Prospects Report: Second chance for Wong
Kolten Wong may get another chance very soon while Tommy La Stella is knocking on the door in Atlanta. Our Scott White and Michael Hurcomb spotlight the minor leagues.
With Brian Dozier, Anthony Rendon and Dee Gordon joining last year's additions of Matt Carpenter, Daniel Murphy and Jedd Gyorko in Fantasy prominence, second base has become second only (and fittingly) to first base in terms of depth.
And if the latest rumblings are any indication, there's more where that came from.
One of the names you already know. Kolten Wong, little more than a week after being sent down, is set to return, according to said rumblings, which he owes partially to himself for hitting .333 (13 for 39) in nine games at Triple-A Memphis and partially to Mark Ellis for hitting .222 (6 for 27) in his absence. When exactly the Cardinals will make this move is open to speculation, but given how badly they need to get their lineup going and how little they have to lose by bringing Wong back, now's the time to stash him again if you believed in him the first time around.
|1.||Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT||70|
|2.||Oscar Taveras, OF, STL||56|
|3.||Archie Bradley, SP, ARI||52|
|4.||Javier Baez, SS, CHC||50|
|5.||Byron Buxton, OF, MIN||38|
|6.||Kolten Wong, 2B, STL||29|
|7.||Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC||29|
|8.||Dylan Bundy, SP, BAL||26|
|9.||Jon Singleton, 1B, HOU||24|
|10.||Carlos Correa, SS, HOU||21|
The other is less familiar but a long time coming, as anyone who has tracked Dan Uggla over the last two or three years knows all too well. The Braves benched Uggla Monday night, introducing Ramiro Pena as sort of a second leadoff man in the ninth spot, with the pitcher batting eighth, which prompted Braves beat writer Mark Bowman of MLB.com to suggest that contact hitter extraordinaire Tommy La Stella could arrive sooner than later. He was only speculating, but if someone paid to know that team inside and out is willing to put it in print, who are we to argue?
That's two second basemen with a chance of breaking into the big leagues in full-time roles. So which should you want? The bigger question might be why should you care? Again, second base is deep this year -- so deep that the promotion of prospects on their level wouldn't even move the needle in some leagues.
But others, most notably standard Rotisserie leagues, require not just a second baseman, but a separate middle infielder. And for what second base provides, shortstop lacks and then some. It's evident in the way we rank the players who qualify at both positions. While I had no problem elevating Gordon and Jed Lowrie to eighth and ninth at shortstop earlier this week, I couldn't get them higher than 15th and 17th at second base. So while finding 12 second basemen worth rostering is nobody's idea of a challenge, finding 36 middle infielders worth rostering certainly is, especially with players like Carpenter, Martin Prado, Anthony Rendon and Xander Bogaerts potentially being used at third base. And of course, you also have to account for the Jason Kipnis injury pulling the rug out from underneath owners who hadn't given a second thought to what the position might offer on the waiver wire until now.
Maybe you lucked into Emilio Bonifacio or Neil Walker early and are perfectly comfortable with them, but anyone forced into starting Dustin Ackley, Scooter Gennett, Asdrubal Cabrera or Derek Jeter right now is no doubt wanting for more.
Of Wong and La Stella, Wong has the better chance of providing it. While La Stella is good at what he does, striking out just one every 10 at-bats en route to a .327 batting average over his minor-league career (numbers in line with what he's currently doing at Triple-A Gwinnett) it's the one trick in his arsenal. Wong not only makes contact at a high rate, but profiles as something like a 12-homer, 20-steal guy in the long run and could still approach those benchmarks this year if the Cardinals give him the job outright.
Which may be the one advantage La Stella has on him. For the Braves, calling up La Stella means giving up on Uggla, but the Cardinals could get cute with Wong and Ellis like they did before. Whatever playing time concern exists there, though, doesn't justify passing up the next Murphy for the next Omar Infante.
Naturally, in deeper formats, Wong and La Stella become all the more valuable. Both are worth rostering over someone like Alex Guerrero, who at last check was owned in 18 percent of leagues, three times as many as La Stella. Guerrero is performing well enough at Triple-A Albuquerque, hitting .317 with three home runs and a high contact rate himself, and is already making the kind of money that would motivate most teams to make sure they get something back on their investment. But Gordon has given the Dodgers zero reason to look back, and Hanley Ramirez obviously isn't going anywhere. Other hopefuls like Nick Franklin, Josh Rutledge and Rickie Weeks also take a back seat in light of these rumblings.
