This is what happens when you take a week off in mid-July. Gee and Gausman are both back in their respective rotations and should be stalwarts in most leagues down the stretch. There’s always the chance that the Orioles will do something dumb with Gausman, but here’s hoping we’ve seen the last of their roster games. Alcantara was only scheduled to be up for a couple of days initially, but he’s shown enough for the Cubs to DFA Darwin Barney this week. In fact, he’s doing almost exactly what he was doing in the minors, hitting .286/.316/.543 with six extra-base hits and three steals in eight games. Jimmy Nelson got shelled in his first outing, but it’s safe to say that the second one went better, throwing a quality start against a depleted Reds lineup on Tuesday evening. Unless the Brewers end up being a surprise player for a starting pitcher at the deadline, Nelson should hold off the banished Marco Estrada.
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The 25 players you might want to put on your fantasy bench for help down the road.
The Graduates: Oscar Taveras (2), Tyler Skaggs (3), Corey Hart (10), Jeremy Hellickson (HM)
This is what happens when Allen Craig has a .657 OPS. Of course, Taveras is hitting far worse right now, but his 11 strikeouts in 60 plate appearances suggest that he’s not being overmatched. If he’s given time to work through his initial struggles, look for Taveras to start hitting for more average in the second half—even if the power takes a little longer to come. Skaggs looked fantastic in his return from the hamstring injury, going into the eighth inning and allowing only two runs on the road in a tough hitters’ park. Hart returned on Friday and hasn’t done a whole lot with his at bats thus far. He’ll be OK, but not the pre-injury version. The fact that Hellickson went less than five innings in his 2014 debut, but it still can be considered a success (only one run allowed), shows how low expectations probably are for the disappointing right-hander.
The Departed: Jaime Garcia (23)
And in the span of a week, we’ve gone from wondering whether Garcia will be back on the mound in July to wondering if we’ve seen the last of him in a Cardinals’ uniform. In fact, it’s fair to wonder if we’ll ever see Garcia start another game in the majors again, as the surgery he will have to try and fix his thoracic outlet syndrome is the second major procedure he's had on that left shoulder of his.
The top 25 players you might want to put on your fantasy bench for help down the road.
The Graduates: Taijuan Walker (2), Mookie Betts (6), Marco Gonzales (21)
After firing a complete-game shutout in his last turn in Tacoma, Walker got the win on Monday night in his 2014 debut with the Mariners in Houston. If the shoulder problems are really behind him, Walker could be a solid third starter the rest of the way with that park at his back. There have been very few prospects to get people on both sides of the aisle (fans and writers) in a tizzy like Mookie Betts. There are some who think he’s going to perform like a top-10 second baseman (or shortstop, depending on eligibility) right out of the gate, and while I don’t see that happening, there should be room for him on almost any roster. The counting stats may not be plentiful hitting towards the bottom of the lineup for now and he’ll likely struggle to even show below-average power in game, but the average and steals will be helpful. With Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, and Joe Kelly all sidelined, Gonzales will get a few runs in the Cardinals’ rotation to prove he belongs. It’s very possible with a strong pre-break showing, he could stick in the rotation rather than Carlos Martinez—who Mike Matheny may opt to keep in a setup role anyway. The upside isn’t high, and he’s just a fringy mixed league play, but his control will make some friends in the WHIP category.
Andrew Heaney came up last week, so a new pitcher moves into the top slot.
The Graduates: Andrew Heaney (1), Miguel Gonzalez (20)
Heaney’s major-league debut went very well, albeit against a not-so-great Mets offense—as he allowed five base runners in six innings while striking out three. I’ve been talking about him for a while here, and I also had the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is. Mike Gianella and I won the FAAB bidding for Heaney this week in mixed LABR with a heavy-handed $21 entry. There will be no time wasted in getting him into our lineup this week as he gets two starts against the Phillies and Athletics. With Miguel Gonzalez now healthy, the Orioles are going with a temporary six-man rotation for as long as they have the roster flexibility to do so. Eventually they’re going to have to cut one, and Gonzalez still may be furthest out on the bubble.
