Down on the Farm: New Cubs in the den
It's no secret why the Rangers wanted Matt Garza . Their rotation decimated by injuries, with no fewer than three pitchers recovering from one surgery or another, they felt like they needed another big arm to get them over the hump.
But for keeper-league owners, the Cubs' side of the deal is the more intriguing one, primarily because of Mike Olt .
Granted, he's not the prize he would have been if this deal had gone down a year ago. An ongoing vision problem has decimated his numbers at Triple-A, dropping his stock significantly. Still, of the Cubs' haul -- which includes Justin Grimm , C.J. Edwards and the ubiquitous "player to be named later" -- he's the closest to claiming a major-league job.
True, his numbers are bad, but at age 24, he really doesn't have anything left to learn in the minors. His promotion is just a matter of overcoming the eye issue, which he seems be on his way to doing with a .247 (40 for 162) batting average and 11 homers in 46 games since he began using special drops. However he turns out once it's completely behind him is more or less what he'll be.
And with Anthony Rizzo entrenched at first base, the only available position for him is third base.
Not that it's a problem. He's a plus defender and doesn't have anyone blocking him at the major-league level, unless you count the perpetually inconsequential Luis Valbuena . No, the issue in Fantasy isn't what happens to Olt with this move, but what happens to everyone else with him now part of the equation.
In short, third base was already earmarked for prospect overflow, with some of the Cubs' very best seemingly destined to wind up there.
The list begins with Kris Bryant , a big-time power hitter who the Cubs selected second overall in the most recent amateur draft. He played third base in college and has continued to man the position to start his professional career. Granted, most talent evaluators assumed he'd move to the outfield eventually, but the acquisition of Olt makes it a near certainty.
The more interesting case is Javier Baez , who has played shortstop to this point in the minors and reportedly has the range to stick there. But given his enormous power potential (which has earned him comparisons to Gary Sheffield , the gold standard for bat speed) and the fact the Cubs already had a long-term shortstop in Starlin Castro , third base seemed the more likely destination.
Apparently, not anymore.
Which, of course, raises the question of where Castro will wind up. As good as he is, he's no Baez, and he doesn't bring much to the table defensively. He's already eligible at shortstop for 2014 and likely will be for 2015 as well, but after that, who knows? Second base, maybe?
Of course, a move there would cut out Arismendy Alcantara , a personal favorite of mine who's been putting up Jimmy Rollins -like numbers at Double-A Tennessee. Though a shortstop by trade, he has begun learning second base -- again, presumably because of Baez.
Notice I didn't even mention Junior Lake , who's playing outfield now but who came up as a shortstop. He's off to a great start, obviously, but in terms of upside, he doesn't compare to the rest of the group. Whenever the Cubs open the floodgates and allow the big boys to pour through, I imagine he'll get pushed to the bench.
So basically, I have three major takeaways from the Cubs' side of the Garza deal:
|1.||Michael Pineda , SP, Yankees||57|
|2.||Will Middlebrooks , 3B, Red Sox||43|
|3.||Oscar Taveras , OF, Cardinals||40|
|4.||Billy Hamilton , SS, Reds||33|
|5.||Taijuan Walker , SP, Mariners||32|
|6.||Michael Wacha , SP, Cardinals||29|
|7.||Josh Rutledge , 2B, Rockies||28|
|8.||Travis d'Arnaud , C, Mets||28|
|9.||Xander Bogaerts , SS, Red Sox||23|
|10.||Danny Salazar , SP, Indians||22|
1. Mike Olt will be up soon, and though he may not offer much in the way of batting average, his patient approach will give him the at-bats he needs to make good on his power potential. If you need home runs and have no hope of finding any on the waiver wire, he's a reasonable choice to stash.
2. Javier Baez is staying at shortstop, which is a best-case scenario for his keeper-league owners. The top power hitter in the minors manning the lightest-hitting position in the majors has the makings of Fantasy gold.
3. Starlin Castro isn't the Cubs' long-term answer at shortstop. He may be someone else's, but if he sticks with the Cubs, a position change is likely in his future. Considering his shortcomings as a hitter, a loss of shortstop eligibility would drastically alter his long-term outlook.
Granted, all of this is nothing more than speculation, but isn't that what prospecting is all about? The bottom line is the Cubs' acquisition of Olt narrows down the potential avenues for some of their other long-term assets, giving you a better idea how to evaluate them going forward.
It's getting exhausting following the Phillies' trade rumors. It seems every day Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. flip-flops between the Phillies being buyers or sellers by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He's as bad as a politician.
As of now, Amaro is in buying mode as the Phillies chase down the Braves for the NL East crown. But who knows, by the time this column is published, Amaro could be in selling mode again. If that happens, then look to veteran third baseman Michael Young to be one of the players Amaro moves seeing how he's a highly coveted, veteran right-handed bat.
If Young is moved by July 31, don't feel sorrow for Amaro or the Phillies. Why? Because the Phillies' farm system is spoiled with burgeoning third-base prospects.
You probably have heard about Triple-A infielder Cody Asche . I know you have heard about Double-A third baseman Maikel Franco because he's been featured a few times in this column and is a favorite long-term keeper of mine. But 2012 third-round pick Zach Green is breaking out at Class A Williamsport, giving the Phillies another option at an already deep position.
As much as I would like to see Franco be the guy promoted to the majors if Young is dealt, Asche would probably get the call. He's not having a bad year with a .288 average and .957 fielding percentage. In fact, he was the higher-rated prospect of the duo coming into the year, but not by much. Baseball America had Asche No. 7 and Franco No. 8 on the team's top 10 prospects list. But thanks to a monster year from Franco (.322/.577/.939 slash line between Class A and Double-A), he's leapfrogged Asche in the eyes of many pundits and will probably emerge as a top 100 prospect heading into 2014.
As for Green, he was committed to Oregon State before the Phillies drafted him last year. The scouting report on Green was he had the potential to develop power with added strength. It seems Green is starting to live up to expectations. He is slugging .529 as a 19-year-old in the New York-Penn League, which has caught the attention of the team's front office.
"He's a big strong kid and he has some thunder in his bat," director of player development Joe Jordan told The Philadelphia Inquirer in June. "He can leave the ballpark to a lot of different fields. His offense is ahead of his defense right now."
While Asche is probably the strongest defender of the trio, the scouts worry if he will develop enough power to profile as a regular third baseman. Fantasy owners should have the same concern seeing how he has a career .423 slugging percentage in 295 minor-league games.
If Asche gets the call to the majors in 2013, there's no need for Fantasy owners to dash to waivers to add him. Franco is still the best long-term keeper of the trio, but Green is a rising prospect who might garner more attention in the future.
Now, it's time for five more players making headlines in the minors ...
, SP, Cubs
, SP, Pirates
, C, Pirates
, 3B, Mariners
, C, Astros
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