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Prospects Report: Franco in Phillies' sights?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Maybe Oscar Taveras will be up June 4 for the start of a seven-game stretch in American League parks.

Maybe Maikel Franco will be up even sooner than that.

Granted, Franco is no Taveras, who I covered in great detail last week, but he has the added advantage of playing one of the most troublesome positions in Fantasy: third base.

And he profiles as an impact bat himself.

Most owned minor leaguers (as of 5/28)
Player Own %
1. Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT 75
2. Oscar Taveras, OF, STL 70
3. Jon Singleton, 1B, HOU 49
4. Archie Bradley, SP, ARI 45
5. Javier Baez, SS, CHC 45
6. Danny Salazar, SP, CLE 44
7. Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM 39
8. Byron Buxton, OF, MIN 35
9. Andrew Heaney, SP, MIA 31
10. Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC 30

Wait, no, don't look at his 2014 numbers. As with Allen Craig and Adrian Beltre, they'll only throw you off the scent. Franco got off to a cold start, possibly due to cold weather, but as with Craig and Beltre, his overall numbers conceal the full extent of his resurgence. In May, he's batting .287 with three home runs and an .821 OPS.

And there's more where that come from.

The line that sets everyone's heart aflutter is the one he put up between two stops last year, batting .320 with 31 home runs and a .926 in a season split almost evenly between high Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. The jump to Double-A is widely considered the toughest for a minor-leaguer, but Franco made it look easy with a .339 batting average.

Of course, he did it playing half his games in an extreme hitter's park, but that doesn't account for him striking out just 70 times in 541 at-bats -- a rate rarely seen for a player with his power potential.

Which is almost exactly what I said about Taveras last week.

Now obviously, Taveras is a better prospect than Franco. He's been in the discussion for best in baseball the last two years. He's thrived at every level without any real letup while Franco has only last year going for him. But if Taveras' exceptional contact rate helps distinguish him from other minor-league mashers, it should also help distinguish Franco, regardless of what he's doing at Triple-A at the moment.

Because ultimately, what Franco does at Triple-A counts only for how quickly it gets him to the big leagues, and with the recent injury to Cody Asche, what he's done so far may prove to be enough.

The timing is less than perfect. When Asche went down with a strained hamstring, Franco was sidelined by an upper respiratory illness. He has since returned but is just 5 for 32 (.156) over his last nine games. Most likely, it's a bump in the road -- the kind of slump readily dismissed for a proven major leaguer -- but so as not to set him up for failure, manager Ryne Sandberg told the Philadelphia Daily News the Phillies won't promote Franco until he's in a groove at the plate.

So then, could he arrive at some point during Asche's DL stint?

"He could. It's possible," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Just to get him hot at the point where he's confident and feeling good about his swing and being in a good rhythm. There's no reason to bring a guy up who's not swinging the bat very well."

I get the sense from those comments that if not for his recent illness and this little cold spell, Franco might already be in the big leagues. I also get the sense that if he goes 4 for 5 with two home runs tonight, he'll be up tomorrow.

So now, the pressure is on. Though a hamstring strain could sideline a player for anywhere from two weeks to two months, Asche's seems to be of lesser severity, which gives Franco about 10 games to take advantage of this opportunity. Personally, I think the idea of him winning Amaro and Sandberg over in that short period of time is a bit nutty, but if they leave open the possibility, who am I to argue?

And if they leave open the possibility, I'm inclined to take it seriously, because while Franco may not be Taveras, he's capable of meeting a need that, in some leagues, the waiver wire can't. He could be an impact third baseman.

Of course, he could also be a waste of everyone's time at age 21 and earn a one-way ticket back to Lehigh Valley, but that's the risk you run with any prospect. If you can afford the bench spot and know you won't have a better shot at respectability at the position, why not take the chance?

Whether this injury opens the door for him or not, by simply acknowledging the possibility, Amaro and Sandberg revealed Franco is in their short-term plans. And a healthy Asche, with his .258 batting average and .771 OPS, isn't enough to block him. He may slow him down if he beats him to the active roster, but barring a complete collapse at Triple-A, Franco is the Phillies' starting third baseman come the second half.

