Fantasy Baseball Observations: The prospects are coming! – CBSSports.com

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The day after the trade deadline is apparently national prospect call-up day. No sooner had the clock struck 4 than the dam began to burst.

And those are just the ones happening now, to say nothing of the ones coming down the pike.

It’s a fun time for baseball fans, to be sure, but what exactly it means for Fantasy owners is a bit a mind-bender.

We’ll worry about
Aaron Judge
,
Hunter Renfroe
and
Manuel Margot
when their time comes. For now, let’s focus on what’s directly ahead of us because it’s confusing enough.

1. Ready or not, here we come

All three of
Andrew Benintendi
,
Orlando Arcia
and
Gary Sanchez
are top-of-the-line prospects, particularly the first two, but none of them had slap-you-in-the-face Alex Bregman-like numbers in the minors this year (for whatever those are worth).

It doesn’t mean they’re sure to disappoint any more than Bregman’s numbers meant he was sure to thrive, but if a player never peaks in the minors, we’re left to wonder exactly what his upside is.

Compounding the uncertainty is that two of these players, Benintendi and Sanchez, will be sharing at-bats, at least to start out. Not sure how
Bryce Brentz
became such a priority against left-handed pitchers, but if the
Boston Red Sox
want to ease in the left handed-hitting Benintendi by platooning the two in that way, whatever. It’s their prerogative. And as long as
Alex Rodriguez
is in the mix for the
New York Yankees
, no player,
Brian McCann
or otherwise, will handle DH duties full-time.

It’s a shame because, without the playing time concerns, Benintendi and Sanchez would be the most exciting of the three for Fantasy purposes, if only because outfield and catcher are so much weaker than shortstop (an oddity in and of itself). I’m not sure they aren’t anyway.

You could make a case for Benintendi just as a lottery ticket-type pickup given his offensive profile. Yeah, he hasn’t flashed much home run power at Double-A, but his combination of athleticism and polish, the latter evidenced by his stellar plate discipline, reminds me a little of
Andrew McCutchen
, who himself didn’t break through as a home run hitter until reaching the majors. And yes, Benintendi shows some base stealing ability as well. My minimum expectation for him, provided he sticks in the majors but is confined to a platoon role, is that he’ll be a borderline play in five-outfielder leagues, but there’s a chance he’s so much more than that.

The home runs are a little more assured for Sanchez, but he isn’t the most disciplined hitter. He makes enough contact that it shouldn’t be his undoing, but if he turns out to be just another
Welington Castillo
, it would be a disappointment. Of course, it would also make him serviceable at a position with a wide margin for error, so even with the playing time concerns, he’s borderline top-15.

Arcia, now he’s the really fun one. A top-10 prospect by anyone’s measure coming into the season, and yet he’s putting up Brock Holt-like numbers at Triple-A Colorado Springs — in a hitter’s league, no less. Some evaluators attribute it to boredom, which can happen to elite prospects simply biding their time in the minors, but it’s worth noting Arcia hasn’t put up an eye-popping stat line at any level. For him to make a significant impact at what has become a deep position, he’ll need to a pull a
Francisco Lindor
and blow his minor-league numbers out of the water from the moment he arrives.

Maybe his pedigree is enough to suggest he will, but I’ll take a wait-and-see approach myself.

2. Max power

So you know how we’re hoping we didn’t see the best of Benintendi, Sanchez or Arcia in the minors?
Max Kepler
is sort of the embodiment of that hope. The guy never hit more than 10 home runs in a minor-league season, and now only two months into his big-league career, he’s already at 14.

Two or three weeks of that sort of production is easy enough to dismiss as a fluke, but after a while, it has to mean something. I can only play the fool for so long, and a three-homer game like he had Monday is where I draw the line.

And again, this sort of transformation isn’t at all unpredecented. I’ve already cited
Andrew McCutchen
as an example, but he wasn’t the only prospect whose minor-league production completely undersold his home run potential. The same goes for
Francisco Lindor
.
Manny Machado
and
Hanley Ramirez
also fit the bill. And of course, the most notable example is
Mike Trout
, who never hit more than 11 home runs in a minor-league season but then exploded for 30 as a rookie in 2012. It happens more often than you think.

Kepler demonstrated exceptional bat control throughout his minor-league career — and with enough extra-base hits to put a power breakthrough of some kind in the forecast. And now that it’s here, it’s no secret where that power is coming from.

“He does a really nice job as far as his swing being on a downward plane and getting that backspin,” manager Paul Molitor told MLB.com. “Those balls are basically line drives that went really far and weren’t lifted.”

If you looked at the video, you see what he’s talking about.

I’m not saying Kepler profiles as a 36-homer guy, which is where this pace would put him over a full season, but I wouldn’t presume fewer than 25 for him. And since he strikes out less than every four at-bats, we haven’t even seen the best of him in terms of batting average.

If nothing else, I’m ready to call him must-own finally, and he’s verging on must-start.

3. Closer turnover

Maybe you’re under the impression
Steve Cishek
is good. These numbers would suggest as much:

Ah, but spacial limitations omit the most telling number of all, at least as far as job security goes. Cishek has already blown six saves, most recently Sunday against the
Chicago Cubs
, and he followed it up with a loss Monday, serving up a solo home run in what was a tie game.

So he’s out, and he’s not the only one. And the crazy part is Fantasy owners may be all the better for it.


