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Wednesday 29th Mar 2017

Welcome back to the Hotpage, holiday edition.

We are busy completing the final Top 250 Prospect scrub, and the full list will be available as part of our Platinum Package some time over the next week.

But, just to add to the fun, this week let's look at a few of the players I like as sleepers on the list. In other words, maybe not so well known, but maybe worth tracking.

Jose Peraza (#108, 2B, Braves): .339-2-44 for the 20-year-old, split between Lynchberg and Double-A Mississippi. Peraza swiped 60 bags over 114 games, and though he may begin 2015 in the Southern League, continued success means nowhere to go but up.

Daniel Robertson (#12, SS, Athletics): Oakland's first-round pick in 2012, Robertson went .310-15-60 with 37 doubles for Stockton with 72 walks to 94 whiffs, good for a .402 OBP and .873 OPS. That is exactly the kind of line the Athletics love. He is headed to Double-A, so bullet hitting bone time, but Robertson, who will be 22 just before Opening Day, definitely made a mark this year.

Cheslor Cuthbert (#75, 3B, Royals): As a 21-year-old, he went .274-12-64 with ten steals, split between Double-A and Triple-A Omaha. A little bit of a free-swinger (174 walks to 347 whiffs), too much talent being realized so quickly must be tracked.

Lucas Giolito (#14, P, Nationals): Giolito, who will turn 21 come the next break, is young, but his numbers are close to scary in that he is 12-3, 2.17, with 150 strikeouts over 136.6 innings. Just 42 walks and 100 hits over that span mean a 1.03 WHIP, but more interesting is Giolito is a 6'6", 255 pounder. Imagine what he could be when he fills out and gains a little experience.

Robert Whalen (#53, P, Mets): 9-2, 1.94 over 69.6 innings mostly at Savannah last year. He struck out 63, walked 21, and surrendered 48 hits (0.990 WHIP), just two of them homers. Whalen gets his feet wet at High-A to start next year.

Aaron Blair (#60, P, D-Backs): A first round pick in 2013, Blair, 22, shot through three levels, finishing at Double-A Mobile, where he went 4-1, 1.94 over eight starts and 46.3 innings. Blair has whiffed 212 over 203 minor league innings, allowing 68 walks (1.167 WHIP). He is another big guy, at 6'5", 230 pounds.

Jose De Leon (#82, P, Dodgers): 7-0, 2.22 mark over 77 innings, mostly at Rookie ball. De Leon whiffed 119 hitters, walked just 21, and allowed just three homers of the 58 hits collected off the 22-year-old right-hander. High-A looms to start 2015.

It is the holiday season, and what better gift can a fantasy owner get than a shot at the potential next big thing?

Well, now for the 17th year, we are happy to present the Mastersball Top 250 Prospects, although in fairness, when I did my first list in 1998, it was just a Top 100.

Still, over the years, we have done pretty well at projecting successful prospects, for though there are names who are familiar, but sometimes we identify players a little ahead of the curve, like Joc Pederson (#8 in 2014), Yordano Ventura (#51 in 2013) and Wilmer Flores (#16 in 2013) which can be a good thing in keeper leagues.

For the archives, while all players are rated based upon age and relative level of success, pitchers are valued for displaying a combination of dominance and control, while hitters are graded on power and an ability to control the strike zone.

The entire Top 250 will be available mid-December as part of our Platinum Package but today, we are happy to announce the Top 10 names for 2015.

So, here goes:

1. Dilson Herrera (2B, Mets): The keystone player who won't turn 21 until next August, Herrera hit .323-13-71 with 33 doubles and 23 swipes split between St. Lucie and Binghamton last year, before getting a September call-up. At Citi he hit a respectable .220-3-11 over 18 games. Bear in mind he was just 20, and weighs just 150 pounds (Herrera is 5'10"), so when he fills out, more pop should ensue.

2. Victor Sanchez (P, Mariners): Sanchez does not turn 20 until January, but at 6'0", he outweighs Herrera by 55 pounds. He spent all of 2014 at Jackson, and went 7-6, 4.19 over 124.6 frames, with 97 whiffs to 36 walks, good for a 1.291 WHIP. Sanchez did get hurt by the long ball last year (17 allowed) but again, he is very young and that is pretty good success adjusting to the toughest jump in the Minors.

3. Carlos Correa (SS, Astros): Sought after in 2014, Correa hit a fine .325-6-57 over 62 games, with 16 doubles, 20 steals and a good .379 OBP (36 walks to 45 strikeouts). A broken fibula is the reason Correa's season was cut short, but expect him to appear at Minute Maid soon, helping lead the charge to the Astros resurgence.

4. Joc Pederson (OF, Dodgers): Pederson was, as noted, #8 last year, and #18 on our list in 2013, and now his presence likely spells the end of time for one among Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. He hit .303-33-71 at Albuquerque last year before the Bums advanced the outfielder, where he only hit .143-0-0, but walked nine times to 11 strikeouts. Time to show what he can do at the Show.

5. Jose Berrios (P, Twins): Minnesota has some nice young hitting, but, what the team needs are arms, and perhaps Berrios will help that search. Berrios, who turns 21 in May, shot through three levels within the Twins system last year, putting together a 12-8, 2.76 record over 140 innings, with 140 strikeouts to 38 walks (1.114 WHIP). The right-hander's time at Triple-A was brief (one game, three innings), so expect Berrios to start the season back at Rochester, but keep an eye open for him.

