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Wednesday 21st Feb 2018

Well, I have to apologize for the late posting, but over the weekend I hit the Medicare age and my family decided that yesterday we would celebrate such that I could watch the epic Game 5 of the Series that tied us all up for five hours, thus pushing the Hotpage publication to late Monday morning.

But, I also need to remind readers that starting next week, The Hotpage returns to Creativesports, the original publication site of the column 21 years ago. My seven years partnering with my dear mate Todd Zola were great and fruitful, and Z and I are still the best of friends. In fact, Mastersball will continue to publish via the same server space and I carved the Creativesports 2.0 space out of the same greater space, and Todd will keep his "Z Zone" slot on The Tout Wars Hour and I will be offering Todd's projections via the new site. 

In the meantime, we are witnessing a crazily wonderful and wild World Series, not to mention football season and mock drafts and all the other fun insanity that seems to be driving the sports and games universe these days. On Wednesday, I will be heading down to Phoenix for First Pitch Arizona and will be providing live reports to the FNTSY network and of course I will be identifying the players I see at the Fall League who are worthy of note.

Since we started looking at the names at Double-A ball last week with the Eastern League, today the focus moves to the Southern League. Ideally, you will see some of the players noted both here and over the past few weeks covered on the Hotpage since I started the Hot Stove analysis of the Minors. 

So, here we go, and here's hoping we get two more games as magical as the five already logged!

Mike Soroka (P, Braves): Atlanta's first-round selection in 2015, a high schooler from Calgary, Soroka has tossed 330.6 minor league frames, posting a 21-19, 2.91 mark with 287 whiffs and a 1.11 WHIP. Soroka, 20, played the entire year at Mississippi, going 11-8, 2.75 with 125 strikeouts over 153.3 innings to go with a 1.14 WHIP. The right-hander is tall (6'5"), ranked #7 on the 2018 Top 250 Prospect list, and is on a good and improving young Braves team.

Luiz Gohara (P, Braves): It seems the Braves are loaded with prospects at Double-A much like the Rays were clogged with them at Triple-A, and Gohara, a native Brazilian, is one of Atlanta's gaggle of fine young players. The 21-year-old has four years of pro experience, but that saw the Southpaw climb through three minor league levels culminating with 29.3 frames at Turner Field (1-3, 4.91). But from Florida up through Gwinnett, Gohara went 7-4, 2.62 over 123.6 innings, posting 147 strikeouts while surrendering just six homers and logging a 1.21 WHIP. Gohara is on an even faster track than Soroka (#13 on the Top 250).

Braxton Lee (OF, Marlins): At 24, Lee is a little old for play at Double-A. Lee was drafted out of Mississippi in 2014 in the 12th round by the Rays, who swapped shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (along with another pitcher, Ethan Clark) for the outfielder last July. Lee mastered Southern League pitching in 2017 despite splitting time between Montgomery (.321-2-16) and Jacksonville (.294-1-21), giving a cumulative .309-3-37 line with 21 doubles and 20 steals (though 13 times caught) to go with 65 walks to 104 strikeouts (.395 OBP).

Kolby Allard (P, Braves): Like I said, Atlanta has some pretty good stuff on the horizon, and Allard, another 20-year-old, gets to go in the mix. A first-rounder from San Clemente, Ca., Allard spent all of 2017 with Mississippi, going 8-11, 3.18 over 150 innings with 129 strikeouts and a 1.27 WHIP. Another lefty, Allard has toiled 243.6 minor league innings since being drafted with 236 strikeouts. His stuff is as good as any of the troika of Atlanta hurlers.

Michael Kopech (P, White Sox): The first-round pick of the Red Sox in 2014, Kopech was included with Yoan Moncada et al as part of the Chris Sale deal initiated last December. The change of "sox" had little impact upon his skill set, as he notched an 8-7, 2.87 line over 22 starts and 119.3 innings with a fantastic 155 punchouts. Kopech posted a 1.15 WHIP and his totals precipitated three Charlotte starts good for a 1-1, 3.00 mark at Triple-A over 15 innings. The right-handed 21-year-old figures to factor in the Pale Hose rotation in 2018.