The Departed: Francisco Lindor (24), Joba Chamberlain (HM), Casey Kelly (HM)
There’s nothing wrong with what Lindor is doing in the minor leagues—he’s still an excellent prospect and fine fantasy one as well—but the Indians are shaping up to hang around the AL Wild Card race and Asdrubal Cabrera is playing reasonably well. At this point, it will take an injury to make room for the future star shortstop. Chamberlain is also not a victim of his own failures, but a victim of Joe Nathan’s success—at least recently. Nathan has put together two very strong outings after making some mechanical adjustments, and the storyline is built for him to run with it. He’s still worth keeping a peripheral eye on, but Nathan has more rope now than a week ago. There’s a large soft spot in my heart for Casey Kelly, and I still think he is going to be a good major league pitcher. But this just appears to be another lost year for the athletic right-hander, who just can’t get past these elbow setbacks. Don’t worry, Casey—I don’t give up that easily.
A new player takes over the no. 1 spot, but he won't be there for long.
The Graduates: Gregory Polanco (1)
Much was made about the contract that Jonathan Singleton signed upon his call up, but his first week has seen ups and downs similar to the opposing sides of the contract discussion. On the plus side, he had two homers and a steal while slugging .480. On the negative side, he hit .200 and struck out in 10 of his 26 plate appearances. Expect a lot more of both the rest of the way. Meanwhile, I had my eyes squarely on Gausman as he made his way back into the Orioles’ rotation (at least for now) and took on the hottest team in baseball in the Oakland Athletics. Those eyes watered with joy as he threw seven strong innings, allowing only one run with five base runners and six strikeouts. He may be the best starting pitcher the Orioles have right now, and if he shows it, he’ll be up for good—despite the Orioles’ best attempts to shoot themselves in the collective feet.
Gregory Polanco, who got the call to join the Pirates today, tops the list one last time.
The Graduates: Jonathan Singleton (2), Kevin Gausman (6)
Much was made about the contract that Singleton signed upon his call up, but his first week has seen ups and downs similar to the opposing sides of the contract discussion. On the plus side, he had two homers and a steal while slugging .480. On the negative side, he hit .200 and struck out in 10 of his 26 plate appearances. Expect a lot more of both the rest of the way. Meanwhile, I had my eyes squarely on Gausman as he made his way back into the Orioles’ rotation (at least for now) and took on the hottest team in baseball in the Oakland Athletics. Those eyes watered with joy as he threw seven strong innings, allowing only one run with five base runners and six strikeouts. He may be the best starting pitcher the Orioles have right now, and if he shows it, he’ll be up for good.
The Departed: Jurickson Profar (21), Eddie Butler (24), Jesse Crain (25)
We all saw the money quote from Profar last week, when he said that he doesn’t expect to play again in 2014. And while it may just be an in-the-moment quote from a frustrated player, it’s enough for him to fall off the list. If he comes back and does anything at this point, it’s just gravy. Butler fell prey to the curse of Mike Gianella and my LABR team and got injured less than 24 hours—and rotator cuff inflammation isn’t the best diagnosis for a pitcher. He’s still eligible for the list, but he won’t be back until he shows that this health scare is behind him. Crain falls off less because of anything news with him, but because Chad Qualls has been close to lights-out as of late and figures to hold onto the closer’s role for the foreseeable future. If the Astros trade him in July, they may turn to Crain at that point, but there are too many question marks right now.
Oscar Taveras and Marcus Stroman earn their diplomas, but Gregory Polanco is still waiting.
The Graduates: Oscar Taveras (2), Marcus Stroman (15)
It only took a year longer than many thought, but Taveras has finally taken his rightful place in the Cardinals’ outfield and lineup. With the ankle injury finally in the rearview mirror, the stud prospect is ready to start hitting for average and power immediately at the major league level. If reading about Taveras is your thing (and frankly, that’s all of us), he got the full Call-Up treatment on Saturday by Jason Parks, with fantasy analysis from yours truly. Stroman, on the other hand, is getting his second shot this season, but this time in the role he was born to play: starting pitcher. In his starting debut, Stroman went six innings while striking out six and allowing five base runners. He should stick and although the performance may be up and down, he’ll be worth owning in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixed.
