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Saturday 27th Aug 2016

Wow, it has been a pretty good week of top notch prospects making their Major League debuts, so let's jump right into it.

The Braves promoted the receiving end of their great off-season deal with Arizona, whereby Shelby Miller fetched Ender Inciarte and 2015 first-round pick of the D-backs Dansby Swanson. The 22-year-old shortstop needed just 127 minor league games, over which he notched .277-10-66 numbers with 13 swipes. Swanson posted an .803 OPS, banging 36% of his hits for extra bases, while walking 64 times to 98 strikeouts (.367 OBP). Swanson is off to a good start and seems to have all the tools to be the core of a team in Atlanta and roto a la Corey Seager, meaning if available in your keeper league, grab. In fact, he makes a good gamble in throw back leagues as well.

It did not take long for the Twins to decide that newly acquired hurler Adalberto Mejia was ready for the big time, advancing the spoils of the Eduardo Nunez trade deadline swap to Target Field. I have long been a Mejia admirer, and even noted the 23-year-old Dominican a few weeks back. Mejia sports a 42-29, 3.32 minor league line that features 482 strikeouts over 559 innings. However, his strikeout rate in Triple-A has been a cool 65 whiffs over 65 innings and has an aggregate 1.182 WHIP. Mejia throws pretty hard (middle to upper 90's) and has dominance potential.

Oakland is likely satisfied with the progress made by shortstop Marcus Semien, so they will have to figure where to place newly promoted infielder Chad Pinder. A second-round selection of the team in 2013, Pinder has a solid minor league line of .280-45-200 over 360 minor league games, with a decent enough .331 OBP (87 walks to 351 strikeouts), posting a .258-14-51 line at Nashville this season before the call earlier in the week. Pinder did start 89 games at second in the Minors, and with Jed Lowrie back on the injury gang, Pinder could get an extended look at the Keystone slot between now and October. He did look good at the AFL last fall, and might even return to Phoenix this fall to get some more playing time up the middle.

As if that was not enough, Houston promoted their long-toothed rookie in 32-year-old Yulieski Gurriel, a Cuban national infielder who has banged out a .335-250-1028 line over 15 seasons played in his home nation and then Japan. Gurriel played in only 15 minor league games (250-2-14) before he was called to the Show, and though he does have a ton of experience at a very high level of play, it has indeed taken the latest wave of Cubans a longer time frame to adjust and succeed, and at an age where most players' skills begin to erode, I would tread carefully.

One other issue for Houston and Gurriel is Alex Bregman seems to be laying claim to third base. Bregman, who was a first-round selection of the Astros last year, has, like Pinder, been a shortstop and second sacker but Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve are likely ensconced, so third is the likely slot. Bregman hit .300-24-95 over 124 games, and then came up to Minute Maid. Bregman has been hot, hitting .286-3-13 over the past three weeks, and is another guy to keep on your short-term radar and long-term teams.

26-year-old Keon Broxton is also older than a lot of his page mates and at this point is better travelled. Originally signed by the Diamondbacks in 2009, the Pirates then obtained rights to the outfielder, and then swapped him to the Brewers for Jason Rogers at the end of 2015. Broxton had a decent minor league line of .255-83-363 with a fine 168 swipes, but a rather paltry 368 walks to 1027 strikeouts. He clubbed a pair of dingers on Sunday, bringing his mark this year to .250-6-14 over 53 games, but is probably not much of a long-term speculation player. However, if you are filling a hole to win this season, Broxton could indeed hit a couple of big flies and steal a few bags.

Let's close with a couple of relievers. I really like setup guys like Derek Law of the Giants, who was a ninth-round selection of San Francisco in 2011. Such pitchers can keep the counting numbers going while tossing a few innings a week that generally don't hurt. As a minor leaguer, Law assembled a line that included 46 saves over 192.6 innings, while striking out 261. With the Giants this season, Law is 4-2, 2.03 over 48.6 frames with 45 whiffs and a 1.05 WHIP. Law will get some use down the stretch and adds to the longtime closer question in San Francisco which also features Hunter Strickland, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla.

The Mets' Josh Smoker was a first-round selection of the Nationals out of high school in 2007 and has functioned as a reliever since 2011, accumulating 12 saves while striking out 292 over 298.3 innings. Smoker's WHIP dropped a lot once he moved to the pen, and he has been up and down with the Metropolitans this season, quietly putting up a pretty good line of 4-4, 1.50 over 66 innings with 65 punchouts, a 1.05 WHIP and three conversions. I'm not sure if Smoker is a closer of the future, but he is one of those guys that can fill a spot on your rotation late in the season and keep things stable.

Feel free to comment, and don't forget you can hit me up @lawrmichaels. 

Richard the III would declare, "My kingdom for a pitcher" this week if he dared look at the transaction line, as MLB seems to be scrambling for arms in likely as desperate a search as the world of fantasy owners.

In response to the call to arms, big league teams are taking a look at some pitchers familiar to us, and even tempted us with moments of success. So, let's take a look at some of these retread arms and see if they are worth picking up for fantasy purposes.

Of course we have to frame looking at these guys knowing that they are probably of potential use only in the deepest of leagues, but, well, there is always someone like Chris Young, Edinson Volquez or Scott Feldman who do give us a late-season push towards redeeming value.

An interesting gamble of this cluster in my view belongs to the Brewers' Wily Peralta, who held the Braves in check after being recalled early in the week. Peralta was sent down in June after going 4-7, 6.68 over 66 frames before being relegated to the Minors, and the reality is Peralta was bad with Colorado Springs, going 1-3, 6.38. But Peralta has at least a history of pretty good success between 2012-14, and is still just 26 years old.  

Possibly my favorite spring training moment this year was waiting to pick up my rental car and spotting a fan wearing a Chris Narveson t-shirt. Truth is, I never expected Narveson was good enough to merit a tee, but Narveson, now 36, was decent enough in the Minors (4-5, 3.48) to get a new shot with the Fish, although the lefty's first foray back to The Show was less than stellar, despite a win (8.3 innings, eight runs, and six whiffs). Narveson has a career 1.35 WHIP as a Major Leaguer, which is actually better than Peralta's 1.44, but I would be wary.

