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Prospects Report: Houston's pipeline

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Jeff Luhnow calls the shots in Houston. He's the general manager, you see.

So coming from him, this means something:

"We're not going to put a timetable on him," Luhnow told The Houston Chronicle Monday. "If you look at his development, he missed a lot of time last year. He's making up for it quickly, and he's doing well. If that continues to happen, it could be any time."

That's right: any time.

Most owned minor leaguers (as of 5/15)
Player Own %
1. Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT 71
2. Trevor Bauer, SP, CLE 55
3. Oscar Taveras, OF, STL 54
4. Archie Bradley, SP, ARI 49
5. Javier Baez, SS, CHC 47
6. Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM 40
7. Byron Buxton, OF, MIN 36
8. Jon Singleton, 1B, HOU 35
9. Dan Straily, SP, OAK 32
10. Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC 29

Whatever minute of whatever hour of whatever day you read this, it falls within that span. Jon Singleton may already be on his way to the big leagues.

"Oh, enough with the dramatics," you're probably thinking. "We've been down this road before with George Springer and don't like where it ends up."

First of all, we still don't know where it ends up for Springer. He's had a rough first 25 games, hitting .232, but you know, Mike Trout hit .220 in his 40 games. And while Jurickson Profar, last year's No. 1 overall prospect according to some publications, disappointed those who put in a claim for him last May, Yasiel Puig became an immediate stud just a few weeks later.

You should know by now how this whole prospecting thing works. Some players come up and succeed right away. Some don't. Most get there eventually, but when deciding which ones have the best chance of making an immediate impact, it's a real crapshoot.

The good news is Singleton has made the kind of progress that suggests he has an even better chance than Springer. Believe it or not, he might be the most valuable player to come out of the Astros farm system this year.

The one knock on Springer in the minors was his strikeout rate of one every three at-bats, which is terrible for any player at any level. He consistently overcame it in the minors, but considering it's been even worse in the majors so far, it's probably had some say in his early struggles. Singleton has struck out his fair share as well, but his current rate at Triple-A Oklahoma is closer to 1 in 4, which is more typical of a young power hitter. He's also been one of the most disciplined hitters at every level, consistently posting an on-base percentage about 100 points higher than his batting average.

And then there's the matter of what he's already overcome to get to the point -- the elephant in the room, so to speak. He missed the first 50 games last season because of a second suspension for a failed drug test. Marijuana was the culprit. Not until spring training did he open up about it, telling The Associated Press he had become so dependent on marijuana to cope with the rigors of life that once he returned from rehab and got back to playing baseball, he turned to alcohol to improve his mood and was "waking up hung over every morning."

That's one way to make the hardest thing to do in sports even harder.

But now, it's behind him. He's keeping himself sober by focusing on the opportunity in front of him, and as a result, he's delivering on everything the scouts projected for him and then some. His 12 home runs in 140 at-bats rank fourth in all the minors and combine with his stellar plate discipline to give him a monstrous 1.030 OPS.

With numbers like that, he has some hope of him becoming sort of a Giancarlo Stanton of the infield. As baseball continues to become more about pitching, with offense down across the league, home runs are now among the scarcest commodities in Fantasy, so when you have a chance at a player with that kind of power potential, you have to take it.

First base is deep, of course -- too deep to go without a regular contributor at the position. Not knowing exactly when Singleton will arrive makes him impossible to rank over startable players like Adam Dunn, Chris Colabello and Lucas Duda. But if in your league, those players would just sit on your bench anyway, why not go for the lottery ticket, the upside play?

Singleton is the one who could impact the standings, and like Luhnow said, he could arrive at any time. After Gregory Polanco, he's the prospect most worth stashing in Fantasy.

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

It's been a few days since word spread about Marlins ace and reigning NL rookie of the year Jose Fernandez possibly being the latest pitcher to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, and the news still stings. It's bad for the Marlins. It's bad for Fantasy owners. And it's just bad for baseball.

When the news broke Monday, it was like a knife cutting through butter. I can remember my colleague, Igor Mello, who happens to be a Marlins fan, utter the words, "Oh no ... Jose Fernandez is headed for an MRI." We didn't know the extent of the injury at the time, but it just felt like a bad omen.

The sentiment around baseball has been supportive despite the disappointing news. Whether you are a fan or not of the Marlins, Fernandez was one of the good guys. You could root for him even if he wasn't on your team because you were amazed by his talent and how dominant he was on the mound. I think MLB.com columnist Phil Rogers said it best when he wrote, "This kid is a joy."