Joe McCarthy (1B, Rays): I am old enough to still blanch when I see the name of the potential future first sacker for the Rays. But make no mistake, the 23-year-old has some potential pop living underneath the .284-7-56 line posted at Montgomery, as witnessed by the 31 doubles and eight triples. Also note that 36% of his hits were of the extra-base variety. McCarthy, who generated 76 runs, also controlled the zone well, walking 90 times to 94 strikeouts and producing a .409 OBP. The left-handed hitter could wind up at first with a Mark Grace-type profile, or based upon the 57 swipes McCarthy generated over the past two years, his future could be in the outfield.

Charcer Burks (OF, Cubs): This 22-year-old was selected out of high school in the ninth round of the 2013 draft, climbing up a level a year since 2015. At Tennessee in 2017, Burks hit .270-10-40 with 20 doubles and 16 swipes (coupled with 12 CS), walking 69 times to 107 strikeouts with a .370 OBP. Over 449 minor league games, Burks has a .265-25-164 line, albeit with 253 runs and 86 steals. Burks has some solid basic skills though similarly, there are some holes in his portfolio. That said, the combination of speed and zone judgement tells us to keep an eye on the outfielder.

LaMonte Wade (OF, Twins): A ninth-round pick out of Maryland in 2015, Wade flew through A-ball in 2016, earning full-time play at Double-A Chattanooga for 2017. The outfielder responded with a .292-9-67 line that included 22 doubles. Wade swiped nine bags and scored 74 runs over 117 games last year, walking an impressive 76 times to 71 strikeouts, good for a .395 OBP. Wade's on-base skills and potential power make a case for a big league career of some success, and he will likely get a big league shot this coming season.

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

Double-A ball is the best barometer as to whether a player will make it or not in my meager opinion. For, it is not uncommon for a young player to play a level of A-ball, succeed beautifully, and then move on to the Eastern, Texas, or Southern League and suddenly be hamstrung by the hitting and pitching at the new level.

There are a few reasons for this. Mainly, peppered in with the numbers of the 21 to 23-year-olds are a bunch of vets ranging from 25-29, meaning suddenly the youngsters get to face an experienced veteran. Couple that with the bulk of young players who are advanced are also tussling with one another, and often that means a Rule 5 draft pick who played a couple of years of college going against a high school pick two years removed from graduation. 

Meaning the competition is fierce. However, because Triple-A is pretty much a taxi squad, that means Double-A is really where we can look to see who is succeeding, for good numbers in the Southern League, for example, means a chance at the big club these days whereas in the past, making it at Triple-A was paramount.

This week we start looking at the Eastern League, kicking off our little foray into players of interest in 2018. These next league reviews--for the three levels of Double-A--should be the most revealing. Also note that my annual Top 250 Prospect List will be available on December 1. More news on that and changes forthcoming.

Christin Stewart (OF, Tigers): A first-round pick of Detroit in 2015 out of Tennessee, the 23-year-old put up a strong season at Erie last year, hitting .256-28-86 over 136 games with an .836 OPS. Stewart has a good enough eye with 168 walks to 337 strikeouts--almost exactly two-to-one--for a .361 OBP. Of his 310 minor league hits, 145 have gone for extra bases.

Carlos Tocci (OF, Phillies): Perhaps the most interesting in this week's cluster, Tocci is a 22-year-old Venezuelan who doesn't turn 23 until next August. On the down side, Tocci does not have a lot of pop nor is his speed obvious with 12 big flies and 56 swipes over 566 games. However, he does make pretty good contact with just 70 whiffs to 30 walks over 483 at-bats last year during which the outfielder hit .307-2-48 with 59 runs scored. So, Tocci can get on. At 6'2", 160 pounds, I am betting the outfielder bulks up and adds some muscle to his game.