Perhaps the best bet to help a team is the Padres' Brandon Morrow, who has a checkered career for sure, but can indeed whiff hitters with 788 strikeouts over 767.6 innings. Still just 32, Morrow previously toured with the Mariners and Jays, but he has never toiled more than 179 innings in a season, which he did for the Jays in 2011. Morrow does, as noted, get the whiffs, but he also owns a lifetime WHIP of 1.343, obviously is not too durable, and plays for a crappy team. On the other hand, he does get whiffs and pitches in a pretty good park.

Ugh, the next bunch are beyond the pale to a degree, but teams are using these pitchers, and strange things do happen. Like, I mentioned Scott Feldman above, who was a throw-in when I made a trade in 2009 as part of Tout Wars where I swapped CC Sabathia for some hitting (Howie Kendrick) and also got Feldman, giving me an arm to plug into Sabathia's spot. Feldman was 9-4, 3.99 when I got him at the trade deadline, but went 5-0, 2.89 over August, and, well, that helped me win a pennant.

That doesn't mean I can recommend Ross Detwiler, now of the Athletics, but, well, the 30-year-old did have a pretty good start the other day, blanking the Orioles over eight innings. Detwiler has a career mark of 22-37, 4.19 over 542 innings, and was less than effective for the Tribe (0-0, 5.79 over 4.6 innings) before the Athletics--who are as pitching starved as anyone--purchased the southpaw to try and fill in the gaps. Detwiler is not a strikeout guy (just 331 whiffs) and has a WHIP of 1.435, but like Morrow, he gets to pitch in a park favorable to hurlers.

Daniel Norris was recalled by the Tigers this week, after injuring his back during the spring. The #2 draft pick of the Jays--who was traded to Detroit for David Price--whiffed 543 over 519 minor league innings and managed a 4-2, 3.93 record in the Majors, including a victory this past week over the Mariners when he gave up a run over five frames. Norris is an interesting grab for the stretch, and has the most potential of anyone discussed today over the long haul.

We can finish up this week with a couple of position players, starting with Angels catcher Carlos Perez. The Angels have been having trouble filling the backstop role the past few seasons, and though Perez did log a .250-4-21 line last year over 86 games, he could only manage a .298 OBP (19 walks, 49 whiffs). If you need a catcher in an AL-only, Perez could at least fill the hole benignly, but the reality is I prefer Jett Bandy over the long haul.

If last is best, the Yankees advanced 6'7" outfielder Aaron Judge, the team's first-round selection in 2013. Over three seasons and 348 minor league games, Judge put up a .278-56-215 line with a solid .373 OBP that featured 189 walks to 373 strikeouts. Judge has homered in each of his first two big league games, and will probably get every chance to start and prove his mettle as the Pinstripes retool. Grab Judge wherever you can.

The last day of the trade deadline was indeed a busy one, and now that the dust has settled, let's look at both some of the best spoils as well as eyeballing some interesting players promoted over the past week.

Let's start with Dilson Herrera, a former Mets prodigy, now a member of the Reds via the Jay Bruce deal of last Monday. Herrera, who scored as the #1 guy on my Top 250 Prospect List in 2015, has a fine .299-58-294 minor league mark with 193 walks to 435 strikeouts (.361 OBP) and knocked 35% of his minor league hits for extra bases (that percentage is often a good barometer of future power and potential, particularly in young players, so we will begin focusing more on it in the future). Herrera made his Mets debut last year at the age of 21, has a .215-6-17 Major League line and with the Reds looking to get young, he is likely slated for a starting gig next year. He is good, so you want to stash Herrera (how I wish I had not traded him in my Strat-O-Matic league).

Boston continues to materialize the killer young outfielders, and Andrew Benintendi is indeed the new kid on the block. At just 22, Benintendi was drafted (31st round) out of high school by the Reds in 2013, but he opted for the University of Arkansas instead, and his performance there prompted a first round (#7 overall) selection in 2015, and after just 151 games in the Minors, the young flychaser has arrived. With a minor league resume of .312-20-107, with 38 doubles, 16 triples (41% for extra bases) and 26 swipes, Benintendi is tempting enough, but add in 74 walks to 63 whiffs (.392 OBP) and grabbing and playing the new Bostonian is simply a must.

Houston's A.J. Reed was recalled this week and he indeed looks to be the future at first base for the franchise, and the future is likely now with Tyler White slumping (.212-7-22) and possibly heading to the DL. Reed, Houston's second round selection in 2014, is big (6'4", 275 lbs.) and has played 273 minor league games assembling an impressive slash of .316-61-231, with a solid .403 OBP (148 walks to 243 strikeouts). Reed hit 43% of his minor league hits for extra bases and has nowhere to go but up.

The Phils might indeed have an interesting potential starter in Jake Thompson, a second-round selection of the Tigers in 2012. Detroit then swapped Thompson to the Rangers as part of the Joakim Soria deal in 2014, and Texas turned around and swapped Thompson to the Phils as part of the Cole Hamels deal a year ago. Thompson has made 92 starts, notching a 36-22, 3.06 record over 503.6 frames with 482 strikeouts, a 1.203 WHIP and just 31 homers allowed. The Phils already have two interesting starting arms, and Thompson, 22, looks to fall in line with Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff.

The Braves closer situation is a bit of a merry-go-round these days, with Jim Johnson claiming the job while Mauricio Cabrera sits in the wings. Well, add the name Brandon Cunniff to the "hmmm" list. Cunniff was drafted by the Marlins in the 27th round of the 2010 draft, was then released, and picked up by Atlanta for whom he debuted last year, going 2-2, 4.63 over 32 innings. Cunniff converted 39 saves while in the Minors, and copped 194 strikeouts over 190.3 innings, allowing ten homers and just 139 hits, good for a 1.172 WHIP. The 27-year-old could be a stabilizer in a deep league should you need to plug a gap, and is worth keeping an eye on playing on a team in serious (and fun) transition.

