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Saturday 23rd Sep 2017

September is right around the corner and this is the time of year when teams will give some of their minor league talent a taste of the big leagues. This is more commonly known as the September cup of coffee. There have already been a number of players called up this season. Here’s a rundown of those and some still to come.

Ken Giles – The 23-year-old got the phone call on June 8 and was put in the Philadelphia Phillies’ bullpen. He has appeared in 31 games, pitching 32 2/3 innings, and has performed very well with a 3-1 record, 1.38 ERA and a 47:9 K:BB ratio. His manager, Ryne Sandberg, said he doesn’t foresee the 6’2” right-hander getting a chance to spell closer Jonathan Papelbon for any save chances the remainder of the year but Giles is certainly a strong candidate to inherit the role should something happen with Papelbon next year.

Andrew Heaney – The 23-year-old southpaw of the Miami Marlins was up earlier in the year and started four games. He might as well have stayed in the minor leagues, however, as he was beat up to the tune of three losses in those starts without a win and surrendered 15 earned runs, 24 hits (including an astonishing five home runs) and six walks in only 20 2/3 innings and was sent back to Triple-A New Orleans. Heaney is still a good prospect and should be back up again in September. Just keep in mind that many times, left-handed pitchers don’t come of Major League age until later in their career.

Oscar Taveras – One of the top prospects of the St. Louis Cardinals coming into 2014, the 22-year-old has been up and down between the Minors and the parent club this year. He has played in 56 games, garnering 180 at-bats, but hasn’t lived up to his hype and minor league play.  His average currently sits at .233 with only nine extra base hits, including two home runs. While the results haven’t been there, Taveras is still to be considered a top talent for years to come.

Gregory Polanco – One of the most anticipated call-ups of 2014 came on June 10 when the Pittsburgh Pirates reached out to Triple-A Indianapolis for the 22-year-old outfielder. Polanco has been hot and cold in his big league time. He hit safely in his first 11 games, had a stretch of 35 at-bats with only three hits in mid-July in which his batting average dropped below .250, went 18-for-50 in early August getting his average back up to nearly .270, then managed only one hit in his last 30 at-bats. Polanco was sent back to Indianapolis when the Pirates recalled Jose Tabata but will most likely return to Pittsburgh when big league rosters expand in September.

Javier Baez – One of a number of blue chip prospects of the Chicago Cubs, Baez was brought up from Triple-A Iowa in early-August, and the 21-year-old middle infielder has certainly flashed a great amount of power for his position with seven home runs in only 86 at-bats. As pretty as that looks, the flip side is just as ugly with a .198 average, .233 OBP and a whopping 40 strikeouts against only four bases on balls. Despite this, he still remains a high-end talent. Let’s hope he goes the way of Jeff Kent instead of Dan Uggla.

Jorge Soler – Another of the Cubs’ top minor league talents, Soler just got the call up this Wednesday. In 151 career minor league games, the 21-year-old has 28 home runs and 17 stolen bases, although none of the swipes have come in 2014. In his debut, the right fielder was slotted fifth in the batting order and went 2-for-4 with a home run in his first big league at-bat, which came in the Great American Smallpark. It was déjà vu all over again as Starlin Castro also homered in his first at-bat, also in Cincinnati.

Joc Pederson – A very talented outfielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, Pederson will probably get a look of what the view is like from a major league dugout in September after a 30/30 (33/30 to be exact) season this year in Triple-A Albuquerque – a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in eight decades. Manager Don Mattingly, while admitting the 22-year-old will get a taste of playing in Los Angeles, said he wouldn’t get regular playing time.

Archie Bradley – The gem of the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system, Bradley has only appeared in 17 minor league games over three levels due to missing about two months with an elbow injury. The big right-hander has a 9.5 K/9 over his minor league career and should be the cornerstone of the Diamondbacks team for as long as they want to pay him. The 22-year-old could see some action this year, especially if Arizona wants to sell a bunch more tickets.

Kris Bryant – In case you needed more evidence the Chicago Cubs’ farm system was pretty darn good, here’s Kris Bryant, a 22-year-old third baseman. Between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, all the big (6’5”, 215 pounds) Bryant has done is hit at a .329 clip with 43 home runs and 15 stolen bases. In other words, he picked right up where he left off as the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. There isn’t much at all left for him to prove in the Minors, so expect to see him up in Wrigley with the aforementioned Baez and Soler. The future is certainly very bright for the Cubbies.