Thairo Estrada (SS, Yankees): The Pinstripes are not just pretty good as a playoff team despite their loss to the Astros, but they have some good young stuff in the wings, like Estrada, a 21-year-old Venezuelan. At Trenton in 2017, Estrada hit .301-6-48 last year with 72 runs scored. He also has good zone judgement as witnessed by 34 walks to just 56 whiffs (.353 OBP). Like Tocci, Estrada needs to develop some pop and his rawness includes work on the bases where the infielder has 49 minor league steals, but has been caught 28 times. Still, there is some real skill potential in this kid.

Bobbie Bradley (1B, Indians): A third-round high school selection by the Tribe out of Gulfport, Mississippi, Bradley has some serious pop with 87 homers over 411 games. He went .251-23-89 at Akron this past season while improving his contact rate, striking out 122 times in 2017 compared to the 170 whiffs he earned in 2016. Bradley, who turns 22 next May, will probably cut some chops at Columbus, but barring anything goofy, he should debut in the Majors next year.

J.D. Davis (OF, Blue Jays): At 25, Davis is the elder statesman here, but the 15th rounder in 2013 has moved up the chain steadily since debuting at Rookie ball that year. Davis has a .250-30-145 career line over 336 games with a .354 OBP (176 walks to 314 strikeouts). He also has good speed with 75 swipes and 219 runs scored. There is definitely some upside here and Davis could be a solid contributor, but he needs a chance soon.

Tate Scioneaux (P, Pirates)Pitchers are usually a little older than hitters as they move up the corporate chain, and Scioneaux, nearly 25, is a pretty good example. A late (#39) pick in 2015, Scioneaux put together a pretty good season last year with a 6-5, 2.39 record over 83 frames, culling 14 saves in 17 attempts. The right-hander struck out 67 last year to just 17 walks (0.99 WHIP) and has 183 whiffs over 189.2 innings. Obviously, Scioneaux goes to the pen, but there is closer potential out there.

Thomas Pannone (P, Blue Jays)Drafted by the Indians in the 9th round in 2013 out of Southern Nevada Community College, Pannone had arguably the best season among Eastern League hurlers, going 6-1, 2.62 at Akron with 81 strikeouts over 82.3 innings. Pannone also twirled the pill at Lynchburg (2-0, 0.00) and then New Hampshire before the Tribe swapped him to Toronto at the deadline for Joe Smith. For the season, Pannone was 9-3, 2.36 over 144.6 innings with 149 strikeouts and just five homers allowed.

Sean Reid-Foley (P, Blue Jays)A second-round pick of the Jays in 2014, Reid-Foley is one of those works in progress who could blossom, or fail in equal directions. He's 25-28, 4.12 over 366.6 minor league innings, with 402 stikeouts and just 16 homers allowed. However, the right-hander also allowed an unseemly 168 walks to go with 326 hits, resulting in a 1.35 WHIP. He tossed 132.6 innings last season and struck out 122, but posted a 5.09 ERA to go with a 10-11 mark. Reid-Foley is one of those guys who could be deadly good if he can gain some control.

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

Last week we kicked off the Hot Stove by looking at some of the intriguing players of the International League in 2017, so this week we sojourn mostly west of the Mississippi to the Pacific Coast League.

The PCL has always largely been a hitters league, but these days the discrepancy between the pair is massive, such that the best pitchers in the league are really Taxi squad innings eaters like Justin Masterson.

Still, I was able to scrounge a couple along with some serious sticks, so let's take a look.

These lists are also separate from the Top 250, scheduled for release later this year.