Will Harris
is the other one getting bumped, and again, a quick glance at his numbers might meet with some contention:

But keep in mind his ERA was 0.72 just seven appearances ago. Since taking over in early June, he hasn’t been the lock-down ninth-inning option the
Houston Astros
need him to be, but meanwhile, the pitcher who they intended to be is suddenly looking that way again:


Ken Giles
we once hyped as possibly another
Kenley Jansen
or
Wade Davis
because of stretches just like this, and the
Houston Astros
gave up a bounty for him — one headlined by
Vince Velasquez
— because they recognized the need for an elite bat-misser late it games. It just makes sense for them to make the switch, especially since Harris has already proven to be so valuable in a setup role.

Speaking of bat-missers, the man taking over in Seattle just so happens to be the best there is, which may come as a surprise considering he hadn’t even appeared in the majors as recently as Memorial Day.

But indeed, among pitchers with at least 25 innings,
Edwin Diaz
tops the charts with 17.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He boasts a 100-mph fastball and was billed as a closer-in-waiting from the moment he arrived. Apparently, the wait is over.

He’s must-add in Fantasy, possibly even ahead of
Tony Watson
because of the strikeout ability, and the same goes for Giles.

4. Duffy’s sweet 16

Here’s an amazing stat:
Danny Duffy
is on pace for nearly 200 strikeouts even though he didn’t enter the starting rotation until mid-May.

Considering his early stint in the bullpen is applied to his rest-of-season pace, my guess is he gets there, and he won’t even need more starts like Monday’s 16-strikeout, one-hit effort to do it.

Best start of the year? Well, let’s not forget
Jake Arrieta
‘s no-hitter, not to mention
Max Scherzer
‘s 20-strikeout effort. But Duffy’s 34 swings-and-misses in this start are actually three more than Scherzer had in that start, and his average of his 13.1 over his last 12 starts, about the time he was stretched out to go six innings or more, rivals that of
Jose Fernandez
for the season.

So while this is certainly the tip-top of the mountain for Duffy, it’s not exactly an aberration. He has been one of the game’s premier bat-missers for the better part of two months, having learned to carry over the same mentality from his short-relief role, and, with a mid-90s fastball and two brilliant secondary pitches (slider and changeup), has the repertoire to back it up.

“This is enough for me to say that he’s definitely turned the corner,” manager Ned Yost told MLB.com. “He understand how to duplicate his mechanics and how to make adjustments and stay on the attack. His confidence is really, really high.”

With the
Toronto Blue Jays
prepping to shift
Aaron Sanchez
to the bullpen (he reportedly has just one start left) and
Drew Pomeranz
showing signs of his innings catching up to him, Duffy is clearly the ace SPARP (starting pitcher as relief pitcher) in Fantasy right now.

Or he may just be an ace period.

5. Stock-up starting pitchers

Four pitchers of varying stature greatly improved their stock Monday.

The highest-profile of them is
Chris Archer
, who’s a victim of circumstance with a 5-15 record that may not be greatly improved, but at least now he’s doing his part.

See that one in the walk column? That makes it five starts in a row now in which he has issued two walks or fewer, down from three or more for most of the season. His strikeout rate (10.5 per nine innings) ranks eighth among qualifying pitchers, so it’s clear his stuff isn’t diminished. He just didn’t know where it was going. It’s no coincidence he has a 1.01 WHIP during that stretch.

Judging by his 93-percent ownership rate on CBSSports.com leagues,
Marcus Stroman
is still highly regarded despite his 4.74 ERA for the season, and Monday’s performance continued a trend that has lasted six starts:

His career-high 13 strikeouts gives him a rate of 9.4 per nine innings during that stretch compared to 6.3 per nine over his first 16 starts. His over-reliance on ground balls was really the only reason to doubt him coming into the year, but he was much more of a bat-misser throughout his minor-league career. With the increased strikeouts comes improved consistency. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of those six starts for a 3.29 ERA.


Kyle Hendricks
‘ 2.22 ERA hasn’t gotten the appreciation it deserves because he hasn’t gotten the workload he deserves. Even with this performance, he’s on pace for fewer than 200 innings this season:

Notice how he allowed 10 baserunners in those nine innings? Yeah, he needed 123 pitches to get through them all, which is unprecedented for a pitcher who manager Joe Maddon normally limits to five or six innings at a time. But maybe that’s changing.

“Number-wise, innings-wise, as [Hendricks] gets stretched out like this, maybe we’ll let him go a little bit more,” Maddon told MLB.com.

I don’t know exactly what he means by “stretched out” since Hendricks has been a starter all season, but maybe it gives us insight into his handling of the 26-year-old. He doesn’t let the Hendricks pitch deeper into games because he hasn’t proven he can yet, which is sort of a catch-22. But Monday’s start was another step toward proving it.

Even anticipating some regression in ERA, Hendricks could improve his stock on a first-division ballclub just by getting an opportunity to control his own destiny.

Finally, we’ve reached the fastest riser of the group,
James Paxton
, who shut down the majors’ highest-scoring offense over six innings Monday. It was his second dominant outing in three and only his fourth since reintroducing a curveball to his arsenal.

Funny thing is he didn’t throw it nearly as much in this start — and for good reason.

“Early in the game, I didn’t really have my breaking stuff working too well,” he told MLB.com. “But I was moving the fastball around enough to get it off the barrel. And then, I think it was the fifth inning, my cutter really started to come around. We started using that a bit more, and it was working well.”

Still, just the threat of it makes him a more effective pitcher by maximizing the impact of his high-90s fastball. This recent stretch is the tip of the iceberg for him, so you shouldn’t let him go unowned in your league.

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