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Prospects Report: Oscar in the Cards?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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If stashing prospects ahead of time is even a remotely viable strategy in your league, you're well aware of Gregory Polanco by now. You either own him yourself or were disappointed to find out someone else does.

And I endorse it -- the ownership, the disappointment, all of it. It's worth it for the upside, and if the Pirates care so little about their 2014 performance that they're willing to wait another 4-6 weeks to make sure Polanco doesn't become a Super 2 player down the road, so be it.

But what if I told you another outfield prospect is just as close and, in all likelihood, just as good?

It's a name you've heard before, so I'll spare you the suspense. But know this: The buzz on Oscar Taveras has taken on a life of its own.

Most owned minor leaguers (as of 5/22)
Player Own %
1. Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT 72
2. Oscar Taveras, OF, STL 55
3. Danny Salazar, SP, CLE 52
4. Jon Singleton, 1B, HOU 48
5. Archie Bradley, SP, ARI 46
6. Javier Baez, SS, CHC 45
7. Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM 40
8. Byron Buxton, OF, MIN 35
9. Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC 30
10. Andrew Heaney, SP, MIA 28

Rumors of his impending promotion bandied about the Twitterverse Tuesday -- rumors so prevalent and self-assured that they prompted this response from Cardinals MLB.com beat writer Jenifer Langosch:

"I am not a fan of addressing errant rumors and reports, but since so many have asked, no, Oscar Taveras is not here in [the Cardinals] clubhouse."

See? A life of its own.

You know the saying where there's smoke, there's fire? When the buzz is this intense for a prospect, it's usually a precursor to his arrival. As much as we on the outside can feel it, just imagine it from the general manager's perspective. The pressure to call up a future face of the franchise must be enormous.

Especially for a team with the Cardinals' recent run of success. It's World Series or bust for them, and right now, they're on the fringe with a 24-21 record. Obviously, the season doesn't end tomorrow, and the Cardinals wouldn't be the first championship-caliber team to underwhelm through its first 45 games. Still, they don't want make it interesting if they don't have to.

I'm not suggesting John Mozeliak would jeopardize his long-term vision to placate a demanding fan base. I'm just saying the momentum for a Taveras callup may build to a point where he can no longer resist it.

Eventually, one of these general managers has to cave. I'm sure they'd all like to keep their best homegrown players from going to arbitration a year early, but the way the rule works, it's simply not possible. Of this year's rookie class, the 22 percent with the most service time at the end of 2016 become Super 2 players, so the longer teams wait to call up the prospects with the best chance of sticking in the majors through 2016, the later the Super 2 date ends up being. And it's an estimate either way.

Add it all up, and for a contender like the Cardinals, an extra 4-6 weeks from a player of Taveras' caliber is worth forfeiting what may be only a coin flip's chance he doesn't make an extra $3-4 million in 2017. At least, that's the way I see it.

Granted, there's still the issue of fitting him into the lineup, which some have suggested would require the Cardinals to trade Allen Craig or Matt Adams. And considering those two have middle-of-the-order potential themselves, would the Cardinals really benefit in the short term by making such a move?

Maybe not, which is why they're making other arrangements, having recently shifted Taveras back to center field after giving him some time in left to recover from an ankle injury. Betweeen Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay, the Cardinals haven't gotten much production in center field, and unlike with Craig and Adams, they didn't expect to. So what if Taveras isn't a standout defender there? Neither is Jay, and he's been the Cardinals' go-to guy at the position since 2011.

And you know why they put up with him there? His offense. Yup, the Cardinals already have a history of doing what all signs point to them doing here. And what Taveras can do at the plate makes Jay look like Marwin Gonzalez.

Polanco may have the better Triple-A numbers, but Taveras has been part of the best-prospect-in-baseball discussion for a couple years now -- and almost entirely because of his bat. Most players have to sacrifice bat control to generate his kind of power, but he has never struck out more than 56 times in a minor-league season.

It's a trait reminiscent of Albert Pujols, who himself has never struck out more than 76 times since his rookie season, and while comparing the two is too much to put on a 21-year-old still working his way up the minor-league ladder, I wouldn't be the first to do so.

Maybe my case for the Cardinals to call up Taveras regardless of the Super 2 hullabaloo is wishful thinking. But the buzz is building, and if you don't react to it now, you may miss out on the closest thing to this year's Yasiel Puig whenever he does arrive, be it tomorrow or six weeks from now.