The Twins made a good trade with the Giants, sending Eduardo Nunez to the City by the Bay and receiving Adalberto Mejia in return. Nunez is a good fit with San Francisco, as he's able to play several positions, adding some pop and speed to a lineup that has been tired of late. But Mejia, who scored #10 on  my Top 250 Prospect List last year, has a 41-28, 3.25 record over 526.6 innings with a solid 470 punchouts and 1.176 WHIP. Mejia clocks in the high 90's, and had a 7-4, 2.86 record this year in the Minors split between Double-A and Triple-A, striking out 109 over 112.6 innings. 

I really like Yankees backstop Gary Sanchez, who was recalled and should get some good playing time as the season continues. A 23-year-old Dominican, Sanchez notched a solid .275-99-428 line in the Yanks minor league system, hitting 37% of his hits for extra bases during his minor league tenure. Sanchez looked great last year at the AFL (.295-7-21) and though he does whiff more than his mates (.339 OBP, with 216 walks to 544 strikeouts), as the Pinstripes restructure, Sanchez should be a core part of the transition.

The White Sox acquired Charlie Tilson in exchange for Zach Duke, and the outfielder Tilson has a solid enough minor league profile. The 23-year-old was a second-round pick of the Cardinals in 2011, hitting .293-19-154 over 471 games with 89 steals and an acceptable 142 walks to 295 strikeouts. He makes for an interesting cog in the Pale Hose's future outfield.

The Angels signed infielder Jose Rondon, a Venezuelan native, in 2011, and then traded him to the Padres in 2014 as part of the Huston Street swap. Rondon had a minor league line of .289-11-203 with 72 swipes over 463 games. He does make decent contact, and is not a complete free swinger (134 walks to 266 strikeouts and a .340 OBP). The 22-year-old should get some good playing time through the rest of the season.

 

 

Oh what fun is the trade deadline, but since tonight marks the end of this year's cycle, let's put off looking at some of the spoils till next week, especially since there was a cluster of call-ups and returns of players we have indeed been anticipating for what seems like years.

Let's start with Tyler Skaggs, the Diamondbacks #1 selection in 2009, who was then swapped to the Angels in a 2013 deal that involved Mark Trumbo, Adam Eaton and Hector Santiago. Between 2012-14, Skaggs tossed 181 innings, going 8-11, 5.07, with a 1.298 WHIP. He missed all of last year as a result of Tommy John surgery, but at long last, Skaggs returned last week, perhaps not just fixed, but ready to pitch as anticipated when the lefty was the 40th overall selection. Still just 25, Skaggs has twirled 12.3 frames this past week, with 13 whiffs and no runs allowed. He was 3-2, 1.67 over seven starts with Salt Lake this year, and looks like he is ready to indeed pick up the gauntlet along with the next generation of starters.

The Astros have handed third base over to Alex Bregman, another first-rounder, just last year by the Astros. The #2 pick overall last year, selected out of LSU, has done nothing to dispell the high selection, going .294-4-34 with 13 steals over 66 games last year after signing, and climbed from Double-A to Triple-A this season, notching a .297-14-46 mark over 80 games before Minute Maid beckoned this week. Note the 22-year-old posted a .388 OBP (78 walks to 64 strikeouts), and though Bregman has started slow, the 'Stros should give him every opportunity to prove he belongs.

Next, Raul Mondesi, of the Royals, son of Raul Mondesi (formerly of the Dodgers), was advanced to the big club this week and has broken out quite nicely, going .300-0-2 his first week. Signed at just 16, the second sacker climbed from High-A Wilmington (.243-1-4) to Northwest Arkansas (.259-9-17), and then to Omaha (.304-1-9) before the final rung of Kauffman early this week. Mondesi, who turned 21 last week, swiped 96 bags over five seasons, but only walked 111 times to 453 strikeouts (.297 OBP), which is a cause for caution. You may also recall Mondesi is the first player ever to make his MLB debut in the World Series as the Royals used a rules quirk to make him playoff eligible last fall.

The Rangers recalled slugger Joey Gallo, yet another first-rounder. The third sacker struggled last year over 36 games, going .204-6-14, with just a .301 OBP (15 walks to 57 strikeouts). He began this season at Round Rock, going .246-19-47, but with an improved 53 walks to 91 strikeouts (.381 OBP), meaning maybe he is ready a la Skaggs.

The Phillies get Aaron Altherr back after the outfielder tore a tendon sheath in his wrist during spring training. This was tough for many owners who targeted Altherr, after he hit .242-5-22 with six swipes after an August call-up last year. Altherr is big (6'5") and fast with 134 swipes over three seasons in the Minors. Because of the spring injury, Altherr might be ignored or written off by now, but the outfielder has gone .300-1-3 with a swipe during his first three games back and is a good play to plug a hole and offer some power/speed in a shallower league. And, Altherr makes a nice play for next year, too.

Minnesota recalled shortstop Jorge Polanco to fill the hole created with the swap of Eduardo Nunez. Polanco has hit .288-6-53 with 19 swipes this year over 117 minor league games, mostly at Chattanooga. Just 23 years old, he has a minor league record of .286-34-293 with 317 runs and 60 steals. Polanco also has a decent eye (216 walks to 339 strikeouts for a .346 OBP) and should get a chance to start with Eduardo Escobar providing his requisite support all over the diamond.

I did not mean this week to be so American League focused, but that is where the interesting players appeared. Finally, we get to the return of Luis Severino to the Yankees, who are indeed deconstructing. Severino was a big pre-season target, but after eight starts and an 0-6, 7.05 line, he returned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where the 22-year-old went 7-1, 3.25 over ten starts. The Pinstripes could throw Severino back into the rotation to take his lumps and get the hang, and chances are in a shallow league he is likely floating in the free agent pool and could be ok plugging a gap.

So, we are into the last week of July, pushing towards the trade dealine. Fantasy owners all want to know not just who will get swapped, and where, but perhaps more important, what is the future of the team/position as prime players move and we get to speculate on which prospects we should watch with our eyes upon the future.

Jeff Todd, at MLB Trade Rumors identified 15 primary trade pieces for this year, pretty succinctly. So, let's use that as a basis and see what, if anything, we can reason out.