Breyvic Valera (2B, Cardinals): Valera is 25, making him a little long in the tooth for prospect status, but he signed as an 18-year-old with the Cards seven years ago, and has moved up the chain systematically while employing a pretty good tactical game. The Keystone man hit .314-8-41 with 68 runs scored to go with 11 swipes, 22 doubles and six triples. But, most impressive were the 38 walks garnered to 34 strikeouts, a career trend with 260 to 226 respectively coupled with a .359 OBP. This guy was made to hit second in some order somewhere.

Dan Vogelbach (1B, Mariners): Acquired in a 2016 trade deadline swap with the Cubs, Vogelbach was expected to move to the Mariners this year, but that did not really happen. Instead, the 24-year-old spent the year at Tacoma where he hit a decent .290-17-83 with a fine .388 OBP (73 walks to 98 strikeouts). The lefty hitter has a minor league .866 OPS.

Franchy Cordero (OF, Padres): Cordero, a 23-year-old Dominican import also mined at the age of 18, had a strong .326-17-64 season with the Chihuahuas, collecting 18 triples to go with 22 doubles and 15 swipes. The concern is his 23 walks to 118 strikeouts. But, as long as the outfielder can get the bat on the ball, he should be interesting to watch.

Renato Nunez (OF, Athletics): This 23-year-old from Venezuela runs into a glut of very good Oakland youngsters. Still, his 32 homers and 78 RBI over 126 games at Nashville to go with 27 doubles merits a long look. Nunez is so-so with the zone as a young hitter with 191 career walks to 649 strikeouts (.317 OBP).

Jimmie Sherfly (P, Diamondbacks): OK, so the pitchers we will review are both relievers, but Sherfly, a 10th rounder out of Oregon in 2013, has 66 minor league saves to go with 287 strikeouts over 220.3 innings with just 176 walks allowed. He has a career 1.18 WHIP with just 15 homers surrendered. 

Kyle Crick (P, Giants): An "A" Compensation pick for the Giants in 2011, Crick was always highly thought of but struggled. At least until he was yanked as a starter, and moved to the pen to begin 2017. He flourished in his first season as a reliever, with six saves to go with a 2.76 ERA and 39 punchouts over 29.3 innings. The pen seems to be the future, but Crick could be useful there.

Alex Verdugo (OF, Dodgers): A second-round high school pick in 2014, Verdugo has some serious skills. The 21-year-old hit .314-6-62 with 27 doubles and nine swipes at Oklahoma City where he also delivered 52 walks to 50 whiffs, good for a .388 OBP. Verdugo has a career OPS of .800 and a high ceiling.

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

During the off-season, my intention is to go through the minor leagues--at least through A-ball--and review eight players per league who might prove to be an interesting investment for the short, or long term. However, these pieces will not be continuous as I will also be looking at the AFL and Winter Meetings.

These lists are also separate from the Top 250, scheduled for release later this year.

So, to start off, here are some names from the Triple-A International League, which already gave us Rhys Hoskins and Yandy Diaz before the season ended.

Willy Adames (SS, Rays): A Dominican native, Adames has led a lot of top prospect lists over the past couple of years, hitting .277-10-62 at Durham as a 21-year-old (Adames turned 22 last month) with 11 steals and though he whiffed 132 times, Adames did walk 65, good for a .360 OBP. The fact that 45 of Adames' 140 hits went for extra bases is an encouraging sign for a youngster at that level as it suggests more power to come with age and experience.

Tyler Wade (SS, Yankees): The Pinstripes have done pretty well developing from within, and the 22-year-old Wade had a fine year at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting .310-7-31, but with 68 runs scored to go with 26 steals over just 85 games before the Yanks promoted him (.155-0-2). Wade, a fourth-rounder in 2013, was making very good contact with just 75 whiffs over 339 plate appearances with 38 walks (.382 OBP).

Jake Bauers (OF, Rays): After going .274-14-78 at Montgomery in 2016 as a 20-year-old, Bauers, who turned 22 last week, went to Durham and hit .263-13-63 with 31 doubles and 78 walks to 112 strikeouts, good for a .368 OBP. With all the great young players they have, Tampa better be winning big time in the next couple of years.

