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Prospects Report: Talkin' about Taijuan

Senior Fantasy Writer
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You could argue Taijuan Walker's 72 percent ownership rate is near miraculous considering he was drafted on average in the 18th round in Head-to-Head leagues -- not exactly "undroppable" territory, in other words -- and hasn't thrown a single pitch in the majors this year.

And if you argue that, you're probably not too surprised to learn it's actually fallen in recent weeks from what had been a steady 76 percent during the longest days of his recovery from an impingement in his right shoulder.

Most owned minor leaguers (as of 6/25)
Player Own %
1. Taijuan Walker, SP, SEA 75
2. Oscar Taveras, OF, STL 63
3. Kevin Gausman, SP, BAL 59
4. Javier Baez, SS, CHC 49
5. Archie Bradley, SP, ARI 40
6. Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC 37
7. Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM 35
8. Tony Cingrani, SP, CIN 35
9. Byron Buxton, OF, MIN 33
10. Dylan Bundy, SP, BAL 31

But again, those were during the longest days of his recovery, when updates were scarce and timetables unknown. Now, he's pitching at Triple-A Tacoma -- and pitching well, for the most part -- which begs the question: If you've already waited this long, what's a little bit longer?

He's coming. It's not a matter of if, but when. When Walker struggled in his first couple starts at Triple-A -- understandably, given the length of his absence -- the Mariners chose to delay him a bit, giving him a chance to find his form there before unleashing the full force of the majors on him. It was their only option, really. Putting him in the precarious situation of rehabilitating on the job could have potentially done more harm than good, setting back his development by rattling his confidence.

But it may have given Fantasy owners the impression they don't think he's ready for the big leagues, which couldn't be further from the truth. Remember: He was all but a lock for the starting rotation before hurting his shoulder this spring. And the Mariners could certainly use him. Winning five of their last six has put them in the lead for the second wild card in the American League, but of course, they have half the AL nipping at their heels. Erasmo Ramirez puts their playoff hopes in jeopardy every time he takes the mound -- especially now that he's added a comically high walk rate to his already lengthy list of vices.

Walker would be an improvement over that. He would be an improvement over most teams' third starting pitcher. He might even be an improvement over Yordano Ventura. Baseball America rated him the third-best pitching prospect coming into the season, behind only Masahiro Tanaka and Archie Bradley, and he proved his readiness with a 3.60 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in three five-inning starts down the stretch last season.

So now, he just has to prove he's back to being the pitcher he was then, and his complete-game shutout Tuesday against Oklahoma City goes a long way to doing that. He was able to do basically whatever he wanted in that start, throwing 75 of his 109 pitches for strikes to finish with eight strikeouts to only one walk.

"I've had games where I've had better stuff, but my curveball was the best it's been in a long time," Walker told MLB.com. "But other than that, my fastball was good. I used my fastball a lot. And I just kind of pitched to contact and got the strikeouts when I needed them."

"Got the strikeouts when I needed them" -- you know, like any other thing people choose to get as needed. A haircut. An oil change. A new password for the wifi that their neighbors keep trying to steal. I imagine him saying it with a stretch and a yawn, overcome by the sheer banality of it.

Which is purely fantasy, of course, but I think it hints at a possible explanation (apart from the injury itself and the usual "it's the Pacific Coast League, genius") for his up-and-down performance so far at Triple-A. For a pitcher with his ability so clearly biding his time in the minors, the biggest challenge is staying focused.

"You know, I try not to keep it in mind, but it's hard," he said of his eventual promotion. "It's hard because I've been up there and I know it's just right down the street. It's hard not to think about it, but I know I can't really think about it.

"I've got to worry about my next start, wherever it is. If it's here, I've got to worry about my next start here. I can't really look too far ahead. So I'm taking it one start at a time, and whenever they're ready, I'll make sure I'm ready."

Again, a matter of when, not if.

Walker was a popular sleeper on Draft Day, but he should be just as much of one now, with much of the mystery removed for all the other high-end types nearly halfway through the season. If you've already missed out on Jake Arrieta, Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman and Andrew Heaney, make sure Walker isn't available in your league. Now may be the last time in the next decade he flies under the radar.