Jay Bruce/Jose Peraza (Reds): If nothing else, the Reds have to find a permanent spot for Peraza to sink or swim, and thus far the supposed infielder has played 11 games in the outfield to just nine at second and three at short. Just 22, Peraza has a minor league line of .299-10-195 with a wicked 219 swipes, and if Bruce departs, Peraza has to simply get a chance to play every day. The knocks are walks to strikeouts (110 to 240) and somewhere the Reds will need to replace Bruce's power, which Peraza will not do. Also note that the team may move Zack Cozart as well, and that would be a more likely spot for Peraza. Regardless, I have to think he gets to play every day in the event of an offensive swap. 

Jonathan Lucroy/Jacob Nottingham (Brewers): The Brewers have a prime chip in Lucroy, and one of the rumors has the Brew Crew backstop going to the Mets, and Travis d'Arnaud going back to Milwaukee. Certainly, the Brewers would need a catcher, for now they have Martin Maldonado, a 29-year-old with a lifetime .215-25-93 line over 320 games, as first in line. But, in the wings is Jacob Nottingham, a 21-year-old 2013 draftee who ripped it over three levels last year (.316-17-82). Nottingham has been adjusting to Double-A Biloxi full-time (.239-7-26), so he is likely a year or so away. But, Nottingham is the only thing the Brewers have that can be called a catching prospect, and he certainly can hit. He will be the answer to something, somewhere.

Ryan Braun/Brett Phillips (Brewers): As long as we are poking at the poor carcass that is the Brewers, their right fielder is apparently expendable. Considering the money/injury issues (Braun is signed through 2020 for $20 million a year), acquiring Braun is not unlike investing in Enron. But, the 22-year-old Phillips, drafted by the Astros in 2012, has a .230-12-47 line with 42 walks to 115 strikeouts in Biloxi, where he toils with Nottingham. As a minor leaguer, Phillips is hitting .284-45-220, and 41% of his hits have gone for extra bases.

Danny Valencia/Ryon Healy (Athletics): This transition seems like it might have already taken place, with Healy starting every day since being promoted, and belting two homers while driving in seven his first week at the Show. However, the real sleeper here would be Matt Chapman. Oakland's first-rounder in 2015 is hitting .225-22-61 at Midland this season after posting a fine .250-23-57 line over 80 Stockton games last year. Chapman is the guy to watch.

Sean Doolittle/Ryan Dull (Athletics): No question Doolittle can close, and even if he doesn't, as a dominant lefty, any team would love to have him on their roster. There is no question Ryan Madson--who is signed through 2018--is the closer in Oakland today, but Dull, who collected 42 minor league saves, has become dominant, with a 4-2, 2.13, with 53 whiffs over 50.6 frames. By the end of the year, the A's will transition the 26-year-old into the gig. In fact, just as Doolittle is jettisoned, Madson could be dealt as well.

Yunel Escobar/Kaleb Cowart (Angels): Escobar is a pretty good hitter (.318-3-30 this year) and he can play all over the infield, making him a boon to any contending team. In the wings is Kaleb Cowart, who has indeed struggled in the Majors (.173-1-4 over 58 at-bats), but who is holding a .288-5-43 line at Salt Lake. Cowart has an adequate eye (255 walks to 608 whiffs) but he has interesting power potential. Although the third sacker only accumulated 49 homers over six years, he did nab 134 doubles over the same span, and looks like the kind of guy who could hit .280-15-80 with 40 doubles per season. He also has 91 minor league steals, and though Jefry Marte is the place holder if you need immediate coverage, Cowart is the guy to watch.

 Matt Kemp/Alex Dickerson (Padres): Like Braun, Kemp carries a big contract ($160 million through 2019), and perhaps the lesser priced Jon Jay will be the trade target. But either way, Dickerson, the Pirates' #3 selection in 2011, has kind of already grabbed his place, posting a .254-3-11 line over 71 at-bats. The 26-year-old was hitting .382-10-51 at El Paso, and he carries a .309-58-325 line over 524 games. No matter what, Dickerson is starting the rest of the season in the outfield (I actually wrote about both Dickerson and Healy over the past several weeks).

Arodys Vizcaino/Mauricio Cabrera (Braves): At 22, Cabrera moved into the pen last year. Since the move, his strikeout numbers improved to 85 whiffs over 82 innings (as a starter, Cabrera had 225 whiffs over 274 frames). Vizcaino, who is on the DL with a muscle pull, isn't so expensive as a closer, but he is arbitration eligible next year and the rebuilding cost-cutting Braves will likely be happy to save the bucks and move Vizcaino while giving Cabrera a shot as part of the process. Stranger things have happened.

Oh how fickle the gods of baseball, who have deemed Billy Burns and Shelby Miller be sent down. Dave Stewart must be suffering worse than any fantasy owner ever could, although I have the joy of owning Burns in my Scoresheet league. 

So, with the second half, and these drastic measures, we all have to adjust and the Athletics compensated for the demotion of Burns with the addition of Ryon Healy. A corner infielder--though primarily third base--Healy was a third-round selection of Oakland in 2013 who sort of fits in the "we have a lot of guys who can play all over as interchangable parts" philosophy Billy Beane seems to be exploiting. With a .296-43-238 line over 392 minor league games, Healy has some pop, and though he makes good contact, his on-base numbers (.332, with 94 walks to 264 strikeouts) are a little remiss. Still, since Coco Crisp is somewhat healthy, and Danny Valencia can play first, third, and the outfield, and pending the departure of Josh Reddick, Healy could get some real playing time between now and October. The 24-year-old was hitting .318-6-30 at Triple-A when summoned.

A little older, but equally interesting is the Padres' Ryan, this time Schimpf, a second/third sacker with some pretty good pop who is getting a good look with the Friars. Schimpf was a fifth-round selection of the Jays in 2009, played five years, was released, and then inked by San Diego. He did his minor league time, and also played in the Mexican League before getting this break at Petco. The infielder has a .249-128-412 line over 733 minor league games, with a decent .349 OBP, and he has shown good pop during his big league tenure with a .206-5-9 line over 23 games that includes a .556 Slugging Percentage. Of the pair, I would probably yield to Ryon over Ryan, but unless I needed to fill a gap, I would let someone else take the risk for either.