That puts him up there with Jon Singleton in terms of stashability.

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

If you have listened to our podcast, you know I've developed a reputation for butchering names. It's how the "Hurc Love" song got its roots and spawned the segment on the podcast called "Hurc'd on Phonics."

Thankfully, this is written content and all I have to worry about is spelling because this next name is a doozy -- Odrisamer Despaigne. However, it's a name I better start working on pronouncing because it looks like the Padres pitching prospect will soon be gracing the majors with his presence. Luckily, the Padres were nice enough to provide a phonetic breakdown of his name -- pronounced O-DREE-SA-MEHR DES-PAWN-NYAY -- so maybe there is hope for me after all.

Anyway, you are probably wondering who is Despaigne? The 6-0, 196-pound Cuban hurler was signed to a minor-league contract May 2 by San Diego. The 27-year-old right-hander played eight pro seasons in Cuba, amassing a 61-43 record with a 3.55 ERA, 684 strikeouts and 390 walks in 213 appearances (957 1/3 innings).

Why do you need to know about Despaigne? Well in the short time he's been in this country, he's already earned a promotion to Triple-A El Paso after just two starts for Double-A San Antonio. He posted a 1.17 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, while allowing one run on four hits and five walks in 7 2/3 innings for San Antonio. He also struck out 12.

Last week, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said Despaigne could be a factor for the major-league club soon, according U-T San Diego. His brief pit stop at San Antonio is evidence of that, so it sent me scrambling to the Internet to find a scouting report on the Cuban pitcher.

What I've gathered is that the scouts are torn between Despaigne ending up as a starter or reliever. During a 90-minute workout in February, Despaigne had a 35-pitch throwing session, which featured cut fastballs, changeups and sliders. He hovered between 92-94 mph and topped out at 95 mph.

The one thing that constantly comes up is Despaigne's deceptive delivery. The scouts consider Despaigne's repertoire to be average, but they say he's successful because his ability to change arm slots and angles. Heck, even Despaigne knows that is his strength.

"I hope I can have half the career that [Orlando Hernandez] had, because he's been my idol since I was a child, but like him, I throw from a lot of different angles," Despaigne said, per MLB.com.

So what should we expect? It seems as though the Padres are stretching out Despaigne to start. With Josh Johnson out for the season, and Andrew Cashner and Robbie Erlin on the disabled list, the Padres are showing the need to build rotation depth and quickly.

The El Paso rotation features Despaigne, Matthew Wisler, Keyvius Sampson and Burch Smith (injured), and they soon might be joined by Casey Kelly, who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. But if the Padres were confident in any of those arms, then there might not be a need to rush Despaigne.

Despaigne is an intriguing enough prospect because of the way he's being ushered through the minors. It would be nice if he has the kind of impact Cuban imports Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig have had on offense, but those are lofty expectations, especially since the scouts aren't sure if Despaigne has a future as starter because of his fringy arsenal. But his strength is his unique delivery, which might suit him well in the majors.

I would definitely consider stashing Despaigne in dynasty and NL-only leagues. However, with plenty of talent left on waivers in mixed leagues, unless you are in a very deep format, then it might not be worth stashing the fast riser.

Kyle Crick, SP, Giants
Affiliate: Double-A Richmond
2014 stats: 2-1, 4.08 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 16 runs (13 earned), 25 hits, 24 walks, zero home runs, 31 strikeouts and three wild pitches in eight starts (28 2/3 innings)
You might not know it by looking at his 2014 stats, but Crick came into the season as the Giants' top-ranked prospect by Baseball America and MLB.com. Either that speaks to how poor the Giants' farm system is or how good everyone thinks Crick can be despite having serious command problems. Aside from his 1.71 WHIP this season, he is walking 7.5 batters per nine innings. It's not like this is a new issue because Crick is walking 5.8 batters per nine over his career. Though, Crick is held in such high regard because of his live arm. The scouts talk about him being effective despite poor command because of his mid-90s fastball that he complements nicely with a slider and curveball. Still, you have to be concerned about the command problems because more advanced hitters capitalize on mistakes, and they already starting to do so against the 2011 first-round pick. Crick got away with a high walk rate in the low minors, but it's catching up to him now. Just look at how former Giants farmhand Zack Wheeler is struggling to find consistency at the major-league level as his walk rate sits above 4.0.

