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Prospects Report: Next to make a splash?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Now that Javier Baez has arrived, Michael Hurcomb and I are left to stare into a meaningless void.

Who's next? Should anybody care? What's the meaning of this never-ending roundabout we call prospecting?

With no clear direction to go as the minor-league season draws to a close, we'll forgo the player-by-player analysis this week for a question-and-answer format ... and address more players in the process.

Not to mention different ones. A Prospects Report with no mention of Kris Bryant? Blasphemy!

Which minor-leaguer will make the biggest impact down the stretch?

Scott White: Javier Baez may have beaten him to the majors, but most everything else I wrote about Jorge Soler a couple weeks ago still applies: The Cubs have every reason to call him up provided he continues to perform like he has in 14 games at Triple-A Iowa, batting .286 with four home runs and a 1.078 OPS. (That's after batting .415 with six home runs and a 1.355 OPS in 22 games at Double-A Tennessee, keep in mind.) Because of the terms of his contract, his salary is already set through 2020, so the Cubs get less of a return on their investment the longer they hold him back. Sure, they'd be rushing him, but without the threat of an arbitration clock, that's not as much of a concern. And given the way other former participants in the Cuban National Series have fared in the big leagues -- Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, etc. -- I'd bet on him making an immediate impact.

Michael Hurcomb: I want to tell you it will be Red Sox starting pitcher prospect Henry Owens, but I'm not totally convinced Boston will bring him to the majors this season. Joc Pederson is an obvious choice too, but he's still heavily owned, so you already have a good idea of his upside. Therefore, I'll settle on Twins starting pitcher prospect Trevor May, who I had chosen before the news surfaced of a potential weekend callup.

After missing some time due to a calf injury, May made his return in late July, but he's only up to 95 1/3 innings. He's pitched at least 135 innings the last four seasons and made it to 151 2/3 innings last year. If he's going to be a serious contender for the rotation next spring, the Twins have to get him more innings this year. They could send him to the Arizona Fall League, but it just seems to make more sense for him to log some innings at the major-league level. He's 8-6 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 17 starts for Triple-A Rochester. May used to be a much-better strikeout pitcher earlier in his career, but he still is striking out 8.6 batters per nine innings this season. His command can get away from him at times, but as long as he gets starts down the stretch, he definitely has Fantasy value in deep formats.

Other than Addison Russell, which of the prospects moved at the trade deadline needs to be on your radar?

SW: I'd say the most fascinating prospect moved -- other than Russell, of course -- was Colin Moran, a high-contact, take what-the-pitcher-gives-you type who went sixth overall in last year's draft and really hasn't done anything to lower his stock this year, batting .293 between two stops. He could always go the Zack Cox route -- such are the risks with any prospect -- but playing for an organization that values youth and upside, he'll be given every opportunity to succeed. It's not like the Astros have a long-term commitment to Matt Dominguez or anything.

I'd also keep an eye on Eduardo Rodriguez, who was the projected third wheel in the upcoming Dylan Bundy/Kevin Gausman takeover before struggling to make the transition to Double-A. Maybe a change of scenery is all he needs.

MH: I know there have been a lot of minor-league players that put up big power numbers in the minors to never make it to the majors or repeat the same success in The Bigs. However, it's difficult to overlook what Diamondbacks prospect Pete O'Brien, who was acquired in the Martin Prado deal with the Yankees, is doing this season. He's totaled 34 home runs in 105 games and 24 of those home runs have come at Double-A. The fact he's crushing the ball in the high majors is encouraging. I know the scouts are down on O'Brien because he has a long swing and he's not the greatest defender. Perhaps if O'Brien gets to the majors, he will be a lot like J.P. Arencibia -- a catcher that can hit for power, but has a high strikeout rate and low average. But a guy that has hit 34 home runs and has a career .534 slugging percentage is someone worth putting on your radar.

Are Taijuan Walker, Andrew Heaney, Drew Pomeranz, Tony Cingrani and Carlos Martinez still worth stashing in single-season leagues?