Well, plenty of joy was sucked out of baseball with this news, and Fantasy owners everywhere are now scrambling to pick up the pieces after losing their Fantasy ace.

The Marlins initially answered the question about who will replace Fernandez when they announced Tuesday starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani would be promoted from Double-A Jacksonville to start Wednesday against the Dodgers. The outlook then changed when the team signed veteran Randy Wolf, who appears to be the longer-term replacement for Fernandez in the rotation. However, the name many Fanasy owners wanted to hear called was Andrew Heaney, who is considered by many to be the team's top prospect.

We will get to Heaney in a second, but first a little background on DeSclafani, who was acquired in the mega deal in November 2012 with the Blue Jays that sent players like Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle north of the border. In fact, he was considered a throw-in to a deal that brought Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino and Henderson Alvarez to Miami.

The former University of Florida hurler and 2011 sixth-round pick is 3-4 with a 4.19 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in eight starts for Jacksonville this season. The scouting report on the right-hander is that he's aggressive on the mound and feeds off his fastball. The scouts feel he could succeed as a middle-to-back-of-the-rotation arm in the majors because he's durable, has three quality pitches and good command. But the scouts also feel he might be better suited in the bullpen, even as a future closer.

Had the Marlins not signed Wolf, then DeSclafani might have been worth a flier in deeper formats, primarily NL-only. Still, Heaney remains the Marlins' pitching prospect worth stashing because of his potential to be an impact arm. Wolf could just be keeping the rotation spot warm until Heaney passes Super-2 status, which usually happens in June.

The left-handed pitching prospect and 2012 first-round pick (ninth overall) is a dominant force on the hill, much like Fernandez. He has a 2.25 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in his career (168 1/3 innings). He is striking out 8.6 batters per nine innings, and the scouts suggest he makes it look easy on the hill. He has two plus pitches (fastball, slider) and his changeup also keeps hitters off balance.

Heaney projects as a top-of-the-rotation arm and seems like the perfect replacement for Fernandez, who had no starts above high Class A before he surprisingly joined the rotation at the start of the 2013 season.

Manager Mike Redmond said this spring Fernandez's promotion "was a different set of circumstances," referring to the rash of injuries the rotation suffered in the spring of 2013. He added the Marlins had "more depth" this season and the team didn't feel like it had to push Heaney (per MLB.com).

We've seen a lot of big time prospects get early calls to the majors this season, including George Springer, Rougned Odor and Rafael Montero. Heaney should be hearing his name called at some point -- hopefully in June -- so if you can afford to clear a bench spot, he could be worth the wait. We can only hope Heaney has a similar impact to what Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey did following his promotion to the majors in 2012.

Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Rays
Affiliate: Triple-A Durham
2014 stats:.180/.293/.220/.513, two doubles, no home runs, three RBI, four runs, eight walks, 13 strikeouts and two stolen bases in 17 games
Lee has spent more time on the disabled list in the last year and a half than on the field. He was unfortunately limited to 15 games last season due to a knee injury, which was a real shame since Lee got off to a torrid start. This season, he began the season on the disabled list due to a calf strain, and as you can see by his numbers he's still playing catch up. Prior to getting hurt last season, Lee was one of the top shortstop prospects in baseball. Had he been healthy, perhaps by now he could have unseated Yunel Escobar as the Rays' starting shortstop, especially since Escobar's defense has been shaky, which is usually a strength of his. You really have to hope the knee injury isn't going to be what derails Lee's career. He's not going to be a power threat for Fantasy owners, but Lee has proven in the past to be a great contact hitter, good OBP threat and uses his speed effectively to leg out extra-base hits and be a threat on the base paths. He's still a candidate for a 2014 promotion. He just needs to pick up the pace.

Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
Affiliate: Double-A Akron
2014 stats: .297/.364/.464/.827, five doubles, three triples, four home runs, 27 RBI, 20 runs, 14 walks, 25 strikeouts and nine stolen bases in 35 games
It appeared in April the perfect situation was brewing for the Indians to promote the highly touted Lindor, who is considered the team's top prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America. The Indians were off to a slow start, which included shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who was struggling at the plate and in the field. But Indians manager Terry Francona was preaching patience, and it seems his Zen-like approach is working. The Indians have won 8 of 12 games through Wednesday and Cabrera is heating up offensively, getting some of the critics off his back and quieting the talk of Lindor's promotion. Lindor is one of the more impressive prospects in baseball. The only tool he doesn't project to be above average is raw power. However, the scouts feel he still could be a 15-homer threat once he fills out his 5-11 frame. In my opinion, Lindor projects to be a Dustin Pedroia-like Fantasy option at shortstop. Pedroia has moderate home run power, but he does so much else to make up for it and is still an elite Fantasy option at his position. Lindor's plate discipline is also as good as Pedroia's. The Indians seem to be preaching patience with Lindor, so it wouldn't be surprising if we don't see him in the majors until later in season, if at all.