Michael Lorenzen, SP, Reds
Affiliate: Double-A Pensacola
2014 stats: 2-3, 1.99 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 17 runs (13 earned), 46 hits, two home runs, 18 walks, 40 strikeouts, three hit batters and two wild pitches in 10 starts (58 2/3 innings)
Whoever in the Reds' organization is responsible for finding and developing starting pitchers deserves a serious raise. The major-league rotation is already full of homegrown arms -- Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, Tony Cingrani -- and there is a ton more talent in the pipeline. We've already featured Robert Stephenson and Ben Lively, who are both dominating in the minors. Now, it's Lorenzen's turn, and he's been equally as impressive this season. The former college outfielder is in his first full season as a starter and making the Reds look good for using a first-round pick on him last year despite the right-hander only pitching in relief at Cal State Fullerton. But the team felt he had enough athleticism and a live arm to make the transition to starter, and thus far it's paying off. The scouts talk about Lorenzen having to refine his secondary pitches if he wants to remain a starter, but even if that doesn't happen, they project him to be a late-inning reliever or closer because his fastball is a plus-plus pitch and his slurve (a slider thrown as a curve) also projects as a better-than-average pitch.

Kevin Plawecki, C, Mets
Affiliate: Double-A Binghamton
2014 stats: .336/.371/.507/.878, four home runs, 12 doubles, 18 runs, 25 RBI, seven walks and 18 strikeouts in 35 games
I'm sure some Mets fans would like to see Plawecki in The Big Apple right now given Travis d'Arnaud's struggles. However, it's not time to give up on d'Arnaud, who has logged just 62 games at the major-league level. He was an elite talent in the minors, and hopefully in time that will show in the majors. In the meantime, it's worth talking about Plawecki, who is making headlines down on the farm. Plawecki has displayed enough power in the minors to post some interesting slugging percentages, but he's not a home run hitter. He's more of a contact and doubles hitter. His real strength is his plate discipline. Plawecki struck out just 29 times in three seasons in college and has as nearly as many walks (74) as he does strikeouts (95) as a pro. He also has a .375 on-base percentage. The scouts feels Plawecki is good enough offensively and defensively to project as a major-league starting catcher, despite moderate home run power. At worst, they feel he can be a part-time catcher and first baseman.

J.P. Crawford , SS, Phillies
Affiliate: Class A Lakewood
2014 stats: .344/.435/.488/.923, three home runs, 14 doubles, 15 RBI, 27 runs, 25 walks, 24 strikeouts and nine stolen bases in 42 games
When the Phillies selected Crawford with the 16th pick in the 2013 MLB draft, there were no issues about his defense but a few concerns about his offense. Well, Crawford is doing a great job silencing his critics. After winning the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting title in 2013, Crawford is off to a roaring start in 2014. Through 95 pro games, he's batting .324 with a .419 on-base percentage, .439 slugging percentage and .858 OPS. The scouts appeared confident Crawford could hit for average and remain hopeful he will hit for power as he adds bulk. Well, the 19-year-old prospect is already starting to show signs of improving power, as he has a .488 slugging percentage through 42 games for Lakewood. Even more impressive is his plate discipline, as Crawford has 57 walks to 59 strikeouts in his career. Even though he is a high-school draftee, Crawford appears as though he could move quickly through the minors and be the eventual heir apparent at shortstop to Jimmy Rollins, who could be a free agent after the 2014 season if his $11 million vesting option for 2015 doesn't kick in.