SW: To be perfectly honest -- and I feel this applies to all leagues with 12 teams or fewer -- no. But then, in leagues of that size, I'm not sure any of the remaining minor-leaguers need to be owned. If I really didn't like my alternatives and was forced to pick one, I'd go with Taijuan Walker because I think he has the most upside, the most apparent claim to a rotation spot and enough innings still in the hopper to last through September, but given that the Mariners still haven't committed a rotation spot to him in the heat of a playoff chase, I'm not confident they believe he's ready to contribute at age 21.

I did have some hope of Pomeranz picking up where he left off once Jesse Chavez's innings ran out, but that was before the Jon Lester trade. I don't see where Pomeranz fits anymore.

MH: Pomeranz and Walker are the most intriguing options. Walker hasn't had a lot of sustained success this season -- whether it has been in the majors or minors. But he missed the start of the season due to a shoulder injury and is still rounding into form. Also, he has just pitched 72 1/3 innings this season, so he also needs to get that number up. Once the minor-league season ends, even if the Mariners are still in the playoff hunt, I can see Walker coming to the majors and getting starts down the stretch.

Jason Hammel has not been good since joining the Oakland rotation. Though, he was considerably better in his last start, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless innings. If he continues to struggle or an injury befalls a starter, Pomeranz could be just a call away, even with Chavez in the Oakland bullpen. Pomeranz has continued to pitch well in the minors following his mid-July demotion. He's allowed just five runs and has 20 strikeouts in his last three starts (21 innings) for Triple-A Sacramento. More impressive, he hasn't allowed a home run in that span, which is a great feat in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

Which scuffling prospect still has your trust?

SW: After an eye-opening 2013 that elevated him to elite status among pitching prospects, Noah Syndergaard has had what seems like a terrible season at Triple-A Las Vegas, compiling a 4.85 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 20 starts. But the Pacific Coast League is just a different animal. The ball carries so well in most of the venues there that it's almost like going to pitch for the Rockies. And for young pitchers especially, it can take a toll mentally. Oftentimes, simply removing them from that environment is enough to get them back on track. Just look at James Paxton. He had a 4.45 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 28 appearances, including 26 starts, for Triple-A Tacoma last year but has known nothing but success in the majors so far.

The most encouraging sign for Syndergaard is that he hasn't changed who he is in response to the environment. While teammate Rafael Montero seems afraid to throw strikes -- something that set him apart from other pitching prospects in previous stops -- Syndergaard's walk rate has remained about the same. Given the reports that Syndergaard could be up if Bartolo Colon is traded, the Mets clearly haven't lost faith, and neither have I.

MH: It's been a train wreck of a season for Diamondbacks starting pitcher Archie Bradley. He had a rough spring as he was competing for a spot in the Diamondbacks' rotation. His struggles continued at Triple-A before being sidelined for several weeks with an elbow injury. Luckily, he avoided the Tommy John epidemic, but even since returning to action, he's been very inconsistent. Bradley continues to have command problems in the minors, but that's not any different from when he was building his reputation as an elite pitching prospect.

Dealing with adversity in the minors isn't the end of the world. In fact, a lot of teams welcome it because it gives them a good indication of what kind of player they truly have. I definitely think Bradley put a lot of added pressure on himself this year to live up to the hype, which might have led to his elbow problems. It's been a wash of a season for the 21-year-old hurler, but given his potential and how close he was to the majors before his struggles, I'm not ready to write this kid off after one down season.

Which of the 2014 draft picks has most piqued your interest?

SW: Kyle Schwarber is the obvious answer, having already advanced two levels thanks to a .341 batting average, 10 home runs and 1.028 OPS in his first few weeks on the job, but since he's gotten so much attention from other outlets already, I'd prefer to spotlight Aaron Nola here. Of all the pitchers selected in the first round of the 2014 draft, he was widely considered the closest to major league-ready and hasn't done anything to slow his timetable at high Class A Clearwater, compiling a 3.16 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings in seven appearances, including six starts. He's kind of like Noah Syndergaard, offering a mid-90s fastball with swing-and-miss potential and plus command. And depending on what direction the Phillies go this offseason, it's not inconceivable he could compete for a job next spring.

