Down on the Farm: Five burning questions
Is Byron Buxton really the cream of the crop? Who's going to be the biggest second-half contributor? Scott White and Michael Hurcomb give their takes on five big questions in Down on the Farm.
In case you haven't noticed, the minor leagues are constantly changing.
They get a thorough overview at the beginning of the season, but things that seemed so obvious then are significantly less so now. While some players have improved their stock, others have faded from relevance. And those that have graduated to the majors have since been replaced by a new class of draft picks.
So before we get back to the nitty gritty of the regular season, let's take this moment to reassess, addressing five of the questions most applicable to Fantasy owners. Michael Hurcomb and I will each have our say, giving you multiple takes on matters with no right answer.
Which minor-leaguer are you stashing for the second half?
White: Though the best midseason call-ups are probably behind us, Nick Castellanos' up-and-down season at Triple-A Toledo has held him up long enough to give Fantasy owners one last chance at an impact bat down the stretch. The good news is his high points this season have been the highest of his brief minor-league career, showcasing a dramatically improved batting eye and legitimate home-run power. The bad news is he's at his lowest of lows right now, batting .169 (10 for 59) so far in July. Still, his upside is as high as any minor-league hitter with a legitimate chance of contributing this year, and the Tigers have a clear opening for him in left field, where they're currently platooning Andy Dirks and Matt Tuiasosopo. They nearly called him up to help with the stretch run last year. Something tells me they'll follow through on it this year as soon as Castellanos heats up again.
Hurcomb: Had he not been sidelined by a rash of injuries, prospect Christian Yelich would have likely been roaming the Marlins' outfield by now and making significant contributions to your Fantasy lineup. Well, there's no sense crying over spilled milk and it's still highly recommended you stash Yelich (owned in 26 percent of leagues) in seasonal formats if you have playoff aspirations. Even if they don't deal Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins can still reconfigure their outfield alignment to find Yelich regular at-bats. After missing about a month with an abdominal strain, Yelich -- who is considered a top 15 prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America -- is back playing for Double-A Jacksonville. As long as he doesn't struggle, Yelich's MLB debut appears imminent.
Is Byron Buxton the clear No. 1 prospect going forward?
White: He is to Baseball America, which listed him ahead of Oscar Taveras and Miguel Sano in its midseason top 50. And I wholeheartedly agree. Buxton's tools were considered the best of any player in the 2012 draft. The question was whether he'd have the polish to match. The numbers speak for themselves as far as that goes. Not only was he batting .341 with eight homers, 14 doubles, 10 triples and 32 steals in 270 at-bats before his promotion to high Class A in late June, but he had 44 walks to go with only 56 strikeouts. Add plate discipline to the mix, and he's virtually without flaw. He's not the only minor-leaguer with a chance to emerge as a first-rounder in Fantasy someday, but of that group, he's the one with the best chance to take that next step into the realm of other-worldly Mike Trout types. Did I mention he's only 19?
Hurcomb: Don't get me wrong -- I'm a huge fan of Buxton. He's one of the best prospects in baseball and must-own long-term Fantasy keeper. Though, he's not No. 1 in my eyes just yet. What he is doing in the low minors is fantastic, but I want to see how he transitions to the high minors first before putting him atop my list. For that reason, I think Taveras and Diamondbacks starting pitcher Archie Bradley should rank above Buxton. Taveras was considered the top outfield prospect by many coming into the year and I don't think he deserves to lose that title because he's been hampered by injury in 2013. As for Bradley, he's improved his command and has future MLB ace written all over him.
Other than Mark Appel, which 2013 first-rounder has caught your eye?
White: Hunter Dozier may not have the most upside of any hitter in the 2013 draft, but so many publications have gone out of their way to say so that he's become something of a bargain in dynasty leagues. He's a product of the editorial standby "which pick was the biggest reach?" At eighth overall, he's the obvious answer, but it's not like the Royals found him on the street. He can hit a bit, boasting a better eye than most players at this stage of their careers and a 6-foot-4 frame that should help him develop power. And even if he's destined to move off shortstop, as every one of those publications pointed out, third base is still a relatively thin position in Fantasy. The best part is, at age 21, he might be only a year from reaching the big leagues. It doesn't change his upside, but a shorter timetable is easier to work with in dynasty leagues.