6. Henry Owens (P, Red Sox): A big (6'6", 205 lbs.) Southpaw, out of Huntington Beach, Owens was 17-5, 2.94 over 159 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Owens notched 170 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.132, and should see time at Fenway in 2015. Owens, who will be 22 on Opening Day, logged in at #25 on our list in 2014.

7. Wendell Rijo (2B, Red Sox): As an 18-year-old, Rijo put up a solid .254-9-46 with 27 doubles and 16 swipes at Class-A level Greenville in the Sally League last year, with 56 walks to 103 strikeouts (.348 OBP). Boston has some nice stuff happening in their infield, and it is reasonable to expect Rijo to finish 2015 at Double-A Portland. He is just the kind of guy to stash on the back end of your Ultra reserve list at least for one season. 

8. Eduardo Rodriguez (P, Red Sox): Got that? Three BoSox in a row? On a team that already has Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Garin Cecchini, and now Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Rodriguez, who was a 2014 trade deadline acquisition from the Orioles (in exchange for Andrew Miller), was 3-1, 0.96 after the swap at Portland, and had a total 3-7, 4.79 mark over 120 innings last year, including time at Bowie before the swap. The lefty was #2 on our list last year after a 10-7, 3.41 record in the Baltimore chain as a 20-year-old.

9. German Marquez (P, Rays): The 19-year-old was 5-7, 3.21 last year over 98 innings for Bowling Green. Marquez struck out 95 while walking just 29, and notched a 1.143 WHIP. As with Rijo, look for a jump to Double-A by the end of 2015 and that should tell a lot as to whether Marquez has "it" or not, but for now it looks like he does.

10. Kris Bryant (3B, Cubs): A monster .325-43-110 2014 split between Tennessee and Iowa, Bryant also swiped 15 bags and walked 86 times to 162 whiffs with a 1.098 OPS over 138 games. I saw him at the Fall League, and while I am not sure if Bryant is a third sacker at Wrigley, he is going to be playing somewhere on the north side next year, and will be part of a cluster of Cubs that will be good by the end of 2015, and contenders in 2016.

I will admit that during the season, I do look at the numbers of minor leaguers. In fact, I write about them, but I try not to get fixated on the stats or the players so that when I go to the Fall League, I judge players as objectively, based upon what I see, as permits. Meaning I don't read or listen to scouting reports, and analysis of swings or wind-ups.

Still, I saw five games last week, including the Rising Stars contest, so here are my thoughts.

Aaron Judge (Yankees, OF): Judge is a big guy, with big power (he clobbered a pair of homers in Mesa last Thursday) and also a great arm in right field (he threw a runner out, and kept another from advancing from second on a deep fly, simply out of respect). Judge is hitting .297-4-14 for Scottsdale and the Bombers #1 pick in 2013 moved up to High-A this year (.283-8-33 over 66 games) to finish 2014. He starts next year at Double-A, and has a nice chance of making the Majors next year.

Dalton Pompey (Jays, OF): Drafted out of high school in 2010, Pompey has some major speed (he hit three triples, including one in the Rising Stars game, and I saw them all) along with swiping three of his 13 bases the week I was in the Valley of the Sun. Pompey climbed four levels in 2014, logging .317-9-51 totals at three minor league levels with 43 steals and an excellent 52 walks to 84 whiffs. Pompey finished his season in the Majors (.231-1-4 over 17 games) and could well challenge for a job in 2015.

Gregory Bird (Yankees, 1B): Hitting .318-6-20 at the Fall League, Bird launched a tremendous home run at the Rising Stars game and was on base eight of the 13 at-bats I saw. A fifth round high school selection in 2011, Bird finished 2014 at Double-A Trenton (.253-7-11 over 27 games) and will likely return to Double-A to start 2015. But, he is the heir apparent to Mark Teixeira.

Roman Quinn (Phillies, OF): I saw Quinn hit a triple, a single, and walk three times, scoring four runs over two games in Arizona. A second round high school pick in 2011, the outfielder hit .257-7-36 with 32 swipes for Clearwater over 88 games, and had 14 Fall League steals. He definitely has wheels, but I'm not sure if Quinn is more than a bench player over the long haul.

Tyler Austin (Yankees, OF): The Yankees might have been struggling with age over the past few years, but add Austin, a 13th round pick in 2011, in with Bird and Judge, and there is plenty to be optimistic about. Austin has hit .304-2-13 at the AFL, and went 6-for-8 over the pair of games I saw him, adding a great left field assist, throwing out Cal Towey who was trying to score from second on a single. Austin hit .275-9-47 over 105 games at Double-A Trenton, and does have some defense as noted. He does need to step it up in 2015 at Double-A as a 23-year-old, however, to show he is indeed part of the Bronx future.

Tony Renda (Nationals, 2B): Gotta love the guys who went to U.C. Berkeley, which is where the Nats drafted Renda out of, in the second round in 2012. Renda went 4-for-9 over a pair of games, and then grabbed a Rising Stars single as well, showing a good swing and eye. Renda hit .307-0-47 and stole 19 at Potomac with 43 walks to 59 strikeouts before heading to Arizona. He is hitting .217-0-7 there, meaning I might have seen most of his offense so far. Still, keep an eye on Renda, who could grab the keystone slot and move Anthony Rendon to third permanently.