MH: There are a lot of easy choices here. I could have gone with Schwarber, Nola or Michael Conforto, who were all top 10 picks and living up to the hype very early in their pro careers. So I figured a better use of this space is to shine the light a little on Royals starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan, who was the 17th overall pick in June's MLB Draft.

I know the Royals haven't had a good reputation for developing their high-end pitching prospects into major-league starters, but Finnegan appears to be on the fast track. After breezing through five starts (0-1, 0.60 ERA, 0.47 WHIP) for Class A Wilmington, Finnegan has already earned a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. This comes after an impressive season for TCU, where the 5-11 left-hander was 9-3 with a 2.04 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 134 strikeouts in 17 starts (105 2/3 innings). Finnegan's profile has really taken off after a new grip on his slider turned the breaking ball into a plus pitch. Scouts worry his small frame might lead to durability issues, but Finnegan is a fast-rising prospect making folks take notice.

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Player News
Brewers GM not looking to add another starting pitcher
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:09 pm ET) Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said Sunday the team is not looking to add another starting pitcher to replace Yovani Gallardo.

"I don't think we have room for a notable starting pitcher," Melvin said. "We'd like to add a pitcher that could be a spot starter."

Milwaukee currently has Jimmy Nelson as their fifth starter, who went 2-9 in 2014 with a 4.93 ERA and 57 strikeouts for the club.


David Murphy's role unclear for Indians heading into season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:53 pm ET) Indians outfielder David Murphy is heading into his second season with the club and is trying to figure out what his role will be with the team.

Murphy said Sunday he got the chance to speak with general manager Chris Antonetti when the team traded for Brandon Moss in December.

"Communication is huge just in general in this game," Murphy said. "It's nice to go into the season knowing how he feels, and I'm sure he's speaking for the front office and the coaching staff. Just having an idea of how they feel about it, and giving me a chance to voice my opinion in how I feel about it, the lines of communication are open. I definitely think that's a good thing. It's kind of hard to know at this point how things are going to fall into place."

Murphy, who hit .262 with eight home runs and 58 RBI in 2014, knows being traded is one option to find playing time.

"I think everybody can logically see that there's only so many spots out there for so many players," Murphy said. "I'm prepared to lose playing time, but not to the point where I'm going to get 150 at-bats. If that's the case, and that's the best-case scenario for them and for me, I'm open to [a trade]. But I feel like this team has a great chance to win, and for that reason, I would love to be here."

Indians manager Terry Francona said recently Murphy will be the right fielder in Cleveland to open the year.

"Well, it's hard to say right now, because we don't know how healthy Swish or Moss are," Francona said. "So right now, Murph's our right fielder. I don't know if that's going to change in the next month or not."


Brewers' Tyler Thornburg thankful to avoid serious injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:23 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Tyler Thornburg was lucky to avoid Tommy Joh surgery in 2014. After being place on the disabled list in June, Thornburg was diagnosed with a wrist flexor strain. However, after a few more starts, doctors determined Thornburg injured his UCL. Thankfully for Thornburg, rest and time off was enough to allow the injury to heal.

"I feel great," Thornburg said. "Honestly, the best thing ever was the timing of everything. Right now and I’m very optimistic and if it works out I definitely feel very blessed for not having to go the other route. We had time; that was the biggest thing. We gave it as much time as possible to heal.

"The way we have it scheduled now, I would be ahead of everyone, " he said. "So it’s just in case of a setback, then I would be perfectly on schedule. But what we have planned right now, if I’m not having any setbacks then we can just kind of scale it back a little bit.