Trey Ball, SP, Red Sox
Affiliate: Class A Greenville
2014 stats: 1-4, 8.38 ERA, 2.17 WHIP, 19 runs (18 earned), 33 hits, two home runs, nine walks, 12 strikeouts and two hit batters in five starts (19 1/3 innings)
In Baseball America's prospect profile on Ball, they have one talent evaluator quoted as saying the left-handed pitching prospect has a "serious wow factor." I agree, as in "wow" I can't believe how bad he's been as a pro. Granted, Ball has logged just 10 starts (26 1/3 innings) in his young career, but he is 1-5 with a 7.86 ERA and 2.20 WHIP. Not exactly numbers you want to see from a top-10 draft pick, which the Red Sox made him in 2013 (seventh overall). It's still very early in Ball's career, so maybe we can't put a lot of stock into his numbers. It's just that they really stand out and not in a positive light. Ball entered the draft last season as arguably the top two-way prospect, but he was drafted as a pitcher after the scouts felt he could develop three above-average pitches (fastball, changeup, curveball). Some scouts feel Ball might develop into a frontline starter, but right now it's not looking that way. If worse comes to worst, the Red Sox probably feel they could just convert Ball back to an outfielder in the even pitching doesn't pan out since he's athletic enough to make the transition.

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Player News
Mets SS Wilmer Flores (finger) back in spring lineup Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:55 am ET) Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores returned to the spring lineup Friday against the Tigers after leaving Wednesday's spring game against the Nationals. Flores exited Wednesday's game after getting hit on the right pinkie finger in the fifth inning.

Phillippe Aumont's bid for spot on Phillies' roster not off to great start
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:39 am ET) Phillies reliever Phillippe Aumont is out of minor-league options, so if he doesn't make the team this spring, he is subject to waivers. Thus far, however, his bid for a roster spot is not going well.

After allowing a run in his lone inning of work Sunday against the University of Tampa, Aumont allowed solo homers on consecutive pitches in the fifth inning of Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Astros.

"This is a big spring training for him as far as the Phillies go and him (being) with the Phillies," manager Ryne Sandberg said after Thursday's game, per The Philadelphia Inquirer. "He's had multiple chances and this is a clean slate opportunity for him in spring training coming in with opportunities and with some spots available.

"It should be a fresh start for him after the offseason. The biggest thing for him is to work ahead, and really, he has a good breaking ball when he can get to those counts. But sometimes he gets hit before he gets to those counts."


Braves' Minor doesn't appear to be overly concerned about injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:01 am ET) Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor appeared confident Friday his shoulder injury is not serious, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Minor doesn't have a date yet on when he will meet with Dr. James Andrews next week, but he is hoping Andrews can clarify what is wrong with his shoulder.

Minor said his shoulder started to get sore after throwing batting practice last week, and the soreness increased following a second batting practice session.


Tigers' Ausmus: James McCann can be very good major-league catcher
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(8:00 am ET) Tigers catcher James McCann, who is vying for a spot on the roster as a backup to Alex Avila, allowed a passed ball during Thursday's spring game against the Braves. After the game, McCann was very critical of his play and vowed to make sure no more pitches skip by him. 

McCann's relentless work ethic is one trait that manager Brad Aumus likes about the 24-year-old catcher.

"I don't have to worry about him working," Ausmus said Thursday, per the Detroit Free Press. "I think Mac does an excellent job. He is very alert. His head is into the game at all times. He understands that his value is greater on the defensive side of the game than it is when he is standing in the batter's box. That's not to say he doesn't take his hitting seriously.

"I think he has a chance to be a very good major-league catcher. I'm more concerned about how he handles a staff, how he calls a game, how he blocks balls in the dirt (than his ability to throw out runners)."


Phillies SP Cliff Lee having no doubts coming off elbow injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(7:31 am ET) Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee appeared to be brimming with confidence Thursday, as he said following his first start since missing the final two months of the 2014 season due to an elbow injury that everything is "so far, so good."

While some folks still might have some doubt regarding the 36-year-old's durability moving forward, Lee has no such doubts.

"I don't have any uncertainty," Lee said, per The Philadelphia Daily News. "I definitely have confidence and expect to go out there and be successful, and I'm doing everything I can to prevent something like that from happening again. That's really all I can do. There's no worry or uncertainty or anything like that. I'm just going to go out there and be confident and expect to have success and not really even think about it, to be honest with you."