Hurcomb: Clint Frazier is the perfect example of why you never judge a book by its cover. At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, he's not the most imposing player, but this kid can rake. He clubbed 17 home runs and slugged .561 in 32 games as a senior in high school. He went on to win Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year honors, joining the likes of previous winners Dylan Bundy, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Upton and Zack Greinke. Frazier homered in his professional debut and has a .596 slugging percentage through his first 15 pro games. Given how well Buxton and Frazier have transitioned so quickly from high school to the pro ranks, they are changing the landscape of baseball and how high school hitters should be evaluated.
Which under-the-radar prospect are you snatching up in dynasty leagues?
White: Arismendy Alcantara hasn't gotten nearly the attention he deserves during what looks like a breakout season. Maybe people assume he's blocked in the Cubs organization by Starlin Castro, with the higher-profile Javier Baez also working his way up the ladder at shortstop, but none of those three is a defensive wiz. Chances are two of them will have to move off the position anyway, and the Cubs have seemingly begun preparing Alcantara for that possibility by playing him some at second base (which might be just as weak as shortstop by the time he's ready to contribute in Fantasy). Alcantara has always had great tools, but only when he made the big leap to Double-A this year did he begin to put it all together, batting .280 with 13 homers, 22 steals and an .829 OPS in 339 at-bats. Jimmy Rollins-type numbers might not be so far-fetched for him if he continues down this road.
|1.||Michael Pineda, SP, Yankees||61|
|2.||Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox||46|
|3.||Dan Straily, SP, Athletics||43|
|4.||Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals||40|
|5.||Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds||34|
|6.||Tyler Skaggs, SP, Diamondbacks||34|
|7.||Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals||32|
|8.||Taijuan Walker, SP, Mariners||31|
|9.||Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets||27|
|10.||Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins||26|
Hurcomb: Being part of a 24-team dynasty league means you spend hours researching prospects. In my research this preseason, I stumbled across Yankees starting pitcher prospect Rafael De Paula. Thankfully, he was hardly a blip on the radar, so I was able to snag the right-handed hurler and he has not disappointed. De Paula is shooting up prospect lists everywhere, checking in at No. 45 on Baseball America's midseason Top 50 list. De Paula has had a few bad starts since being promoted from low Class A Charleston to high Class A Tampa, but the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder has a live arm. He struck out 13.4 batters per nine innings in 13 starts with Charleston and is striking out 12.3 batters per nine innings in his career. He also is 14-6 with a 2.69 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. If he produces those numbers when he gets to the majors and you put him on a perennial winner like the Yankees, he could have Felix Hernandez or Kershaw-type potential. I'll take that any day.
Whose stock has dropped the most this season?
White: At age 21, Kaleb Cowart still has time to make good on his potential, but his performance at Double-A Arkansas doesn't inspire much confidence. He's been completely overmatched, striking out every third at-bat with a .221 batting average and .284 on-base percentage, and his five home runs in 330 at-bats suggest he's not the middle-of-the-order threat all the preseason rank lists made him out to be. It's possible the Angels simply moved him too fast. He didn't exactly flourish with a midseason promotion to high Class A last year, and that was in the most hitter-friendly league in the minors. But even if promoting him before his numbers have a chance to catch up is part of some brilliant new approach by the Angels, it's too much of a leap of faith for Fantasy owners, especially when the results just keep getting worse.
Hurcomb: There was a point in time when Cubs outfield prospect Brett Jackson was making a beeline for the majors and was a can't-miss prospect. Unfortunately, he's missed a lot at the plate and there's no telling when he might even make it back to the majors. Jackson got a small taste after a call-up in 2012, but he wasn't ready, as his .175 average and 59 strikeouts in 44 games would suggest. Jackson has really struggled since getting to Triple-A. In three seasons at the highest level in the minors, he's batting .257 with 299 strikeouts in 215 games. That's not a typo -- 299 strikeouts! He's been particularly bad in 2013, batting .223 with a .367 slugging percentage in 61 games. Few people will argue Albert Almora has surpassed Jackson as the Cubs' center fielder of the future, and with Jorge Soler in the system and 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant potentially making a Ryan Braun-esque move from third base to left field, Jackson's future with the Cubs is looking bleak.
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