Jake Thompson, SP, Tigers
Affiliate: Class A Lakeland
2014 stats:3-1, 1.07 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, five earned runs, zero home runs allowed, 12 walks, four hit batters and 39 strikeouts in seven starts (42 innings)
It would not surprise me one bit if Thompson continues at his current pace that he will be considered the Tigers' top prospect heading into next season. The 2012 second-round pick has been nothing short of outstanding since turning pro. He has a 2.34 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and is striking out 9.4 batters per nine innings in 31 outings (30 starts). One of Thompson's biggest weaknesses right now is his command, as he is walking 3.2 batters per nine innings. Though, it's related to some delivery issues, which happens a lot with young pitchers. But the right-hander has the arsenal to develop into a front-line starter. He projects to have three average or better pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) and is working on incorporating a curveball into his repertoire. Durability seems to be an issue as Thompson wore down in his last high school season in 2012 and only extended to 83 1/3 innings in 2013. The Tigers haven't been shy about rushing pitching prospects (Andrew Miller, Rick Porcello, Jacob Turner) to the majors, but Thompson still needs to build up some stamina before his number is called.

Tyler Danish, SP, White Sox
Affiliate: Class A Kannapolis
2014 stats: 3-0, 0.71 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, eight runs (three earned), zero home runs allowed, 10 walks and 25 strikeouts in seven starts (38 innings)
Danish is probably a name you are going to start hearing a lot about after the start he's gotten off to in his pro career. The 19-year-old righty and 2013 second-round pick is 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 22 career appearances (eight starts). That is not a typo. He's had a pretty spectacular start to his career, and he's likely to shoot up the prospect rankings if he continues at this pace. The biggest knock on Danish is his high-effort delivery, which might land him in the bullpen down the road. However, if he keeps posting these kinds of results, maybe it just works for him. He gets compared a lot to Jake Peavy because of his bulldog mentality and low release point in his delivery. Peavy has had a pretty solid MLB career, but he's had his share of durability issues, which is why you can understand the scouts concerns with Danish. But there's no denying this kid is talented. He didn't allow an earned run in 94 innings in his senior year in high school. Danish thrives on a sinker/slider combo and is working on developing his changeup. Danish, who was promoted to high Class A Winston-Salem Wednesday, is likely to progress to Double-A this season and appears on the fast track to the majors.

Daniel Winkler, SP, Rockies
Affiliate: Double-A Tulsa
2014 stats: 5-1, 1.07 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, five runs, 18 hits, two home runs allowed, 12 walks, four hit batters and 46 strikeouts in seven starts (42 innings)
If I told you to name the best pitcher in the Tulsa rotation, you probably would either say Jon Gray or Eddie Butler, who are considered two of the best pitching prospects in baseball. However, if you went off performance, Winkler has them both beat. Who is Daniel Winkler? Well, that's a great question. It's not easy to find information on him because he was barely on the radar entering 2014. He didn't get much pub as a 20th-round pick out of Central Florida in 2011 and still didn't get a lot of attention despite going 13-7 with a 2.98 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 27 starts last season between high Class A and Double-A. He also struck out 175 batters in 157 innings last year. The scouts still don't know what to make of Winkler. He gets batters out, has good control, works both sides of the plate and keeps his fastball down, but his "funky delivery", as the The Denver Post calls it, seems to put Winkler in the same boat as Danish -- could it be the reason he ends up as a reliever in the majors? Unorthodox delivery or not, Winkler is getting the job done and outshining the likes of Butler and Gray, which is very hard to do.

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Player News
Indians want Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Indians want outfielder Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways, according to the Plain Dealer

Prior to joining the team, Bourn had compiled five straight seasons with at least 40 steals. Since joining the team, he's stolen 33 bases in two seasons. Injuries have played a role in his decline. Bourn admitted he had some trouble adjusting to the American League in his first season with Cleveland. He tore his hamstring on the final day of the season, and had offseason surgery, but the issue still plagued him in 2014. 

