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Friday 15th Dec 2017

One manner in which baseball has become so much more fun the last bunch of years is with the promotion of prospects earlier in the season than in the "old days."

Over the last few years, we have seen Mike Trout, Manny Machado and Jose Fernandez, to name a few, advance to the Majors and make an almost immediate mark (OK, it took the second time for Trout).

Well, the 2014 influx has now begun with the Astros promotion of outfielder George Springer (which unfortunately meant the demotion of a guy I like a lot, Robbie Grossman).

A first-rounder in 2011, Springer has 284 minor league games under his belt, with a .302-65-207 line that includes 85 swipes, which includes his excellent .303-37-108 2013 split between Double-A Corpus Christie and Triple-A Oklahoma City. Springer also swiped 45 last year, and though he struck out 161 times, so did he walk on 83 occasions (.411 OBP). Houston has already inserted Springer at the clean-up slot in their everyday lineup, and that means you should grab him, if available, and do the same in virtually all circumstances.

There are a bunch of pitchers this year who have caused owners to mutter, "Who?" after a stellar performance or two. Today we will look at a few of these guys, starting with the Marlins' Tom Koehler. Drafted in the 18th round back in 2008, Koehler has had a workmanlike minor league career, posting a 54-33, 3.71 mark over 682 innings and 127 starts, with 582 strikeouts.

That fostered Koehler coming to the bigs for good (he had a cup and 13.3 innings in 2012), joining the rotation with fellow rookie Fernandez. The righty went 5-10, 4.41 over 143 innings, with a 1.357 WHIP.

The 27-year-old has been lights out this month, going 2-1, 1.89 over his first 19 innings and three starts. Koehler is not a deadly strikeout guy, but, in a rotation that has dominant arms like Fernandez and Nathan Eovaldi, that could be a good thing. If Koehler is out there and you could use a fourth or fifth starter, jump on him.

It is a little odd that Boston is messing around at third base, waiting for Will Middlebrooks to return. In my meager view, the team should just promote Garin Cecchini and get it over with, trying to figure out what to do with the extra parts. Enter Brock Holt, a ninth-round selection of the Pirates in the 2009 draft, who was then swapped to the Red Sox along with Joel Hanrahan in 2009.

With a .307-15-177 line in the Minors over 466 games, Holt does in fact have a nice resume. Further, the Rice alum has 61 swipes and 179 walks to 263 strikeouts, good for a .374 OBP. Holt has done very nicely since assuming the hot corner (.429-0-2) but he does not generate enough of the traditional production for third, and the rest of the Boston infield is pretty well set for awhile. But, Holt could spell the outfield and be a useful utility player. Not to mention he has third base for the moment, and in a deep set-up is an OK risk.

Kyle Gibson was the Twins' #1 selection in 2009, and compared to the likes of Springer and Fernandez, Minnesota has brought their top pick along slowly. With a 21-21, 3.51 line over 74 games and 72 starts (377.3 innings), Gibson struck out 337, walked 105 and allowed 356 hits (1.222 WHIP), the 6'6", 220 pound right-hander came to the Majors last year for good, going 2-4, 6.53 over ten starts.

This year, so far at least, Gibson has been stunning, going 3-0, 0.93 over 19.3 frames, with ten strikeouts, nine walks and 12 hits (1.086 WHIP). Gibson could create a little more distance between the whiffs and walks, but he has yet to surrender a homer, and clearly has a hot hand. Meaning in any format he can help, and in an AL-only, well, if he is out there and is half as efficient as he has been, that will still be money in the bank.

Seattle brought back hard-throwing Brandon Maurer, who pitched well enough (4.3 innings, a couple of hits and walks, a run and four strikeouts) in his first start in Seattle on Sunday. A 23rd-round pick in 2008, out of Orange Lutheran High in Southern California, Maurer did come to Safeco last year for 90 innings, but was knocked around for a 5-8 record with a 6.30 ERA. Maurer whiffed 70, and only walked 27, but he allowed 114 hits over which 16 were homers.

Maurer has pitched well enough in the Minors (19-21, 3.81 over 378 innings with 358 K, 132 walks and 361 hits) and if he can keep his pitches down, could fare well. Still a long-shot for now.

Colorado nabbed hurler Tommy Kahnle from the Yankees this past winter as a Rule 5 selection. A fifth-round pick in 2010 by the Pinstripes, Kahnle is a reliever who garnered 15 saves at Trenton last year and has 285 strikeouts over 214 innings. Over that period, Kahnle allowed just 142 hits, but gave up 123 walks (1.238 WHIP), so command is the issue. So far, he has had that (2-0, 1.93 over 9.3 innings), though nine walks to six whiffs still shows a point of concern. Still, on the Rockies, where the closer gig has really been a swinging door, anything could happen. And, as a Rule 5, he should be on the roster the remainder of the season. 

Tampa's C.J. Riefenhauser is not unlike Kahnle (well, save the Rule 5 bit) in that he was drafted in 2010, and converted 11 games at Double-A Montgomery last year, going 6-1, 1.22 for the campaign which ended at Durham. Riefenhauser has 342 whiffs over 361.3 innings, with 291 hits allowed and 106 walks (1.096 WHIP). A lefty, Riefenhauser will probably get situational work for now, but he is one of those quiet relievers who can help keep numbers stable, and grab a save and a win from time to time.

Let's close with reclamation project Kevin Kouzmanoff, who last played in the Majors in 2011, splitting time between the Rockies and Athletics, going .235-7-33 over 235 at-bats, with a poor .284 OBP. Kouz stumbled around in the Minors, and only came up with the Rangers to help the team while incumbent third sacker Adrian Beltre is down. However, his .395-2-9 line over his first ten games suggests he could be a nice pick-up while Beltre heals. Not to mention, if you play daily formats, he could be a cheap and rewarding play against lefties when Kouz is hitting at Arlington.

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