Unlike them, the path for both Wong and La Stella is clear, and both are capable of delivering top-25 numbers at second base whenever they get the call.
If you take a look at Shae Simmons' minor-league numbers, you almost have to do a double-take; they are eerily similar to that of Braves closer Craig Kimbrel when he was coming through the minors. Kimbrel posted a 1.85 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 51 saves and a 14.4 strikeout rate (K/9) in his minor-league career. Simmons has a 1.55 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 33 saves and 13.4 strikeout rate thus far in his minor-league career.
The comparisons don't stop at the numbers. Simmons is a hard thrower that can touch 100 mph like Kimbrel. Simmons is also part of the Braves organization. It seems the team's scouting department has a knack for uncovering hard-throwing relievers.
Don't worry if you have never heard of Simmons. He's a relatively unknown despite great success since turning pro.
The right-hander hurler was 22nd round pick in 2012 out of Southeast Missouri State, where he spent the last season of his college career as a starter. Even after converting 24 of 25 saves for Class A Rome last season, Simmons was only considered the Braves' 16th-best prospect by Baseball America and 19th best by MLB.com.
Even with impressive numbers, which include a 1.20 ERA and seven saves for Double-A Mississippi this season, the scouts doubt Simmons' future as a closer. While he has a three-pitch arsenal (fastball, slider, curveball), the scouts aren't sure Simmons has the frame (5-11, 175 pounds) or mechanics to close games at the major-league level. Kimbrel is 5-11, 220 and seems to be doing just fine, and you can't really argue against the results Simmons has posted in the minors. He was even impressive in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League, posting a 0.90 ERA and recording 13 strikeouts in 10 innings.
But herein lies the problem in Fantasy Baseball keeper formats -- Can you really afford a roster spot on a maybe closer? It's definitely a tough sell.
I'm in a 24-team, mixed-league dynasty format, and this spring I spent my last pick in the minor-league portion of the draft on Tigers pitcher prospect Corey Knebel. I admit it was risky to use one of my roster spots on a minor-league reliever. However, the Tigers are toying with the idea of converting him to a starter, so I have that going for me if closing games at the major-league level isn't in his future. The same can't be said for Simmons.
My strategy in Fantasy Baseball has been not to chase saves. If a player like Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen fell to me at the right time, then I'd consider pulling the trigger on drafting them. But there's plenty of great value to be had in the mid-to-late rounds.
You really have to take the same strategy with relievers in keeper formats. Most major-league closers spend time in other bullpen roles before getting the chance to be the ninth-inning guy and very few are groomed in the minors to be closers of the future. Also, take into consideration Simmons might just be closing games in the minors because the organization has no one else to do it.
There's no denying Simmons is talented and might eventually be a closer at the major-league level. He's certainly a name to stash for a rainy day, but just maybe not a player to stash on your bench.
Mark Appel, SP, Astros
Affiliate: Class A Lancaster
2014 stats:0-0, 6.23 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 13 strikeouts, four walks, two home runs allowed in four starts (13 innings)
Appel's path to the majors has taken a detour, as the Astros have sent the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft to extended spring training following an abysmal start at Lancaster. But have no fear -- Appel isn't injured. He just struggled to adjust to the Astros' tandem-starting structure in the minors. The Astros are one of the few organizations that have their minor-league starting pitchers go four days as tandem starters instead of the traditional five-day rotation. Therefore, the Astros have sent Appel to extended spring to get him on a five-day routine. Appel did miss a lot of time this spring due to appendicitis, which also played into his poor start to the season since he needed to catch up on conditioning. Obviously, this is a setback on Appel's road to the majors, but there's still a chance he could be up later this season. However, he probably wasn't going to debut until late in the year regardless of how he performed in the minors, so this situation might have little impact on a potential 2014 debut.
Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Indians
Affiliate: Triple-A Columbus
2014 stats: .321/.413/.578/.991, seven doubles, seven home runs, 17 RBI, 14 runs, 17 walks and 23 strikeouts in 30 games
The Indians are doing their best to downplay any talk about a pending promotion to the majors for Aguilar, but how long can manager Terry Francona keep preaching patience for a struggling offense before the team finally buckles and shakes up the lineup? Aguilar appears to be the guy who could provide a spark for Cleveland. He hit just 16 home runs and slugged .427 last season at Double-A, but he had 28 doubles and 105 RBI, and clearly is still developing at 24 years old. Aguilar's primary position is first base and he's beginning to learn the ropes at third base. He played some at third during winter ball and is playing one game at third every 10 days at Columbus. Carlos Santana is at the hot corner for Cleveland and Francona said he's not moving first baseman Nick Swisher out of the lineup. Aguilar's best path to the majors right now appears to be DH, but the Indians even seem resistant to that idea. They might have to change their tune because sitting in the cellar in the AL Central isn't ideal. AL-only Fantasy owners might consider clearing a roster spot for Aguilar.
David Dahl, OF, Rockies
Affiliate: Class A Asheville
2014 stats: .276/.317/.552/.869, one triple, six doubles, eight home runs, 16 RBI, 18 runs, seven walks, 23 strikeouts, nine stolen bases in 28 games
Dahl's 2013 season was a wash. The 2012 first-round pick (10th overall) missed some time early in the season due to disciplinary problems, and his season was over after he tore his right hamstring in late April. Well, Dahl is making up for lost time in 2014 thanks to an outstanding start for Asheville. Dahl is performing like the player he was when he first turned pro in 2012, batting .379 with a .625 slugging percentage, 1.048 OPS, nine home runs, 10 triples, 22 doubles and 57 RBI in 67 games in the Rookie League. Dahl was considered the Rockies' top prospect by MLB.com and No. 2 by Baseball America heading into '13 before his lost season. He fell a bit down the rankings heading into '14, but it appears he's making up the ground. Dahl can rake. He's a pure hitter with a solid baseball IQ. He can clearly hit for power and has decent speed on the base paths as well. He projects to be a middle-of-the-order hitter. Dahl is likely few years away from making a Fantasy impact, but if you are in a long-term Fantasy keeper league, Dahl is definitely worth a bench spot.
Christian Binford, SP, Royals
Affiliate: Class A Wilmington
2014 stats: 2-1, 1.91 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 34 strikeouts, five walks and one home run allowed in five starts (28 1/3 innings)
I hope Binford doesn't follow a recent trend of highly touted Royals' starting pitching prospects ending up as a disappointment. Mike Montgomery, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer -- remember them? -- were once all top pitching prospects and considered future regulars in the Kansas City rotation, but all three have been busts thus far. You can even argue Aaron Crow and Danny Duffy haven't fully lived up to the expectations that they had in the minors. It seems Yordano Ventura has been the only Royals' starting pitching prospect as of late that has shown glimpses of his potential. Binford might not have the upside potential Ventura possesses, but he's proving to possess quite an impressive arm. The 2011 30th-round pick has a 2.43 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and is striking out 8.6 batters per nine innings through 36 pro starts. Binford doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he knows how to pitch. The 21-year-old right-hander is effective at getting ahead in counts and working the bottom of the strike zone, which has led to great results. I passed on Binford with one of my last picks in a 24-team dynasty league this spring, and Binford's impressive start is making me regret my decision.
Matthew Wisler, SP, Padres
Affiliate: Triple-A El Paso
2014 stats (Double-A, Triple-A): 1-0, 3.55 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 38 strikeouts, 10 walks, three home runs allowed in seven starts
Wisler needed just six starts at Double-A this season before the Padres promoted him to Triple-A. Wisler didn't fare very well in his debut for El Paso (allowed six runs on eight hits and four walks in three innings), but everyone is entitled to a bad start. The good news is that Wisler hasn't had many bad starts in his career. He is 16-10 with a 2.89 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 58 appearances (56 starts). He's even striking out 9.0 batters per nine innings. Wisler's best pitch is his fastball, which sits in the low-90s. He's at his best when he's commanding his fastball. The scouts are impressed with Wisler's overall command (career 2.3 BB/9) and his ability to work both sides of the plate. The right-handed hurler is also very good against right-handed batters. His biggest weakness is getting lefties out, which is where he struggled in his Triple-A debut. He gave up four runs and five hits and two walks against lefties in his Triple-A debut Monday. His early season promotion in the minors makes Wisler a player to be called up to the majors this season. He certainly could be worth a stash in deep NL-only Fantasy formats.
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