Shifting to pitching, I will honestly admit that I saw no one at the Fall League who really caught my eye. Mark Appel, for example, looked completely pedestrian. 

The three arms I did think were at least interesting are:

Tyler Glasnow (Pirates, RHP): A fifth round pick (almost all these guys were high school selections), Glasnow had the only fastball I saw that actually popped in the catcher's mitt, and he also had a slider (or was it a curve? Not a lot of break, and looked like a slider to me) that had a sharp tail and was delivered just like his fastball. Glasnow went 12-5, 1.74 at High-A Bradenton with 157 whiffs over 124 innings during the season, and logged a 1-1, 3.12 mark over six AFL starts for Scottsdale.

Archie Bradley (Diamondbacks, RHP): Bradley started the Rising Stars game, and allowed just a hit and a walk. He was not dominant, but looked ok. Still, he went just 3-7, 4.45 over three levels in the D-Backs system this year, not that good for a #1 pick and #7 overall. On the other hand, Archie did sign a foul ball I caught, so I give him props for that.

Tyler Rogers (Giants, RHP): A tenth round pick in 2013, Rogers is a flier if ever there was one. He did have a great underhand Dan Quisenberry delivery, which is what caught my attention. But, Rogers threw 72 frames at High-A San Jose, going 4-0, 2.00, with 72 whiffs to just 22 walks and a homer allowed. So, maybe my eyes know what they are doing after all. A sleeper, but one I like.

Well, another season has passed, and once again a very exciting final day, with Jordan Zimmermann throwing a no-no over the Fish to lead into the postseason, and Sonny Gray tossing a six-hit shutout to cement Oakland's third straight postseason appearance.

I am closing out this time with five pitchers who make me nervous going into 2015. As usual, in selecting these pitchers, they could be a nice gamble, but I would be careful not to overspend.

Justin Verlander (Tigers): Verlander's slip really began last year, but the bottom has kind of fallen out this season. I cannot help but think of the righty in 2013, in a jam, and all he did was try to throw harder and lose his command. Verlander is far along in his career that he should indeed be a polished pitcher, and not a thrower, but his 223 hits over 208 frames and 1.398 WHIP tells me he will be hard headed using a change effectively.

C.J. Wilson (Angels): So odd, in that Wilson escaped a serious hitter's park, seeking much more cavernous Anaheim, and all he has done is slump. Actually, the 85 walks he allowed this year is the same total as last season, but Wilson has tossed 30 fewer innings, and a WHIP of 1.446. I want no part of him.

Justin Masterson (Cardinals): I really thought Masterson would flourish with the swap to stead St. Louis, but I could not have been more wrong. The righty was 2-3, 7.53 over eight starts after the swap, much worse incredibly than the 4-6, 5.51 he notched for the Tribe before the trade. However, Masterson is one of those Saberhagenmetric guys who has a good year, a bad year, a good year, a bad year, and since the odd years seem to be the good ones, I would have no problem nabbing him as a reserve player or as a late starter for a buck who I can stream as appropriate.

Joe Nathan (Tigers): Nathan did save 35, though he blew seven, and posted awful closer numbers of a 4.81 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP. Maybe there is just something inherent in being in the Tigers pen, and thus imploding accordingly, but Detroit paid him $20 million through 2015, so I would expect him to get the ball. Second closer at best, though, and no more than $9 for that in an AL-only format.

Fernando Rodney (Mariners): Much like Nathan, Rodney is signed through next year, and his 48 saves were great, but he does have trouble with his control, and a closer with a 1.342 WHIP isn't all that good. I see the eventual transition to Brandon Maurer, but expect Rodney to get the ball in the spring. Still, last legs at a position that has become more than volatile this year, and will likely continue to be so.

That will do it for this season as I go into Winter mode.

Please come back the second Monday in November for my Arizona Fall League review, and the second week of December for my 2015 top 250 prospect list.

As always, thanks so much for your readership and support. And, do look for some big changes in 2015!

As we wind down a season that is still rather uncertain with respect to a Bay Area post-season, we can finish up the last couple of Hotpages with some folks I would be shy of in the coming season, starting with perhaps the most interesting rookie of 2014, Billy Hamilton (OF, Reds).

No one ever questioned Hamilton's speed, an important aspect of the game, and just his presence on the bases might be at the Major League level. But, back in March, I made an argument that Ben Revere was a much better gamble than Hamilton, so let's just see:

Hamilton 60 22 28 554 72 56 23 .255 .296 .657
Revere 195 19 19 572 68 47 8 .308 .325 .690

So, not a huge difference in Tout, but $9 in LABR, and an amazing 135 NFBC ADP differential, and that is enough to win or lose a title.

As I have noted a few weeks back, when looking at the young hitters I like, and why, the focus went to walks and strikeouts. I really look to those numbers in both pitchers and hitters, as a matter of fact, for the more walks a hitter gets, generally the better a judge of the zone he is. Similarly, the more often he will get on base, the more often the chance for something to happen on his behalf.

The corollary is that a pitcher who does not allow walks has a better command of the zone, and, thus the less guys will get on base, and similarly there will be fewer chances for a run to score.

So, back to Hamilton, I simply don't see him getting better at the zone, or at reading pitchers (the 23 caught stealings are a tad alarming). True, his 56 steals probably put you near, if not atop the swipes category in your league, but among the big stealers--Hamilton, Gordon, Altuve and Revere--Billy was the worst investment by a long shot.