These are only a handful of the prospects we’ll likely see up with major league teams this September. Personally, it’s one of my favorite times of the season as I – along with many other fans – look forward to seeing the next generation of Major League stars, some of whom are already on my teams in keeper leagues.

Whether it is a yearly trend or just anecdotal evidence, it seems in a lot of cases we have a tale of two seasons between the first and second halves of the MLB season. We always hear talk of this team being a first half team and fading in the second half or that player being a second half monster. When we’re talking about teams, however, the problem is the personnel isn’t the same for enough years to call it anything more than not comparing apples to apples. With individual players, we’re usually not talking about comparing enough years to call it anything more than a small sample size to declare anything definitive. That being said, it still is a worthwhile exercise to look at which teams and players are hot or cold any given year in order to improve our fantasy team as we try to manage it to a title.

In the East Division, the Atlanta Braves had a small lead over the Washington Nationals. At this point, Washington has opened up a five game lead on the Braves due to a 13-11 record since the All-Star break while Atlanta has gone 8-16. That gives the Braves the worst post break record in the East. The team with the best post ASB record has been the Miami Marlins, who are 15-10 since the Midsummer Classic.

The Milwaukee Brewers had a slight lead over the St. Louis Cardinals going into the break and they are still sitting atop the Central Division with a 66-54 record. The Cards have slipped back to third while the Pittsburgh Pirates have climbed up to second place. Pittsburgh has made their move on the strength of the division’s best record – 15-9 – since the ASB with Milwaukee not far behind at 13-11. St. Louis has only managed a 10-12 mark so far, which is second worst in the Central.

Out in the West Division, the Los Angeles Dodgers had a slim lead over the San Francisco Giants but the Dodgers have opened that up to five and one-half games since the break. Los Angeles has put up 15 wins against nine losses in that time while the Giants have been three games below .500 at 11-14.

The team with the worst result since the break has been the Colorado Rockies, who have only managed six victories to go along with 18 losses. The best record post ASB also comes from the West but it isn’t the Dodgers. Surprisingly, the San Diego Padres hold that honor to date with a record of 15-8.

On the individual player side, chicks dig the long ball so we’ll start there. Giancarlo Stanton and Troy Tulowitzki were tied with 21 home runs followed closely by Anthony Rizzo, Todd Frazier and Marlon Byrd with 20, 19, and 18 respectively. Stanton, with 31, has opened up a four dinger lead over Anthony Rizzo. Giancarlo has ten home runs since the break followed by Lucas Duda with seven and Matt Holliday, Matt Kemp, Mark Reynolds and Anthony Rizzo with six each. Tulowitzki has fallen back in the standings due to injury.

Denard Span has been the hottest hitter with regular at-bats, putting up a .424 batting average. He's trailed by Josh Harrison at .372 and Daniel Murphy at .353. All are at or close to 100 at-bats, which is a decent number to look at. Tommy Medica has been hot with a .373 average but that comes in about half the number of at-bats as those previously mentioned – a much smaller sample size.

Adrian Gonzalez leads the pack with 20 RBI with Stanton nipping at his heels with 19 of his own followed by Kemp and Hunter Pence tied with 18 each. Harrison has the lead with 21 runs scored and Nolan Arenado is second with 17. Carlos Gomez, Ender Inciarte and Gregory Polanco each have 16 runs. Gomez leads the league with ten stolen bases since the ASB with Span, Dee Gordon and Harrison each tied with eight. On the negative side, Marcell Ozuna (33), B.J. Upton (32) and Stanton (30) all have struck out more than a third of the time since play resumed after the break.

A very large number of pitchers have five starts in the second half. Six of those – Ervin Santana, Johnny Cueto, Tyson Ross, Doug Fister, Wily Peralta and Kyle Hendricks – have four wins in their five starts. Santana, Cueto and Ross don’t have any losses to go with the wins.  Cueto is leading the league in strikeouts since the break with 40. Cole Hamels has 38 followed by Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg and Alex Wood all with 37. Among starters, Hamels has a microscopic 0.73 ERA with Cueto, Kershaw, Ross and Francisco Liriano all sporting sub 2.00 marks.