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

Cubs boss Theo Epstein said a lot last week without saying much. In one brief statement, the Cubs president of baseball operations crushed the hopes and dreams of many Fantasy owners when he uttered he doesn't foresee prospect Kris Bryant making it to the majors this season.

Why Theo? Why???

Every day I'm surfing the 'net, it seems like a news item comes across my screen about Bryant crushing another home run. He already has five in six games since his promotion to Triple-A, increasing his season total to 27. He also has a .710 slugging percentage and 1.141 OPS in his career. Bryant, who was the second pick in the 2013 MLB draft, doesn't have a lot of pro experience under his belt, but he just seems like one of those can't-miss-prospects that break the mold much like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.

But alas, as my colleague Scott White wrote last week, there could be a number of reasons for the Cubs wanting to keep Bryant in the minors, despite his ridiculous progression. But Bryant isn't the only Cubs' prospect these days making daily headlines. It seems the Cubs have a very good knack for assessing amateur talent, because their latest gem is making as much noise in the minors as Bryant -- and he just began his pro career.

It's been a whirlwind June for catcher Kyle Schwarber, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft. It didn't take him long to sign his first pro contract and make an impact. It took Schwarber only five games with short-season Boise (Class A) before earning a promotion in the minors. That's not a typo. After hitting .600 with four home runs and 10 RBI in five games for Boise, Schwarber was promoted to low Class A Kane County. And much like Bryant, he's already creating buzz about how quickly he might shoot through the minors.

With how well Bryant and Schwarber have performed lately, it got me thinking about what the Cubs lineup might look like in a few years. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball in my opinion and already have a few All-Star caliber players at the major-league level.

So in the spirit of peering into the future, here is a preview of what the Cubs' 2016 lineup might look like:

Catcher: Schwarber
First Base: Anthony Rizzo
Second Base: Javier Baez
Shortstop: Starlin Castro
Third Base: Bryant
Right Field: Jorge Soler
Center Field: Albert Almora
Left Field: Junior Lake (Mike Olt? Brett Jackson? Arismendy Alcantara?)

That list obviously doesn't include some of the Cubs' top pitching prospects like C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson, Kyle Hendricks, Paul Blackburn and Tyler Skulina, who are definitely players we could be talking about in the future as well.

Epstein might not be a popular figure in the Fantasy world right now as he keeps Bryant from potentially making an impact down the stretch, but in a few years he might be one of the most praised figures for the returns the Cubs' lineup could bring to Fantasy owners.

Tyler Glasnow, SP, Pirates
Affiliate: Class A Bradenton
2014 stats: 4-3, 1.62 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 61 strikeouts, 32 walks and zero home runs allowed in 11 starts (55 2/3 innings)
Glasnow got a late start to the season because of a back injury, but it doesn't seem the time off affected him one bit. The 2011 fifth-round pick burst onto the scene in 2013 with a breakout season at low Class A West Virginia, going 9-3 with a 2.18 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 24 starts. He also struck out 164 batters in 111 1/3 innings last season. While Glasnow's strikeout rate might not be as impressive this season, he's still proving last year was no fluke. The Pirates could use a dose of good news after losing top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon to Tommy John surgery. The scouting report on Glasnow is he feeds off his plus fastball, while he improves his consistency with his curveball and changeup. Glasnow's lanky frame (6-7, 195 pounds) gives him trouble repeating his delivery, which has led to control problems (4.8 BB/9 in his career). Though, it seems the Pirates are giving the 20-year-old hurler time to develop, so even if he makes it to Double-A this season, he might not be on the MLB radar until 2016.