I think 2015 will show his true colors--that is, whether he can learn or simply be exploited--as a hitter, and for a few bucks (less than $10, depending upon the format) I can see the steals gamble. Chances are, though, I would rather let someone else crapshoot and try to scrounge my steals from a bunch of Lorenzo Cain-type guys. 

Brandon Moss (1B/OF, Athletics): I suspect no one misses the presence of Yoenis Cespedes like Moss, who has hit 55 dingers for Oakland over the past two years, but just two of them since the trade of the former Oakland left fielder. I think he can still bang 20 big flies with 400-plus at-bats, but I see all his other numbers taking a tumble.

Charlie Blackmon (OF, Rockies): Raise your hand if this surprises you. Take away Charlie's red-hot April (.374-5-18 with seven swipes) and you have a fairly pedestrian .268-13-53-21 line over 470 at-bats. Serviceable as a fourth outfielder, sure, but nothing to build around or gamble on. In fact, as a freeze over $5, that is a gamble.

Danny Santana  (OF/SS, Twins): I have to tell you that I have Santana as a $1 FAAB purchase, having gotten him hoping for ten swipes right when Minnesota advanced him. So, the fact that I have his .318-7-39 line with 19 steals for the measly dollar is terrific (it is also the kind of payoff that wins pennants), not to mention his playing both in the outfield and middle infield. But, 18 walks to 87 strikeouts tells me the league of pitchers will adjust and exploit him next year. Truth is I want him to do well, but I am not willing to go too far in support of it.

Jay Bruce (OF, Reds): I have noted for a few years that Bruce was the new Adam Dunn, and got a lot of pushback in saying so. And, the reality is, I like Dunn, who does have power and can take a walk. In fact, he is one of those guys who hits .220, but can register a .350 OBP in the process. So, I meant it as a compliment.

I will now change my assessment: Dunn is a lot better. I think the league has indeed figured Bruce out, and this is his level. Unlike Dunn, when Bruce hits .220, his OBP is .280. 


Since we looked at some hitters I covet going into 2015 last week, this time let's look at some arms that might well still be reasonable if not a bargain next year, but could be high priced/top tier selections in the near future.

Brandon Maurer (Mariners): "Michaels has lost it", you are saying to yourself, "because he not only has a guy with a 1-4, 5.00 record this year on his list, he started with him." Well, if ever I have had one of those Zen hunches, it is about Maurer, who was 1-4, 7.42 over 32.3 frames as a starter but when the M's moved him to the pen, he was 0-0, 2.35 over 30.6 innings, with 32 whiffs and a 0.967 WHIP. Fernando Rodney is signed through next year, but any bets who gets the closing job in 2016? Get him cheap and sit on him (I'm doing just that with Maurer in my Strat-O-Matic league).

Dellin Betances (Yankees): More of the same as Maurer, but I think this monster could take over next year. 5-0, 1.37 with a 0.759 WHIP over 85.6 innings. With 128 whiffs? Only Sean Doolittle's (16.2) strikeout-to-walk rate beats Betances' 13.4, and at 6'8", 260 pounds, Betances could be big and durable enough to set records.

Jacob deGrom (Mets): A ninth round selection in 2010, he has gone 21-11, 3.62 over 58 minor league starts and 322.3 inings. de Grom struck out a modest 267 hitters, and posted a 1.284 WHIP in the Minors, and then successfully jumped to the Show, turning in a 8-6, 2.62 mark over 127.3 innings, with a strong 121 whiffs and a 1.147 WHIP. With Zack Wheeler, and the return of Matt Harvey next year, the Mets have the makings of a very nice little rotation ahead. Now, if they can get some sticks to help out, the team can cause some trouble for the rest of the league.

Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays): What is not to like about the first round Toronto selection of 2012, who has adjusted to the big leagues very quickly. Inserted into the rotation in May, the righty has responded with a 10-5, 2.87 record, and a 1.160 WHIP over 114.6 innings. Stroman struck out 97, and kept the walks down to just 26. At 5'9", Stroman reminds me a lot of Tom Gordon. Really like this kid.

Yordano Ventura (Royals): I hope I don't regret trading Ventura--whom I had as a $1+$3 bargain in the XFL for Matt Kemp in an attempt to push for a title this year. To be sure, Kemp is a keeper, but Ventura, still just 23, picked it right up going into the rotation and helping to push the Royals to the next level. His 12-10, 3.27 mark over 165 innings is really great, and though Ventura can bring it at around 100 MPH, it is clear in May he determined to pitch rather than throw, earning less whiffs (140 for the season) but improving his control and all that goes with. As he comes into his own, the strikeout numbers will increase: an ace waiting to happen.

Hector Santiago (Angels): After an awful April (0-4, 4.44) and worse May (0-2, 5.73), Santiago was sent to Charlotte, and only called back to spot start. Since then, however, Santiago has been so good that the team simply could not pull him from the rotation. He is 4-0, 2.04 over 53 second half innings, and though his K:BB rate dropped to 7.6 this year, similarly has his WHIP dropped to 1.265 (from 1.403 last year) and Santiago is poised to toss 200 innings in a year as he goes into a fourth year at 26. I think he will be solid as a cheap but steady #3 guy.

As we push through the final month of the 2014 season, let's close out looking at some hitters and pitchers I covet for 2015, and then the inverse: hitters and pitchers that I would drop for a higher value to finish up.