Moving to the closers, Steve Cishek has recorded ten saves without blowing any. Francisco Rodriguez is second with nine followed by Jenrry Mejia and Trevor Rosenthal with seven each. Mejia also has one blown save. Surprisingly, of these four saves leaders, only Rosenthal (1.64) has an ERA lower than 2.00. Mejia and Rodriguez both have 3.72 marks and Cishek a bloated 4.15 ERA post ASB.

This is just a cursory look at some second half stats to date and is one of the things that makes baseball such an interesting sport - there are so many stats and ways to analyze or argue about them. Fantasy titles are won or lost based on how each team owner interprets them and which moves they decide to make. Now is the time to choose wisely.

When preparing for a draft, there are always those players we target as late round picks or worthy of a minimum bid in the hopes they pan out into something valuable. Sometimes, we base this on skills analysis, something we read or heard, some extent of past performance, or just a gut feeling. These guys aren’t counted on to be a base of a fantasy team but someone who could maybe take a next step and wind up outperforming their auction bid or draft position. In many ways, we’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle with these picks.

Nathan Eovaldi is one player I had my eye on at the end of the 2013 season and wanted to target as an end-game addition this season. He was drafted in the 11th round of the 2008 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He went on to spend four years in Low-A, High-A and Double-A before getting called up in 2011 for a 34 inning cup of coffee in which he performed decently but didn’t really impress. Eovaldi showed flashes in the Minors, where he struck out better than 8.5 hitters per nine innings, but those flashes were few and far between – more like a blind squirrel finding a nut.

In 2012, he was the cornerstone for the Miami Marlins in the trade that sent Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers and Eovaldi to South Florida. In that split season with Los Angeles and Miami, he put up a 4.30 ERA and only struck out 5.88/9 – which is in the ballpark for what he did most of his career. But the Marlins obviously thought there was something there to want him as the main piece for sending Ramirez packing to the west coast.

So what did Miami see? For just about his whole career, he’s been able to dial up a four-seam fastball in the 94-96 MPH range on a consistent basis. He was even able to surpass 98 on occasion. The big right-hander (6’2” and over 200 pounds) also used a two-seam fastball that was a couple MPH slower than his four seamer. He possessed a smooth delivery that delivered both pitches with apparent ease. His secondary pitches were a mid 80’s slider, a high 70’s curveball and a low 80’s changeup. Part of the problem, however, was the slider was adequate for a power pitcher but the curveball and changeup weren’t up to par as quality offerings for a third pitch. Obviously, the Marlins thought they could help him develop that third pitch that the Dodgers hadn’t.

So as a power pitcher, why hasn’t the now 24-year-old become a strikeout pitcher? Besides lacking a plus third pitch to keep hitters off balance, the knock on his four-seam fastball has been that it’s too straight. Most major league hitters can put a straight fastball in play once they time it. Eovaldi currently features both fastballs together about 63% of the time; slider 26% and curveball/changeup combined about 11%. The implication is he relies on his power pitches too much.

Additionally, some scouts think he tips off his pitches with slight differences in either release point, arm angle, or both. The more alike things look on different pitches, the harder for a batter to recognize which pitch is actually coming and they are kept off balance. A changeup, especially, needs to look like a fastball as far as arm speed goes in order for it to be an effective major league pitch. He really doesn’t even show his changeup to right-handed hitters. Since his fastball is obviously his favorite pitch in terms of usage and he lacks both movement on it and a quality off speed pitch, hitters can sit dead red.

So what did I see to warrant interest on my part heading into the current season? On August 16 last year, Eovaldi allowed nine earned runs on 12 hits in only three innings at home against the San Francisco Giants. In his following seven starts (which happened to be his last seven starts of 2013), he allowed two or fewer runs in six of those contests and he earned the win in four of them. There was one game in which Miami was hosting the Washington Nationals where Eovaldi allowed five earned runs on nine hits in only three innings. The other six games combined, he put up a 1.61 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and improved 7.35 K/9 against the likes of the Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Nationals, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers – three of which were playoff teams (Tigers, Braves and Dodgers).