The Graduates: Trevor Bauer (5), Kole Calhoun (6), Nick Franklin (12), Josh Willingham (25)
We finally got more of Trevor Bauer, major leaguer, and while it’s exciting that he’s back up, six runs and 19 base runners in just 10 1/3 innings isn’t something to start throwing televisions out of hotel room windows for. Yes, the velocity and strikeouts are promising, but the same things were said about Danny Salazar, right? Calhoun and Willingham returned from their injuries this week without much fanfare, but fantasy owners should have taken notice. Willingham’s injury poses more long-term concern, but he should still be valuable enough to play regularly in medium-sized and deep mixed formats. Nick Franklin is back up in Seattle, but without consistent playing time or a consistent position, the Mariners aren’t exactly putting him in the best position to succeed at the moment. Then again, he really doesn’t have to do much offensively to be an upgrade over Brad Miller.
The Super Two cutoff isn't yet upon us, so Gregory Polanco retains his spot atop the list.
We’re rolling with a slightly different format this week, so instead of an introduction, we’re actually going to talk about those who graduated from last week’s list. Do you like this? RT for yes, fav for no.
The Graduates: Jaime Garcia (14), Derek Norris (15), Rafael Montero (19), Jennry Mejia (22)
We finally had some graduates this past week, clearing a few spots on the list for new names. Garcia looked pretty sharp (other than a few long balls) against the Braves, and I remain optimistic about him from a skill (not health) standpoint. Norris finally goes off the list as he started five games last week, with four of them coming against right-handed pitching. If he’s still unowned in your league, please rectify this immediately. Montero made his debut against the Yankees on Wednesday and looked good enough that Mike Gianella and I picked him up for our LABR team. That fact alone should cause you to sell him before he spontaneously combusts (yes, we’ve gone through more pitchers than Spinal Tap has drummers). And finally, Mejia seemed like the best option the Mets had to close games, and he’s doing just that—causing him to fall off the list for positive reasons.
Jurickson Profar makes his first appearance, but Gregory Polanco remains at the top.
The worst thing for a player who is performing at a high level in the minor leagues is to have a player (or players) ahead of him who is also getting the job done. This goes triple for position players, as a starting pitching prospect will force his way in there if his performance dictates that he deserves a job. If you look at the top names on this list (specifically the first five prospects), part of the reason why they are so prominently ranked is that they are significantly better from a talent perspective than what is ahead of them on the depth chart. Those five players, who are potentially going to be phased out, are (roughly) Travis Snider, Jon Jay, Luis Valbuena, Marc Krauss, and Cody Asche. Those are not impediments, they are placeholders.
The waters get much more murky when you have a player like Alexander Guerrero, who from a talent and performance standpoint should probably get a shot at major league playing time, but is behind Dee Gordon on the depth chart. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge obstacle, but Gordon (and his .385 on-base percentage) has been one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball this season. So while Guerrero ends up in the Honorable Mention section again because he would likely get the call in the event of a Gordon injury, that’s a much less likely outcome than a near replacement player playing like a near replacement level player.
We’ll keep the introduction short this week, but it’s the perfect time to touch on a very important topic, both when trying to predict which prospects will have both 2014 and long-term value.
Minor league statistics are deceiving. That’s not to say they can’t be informative, because they do tell the story of what has actually happened in professional games, but they don’t come close to explaining the whole picture. Take Eddie Butler for example—he’s been pitching well in Triple-A, but with the lowest strikeout rate of his minor league career. You could read this as a bad sign when you’re flipping through his Baseball Reference page, but the reality is that the stuff is still just as good as 2013 (if not better), and the Rockies are asking him to pitch to contact more.