approach and athleticism. He has a fluid lefty swing and middle-of-the-field approach that allows him to make consistent contact. McMahon has begun his pro career at third base, but clearly Nolan Arenado is developing into the Rockies' long-term option at the hot corner. McMahon might move quickly through the minors, but he's not even close to being major-league ready, so there's no need to speculate about his path to the big leagues. It's just time to start familiarizing yourself with a player that is clearly showing future Fantasy potential.

Alex Meyer, SP, Twins
Affiliate: Triple-A Rochester
2014 stats:1-0, 2.70 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 35 strikeouts, 11 walks and 11 runs (eight earned) allowed in five starts (26 2/3 innings)
Meyer was off to a ho-hum start before making a change to his pitching repertoire, moving from a circle changeup to a three-finger changeup. The results have been great. Meyer has tossed two straight scoreless outings, while striking out 11 batters in each game. Meyer said it's a pitch he has confidence in and has good movement, which includes a little sink action. It's proving to be another weapon at his disposal and only solidifying his status as a top pitching prospect. Meyer already has a four-seam fastball that reaches the high-90s and a power knuckle-curve that shows good depth and finish. The Twins have never been an organization to rush pitching prospects, but with the way Meyer has pitched in his minor-league career, he might force the team's hand. He has a 2.88 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 46 starts and is striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings. A first-half promotion isn't out of the question, especially if Meyer continues to dominate like he has in his last two starts.

Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
Affiliate: Class A St. Lucie
2014 stats:.389/.517/.526/1.043, one triple, two home runs, five doubles, 16 RBI, 28 runs, 25 walks. 20 strikeouts, five stolen bases in 25 games
Right now, Nimmo has the ominous distinction of being the player selected one pick before Jose Fernandez in the 2011 MLB draft. But he's trying to create his own legacy, and he's starting to make a name for himself thanks to his fast start for St. Lucie. You really have to disregard the numbers Nimmo posted early in his pro career. He's from Wyoming, where there is no high school baseball, so he came into the pros with much less experience than the other draftees. Also, last season he homered just twice for Class A Savannah, but a lot of that had to do with a spacious home park. Savannah hitters combined to hit just three home runs at home last year. The difference for Nimmo this year has been his offseason work. He spent a great deal of time at the IMG Academy working "to get stronger and gain bat speed," per MLB.com. Well, the results are paying off. Nimmo does have a high strikeout rate, but he also draws a lot of walks -- a La Adam Dunn. Nimmo has a career .400 on-base percentage. The scouts might have to reassess their evaluation about Nimmo. They projected him coming into the season as a player that can reach base, rack up doubles and hit 15 home runs annually, but it seems his game is changing.

Tyler Matzek, SP, Rockies
Affiliate: Triple-A Colorado Springs
2014 stats:1-0, 2.18 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 24 strikeouts, 12 walks, five runs allowed in four starts (20 2/3 innings)
We've been waiting on Matzek for quite some time. The left-handed hurler was a 2009 first-round pick and was a Top 100 prospect in 2010 and 2011 before the wheels fell completely off the wagon. Matzek even had to take some time away from the game in 2011 to get his head right. He returned with a much better attitude and openness to coaching, which has allowed him to get his career back on track. Matzek is off to a promising start in 2014 and has allowed more than one run in just one of his first four starts in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He even struck out 11 batters in his first start and is striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings. He's showing some of the potential that made the Rockies select him 11th overall in the '09 draft, and he's really benefitted working with former major-league catcher Michael McKenry at Colorado Springs. Still, Matzek continues to be plagued by control problems. He's walking 5.2 batters per nine innings, which is just below his career average (6.2 BB/9). Matzek might be in the rotation at Triple-A and posting good results, but his shaky command and fringy arsenal could make the lefty destined for a bullpen role in the majors.

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Player News
Hernandez's absence could hurt chances of making Astros' rotation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:13 pm ET) Astros starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez, who is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation, has still not arrived for spring training due to visa issues.

While he is throwing bullpen sessions in the Dominican Republic, manager A.J. Hinch said Friday that Hernandez's absence could cost him a chance to earn a spot in the rotation.

"It's going to depend upon him showing up ready to go," Hinch said, per MLB.com. "He is a veteran guy, so I don't sense that he's going to come in unprepared. But once games start, we're starting to get a little bit behind."


Royals' Yost: We're going to give Raul Mondesi a 'good look' in camp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:11 pm ET) Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters he's going to give shortstop prospect Raul Mondesi a "good look" during spring training, per MLB.com.

"We are just here to give him a good look, let him play and get some experience and let him enjoy big league Spring Training," Yost said. "Everything jumps out. He's that kind of guy. He just stands out a little bit. He's going to be a special player."

Mondesi, the son of Raul Mondesi Sr. and the youngest player in camp at 19, is the top prospect in the organization, after signing for $2 million as an international free agent in 2011, according to MLB.com. He hit .211/.256/.354 over 435 at-bats in the Carolina League in 2014. He could be in line for a Double-A promotion in 2015.


Royals OF Alex Gordon says he feels great after hitting off tee
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:06 pm ET) Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, who had surgery on his right wrist in December, remains on track to be ready for the start of the season, according to MLB.com.

"We don't have a progression. It's just day by day," Gordon said. "After we swung it today, we talked about how we are going to approach it [Saturday], and I think that's how we are doing it right now. If it was during the season, obviously it would be pushing it forward a lot quicker, but we are just taking it slow and trying to be smart about it."