Daniel Norris, SP, Blue Jays
Affiliate: Double-A New Hampshire
2014 stats (Class A and Double-A): 7-0, 1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 95 strikeouts, 22 walks and two home runs allowed in 15 starts (77 2/3 innings)
A few years ago it seemed the Blue Jays overpaid for Norris, who landed a $2 million signing bonus as a 2011 second-round pick. The left-hander's pro career got off to a brutal start, as he posted an 8.44 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in his first pro season in 2012. But the Blue Jays' minor-league staff got to work, changed Norris' mechanics and now he's developing into an elite pitching prospect. The change came to Norris' stride, which has made his arm slot more consistent. The results have been great. Norris doubled his strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.4) in the second half last season, and this season he's striking out a career-best 11 batters per nine innings and walking a career-low 2.5 batters per nine. The mechanical change has made Norris' fastball, curveball and slider all plus pitches, and his changeup is developing into an above-average offering. Norris will likely finish the season at Double-A and could open next season at Triple-A, putting him in play for an in-season promotion in 2015.

Pete O'Brien, C/1B, Yankees
Affiliate: Double-A Trenton
2014 stats (Class A and Double-A): .263/.304/.594/.898, one triple, 15 doubles, 25 home runs, 54 RBI, 44 runs, 13 walks and 73 strikeouts in 73 games
O'Brien is an interesting prospect. It's quite evident by his numbers that he has no problem making loud contact, but he's developing a reputation as an all-or-nothing slugger. However, prior to his promotion to Double-A, O'Brien did hit .321 with a .353 on-base percentage in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, so he was showing signs of maturing as a hitter. But it's unraveled a bit at Double-A, as O'Brien is batting just .223 with a .271 on-base percentage against advanced pitching. He still has 15 home runs and a .530 slugging percentage in 43 games with Trenton, and O'Brien's power was enough to land him a spot on the U.S. roster for the prestigious All-Star Futures Game. O'Brien began his career as a catcher, but he's now also seeing playing time at first base, DH, third base and right field. His defensive concerns explain why he's bouncing around the diamond, but his versatility could play big one day in Fantasy, especially if he continues to hit for power.

Domingo German, SP, Marlins
Affiliate: Class A Greensboro
2014 stats: 7-2, 2.28 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 76 strikeouts, 14 walks and four home runs allowed in 15 starts (83 innings)
German has been moving at a snail's pace since he was an international free-agent signing in 2009, but perhaps that can be expected since he was a teenager when he signed. The Dominican hurler is now 21 years old and might finally be poised to move quickly through the minors. Even though he hasn't progressed quickly, he's been pretty solid making his way through the low minors. The right-hander is 18-9 with a 2.24 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 253 1/3 innings, which included two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He is striking out 8.8 batters and walking 2.8 batters per nine innings in his career, and has allowed just a total of six home runs. German isn't yet considered elite, but that could be changing. He's lauded for his feel for pitching and his three-pitch arsenal. His fastball is a power sinker, his changeup is above-average and he's making progress with his slider. German has developed a reputation for being a strike thrower, which is a trait that could serve him well in the majors. The Marlins have been a bit unpredictable when it comes to promoting pitchers, but German is becoming a player to keep tabs on in long-term keeper formats.

Domingo Santana, OF, Astros
Affiliate: Triple-A Oklahoma City
2014 stats: .295/.377/.493/.870, one triple, 12 home runs, 21 doubles, 47 RBI, 43 runs, 38 walks, 92 strikeouts and four stolen bases in 79 games
Santana is the last piece of the Hunter Pence trade with the Phillies in 2011 that has yet to make it to the majors, but he might be soon joining Jon Singleton, Jarred Cosart and Josh Zeid on the Astros' roster. Don't be too concerned about Santana toiling in the minors since 2009. He began his pro career at 16 years old, so much like Domingo German, there hasn't been a need to rush him through the minors. But make no mistake about it -- Santana has major-league potential and profiles as a middle-of-the-order hitter. He slugged .536 at high Class A, .498 at Double-A and is now slugging .493 at Triple-A. Santana has been hindered by a high-strikeout rate in his career, but that's because his swing is long. He has power to all fields, which is a trait that helps counter his high whiff rate. Santana has played all three outfield positions in the minors, but he profiles as a corner outfielder. He's on the 40-man roster, so as the summer progresses, there's a good chance we will see him in the majors. Santana won't be a must-add if that happens, but he surely would be an intriguing sleeper in deep formats.

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