Joe Panik (Giants, 2B): Interestingly, the first of three keystone players I want to cover today, and Panik is a guy who really caught my eye at the AFL a couple of years back with a laser homer he hit.

A first rounder of the Giants in 2011, Panik has moved up a level a year since signing, but his stock dropped a bit in 2013 when the now 23-year-old logged a .257-4-57 line at Double-A Richmond, with a somewhat anemic .680 OPS.

Nevertheless, San Francisco pushed Panik to Fresno, and he responded nicely with a .321-5-45 mark before getting the big league call, but the thing I really like about Joe are the 171 walks to the 180 whiffs, good for a .365 OBP, and an indicator of an ability to judge the strike zone.

Panik only played in 15 first half games after the call-up, and he struggled, hitting .212-0-4 over 52 at-bats, but the second sacker showed that ability to rise to the occasion, hitting .350-1-10 since the break, with 14 walks to 23 whiffs and a .358 OBP over the course of the year.

I think of him as Dustin Pedroia lite--not the overall power and speed, but just a notch down, and the kind of guy who will hit .295 with 10 homers, 35-plus doubles and 85 runs hitting out of the #2 slot.

Tommy La Stella (Braves, 2B): Drafted the same year as Panik, albeit in the eighth round, LaStella has excelled all the way up the chain, posting a minor league .407 OBP (136 walks to just 102 whiffs) over 258 games, and contributing an ..881 OPS with a base of .322-21-167 with 150 runs scored.

La Stella steals a little better than Panik, but again, he just looks like a long-term #2 batter who will hit around .290, steal 15 bags, and clobber 35 or so two-baggers.

Jedd Gyorko (2B, Padres): OK, not a rookie, but, if you are thinking of dumping, first half, before he sat down for his injury, Gyorko hit .162-5-24 over 56 games, and since coming back, .254-4-24 over 35 contests. Give him a break. I think you will be glad.

Robbie Grossman (OF, Astros): Another guy who impressed during the AFL, Grossman is one of those guys who has tools, just not eye-popping ones, makes good plays and uses his skills and smarts to his advantage. 

Drafted in the 6th round in 2008 by the Bucs, Grossman went to Houston as part of the Wandy Rodriguez deal in 2012.

Over six minor league seasons and 625 games, Grossman produced .278-38-231 totals, with a strong .383 OBP (396 walks to 625 strikeouts) to go along with 113 steals and 450 runs.

Grossman performed well enough over his first dip in the Bigs last year, hitting .268-4-21 over 63 games, with a .332 OBP, but this year he was beyond slow coming out of the box, earning a demotion back to Oklahoma City.

Now back, and somewhat ensconced in the outfield, Grosman is hitting just .211-6-33 over 84 games, but his OBP, at .322, is just ten points below last year despite the 57 point average differential. That is because Grossman has 47 walks to 83 strikeouts this year, as opposed to 23/70 last season.

Now, I admit to a fascination here with walks, but to be clear, a player who understands the strike zone is a player who is likely to continue both improving, and adjusting as a hitter, and in all the guys mentioned, there were improvements, with experience, noted.

Not that I want hitters to be passive, but I do like them to be selective. And, well, walks help OBP, and players can steal and score runs when they walk.

I do see Grossman improving to peaking with numbers a la Shane Victorino. I think he, and his Astro-mates, will be a lot better next year.

Marcell Ozuna (OF, Marlins): It is funny, for in my Strat-O-Matic League, Grossman was selected as a rookie pick last February, leaving me with Ozuna.

Ozuna has a .264-19-79 line as a 23-year-old doing his first full Major League season, and as much as I like Grossman, I like Ozuna even better. As in imagine what he can do as a 26-year-old with a few years of experience under his belt?

Mike Zunino (C, Mariners): Uh, I favor walks, and yet I am talking about a .198-20-49 guy with just 15 free passes to 139 punch-outs? What is this, J.P. Arencibia redux?

Well, Zunino only got 96 minor league games, and there he walks a much better 40 times to 99 strikeouts, to go with a .284-26-86 set of totals.

Pressed into the everyday role having just turned 23, with less than 100 professional games is not easy, and a young catcher's primary charge is calling the game, something Zunino has done very well.

Catchers usually mature into hitting a little later than their position-playing mates, so I am totally willing to give him some slack, and figure he will jump the average by 50 points next year, and the RBI by 20.

The 20 dingers will be just fine, as is.

Amazingly, we are again  at another Labor Day, our 19th with you, and as usual I thank you for your support, and hope you are having a great and safe weekend with family and friends.

Out here on the West Coast, I am having trouble watching the Athletics--I just had to flip to "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" as I could not handle watching Scott Kazmir lose it.

I still think the Athletics will work through this slump, and make it to the post-season, and with a rotation of Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Sonny Gray, that is formidable in a short series.

Similarly, the arrival of Adam Dunn is a good thing, for Dunn is a guy I have liked for a long time, and he is another fellow who fits well into the Oakland role playing scheme, of walks and dingers.

I do think the Athletics loss of Yoenis Cespedes had a bigger impact than the front office imagined, but I also think knowing the Athletics and the law of averages, the team was due for a flat period.

Better to have it now and work to get hot as the post-season begins.