Gordon has taken the next step in his rehab after hitting off a tee Thursday and Friday.

"I had about 20 or 30 swings, and it felt great," Gordon said. "As long as it doesn't come back with any pain or suffering tonight, I'll probably have a little soft-toss. It's pretty exciting. Honestly, it is. That's not a joke.

"I turned it loose the last 10 swings [Friday], and it almost felt like the more I turned it loose, the better it got. That's a good sign that most of the discomfort, if there is any, comes from lack of swings and being stiff."


Reds' Billy Hamilton given green light to work on bunting in spring
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:00 pm ET) Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton told reporters he feels less pressure this season now that he's entering his sophomore season in the majors, per MLB.com.

"I'm just more comfortable, more relaxed," the Reds sophomore speedster said before Friday morning's workout. "I've been able to come here and not put so much pressure on myself. My work ethic is going to be the same, always, every single year. But it's more relaxing now. I come in every day being able to breathe."

The 24-year-old hit .250 as a rookie in 2014. He also finished second in the National League with 56 stolen bases. Hamilton revealed that he's working more on his bunting this spring, after registering 15 bunt hits last season. The club has given him the green light to experiment on his bunting in game action this spring.

"Bunting can be a big part of my game, which I didn't use as much as I should have last year," Hamilton said. "Bunting for base hits can get you out of different kinds of slumps and when you're not feeling good at the plate.

"If it's two outs or two strikes, this is the time to work on it," Hamilton said. "Even if it's 3-2, they gave me permission to [bunt]. It's something I might not do during the season, but you want to work on it in a game versus just here in practice."


Braves OF Melvin Upton Jr. out at least two months with foot injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:52 pm ET) The Braves announced Friday outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. could miss at least two months after tests revealed inflammation in his left foot. Upton will be in a short leg cast fot two weeks, then a walking boot for 4-6 weeks.

Upton missed Friday's workout after he was seen limping following batting practice Thursday, per MLB.com. He went through a round of treatment Friday before being sent for an MRI.

The Braves initially declined to speculate on the severity of the injury until Upton went for further testing.

"[The discomfort] is more in the toe area, but we're calling it a foot [injury]," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Friday morning.

Upton was listed as the starting center fielder on the depth chart on the team's official website. The backups were listed as Todd Cunningham and Eury Perez.

Upton is entering the third year of a five-year, $72.25 million contract. However, his first two years with the Braves have been largely disappointing. He has a .198/.279/.314/.593 slash line in two seasons in Atlanta.


A's claim Alex Hassan off waivers, place A.J. Griffin on 60-day DL
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:39 pm ET) The Athletics announced a pair of roster moves on Friday, per the team's official website. The club claimed outfielder Alex Hassan off waivers from Baltimore, and placed pitcher A.J. Griffin on the 60-day disabled list, as he continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery.

Phillies P Cliff Lee to start Thursday's Grapefruit League game
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3:36 pm ET) Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure announced that pitcher Cliff Lee is slated to start in Thursday's Grapefruit League game against the Astros, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

Lee strained his elbow in 2014 and missed the final two months of the regular season. He's scheduled to pitch two innings in Thursday's start. 

“He’s thrown well," McClure said. "He feels really good, so he’s right on schedule.”


Athleitcs' Matt Olson back at 100 percent from shoulder tear
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:33 pm ET) Athletics first base prospect Matt Olson, who suffered a grade three tear of the AC joint in his right shoulder while playing in the Arizona Fall League, is back at 100 percent and is looking forward to his first big-league camp with the club, MLB.com reports.

"It's good, 100-percent strength," Olson said. "Occasional soreness, maybe once every two weeks, but it feels good. No setback at all."

Olson, considered the organization's top prospect, hit .262 with 37 home runs and 97 RBIs in 138 games with Class A Advanced Stockton last year. Although he played all but 10 of his 284 games in the minors at first base, Olson is showing some versatility and has seen some working in the outfield during camp.

"Whatever they want me to do," Olson said. "I feel pretty comfortable out there. Whatever gets me in the lineup."


Report: Rangers won't discuss extension with Gallardo in spring
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(3:23 pm ET) Yovani Gallardo is interested in signing a long-term deal with the Rangers in the near future, though the club is not interested in opening to extension talks with the right-hander during spring training, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reports.

Gallardo was acquired by the Rangers in a trade with the Brewers this offseason. The 28-year-old is in the last year of his contract. He won less than 10 games in 2014 for the first time in the last six seasons. He is 89-64 with a 3.69 ERA in eight MLB seasons.


Astros manager A.J. Hinch offers advice to C Max Stassi
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3:18 pm ET) During a batting practice session Friday, Astros manager A.J. Hinch noticed he could assist with some fundamental work behind the plate with catcher Max Stassi

With Stassi catching pitcher Chad Qualls, Hinch advised him to turn his shoulder on certain pitches, according to the Houston Chronicle

“There’s some angles you try to create both for the visual for the pitcher and also for the benefit of the umpire,” he said. “With all the talk of the framing stuff, we want to get the most strikes out of our pitchers. There’s certainly techniques to pay attention to even in side sessions and live BPs.”

For Stassi, it appears he was happy with the advice from Hinch, a former major-league catcher. 

“He’s caught in the big leagues," Stassi said. "He’s been there and done that. He was just giving me a few tips. It’s just framing and the positioning of your body too. It’s just real simple, a better presentation of the pitch for your pitcher and the umpire.


 
 
 
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