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

For a while, it seemed like no one wanted A.J. Cole.

He went from the Washington organization to the Oakland organization back to Washington in a span of 13 months from Dec. 2011 to Jan. 2013. Cole was being shifted from one coast to the other like the Nationals and A's were playing a cross-continent game of Hot Potato.

Cole, who has been involved in trades that have included Gio Gonzalez and Michael Morse, has had his trials and tribulations along the way, but the 2010 fourth-round pick has found his footing at Double-A Harrisburg and showing the baseball world why he's been a Top 100 prospect three years running. The right-hander is 4-2 with a 2.25 ERA in eight starts this season and is 8-4 with a 2.21 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and is striking out 8.8 batters per nine innings in 15 starts since joining the Harrisburg rotation last season.

Cole, who is considered the Nationals' second-best prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America, has really been exceptional as of late, allowing just one run in his last three starts (17 2/3 innings). He also has 18 strikeouts in that span. However, it kind of overshadows an up-and-down April for Cole, who had a .342 opponents' batting average in four starts. However, he was plagued by a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) to begin the season.

Cole had a pretty rough start in 2012 -- his only season with the A's. He was demoted from high Class A Stockton to low Class A Burlington after his ERA ballooned to 7.82 in eight starts. Most would probably blame it on the hitter-friendly California League, but Cole was actually plagued by issues with his delivery, which he eventually ironed out following his demotion. We bring it up because Cole admitted to having more problems with his mechanics to begin the 2014 season.

Following a six-inning shutout performance May 6, Cole told MLB.com his improved results were because of an adjustment he made to his delivery.

"I still hit my spots the first couple starts, but it was just, when you have a flat ball, it's a lot easier to hit," Cole said. "Even at 100 mph, if it's flat, it's easy to hit. Once you create angle that makes it that much harder to hit. That's what I had gotten away from."

Cole has gone to a higher release point, which allows him to improve the movement on his mid-90s fastball, and as he said, "gives more life to my offspeed pitches." His fringy array of secondary pitches has been one area scouts have been harping about for a while with the 22-year-old hurler. Even Harrisburg pitching coach Chris Michalak commented that Cole needs to work on "being consistent," whether it's mechanical or improving his secondary pitches.

Cole reminds me a lot of Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. Not that Zimmermann has trouble repeating his mechanics or has fringy secondary pitches. However, he is a guy that gives up a fair amount of hits, but he doesn't compound the problem with walks and has a moderate strikeout rate. Much like Zimmermann, Cole also doesn't give up a ton of home runs. In fact, Cole has given up zero in eight starts this season.

Surely, the Nationals would love to have another Zimmermann in their rotation. Whether that happens this year or next year will depend on Cole finding the consistency that seems to elude him in the minors.

Clint Coulter, C, Brewers
Affiliate: Class A Wisconsin
2014 stats: .295/.424/.561/.986, nine doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 35 RBI, 23 runs, three stolen bases, 26 walks and 29 strikeouts in 40 games
Coulter had a disastrous campaign in 2013. He began the season with Wisconsin, but then was demoted to the Rookie-level Pioneer League before facing another demotion to the Rookie-level Arizona League. In the end, Coulter hit .244 with a .400 slugging percentage and .714 OPS in 70 games. However, it seems Coulter's struggles last season were all injury related. He dealt with oblique, knee and wrist injuries, with the latter requiring offseason surgery. Luckily, it seems Coulter's down year didn't affect his confidence, as he's raking for Wisconsin now that he's healthy. The 2012 first-round pick also said he's made adjustments at the plate, which has allowed him to stay back on the baseball and improve his pitch-recognition skills. Coulter looks a lot more like the player who burst onto the scene in 2012 with a .302 average, .439 OBP and .883 OPS. The scouts question whether Coulter has the defensive abilities to remain behind the plate, but he's leaving little doubt that when he's healthy he can really rake.