So, in keeping with the flexible infielder theme, the Astros signed Cuban import Yulieski Gourriel to a $47.5 million deal this past week. Gourriel, who plays second and third, notched a professional line in Cuba and Japan of .335-250-1018 over 925 games with a terrific OBP of .417 with 628 walks to just 428 strikeouts. While in Japan, the 32-year-old played 62 games, posting a .305-11-30 line with just 15 free passes to 48 strikeouts. The Cuban players have largely been beyond successful when transitioning to the Majors. However, the latest batches of players--Leonys Martin and Rusney Castillo spring to mind--have had their struggles and more. Still, Gourriel is intriguing, although he might not get a chance to strut his stuff until 2017.

A couple of hitters I have tried to exploit over the past few years are getting some chances these days, starting with J.B. Shuck, now getting some good time in the outfield for the White Sox. Shuck had a pretty good run with the Angels--after being swapped by the Padres--in 2013, hitting .293-2-39 with eight swipes over 437 at-bats. After that, Shuck has yo-yoed among teams and the Minors with somewhat mediocre numbers. In the Minors, the outfielder has hit .303 with 411 runs scored and 87 swipes, and 311 walks to 255 strikeouts (.379 OBP). Though this season of .250-3-12 isn't killer, it is an improvement and his play is steady. So, if you are in a deep league or AL-only, and you need at-bats, well, just saying.

Junior Lake is the other player who has tempted me. Kind of like Shuck, Lake has been dabbling in the Majors since 2013. But working it in the Minors, Lake has a .272-62-330 line with 140 swipes, although his 221 walks to 722 strikeouts is disturbing anywhere. Lake is getting some time in the Toronto outfield, but if I had to choose, I would go with Shuck over Lake.

In case you had not noticed, Howie Kendrick is hot, hitting .353-1-8 the past three weeks, raising his season line to .271-4-21. Kendrick is generally undervalued, so now is a good time to swap for him, or again, fill a hole in a deep league for on the injury-plagued Dodgers, he will play, and all over. Add in over the second half of his career, Kendrick has hit .302-35-254 over 519 games and there you have it.

I have long been a Hector Santiago fan too, though the Angels lefty does get clobbered at times. But over the past month, he is 3-0, 2.08, with a 1.192 WHIP and 26 strikeouts over 26 frames. That brings Santiago's season line to 7-4, 4.27, with a 1.272 WHIP to go with 93 strikeouts over 105.3 innings. Santiago is probably overlooked in a lot of shallower leagues, and might even be ripe for a swap from the Angels to a contender. 

Finally, the Diamondbacks' Robbie Ray has some ugly numbers (5-8, 4.72, with a 1.562 WHIP over 97.3 innings, but with a killer 115 strikeouts). Ray has pitched pretty well since the middle of June, going 3-3 with a 3.64 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP across 42 innings. He too makes for a good under-the-radar play in any league where you need to gamble on pitching.

Don't forget to take me on at Beat the Experts at RTSports every Friday, and hit me up @lawrmichaels.

It is indeed the All-Star break, and that means a little time to chill, some time with your ostensibly neglected family, and a respite from daily box scores.

However, like being a student, fantasy ownership never really goes away, irrespective of the time of year. So, since we are all likely thinking about our rosters and how to tweak all the time anyway, let's look at some names I think might be worth looking at during the second half.

I am going to start with some wishful thinking, and that goes with David Price. I do indeed have Price on my Tout Wars team and was looking to the lefty to anchor my pitching staff, and was surely looking for better than a 4.34 ERA and starts where he gives up six runs and just one whiff. Within all that, though, Price has pitched pretty well, and ideally his fantastic start against the Rays Sunday (eight shutout innings with ten whiffs) means he has settled in with a new team and big contract, looking to a bright second half. 

While we are at it, I am not sure how long James Shields even stays with the White Sox, and a deadline swap might indeed mean bouncing stats, but after four awful starts that yielded 27 runs, Shields was summarily dumped across the board in shallower leagues. But, his last four starts have resulted in just eight total runs over 25.3 innings, including quality starts the last three, suggesting that Shields has settled into the South Side of Chicago. Shields is probably available everywhere thanks to his 4-10, 5.42, 1.599 line over 101.3 frames, but over the past three weeks the numbers are 2-1, 2.84, 1.303 and that is closer to what I would expect from here on out.

Yeah, we all ran from him like he has the plague, but maybe we dismissed Jose Reyes a bit early as far as building stats go. Reyes, now with the very competitive Mets who have trouble keeping players healthy, banged a couple of homers Sunday, reminding us that he still has some pop. But, aside from his body being rested for almost a year, Reyes likely has something to prove to those of us who had indeed decided the infielder was worthless.

It is hard to imagine why a guy with a .302-10-47 line would improve, but Brandon Belt not only has that line, but the first sacker and his .928 OPS have finally settled in where we thought his numbers should be when the Baby Giraffe became the everyday first sacker in San Francisco in 2012. Hitting lefties has always been Belt's Achilles Heel, but this year the first sacker has hit .284 with 20 walks to 28 whiffs, good for a .395 OBP. I think as the Giants try for their 2016 run, Belt will step it up and be the driving force of the team.

I always thought that Belt was to the NL what Eric Hosmer was to the American League, with Hosmer developing much more readily to the Majors, settling in as a star which culminated in last year's .297-18-83 mark that was part of the Royals championship season. At the break, Hosmer is hitting .299-13-49, which projects to potential .300-30-100 possibilities. The AL Central has just seven games separating first and fourth, but the Royals are the best team of the group, on paper anyway. I look to Hosmer to step it up and lead his team to the postseason, as I do Belt with the Giants.

A former first-round pick of the Astros (in 2010), Mike Foltynewicz has taken awhile to realize his skills, especially when we look at the right-hander's erratic entry into the rotation last year, when he posted 4-6, 5.79, 1.627 totals over 86 innings. But, Foltynewicz seems to have figured it out, returning from a month on the DL and notching a pair of quality starts. On Sunday, he shut out the White Sox over seven innings with ten whiffs, bringing his 2016 totals to 3-3, 3.67, with a 1.244 WHIP and 45 whiffs over 49 innings. Note that I wrote up Foltynewicz before he hit the DL at the end of May, but I like him even better now.