Thornburg finished 2014 with a 3-1 record with a 4.25 ERA in 29 2/3 innings.


White Sox 3B Conor Gillaspie bulks up
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:52 pm ET) White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie says his offseason weight training program has enabled him to add 15-20 pounds of muscle, "which should translate into driving the ball harder," reports ESPN.com.

“Honestly I’m hoping that by taking the same swing that I did last year, because I’m stronger, I’m hoping that translates into more power,” Gillaspie said, per the website. “It may or may not. We have enough guys that do hit for power on this team now. There are quite a few of them, so truthfully, I think I might be just as valuable getting on base, drawing walks, moving runners.” 

Gillaspie hit .282 with seven homers and 57 RBI in 130 games last year.


Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg throwing bullpen sessions
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:36 pm ET) Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg, who missed the second half of last season with an elbow injury, is throwing bullpen sessions as he tries to prepare for spring training, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Thornburg went 3-1 with a 4.25 ERA in 27 appearances before getting shut down in June.

Yu Darvish: 'My elbow feels fine'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:17 pm ET) Speaking publicly for the first time since he was shut down late last season with right elbow inflammation, Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish said he's feeling no ill effects now, reports MLB.com. Darvish, who's throwing off flat ground, is on track to begin throwing off a mound early next month.

"My elbow feels fine and I am able to throw on my throwing program," Darvish said, per the website.

Darvish has been working out in Texas during the offseason and said his training is "going well." General manager Jon Daniels said Darvish is "right on schedule."

"I think Darvish is very in tune with his body as much as anybody and knows how he's feeling," Daniels said. "He's very confident. Like any of these guys, until they're out there you're always going to have some reservation, but that's the worrywart in me. From all the information we have, I'm encouraged. He's basically been cleared to do just about everything."

Darvish's last start came Aug. 9 against Houston. He went 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA in 22 starts, tossing two complete games and one shutout.


Brewers reliever Jim Henderson throwing again
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:13 pm ET) Brewers reliever Jim Henderson, who had shoulder surgery last August, began throwing off a mound last week and will toss bullpen sessions this week, reports MLB.com. Henderson hopes to be 100 percent by Opening Day, the report added.

Henderson was limited to 14 appearances last season. He went 2-1 with a 7.15 ERA.


Ryan Braun says his thumb feels 'significantly better'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:05 pm ET) Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun, who underwent a thumb procedure last October, said his thumb feels "significantly better" than at this time last year, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Braun was plagued throughout last season by a nerve issue at the base of his thumb, the paper noted.

"Knock on wood, I feel great; it feels really good," Braun told reporters.

"Everything is going well. Regular offseason, regular routine. I started hitting a little bit earlier than I typically do, just to see how it felt. So far, so good. It feels really good.

"I do everything I regularly do. I don't hit off live pitching but I take regular batting practice like we would during the season, and it feels good. I don't feel anything at all."

Added Braun: "I know it's significantly better than where it was this time last year, which I'm encouraged by. But as I told you guys the last time I saw everybody (at Thanksgiving) the real test will come in spring training, once we've played games for a couple of weeks and that everyday wear and tear. See how it recovers, see how it responds."


Stiff competition for fifth spot in Mariners' rotation
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez are the leading candidates for the fifth spot in the Mariners' starting rotation, reports the Tacoma News Tribune. "The more competition, the better," Walker told the paper.

"It brings out the best of everyone who is fighting for the spot."

Walker posted a 1.96 ERA in six outings last September after being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.


Report: Yankees decline reconciliation with Alex Rodriguez
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) After meeting with new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air over his year-long suspension in 2014, Alex Rodriguez also reached out to the Yankees to set up a meeting, but was turned down, reports the New York Post.

Rodriguez requested to meet with the Yankees to apologize for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, but was told to wait until spring training. Reports also surfaced that Rodriguez is looking noticeably thinner compared to recent seasons, a source told the New York Post.

Rodriguez is set to report to spring training Feb. 25.


 
 
 
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