Mike Foltynewicz, SP, Astros
Affiliate: Triple-A Oklahoma City
2014 stats: 3-3, 3.86 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 19 runs (18 earned), 20 walks and 43 strikeouts in 10 outings (seven starts, 42 innings)
It's interesting that the Astros put Foltynewicz back into their tandem-starter system to begin 2014 after he complained last season about how he developed elbow problems because of the four-day timeframe he was asked to pitch. Foltynewicz was inconsistent pitching in the tandem-starter situation to begin the year, but he's been a lot better since Oklahoma City moved to a six-man rotation at the end of April. The right-hander has a 2.50 ERA and .136 opponents' batting average in three May starts. He also has 24 strikeouts in 18 innings in that span. Foltynewicz is considered to be one of the Astros' top pitching prospects behind Mark Appel. He's a hard thrower who touches 100 mph on the radar gun regularly. His fastball can get flat at times, but when he works low in the strike zone he's effective. If his secondary pitches lack consistency and he can't iron out his control problems, Foltynewicz could end up as a reliever. Foltynewicz reminds me a lot of Zack Wheeler, who was a high-profile prospect with a high walk rate. Wheeler was a higher-rated prospect, but Foltynewicz has the potential to be a major-league rotation regular.

Dariel Alvarez, OF, Orioles
Affiliate: Double-A Bowie
2014 stats: .345/.359/.575/.934, 14 doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 39 RBI, 27 runs, three walks, 17 strikeouts and two stolen bases in 42 games
The scouts ripped apart Alvarez as he hit a wall last season at Double-A after he tore through Rookie League and Class A pitchers. They started to question his uppercut swing and pitch-recognition skills, and started to wonder if he would ever hit advanced pitching. Well, Alvarez has silenced his critics in a big way. Bowie hitting coach Butch Davis told MLB.com the 25-year-old Cuban outfielder was "anxious" upon arriving at Double-A last season and trying to "show everybody what he could do." Davis said Alvarez was chasing bad pitches and created bad habits. However, this season, he's being more patient and selective, and the results have been spectacular. The majors have seen a great influx of Cuban talent over the last few years with Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu. Perhaps Alvarez didn't arrive with as much fanfare, but he has good offensive skills and is showing he can be a game changer in the middle of the lineup. There's no road map yet concerning the Orioles' plans for Alvarez, but he's now on the radar of long-term Fantasy keeper owners.

Kennys Vargas, 1B, Twins
Affiliate: Double-A New Britain
2014 stats: .316/.397/.535/.932, 10 doubles, eight home runs, 31 RBI, 24 runs, 21 walks and 27 strikeouts in 43 games
All Vargas has done is hit since joining the Twins' organization as an 18-year-old in 2009. He has a career .294 average with a .497 slugging percentage and .870 OPS. Still, you probably haven't heard a lot about Vargas, who is considered the Twins' 20th-best prospect by Baseball America. You probably figure it's because he has a hole in his swing or has poor pitch-recognition skills, but that's not it. His plate discipline is one of his strong suits, as he has a career .373 on-base percentage. No, Vargas usually gets downgraded because of his questionable conditioning and shaky defense at first base. Luckily, Vargas plays for an AL team, so being a full-time DH is a potential avenue. Hopefully, the Twins won't make the same mistake they did with David Ortiz, who they released in Dec. 2002 and has gone on to be a major-league star with the Red Sox as a full-time DH. In fact, Ortiz has actually become a mentor to Vargas, so don't be surprised if Ortiz-like comparisons get attached to the 23-year-old slugger. If Vargas keeps hitting for average and power in the minors, it might not matter what he does on defense.

Steven Matz, SP, Mets
Affiliate: Class A St. Lucie
2014 stats: 2-2, 2.22 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 13 runs (11 earned), 14 walks and 44 strikeouts in eight starts (44 2/3 innings)
If there's one thing the Mets aren't short on, it's starting pitcher prospects. But with the rate pitchers are having Tommy John surgery, it's probably a good thing to have quality pitching depth. Speaking of Tommy John surgery, Matz was sidelined for two seasons after undergoing the procedure in May 2010, but he's bounced back and made people notice his career resurgence. In 35 career starts, he has a 2.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and is striking out 10.0 batters per nine innings. The scouts appear eager to see Matz make the move to the high minors because they suspect he's dominating young hitters because of his fastball velocity and movement. However, the lefty seemed to hold his own in spring training, striking out five over two scoreless innings. The scouts talk about Matz needing to develop his secondary pitches in order to avoid a move to the bullpen. He could project as a No. 2 or No. 3 major-league starter, but since the Mets are stacked with starting pitchers, there will be no hurry to rush Matz through the minors, especially since it took him so long to return from Tommy John surgery.

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