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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
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