While a 7.35 K/9 certainly isn’t elite, it was an improvement of 1.10 K/9 over the rest of his 12 games. To me, that was something worth noting as a step in the right direction to realizing the potential of his good raw stuff. That hasn’t materialized, however, as Eovaldi has regressed to a 4.37 ERA and 6.15 K/9 in 22 games to this point in 2014.

Still only 24, Eovaldi is young enough to learn how to refine his craft. But, he needs to start making strides in that direction in order to realize the potential of his natural velocity.

When the clock struck 4 PM ET last Thursday, the dust settled after a flurry on the final day of the non-waiver trade deadline for MLB. While the Boston Red Sox made the most noise on the final day, there certainly were moves from National League teams. A recap of the final day:

Arizona Diamondbacks – Sent Gerardo Parra to the Milwaukee Brewers for Mitch Haniger, a 23-year-old former first-round pick who lost much of his first round luster, and Anthony Banda, a 20-year-old who was so far down the Brewers prospect list he was below the sub-basement. They also traded Martin Prado to the New York Yankees for catcher Peter O'Brien, a 24-year-old who has shown some power at Double-A with 23 home runs in 72 games.

Chicago Cubs – Traded Emilio Bonifacio and left-handed reliever James Russell to the Atlanta Braves for Victor Caratini. Caratini was a catcher in the Braves organization but played third base in college. He might see a position change if the Cubbies see him as a better infielder than backstop. Atlanta got someone who can play all over the field and the southpaw bullpen help they wanted.

Miami Marlins – Sent outfielder Jake Marisnick, third baseman Colin Moran and right-hander Francis Martes to the Houston Astros for starting pitcher Jarred Cosart and outfielders Enrique Hernandez and Austin Wates. Cosart is a promising 24-year-old who might be better off at the end of the bullpen eventually. Hernandez has played in the outfield mostly this year but can play the middle infield as well. He’ll be a super utility player for Miami with a chance to eventually stick as a starter. Wates basically amounts to fodder in this deal.

St. Louis Cardinals – The Cards received right-handed starter John Lackey and 22-year-old Corey Littrell (a fifth-round draft pick in 2013) for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. St. Louis is hoping Lackey and the previously acquired Justin Masterson will bolster the starting rotation for the stretch run.

San Diego Padres – Traded outfielder Chris Denorfia to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Abraham Almonte and right-hander Stephen Kohlscheen.  Almonte was a former Yankees prospect who hasn’t done much in the Minors or in 25 games for Seattle last year. Kohlscheen is big (6’6”) but doesn’t have big potential. All you need to know is he’s 25 years old, hasn’t seen the Majors yet and was a 45th round pick in 2010.

Washington Nationals – Received shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for infielder Zach Walters. Cabrera has played five games at second base since the trade, replacing Danny Espinosa.

Even though the non-waiver deadline has passed, that doesn’t mean general managers are done wheeling and dealing. We are now in the waiver trade period. In this process, teams put players on waivers. The players could be claimed by any major league team. If a player is claimed by more than one team, the team lower in the standings in the same league wins the claim. The two teams then have the opportunity to work out a trade or the player’s original team can opt to let him go with the claiming team assuming the contract. Teams putting players on waivers usually have a team or two they would be willing to consummate a trade with. If the winning team in the waiver process isn’t any of them, then the team just pulls the player back from waivers. This is usually a shell game as teams can put up to seven players a day on waivers – many players they have no interest in trading.

One team that should be very active is the Philadelphia Phillies. After doing nothing before the deadline, they are in just as bad a position as they were before – an old team getting older with some big contracts they desperately need to unload. General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has stated he received many inquiries but none of them were worth the players they would be losing. But here the Phils sit with the same old players and big contracts and they’ll be a year older next year. They needed to dump some of those big contracts that are like an anchor around their necks. We’ll see if they pull the trigger this month. Reportedly, some players are willing to waive their no-trade clauses to go to a playoff contender. Evidently, Cliff Lee won’t be one of the players changing uniforms as he was again placed on the disabled list. The difference now is he has cleaned out his locker, which is a pretty good sign he’s done for the season, although nothing has officially been said.

Another team that didn’t do much was the Colorado Rockies. This didn’t sit well with super shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who said “something needs to change” with the team but stopped short of saying he wanted out.