Ok, so to the now, and since it is September 1, it is also roster expansion time. So, this time, let's take a look at some top prospects who might indeed make a first appearance at the show as the season rumbles to a finish.

Topping the list is the next in line for the Cubs--and an outfielder--to help lead the North Siders to the promised land with Jorge Soler.

Signed in 2012, the 22-year-old has blazed a path to The Show that includes just 151 games over two years, from Rookie Ball up, and the outfielder shot through four levels from Class A to the Majors, posting a minor league line of .340-15-57 with an incredible 1.132 OPS, and then picked it right up at Wrigley, going .533-3-7 over his first four games.

Yet another amazing Cuban import, I am not exactly sure just what it is that makes players from the island so much more Major League savvy that any other location on the planet, but it is certainly so. Don't be shy: grab Soler.

I admit to being a sucker for Stanford grads, just like those from UC Berkeley, and St. Louis, deep in young talent, has such an alum in Stephen Piscotty, the team's first round pick in 2012.

Now an outfielder (formerly a third sacker), Piscotty has hit a strong .287-8-66 at Memphis this year, with 31 doubles, 11 swipes and a very good 42 walks to 61 strikeouts (.353 OBP).

Quintessential Cards hitter, he is, making contact, getting on base, and so on. Piscotty should indeed get a call now, and similarly will make a bid for the big league roster next year.

Cleveland might well advance their top prospect, Francisco Lindor, this month. The 20-year-old has done well enough at Triple-A Columbus, hitting .277-5-14 over 37 games. Lindor has been exploited by Triple-A pitchers, having just nine walks to 34 strikeouts, but give him time to learn the zone along with the dazzle of stuff at the higher levels (he did get 40 walks to 61 strikeouts at Double-A Akron this year) and the young heir apparent to Asdrubal Cabrera should be fine.

Look for September time and a challenge to start at short in 2015.

The Mets could advance Noah Syndergaard, the Jays #1 pick in 2010, traded to New York as part of the R.A. Dickey deal. The 6'6", 240-pounder bagged 144 strikeouts at Las Vegas this year over 131 frames (473 over 424.6 minor league innings) though he has been vulnerable to the hits (153) this season.

Still, it is time to see what he can do at the top level, and perhaps the 21-year-old can join Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey and make an exciting rotation core that might well lead to a Mets renaissance.

Talk about depth, the Dodgers have more outfielders than they know what to do with, hence which way does Joc Pederson go?

The Dodgers' first rounder in 2010 has really ripped it at Albuquerque this year, hitting .303-33-78 with 30 steals and 100 walks to 149 whiffs (.435 OBP).

An early L.A. clinch could indeed earn Pederson some time, but clearly, among Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, one or more vets will be moved during the off-season to make room for Pederson.

Finally, Carlos Rodon was the #3 pick this year--and first rounder of the White Sox--who is on one of those Tony Cingrani drives to hit the Majors during his first professional year.

Rodon, who was drafted out of North Carolina State, has twirled 24.6 minor league innings since being signed, posting a 0-0, 2.92 record, with 38 strikeouts that includes three Triple-A Birmingham starts.

The 21-year-old southpaw is apparently on a mission, with talent to boot, though he still has some command aspects to tweak (13 walks over those 24.2 innings).

Still, sooner, rather than later.

This week poses an interesting one for free agent selections in that we are just a week from September call-ups, meaning a week from now we will be anticipating the arrival of Francisco Lindor and maybe Maikel Franco along with a cluster of other odds and sods from the Minors.

As for this week, there is a prospect by the name of Rymer Liriano, now playing for the Padres, whom I should have covered last week.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic at 17, and now 23, Liriano fared pretty well at Double-A, hitting .264-14-53 with 17 swipes at San Antonio (where he played in 2012, but missed 2013 due to Tommy John surgery) this year before moving to Triple-A El Paso.

Over 16 games there, he hit .452 with 13 RBI and 11 doubles over 16 games, and that was enough to push the outfielder (and former pitcher) to Petco.

He is hitting .219-1-4 in the bigs, but he should be a starter next season as the Padres try in earnest to rebuild.

Looking locally, Oakland's Sean Doolittle had trouble putting away the Angels on Friday night, and after throwing 25 or so pitches--mostly fastballs--I wondered how inevitable it was that the hard throwing lefty might injure his wing.

Apparently not long, as the Athletics have set him down, which likely means Luke Gregerson will get the chance to close.

With three saves, a 2.17 ERA and a WHIP of 0.983 over 58 innings, and the right hander has served in this role before, so, he becomes the go-to guy.

That means the return of Dan Otero, who has been extremely effective as a set-up man with a 9-1, 1.96 mark for Oakland over the past two years and 110 frames. Otero was sent down so the Athletics could keep an extra stick in the Majors over the next week, but perhaps the acquisition of Yunel Escobar to spell the team in the injury absence of Jed Lowrie and Nick Punto will move Andy Parrino back to the Minors and open a slot for Otero to return.

Either way, both Escobar and Gregerson make good plays for the next week.

Across the Bay, it looks like the Giants second base situation might well be stabilizing with Joe Panik stepping it up and acting like he feels comfy in a Major League uniform, having hit .458-1-5 this past week, .421 over the past month, and now boasts a season line of .307-1-13 over 41 games and 137 at-bats. He makes a nice bet.