Manager Terry Francona agreed, saying "When he gets on base, he has to disrupt the game." Francona added, "he wants to do it really bad, he just wasn't in position to do it the last couple of years. Hopefully, those injuries are limited and he can use his legs because he's a huge part of what we do."

Bourn, 32, hit .257/.314/.360 over 444 at-bats last year.


Rockies, Adam Ottavino avoid arbitration
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Rockies have avoided arbitration with pitcher Adam Ottavino, according to MLB.com.

Ottavino agreed to a one-year deal with the club. Ottavino will make $1.3 million next season, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The 29-year-old posted a 3.60 ERA over 65 innings last year.


Astros looking at pitcher Kevin Correia
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Astros are looking to add pitcher Kevin Correia, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Houston is said to be seeking a backend starter, and Correia fits the bill. The 34-year-old posted a 5.44 ERA over 154 innings with the Twins and Dodgers last year. 


Angels hopeful Garrett Richards will be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Angels are hopeful that pitcher Garrett Richards will be ready by opening day, according to the Orange County Register

If Richards isn't ready for the start of the season, the team expects him to be back shortly after that. Richards had knee surgery in August, but he's been able to make progress. General manager Jerry DiPoto said he was "optimistic" about Richards' status. Richards has been able to increase his running on a treadmill, and hasn't experienced any issues with his throwing program, according to DiPoto. Richards is currently throwing from 125 to 150 feet about five times per week.

Richards posted a 2.61 ERA over 168 2/3 innings last year.


Orioles' Matt Wieters throwing from 150 feet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has begun throwing from 150 feet, according to MASN.

Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery last season, and is working his way back from the surgery. He was cleared to start throwing from 150 feet on Monday. Wieters had previously been throwing from 120 feet. He said he's preparing as if he'll be ready for opening day.

Wieters hit .308/.339/.500 over 104 at-bats last year.


Orioles bring in Parmelee, De La Rosa on minor-league deals
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Orioles have signed outfielder Chris Parmelee and pitcher Dane De La Rosa on minor-league deals, according to MLB.com.

The 26-year-old Parmelee spent his first four seasons in Minnesota before becoming a free-agent during the offseason. Parmelee hit .256/.307/.384 over 250 at-bats last year.

De La Rosa, 31, pitched just 2 1/3 innings with the Angels last season. He had knee surgery in September.


David Buchanan will compete for one of two spots in Phillies' rotation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Phillies starting pitcher David Buchanan said refininig his curveball has been a point of emphasis this offseason, as he prepares to compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, per The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I had success with (my curveball) in certain games,” he said. “It started coming along there toward the end. But it’s definitely something that has a lot of work still to go. It’s definitely something I’m working on. It’s getting better, which is all I can ask for.”

There is two spots currently open in the rotation behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Aaron Harang. Buchanan, Jerome Williams and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez are considered the leading candidates for the openings in the rotation. 

“There’s going to be some competition,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week. “I think that’s the only way that you can get better is by creating competition. I can’t sit here and tell you today that David Buchanan’s going to be one of our guys in the rotation, but he absolutely is going to get an opportunity to pitch in spring training and be ready and compete for one of those spots.”


Santana fine after throwing bullpen session; winter-league status is TBD
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Free agent starting pitcher Johan Santana threw a bullpen session Sunday and is said to be feeling fine, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. It is now up to his Venezuelan winter league team to decide if he will pitch for them in the finals.

Santana has been dealing with some shoulder discomfort, which has put his status for the remainder of the winter-league season in doubt. Santana is hoping to latch on with another major-league team after suffering a torn Achilles in June.

The Yankees, Padres and Blue Jays are among the teams showing interest in signing the former two-time AL Cy Young award winner.


Mariners planning on batting Smith, Ruggiano in second spot in lineup
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said he is tentatively planning to bat the right-field tandem of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano second in the lineup, per The New Tribune.

The Mariners ranked last in the majors last season in on-base percentage (.260) from their No. 2 hitters. No other team was lower than .279.

Smith had a .367 OBP last season for San Diego, while Ruggiano had a .337 OBP in 81 games for the Cubs.


Rays' Jake McGee plays catch for first time since elbow surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Rays announced Monday reliever Jake McGee played catch for the first time since undergoing elbow surgery in December. McGee is still expected to miss the start of the season.

 
 
 
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