Mastersballer Perry Van Hook really shone the spotlight on the Cardinals' Seung-hwan Oh last week. With Trevor Rosenthal struggling with a 5.40 ERA and 2.00 WHIP over 30 innings, Oh, who amassed 357 saves over 11 seasons in Korea and Japan, seems to be the closer in St. Louis from here on out. The Cards always manage to squeeze into the postseason, making Oh a great second half grab.

Back to the Royals, Danny Duffy worked in 16 games as a reliever before working his way back into the rotation, but now there he is, and thriving. Over his 11 starts, Duffy is 4-1, 3.09 with a 1.06 WHIP and deadly 94 whiffs over 81.6 frames. I think the 27-year-old lefty is just coming into his prime and is worth grabbing everywhere, accordingly.

OK, so the one name on this list that makes me nervous is Aaron Nola, who rocketed to the top of the Phils rotation last year, going 6-2, 3.57 after his promotion. Nola started solidly, going 1-2, 3.55 in April, improved to 3-2, 2.31 in May, but in June the wheels fell off with a 1-3, 10.42 month. I will steer clear of Nola for the duration of this year as he settles in with hitters having a book on the former first rounder. It isn't that I don't think Nola has a bright future, but I would not think the rest of this season will produce the best totals for Nola or his Phillies mates.

Andrew McCutchen is sitting at .247-14-38 at the break, but Cutch has never hit below .286 over a full season, and I think he will take off in the second half and finish with a more normal Cutch line, around .295-25-90, as the Bucs try to make the second half iffy for the Cubs and Cards.

That is it for this time. Enjoy the break and All-Star Game, and make sure to hit me up @lawrmichaels and comment below.

 

Happy Fourth of July all around, and I wish you the best and safest of holidays. As for me, some golf is in order, followed by some kind of wonderful BBQ at home, and I wish you an equal amount of fun and deliciousness.

As for baseball, what can I say after Ryan Goins was called upon to pitch the 18th inning of the Jays marathon game, and Thursday went on the DL with forearm tightness? Baseball is indeed so goofy, unpredictable, and yes, wonderful.

But, what about some guys who are actually pitchers, like the uber hot Lucas Giolito, just promoted by the Nats? The #1 selection of Washington in 2012, Giolito is hardly a secret to those who follow fantasy and the minors closely, but at 6'6", 255, the almost 22-year-old has put up some convincing numbers since being drafted. With a 24-13, 2.79 record, Giolito has whiffed 353 batters over 324.6 innings while allowing just 280 hits (13 homers) and 113 walks (1.210 WHIP). 

A Top 100 prospect the last four years--and Top 10 the past two--Giolito twirled four scoreless frames last week for his Major League debut and should be on the hitlist of every owner. Period.

On the other hand, what of Jorge de la Rosa? "What?", you are asking? Has Michaels again gone looney? Well, not totally, for though Jorge has season numbers of 5-5, 5.98, with a 1.599 WHIP, over his last five starts, the lefty is 3-1, 2.25 with a 1.33 WHIP. Yes, he is a Colorado hurler, and yes, de la Rosa can get hammered. However, we are halfway through the season and free agent pools may not be brimming with the likes of Giolito, let alone lesser recent commodities like Daniel Mengden, so take your risks where you can. Just don't get too attached, right?

If you are looking elsewhere to plug a gap, perhaps journeyman Bud Norris, now a Dodger might also be a good gamble. A former sixth-round selection of the Astros in 2006, Norris has had a roller coaster career since hitting the Majors in 2009. A 60-75, 4.40 record with a 1.393 WHIP over 1065 innings speaks largely for itself, although the 978 whiffs (8.3 per nine innings) point to something promising. Unfortunately, Norris was another of those promising guys who never really seemed to put it together. But, now at age 31, on the Dodgers--whom I repeatedly remind know how to work with pitchers--Norris had a very good start last week, going six innings and allowing just a couple of hits and a free pass while striking out eight. Norris could indeed make a good second half play on a contending team.

Iffier, but interesting none-the-less is the Reds' Keyvius Sampson, drafted by the Padres in 2009, then released last year, and nabbed by the Reds as they seek to fix their own pitching. Sampson, 25, has a pedestrian minor league mark of 42-38, 3.99, with a 1.309 WHIP over 663.6 innings, but the righty also has 692 punchouts. Sampson has been knocked around during 62 big league innings, going 2-7, 6.53, with a 1.855 WHIP as part of a line that also included an alarming ten homers allowed. Sampson probably profiles as a bullpen product, at least for now, but I would keep an eye on him. He could be one of those guys who suddenly finds command and then becomes unhittable.

If you are looking for a middle man to just quietly stabilize a pitching slot, take a peek at the Yankees' Conor Mullee, who has appeared as a reliever over 101 minor league games (never starting), posting 13-6, 1.91 numbers with 14 saves and 164 strikeouts over 160 innings. Mulee has a solid 1.025 WHIP, allowing just 118 hits and 46 walks in the minors, and is easily an expendable $1 (or less) pick-up in a tight AL format.

Iffier, but no less tempting could be the Rays' Danny Farquhar, a hard thrower who tempted us all in 2014 when he was 3-1 with a save over 71 innings over which he whiffed 81 and posted a 1.127 WHIP. Aside from that flash, the righty has been awful, going 1-8, 5.12 in 2015, and over ten innings in Tampa this year is not much better at 0-0, 5.79. Still, tempting, and like Sampson, Farquhar could regain that 2014 magic. Do tread carefully, though.

While I am at it, Seattle recalled Mike Zunino, who promptly clobbered a pair of homers his first game back, reigniting manlove. Zunino hit .282-15-51 over 69 games at Tacoma this year, but he still walked 28 times to 62 strikeouts. That is a lot better, but I have been burned too many Zunino times to gamble at this juncture.

For some reason, 26-year-old Alex Dickerson carries the nickname "grandpa," but the newly promoted Padre has a pretty good hitting resume that is more than worthy of checking out, and Dickerson is similarly worthy of grabbing or at least tracking. Selected in the third round in 2011, out of the University of Indiana-Bloomington, Dickerson has a solid minor league line of .309-58-325 over 524 games, with 309 runs, a .367 OBP (153 walks to 366 strikeouts) and solid .867 OPS. He qualifies primarily in the outfield (36 games this year) but could make it at first in some leagues with nine games played. 