On the other hand, there is now talk that Tim Lincecum, who is 1-2, 7.94 with a 2.294 WHIP this past month, might be out of the Giants rotation for a spell, and that suggests Yusmeiro Petit might step into the fifth starting spot.

Maybe a move to the pen--Lincecum was more than effective there to end 2012, and the thought of him as a closer might not be a bad idea at all--would be good for Tim, who is now 10-9, 4.64 with a 1.411 WHIP over 143 innings, with 130 strikeouts for 2014: a far cry from the double Cy Young winner's peak years.

Petit always pitched well in the Minors, putting up Justin Duchscherer type control numbers, and using his control and ability to change speeds to his advantage, but I would not feel comfortable with Petit in my rotation at this point, no matter what. He does have some strong starts in his resume, but I see Petit getting knocked around more often than not come the final month.

Do I think Gordon Beckham will become the guy we had hoped for when he came up with the Sox now that he is on a new team?

Nope. Pass.

But, I do like Drew Stubbs, who had a hot week, going .429-2-6 over the past seven days, bringing his season numbers up to a more than respectable .297-13-38 with 15 swipes this season over 331 at-bats. Stubbs still strikes out more than I wish with just 21 walks to 104 whiffs, but I like him a lot in a deep league.

Finally, on the pitching side, I have been waiting all season for Alex Cobb to start pitching the way I knew he could, and over the past month, he has done just that, moving his season mark to 9-6, 3.01 with a 1.149 WHIP.

Over the past 30 days, Cobb has been 2-0, 1.04 over 26 innings with a 1.115 WHIP with 24 punchouts. A fine pickup if Cobb is still out there in your mixed format, and for sure in daily and monthly contests, a good play as well.

It really seems like retread is the name of the game this year, with so many veterans--with hefty salaries, no less--being released by a team, and then grabbed by another squad.

The latest of this craze would be Jim Johnson, ex of the Athletics deep pen, now a member of the Tigers somewhat weak version of the same.

Johnson really did have it going pretty well with Baltimore over the past three seasons, with 110 saves, 101 of which were earned between 2012-13. Despite that, any number of analysts steered clear of the hard thrower who has had flashes of command problems, and those issues haunted the reliever all through his brief tenure in Oakland, and I would not expect those issues to dissipate with his new team.

If you are desperate for saves--and more important those saves are what you need to win--by all means, take a chance. Otherwise, steer clear.

Were I to gamble on a Tigers arm, that would be the one belonging to Buck Farmer, Detroit's fifth round pick in 2013. Farmer began this season at West Michigan, where he went 10-5, 0.60 over 103.6 frames, and then received a push to Double-A Erie, where he went 1-0, 3.00 over a pair of starts.

Farmer has 127 strikeouts over 115.6 innings this season in the Minors, with a 1.115 WHIP, so the 23-year-old has surely climbed the minor league rungs quickly, and I would expect him to take a few lumps (5.3 innings, four runs, five hits his first start), but he is a prospect who still has to prove he can't do it, and the quick drive to the Majors certainly means a player worth tracking, if not for now, for later. 

The White Sox Avisail Garcia is a player who was likely selected in most drafts and auctions last March, but when the right fielder tore his labrum two weeks into the season, Garcia was dumped as the Pale Hose determined he was gone for the year.

Not so, as the Sox reactivated Garcia over this past week, and that means he might well be available in any number of leagues as a free agent. The 23-year-old does have a .289-9-39 line over 104 games and is a great pickup right now, especially in an AL-only league.

The road to roto-Hell has been paved with disappointing prospects, so that brings me to Kyle Drabek, a first rounder in 2006 and son of former Pirate Doug Drabek.

Drabek was considered a top prospect into 2011 as he mastered the Class A and Double-A levels, but then hit the wall that year both at Triple-A Vegas (5-4, 7.44) and in the Majors (4-5, 6.86). 2012 was not much better (4-7, 4.67), and when he was not pitching, Drabek was hurt.

The former 18th overall pick has truly done nothing to convince anyone that he has transcended his difficulties over the past three years, so I would pass. Although, I would keep an eye on the guy: #1 pick means he did have some talent, and if not as a starter, it is not unusual for an arm like Drabek's to become a reliever, and even turn into a closer.

Another such underachiever would be Cord Phelps, now on the Orioles, but drafted by the Indians in the third round in 2008 out of Stanford.

Over 679 minor league games, Phelps has a line of .280-60-349, with a solid .368 OBP (346 walks to 389 whiffs), but like Drabek has been a washout at The Show, going .158-2-11 over 54 games.

I have to say that like Andy Marte, I also drafted Phelps for my Strat-O-Matic team, and though I froze Phelps as an uncarded player this year, my long term expectation is just like that of Marte, who I dumped this year. Fun? Yes. Speculative? Of course. Worth the gamble? Nope.

I will tell you that one hitter I have been tracking of late for next season is the Astros' Robbie Grossman. A pick of the Pirates (sixth round of 2008), Grossman was swapped at the trade deadline for Wandy Rodriguez at the deadline last year, and though the right fielder has a solid minor league line (.274 average and a solid .383 OBP) and though he did have a .337 average and a .417 OBP at Oklahoma City this season, he has been up and down in numbers and leagues this year, going .210-6-27 over 68 games.

However, over the past couple of weeks, the switch-hitting right fielder has gone .261-2-7 with nine walks to 13 strikeouts (.393 OBP), and I have a feeling he is becoming comfortable as a Major Leaguer.