Teams will now see what they can accomplish for this year or the future during the month of August.

There’s no worse feeling in the fantasy world than drafting your team and expecting big things only to have one of your top players not perform up to standards – whether it be because of injury or just a crappy year. When this happens, the inevitable response is a bunch of words not fit for print here directed at said player to go along with much gnashing of teeth. If a player gets off to a bad start, the usual reaction is to hold onto him, hoping he’ll work it out. If things don’t turn around, the next reaction could be to try to dump the player on someone else based on name value. If, however, you wait too long, then you need to take a deep discount or be stuck with the player for the duration of the season. If I’m in that position, I’m loathe to actually just cut the player because I’m afraid the next owner to pick him up will wind up getting what I had banked on.

One such player many fantasy players were counting on for this year was Cliff Lee. The 35-year-old has been fantasy gold for most of the past six years and has anchored many a team’s pitching staff. Coming into the season, the southpaw was in the top-3 of starting pitchers in the National League. His auction value was in the $30 range and he went for more than that in some leagues. At that price, it was expected he would easily attain double-digit wins, an ERA close to 3.00, WHIP in the low 1.00 range and strikeouts north of 200. It looked like Lee was going to have another typical Cliff Lee season after spring training when he put up a 2.55 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, more than a strikeout per inning and less than a hit per inning.

But then the regular season started. Lee’s first start was in Texas against the Rangers. He lasted only five innings and was tagged hard. After the smoke had cleared, the box score showed eight earned runs, 11 hits allowed and only one strikeout in five innings of work. That equated to a 14.40 ERA and 2.40 WHIP for him and his owners – a very inauspicious start to the season to say the least. In his next three starts, he allowed zero, three, and one earned run but still gave up more than a hit per inning.

His best game came in his fifth start of the year against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In that game, Lee went eight innings and only allowed four hits, zero walks, and struck out ten. His owners must have thought the train was back on the tracks, but he followed that with an eight hit and two walk effort against the Arizona Diamondbacks in which he surrendered three earned runs and only struck out two.

After that, Lee kind of had an up and down performance for the next four starts. After allowing two earned runs on May 18 to the Cincinnati Reds in a game in which he gave up nine hits and only struck out three, Lee was sent for an MRI due to a sore throwing elbow – never something real or fantasy GM’s like to hear. The report came back that it was a strained flexor tendon and not something that would require the all too familiar Tommy John surgery that was running rampant during the early part of this season. The Phillies were saying he might only miss two weeks with the strain and he was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Two weeks later, however, the ace still had not been cleared to begin throwing and his owners started to worry even more. On June 10, he participated in some light tossing – just to get a feel for how the elbow felt. Things seemed OK and the schedule was pushed to light throwing every other day. On June 16, things were moved to a mound where he threw only fastballs on a very limited pitch count to see how the arm felt. The schedule was moved to throwing bullpen sessions in increasing pitch increments with a simulated game forecast for sometime during the last week of June. On July 1, he progressed to throwing 60 pitches against live batters and a minor league rehab trip would be next – Philadelphia was certainly taking it slow and easy with their star. In the first of these, he was limited to just two dozen pitches for High A Clearwater in a game that was cut short by rain. This start covered two shutout innings with one hit and two strikeouts.

The next start was again for Clearwater in which he allowed three runs in four innings but he did throw three quarters of his pitches for strikes. This now brings us to July 15 and his last rehab start. Things didn’t go well in this game as he was roughed up for eight runs, albeit only three earned, in 4 2/3 innings with only two strikeouts. This certainly wasn’t what Lee owners were hoping for.

He was activated from the DL this Monday and pitched against the San Francisco Giants at home. In his first start back, the Giants treated him roughly, with 12 hits, six earned runs and only three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Not good at all and Cliff Lee owners are officially worried again and certainly wondering if there is a more extensive issue with him this year. I’ve heard more than a few wondering if he’s hit the wall and the slide is here.

I don’t have the answer to that but am glad I don’t have any ownership in him this year. It doesn’t look good but there isn’t much those with some stock in him can do at this point but wait and hope. With the way things have been going, however, Daisy Duke would rather be riding in a Pinto than this Lee.

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