Please feel free to comment below, and don't forget you can hit me up @lawrmichaels.

While John Travolta did name his son Jett, the person I really associate with that name is James Dean, who played the role of Jett Rink in the film adaptation of Edna Ferber's novel, Giant. Rink is a moody, solitary character as you would imagine with Dean playing the part, and his striking it rich with an oil strike only adds to the irritation the now rich Rink's part adds to the lives of those around him.

Not so for Jett Bandy, the Angels catcher who seems to have at least established himself over the weekend playing the Athletics, hitting some, and throwing out runners as well. Bandy, a Southern California native, was drafted in the 31st round by the Halos in 2011 after spending time at the University of Arizona. Now 26, Bandy posted a .265-42-227 line in the minors and is hitting .300-1-9 with the Angels thus far. Further, over just 13 games there have been 12 steal attempts against the rookie, who has nailed five, good for a fine 42% (his minor league average was 36%) and I have a good feeling about this kid.

While watching the Angels and Athletics duke it out this weekend, I also noticed the team had moved Max Muncy up in the batting order. Granted, the A's have had some rugged injuries which precipitated Muncy's playing time, which has indeed boosted his totals to .257-0-2 with a .366 OBP. Obviously, Muncy is of value only in the deepest of formats, but he has hit .269-0-2 the past two weeks. But, Muncy also has a game in each at first and third, adding a little extra value depending upon league format.

How do the Red Sox manage to keep coming up with these outfielders? As in the newest "these," Bryce Brentz, a former first rounder (2010) who has hit .262-95-373 over 580 games. Brentz hit .264-17-56 over 82 games at Pawtucket in 2013, largely laboring at that level since. Brentz has hit .364-1-1 having blasted his first big league homer on Sunday. He does have some trouble with the zone (196 minor league walks to 603 whiffs) but he seems to have favor over Rusney Castillo and seems to sort of fall in line with Brock Holt and Travis Shaw as this year's out of nowhere BoSox bench guy.

Looking at the NL, Angel Pagan has hit .414-1-9 with a pair of swipes and four runs this past week, and is likely available in your deeper NFBC-type mixed format. But I would also take a look at the Giants' Jarrett Parker, who hit .500-0-1 over ten at-bats this week, raising his totals to .269-3-8 with a solid 10 walks to 23 strikeouts (.380 OBP). Parker had similar numbers last year (.347-6-14 over 49 at-bats with a .407 OBP) and at age 27, he is screaming for someone to play him every day.

Wade LeBlanc, who played for Seibu (2-5, 4.23 over eight starts and 44.6 innings) last year, signed in December with the Jays and went 7-2, 1.71 over 89.6 innings and 14 starts at Buffalo. He was then swapped to the Mariners and shut down the Cardinals in his first start. Still, considering his struggles in Japan and LeBlanc's career mark of 21-33, 4.41 over 452.6 innings with a 1.406 WHIP, make sure the lefty has a few good starts before you even think about rostering him. 

The Buccos advanced outfielder/infielder Adam Frazier, who got a hit in his debut game Friday. Frazier was a sixth-round selection of the Pirates in 2013 out of Mississippi State. The 24-year-old has hit .299-3-121 over 350 minor league games with 189 runs scored, 47 steals (though 38 caught) and a terrific 125 walks to 161 strikeouts, good for a .363 OBP. He surely looks like a guy to grab not just due to his talent, but he is on a team that moves players around (think Josh Harrison and Jung Ho Kang). Frazier played 224 minor league games at short and 94 more in the outfield, adding just that dimension.

The Yankees moved up Mexican import Luis Cessa, a 26-year-old starting pitcher who has posted a 34-31, 3.68 mark with 447 strikeouts over 533.3 innings. The righty--who also played some infield in the minors--had a solid 1.243 WHIP, allowing 562 hits with 126 walks and 36 homers allowed. Meaning Cessa indeed can control the zone in the minors, and as witnessed by his first start (seven innings, two runs, five hits) could be a decent pickup in AL-only formats, for now. He kind of reminds me of Junior Guerra, as a matter of fact, which is not bad as a free agent hurler this year.

Much the same could be said about Chad Kuhl, who made his Major League debut Sunday night, facing Clayton Kershaw. A ninth-round pick in 2013, Kuhl was 33-16, 2.79 over 438 innings, with 293 whiffs. Kuhl, like Cessa, has good control having allowed 105 walks and 28 homers over those innings, and he picked up the win during the ESPN game, twirling five frames and allowing three runs in a matchup against the best pitcher in the solar system. More impressive was the seven-pitch bases loaded first big league at-bat Kuhl logged. The 23-year-old hung tough throughout the plate appearance.

Please feel free to comment and don't forget you can hit me up @lawrmichaels. 

 

It was another one of those odd weeks on the transaction wire where the eye-grabbing transactions involved either veterans relegated to teamlessness or veterans clinging to another shot at redemption.

For over the week, Jose Reyes, Carl Crawford and Jimmy Rollins were all rather unceremoniously released into the ether of the waiver wire. I have to think some desperate team might grant Reyes a chance, but I suspect Carl and Jimmy will hang em' up. All three were fine players at their peak.

But, this was also the week that Tim Lincecum made his first start for the Halos, and Timmy comported himself rather well. 

Lincecum has to lead the marquee names of the week, having made it into the Angels rotation, and then tossing six strong innings, allowing four hits, and a pair of walks to go with a pair of whiffs. It should be noted that Lincecum won facing the Athletics, who have been among the weaker hitting teams over the past weeks. In short, I saw Lincecum at his peak and he was indeed wonderful. I would love it if Tim could have a big comeback here, but I am not holding my breath at this point. Still, it is a start.

Speaking of ex-Giants, the Tigers brought Casey McGehee up to fill gaps and though the third sacker was hitting well at Toledo (.323-4-27 over 66 games), his big league numbers have been pretty much nonexistent save 2014 (.287-4-76) going back to 2010. Add in there is a question of playing time, and McGehee makes a poor risk.