I did see Grossman at the AFL a few years back, and he looked like he could hit, and run, and play, with a good eye, and though he won't be much of a power source, I do see runs and OBP and even 20-plus steals in his portfolio for next season. If you have room to get him cheap and freeze him for next year, do so. I want to nab him in my keeper Strat-O-Matic league if I can.

On the other hand, Adam Rosales has had the week of his life, hitting .333-3-9 over the past cycle. If you are thinking about grabbing him, think about Rosales as a stock tip that already peaked, and just walk away. I saw the guy a lot in Oakland. He is enthusiastic. He does have some pop. He will never get it for you when you need it.

Another week is gone, and once again we are reminded about what a tough--and unforgiving game--baseball can be as three players, Ernesto Frieri, Nate Schierholtz and Dan Uggla (for the second time this year) were all released. Last year, Frieri had 37 saves while Schierholtz hit 21 homers. Uggla's struggles are well documented. Right now, none has a team. Tough.

The jettison of Schierholtz by the Cubs made the promotion of Javier Baez doable. Baez, who caused a stir during the spring, raising speculation the now 21-year-old would make the opening day Wrigley roster. Baez wound up back in Iowa to start the year, and posted a .260-23-80 line over 104 games.

This kid has a huge upside, but, he could face some lumps as Major League pitchers exploit his lack of plate discipline with just 88 walks to 350 whiffs over 314 minor league games, and he has yet to walk in the Bigs while having struck out ten times.

I have already started touting this, but the Cubs are indeed on the verge of serious redemption, with Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Arismendy Alcalantara among their future choices, but there is more.

For the Cubs have Theo Epstein, the guy who ended the Boston World Series drought, along with arguably the best cluster of position playing prospects on Earth at this moment in time and space. In a year, that team will start to really coalesce, and in 2016 they will emerge as a serious contender, if not the dominant team in the National League.

Cleveland does not really have the same scenario ahead, though they too have some interesting players in the chain, though they are way ahead of the Cubs on the curve, with Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall and Corey Kluber leading their renaissance rush. This past week, the Tribe promoted 21-year-old Dominican Jose Ramirez to fill the Asdrubal Cabrera void.

Ramirez already has a more selective stick than Baez, with 96 minor league walks to 114 strikeouts over 291 minor league games to go with 86 steals, a .306 average and 201 runs.

The diffficulty for Ramirez' future is that the Indians also have Francisco Lindor as a potential shortstop, and we should expect Lindor in Cleveland before the season is done, so again the question becomes who is playing where? Ramirez has played four games in the outfield at Columbus this season, so perhaps his future lies there, but the youngster is defintely in the future spin for the team. And, he could make an acceptable middle infielder in an AL format to finish off the year.

We will return to the prospects, but I want to look at a couple of pitchers I think could be a help to your team, starting with the Orioles' Ubaldo Jimenez. Now, I agree, he is crazy erratic, not just his year, but over his Saberhagen-metric career.

Jimenez went 6-5, 1.80 over 84 second half innings last year and he is coming back from the DL on a contending team that will surely drop him from the rotation if he cannot get the job done. I am betting he will harness some of that great stuff he does have, and concentrate, and keep his gig. As we have seen just this past week with Frieri and Schierholtz, Ubaldo is indeed fighting for his job in a merciless industry. I am betting he will get it together.

Similarly, Kevin Correia now returns to the NL West, where he got his start, first as a Giant, then as a Padre. Correia was drafted by San Francisco in the fourth round of the 2002 June fete, and I got to see him pitch a lot during his early Major League career. The righty does give up hits (1498 over 1380.6 innings) but he is going from a poor team to a pennant race, and gets to spend the bulk of the final six weeks of the season pitching against the Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks and Rockies--offensively challenged all--and that should be helpful to a veteran hurler. He is worth a couple of bucks of crapshoot in an NL-only league if you need innings or are chasing wins.

Correia's departure allowed the Twins to advance Trevor May, whose first big league start I watched on Saturday. A fourth round pick in 2008, May has pitched well this year at Rochester, going 8-6, 2.93 over 95.3 innings. He was not convincing to watch on Saturday though, and while he has pitched well this year at Triple-A, May, now 24, put in two years at Double-A, going 19-22, 4.69 over 301.3 frames, with a 1.437 WHIP. Pass.

Back to how tough the game is, both Brooks Brown and Corey Brown are former first round picks.

Southpaw Brooks was drafted #1 out of the University of Georgia, Athens, in 2006 and has an unimpressive minor league line of 50-65, 4.29 over 237 games (129 starts) and 931.6 innings with just 671 strikeouts and a 1.418 WHIP.

Corey, the Athletics #1 in 2007, was subsequently swapped for Josh Willingham. Now 28, this Brown has had his shots at the Show, going .175-2-4 over 40 plate appearances. Not much to cling to there.

As if that was not enough, Steven Souza, Jr. was a third-rounder of the Nationals in 2007, and he slowly climbed the minor league ladder, starting 2014 at Triple-A Syracuse, where he ripped it up to the tune of a .354 average with 18 homers and 70 RBI over 91 games. He walked 48 times to 61 strikeouts (.435 OBP), stole 24 bags and logged a 1.036 OPS. 

So at 25, he is brought to the Majors and after 12 uneventful at-bats (.083-0-0), he made it to the DL today.

Like I said: It's a tough game.


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