Lee threw only 22 pitches (16 strikes) in two innings Thursday in his spring debut. He still has a long ways to go in getting back to his previous form, but Lee is confident it will happen.

"As a starting pitcher, you've got to go out there and throw a hundred-and-some-odd pitches, get deep into games to do your job effectively," Lee said. "Personally, until I do that I don't think that I've proven that I can do that yet. I don't have any doubts, but still you have to build up to do that and prove you can do that . . . I don't think anyone is going to know that I can do that until I go out there and show it."


Mets' Jacob deGrom working on perfecting his curveball
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:42 am ET) Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom is working on perfecting his curveball this spring, according to the New York Post

"This spring is so different," deGrom said. "I can really come in here and work on things. Last year when I was over on the big league side, I didn’t throw my curveball one time because I was trying to make the team and prove I could get outs in spring training."

After experiencing some success in the majors, deGrom said he is more willing to work on stuff this time around. While he actually started using his curve more late last season, it seems like deGrom is going to work on perfecting the pitch during camp. 

"It’s a great pitch whether it be strike one or a strikeout pitch," deGrom said. "Talking to Gee, Wheeler and all those guys and see how they throw theirs and taking little bits of information from them and trying it in bullpens. Sometimes I throw it at 78 (mph) and that’s a big difference from the slider. It gets the hitter off balance."

deGrom, 26, posted a 2.69 ERA over 140 1/3 innings last season.


Rockies' Charlie Blackmon hoping for more consistency
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon is hoping for more consistency in 2015, according to the Denver Post

Blackmon had a breakout season in 2014, but admits it's hard to be on every single game. "Last year, I swung the bat really well at certain times," he said. "But you go through a lot of ups and downs over 162 games, and that was a learning experience. I think that's going to help me this year."

Blackmon said his strong start made him a target for other teams, and that may have contributed to a slight slump during the season. Blackmon added that he's hoping to hit the ball to all fields this season.

Manager Walt Weiss is hoping Blackmon can deliver more of the same. "I don't know if he necessarily has to have an encore. I'm thinking more of the same," Weiss said. "I think Charlie would say that he wants to be more consistent."

The 28-year-old Blackmon hit .288/.335/.440 over 593 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Gibson feels 'a little more comfortable' with curveball
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson surrendered one run on two hits and one walk in two innings while striking out two in his spring debut Thursday, using the outing to work on his curveball, the Associated Press reports.

"I felt really good," Gibson said. "I'm working on some stuff, and some stuff worked out that I was working on. I threw more curveballs than normal. That's what spring training's for. It's just fun to be able to work on a particular pitch. I feel a little more comfortable."

Gibson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, completed his first full major-league deal in 2014, going 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA and 107:57 K:BB ratio in 179 1/3 innings.


Blue Jays' Barton hoping his glove wins him a spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Blue Jays first baseman Daric Barton is hoping his glove can win him a spot on the 25-man roster, according to the Toronto Sun.

Barton isn't much of a power hitter, but gets strong marks for his defense at first. Manager John Gibbons is well aware of Barton's skills. "One thing that put Daric on the map was that he was such a disciplined hitter and a great defender," Gibbons said. He added that the first baseman is involved in a large chunk of plays, so defense at the position is probably more important than people realize.

With that said, Barton may need a trade to make the opening day roster. As currently constructed, the Blue Jays may carry three catchers. If the team retains Dioner Navarro, Barton could find himself in the minors.

The 29-year-old Barton hit .158 over 57 at-bats last year.


Pirates' Pedro Alvarez feeling comfortable at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez is feeling comfortable at first base, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

After playing third the past couple of seasons, Alvarez will transition to first base full-time in 2015. The 28-year-old is still getting used to the position, but he seems comfortable with the change.

"It’s just a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view, get the reps in so that the responsibilities that come with playing the position become second nature," he said. "That’s just with time and repetitions."

Alvarez hit .231/.312/.405 over 398 at-bats last season. 


 
 
 
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