Oakland hasn't just had issues hitting, but their pitching has been pretty much a disaster between injuries and ineffectiveness. One guy the Athletics were thinking would be an innings eater when the season began was Liam Hendriks, who went out with a biceps injury in May. Hendriks had some pretty awful numbers over 16.3 frames (0-0, 8.27) but he was very good in a relief role with Toronto last year, going 5-0, 2.92 with 71 strikeouts over 64.6 innings with a 1.082 WHIP. Oakland might be struggling, but Hendriks is the kind of filler guy who can gain command and give some under-the-radar strong innings.

Keeping the "X degrees of player separation" going, former Oakland starter Tommy Milone was recalled by the Twins. A starter, Milone has reasonably good control (463 whiffs to 159 walks) with a 1.302 WHIP over 642.3 innings but has allowed 677 hits, 87 of which have been homers. If you are innings desperate in an AL format, maybe take a chance, but I like the Lincecum gamble better.

OK, let's look at a troika of prospects to close the week out, starting with Blake Snell, who is in the Rays starting rotation. Snell had a solid start against the Yankees in a spot start, allowing just a run and a couple of hits over five innings. Not so much in his second start, as the Mariners pounded him for eight hits over 3.3 innings, including five runs, though just one was earned. If Snell is not on a reserve list in your league, he makes a fun pick-up. If you can grab him and freeze him in another format, do so.

Similarly, the Reds brought second sacker Jose Peraza back to fill the Billy Hamilton (concussion) gap, and Peraza was hitting well (.274 with nine swipes) and is bench strength for now. But Peraza is a serious prospect, and again one to at least grab and stash. The 22-year-old Peraza, whom I mentioned when he debuted for the Reds awhile back, is a former Braves prospect who spent time with the Dodgers before becoming part of the three-team Todd Frazier swap. The consensus top-100 prospect has a .299-10-195 line with 312 runs and 219 swipes in the Minors, and he has a solid future. 

Finally, 24-year-old Michael Ynoa was recalled by the White Sox. With 11 saves and 232 strikeouts over 226.6 innings, Ynoa has had a decent minor league line, and he could find some good work with the Pale Hose as the team struggles to re-invent itself.

 

Well, here we are, starting year 21, and Z and I are in Manhattan getting ready to draft our Fantasy Sports Trade Association Football Team for the coming season.

Hah. We still have over three months of baseball to go, and last week I kind of took a bye, so, let's get started with a question.

Who were the best two starting pitchers last week? Clayton Kershaw? Chris Sale? John Lackey? Jordan Zimmermann?

Well, Jon Lester did have a monster cycle with two wins and a 0.00 ERA over 15 frames, but how about Trevor Bauer (1-0, 1.72, with a 1.02 WHIP over 15.6 innings), Matt Shoemaker (0-1, 2.30, with a 0.77 WHIP over 15.6 innings) and Tyler Chatwood (2-0, 2.45 with a 0.95 WHIP over 14.6 innings)?

Probably no troika of hurlers can better exemplify the ups-and-downs and insanity that goes with managing a baseball squad, for if you think the schizo careers of these guys make us crazy, imagine trying to work through it as Theo Epstein. Still, the lesson is in most leagues it is impossible to win with a set lineup you selected on draft day. If you want to stay among the big dogs in your league, it means being on top of who is hot, who is not, and ideally trying to figure this out a little ahead of the curve, adjusting your lineup accordingly.

One name who might indeed intrigue--as well as drive us whacky as he develops--is Jameson Taillon, a high school first-round selection of the Bucs in 2010. A top 100 prospect every year since his draft, the 24-year-old has a 20-23 mark with a 3.49 ERA over 442.6 innings with 417 whiffs with 2014-15 lost to injury. Taillon did get his first start against the Mets on Wednesday, going six innings, allowing six hits and three runs. Though he was sent back to Triple-A, expect the 6'5", 240-pound righty back getting every opportunity to realize his potential. Just be mindful of the lumpy road the previous paragraph implies and stash him on your reserve list if you can.

Oakland has been having huge mound issues, so they sought help from Daniel Mengden, a fourth-round pick of the Astros in 2014 whom the Athletics copped along with Jacob Nottingham for Scott Kazmir. The A's swapped Nottingham to the Brewers (for Khris Davis), but after going 15-5, 2.78 over 210 minor league innings which includes a 3-1, 1.39 spread at Nashville this year over seven starts, Oakland gave Mengden a shot. The righty responded with 5.2 solid innings, making a mistake only to Jay Bruce. Oakland, in a pitcher's park, will give Mengden the ball until he gives the team a reason not to. Ride accordingly.

Got Smoke? That likely means you discovered the Astros' Michael Feliz, a 22-year-old Dominican reliever who whiffed 419 over 419.2 minor league innings, but this year has put down 42 hitters on strikes over 29.1 innings, with a 4-0, 3.38 record that includes a 0.85 WHIP. Feliz might be a future closer but for now, in a deep league, he is a perfect stabilizer who can get whiffs. Grab him if you can/need to.

Arizona brought back outfielder Peter O'Brien, a former second-round selection of the Yankees in 2012, swapped for Martin Prado in 2014. O'Brien hit .280-109-363 as a minor leaguer over 1760 at-bats, and though he has hit 59.7% of his hits for extra bases, 112 walks to 492 strikeouts (.327 OBP) looks problematic to me. 

Probably the most promising hitter promoted this week has to be the 2014 #1 pick of the Pale Hose, Tim Anderson. A speed burning shortstop, Anderson has hit .301 as a minor leaguer with 220 runs scored over 1374 at-bats with 94 steals, 26 triples, and 62 doubles, Anderson has been called upon to fill the void left with the release of Jimmy Rollins. Anderson does have it all, save he too suffers from lack of zone command with 64 walks to 332 whiffs and a not too stellar .327 OBP for a guy with a .301 average. Still, Anderson looks exciting and should not be dismissed.

In case you did not notice, I have long been a fan of Wilmer Flores, who has just returned to the Mets lineup. Over the past three weeks, Flores has hit .368-0-3 over 13 games and 38 at-bats. The 23-year-old clobbered 16 big flies last year over 483 at-bats and though he does have on-base issues (46 walks to 133 whiffs and a .297 OBP), give him time and I think the utility infielder establishes himself.

Please do feel free to comment, and don't forget you can tweet me @lawrmichaels

 

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