Mitch Garver (C, Twins): Garver registered 88 games at Rochester in deference to some time on the DL, and then a stint with the Twins (.196-0-3), but he showed great plate discipline with a .291-17-45 line to go with 50 walks to 85 strikeouts and a .387 OBP. Garver hit 29 doubles, giving him 46 extra-base hits of his 93 total hits, meaning nearly 50% went for extra bases. 

Brent Honeywell (P, Rays): I've written about Honeywell before, starting with last year's Fall League where the right-hander, out of Walters State Community College, was the best arm I saw. I actually thought the 22-year-old would have been to the Show by now, so if there is room for this minor leaguer on your ultra roster, grab him. Honeywell began the season at Montgomery and after a 1-1, 2.08 line there moved on to Durham where he was 12-8, 3,68, striking out 152 over 123.6 innings.

Ryan Yarbrough (P, Rays): Tampa has become really good at developing young arms as you can see, and the thing I like about Yarbrough is he really has developed. At 25, the Southpaw, drafted in the fourth round by Seattle in 2014, jumped his strikeout numbers from 99 over 128.3 innings to 159 in 157.3 innings, walking just eight more batters while notching a 13-6, 3.43 record.

Yonny Chirinos (P, Rays): Don't ask me what is going on in the Tampa waters that facilitates pitching, but next we have Chirinos, 23, who hails from Venezuela. The righty was only in Double-A Montgomery over four starts (1-0, 2.63) before turning in 141 frames in Durham with a 12-5, 2.74 record that included 120 strikeouts and a wicked 0.98 WHIP.

Chance Adams (P, Yankees): A 23-year-old fifth-rounder from 2015, Adams began the season at Double-A Trenton. After posting a 4-0, 1.03 line over 36 innings and six starts, he moved up to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where the right-hander was 11-5, 2.89 over 115.3 frames, giving him a 15-5, 2.45 mark over 150.3 innings with 135 strikeouts coupled with a 1.08 WHIP. Adams kept hits down to just 104, so he seems to have learned to move the ball around and keep it down.

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

With 2017 a done deal and the postseason, along with Fall and Winter leagues ahead, there are a bunch of youngsters I will be looking at anticipating a bigger role for all during the coming 2018 season. Note that several of these players have been mentioned over the past weeks as I covered call-ups.

Let's begin our Hot Stove run by taking a look at some of these guys, starting with Walker Buehler, the Dodgers hurler who was a first rounder out of Vanderbilt in 2015. Buehler has made 37 appearances, including 20 starts, since signing with a composite 4-3, 3.17 mark over 93.6 frames. Buehler has 131 whiffs over that span, walked 34 while posting a 1.08 WHIP and allowing opposing batters to hit just .199. He should compete for a rotation gig next year. 

As long as we are talking #1 2015 pitching selections out of Vanderbilt, the White Sox Carson Fulmer was also one. Fulmer was spotty at Triple-A this past season, going 7-9, 5.79 over 126 innings, but his time with the Pale Hose was better spent. Fulmer was 3-1, 3.86 with a 1.24 WHIP and 19 strikeouts over 23.3 frames. He should challenge for a rotation spot next spring.

Texas swapped Yu Darvish to the Dodgers for a bevy of prospects including Willie Calhoun, a 22-year-old diminutive (5'8", 185 lbs) hitter with a position to be named later. Do not underestimate Calhoun's power and skill in deference to size for Calhoun assembled a .300-31-93 line split between Round Rock and Oklahoma City, with a .355 OBP that included an excellent 42 walks to 61 whiffs, with 43% of his hits going for extra bases. Calhoun has been a second sacker and left fielder, and is a likely DH candidate sooner rather than later, but there's no question the dude can rake.

The Indians seem pretty well stacked but somehow they will have to work Francisco Mejia, a 21-year-old Dominican, into their on-field mix. A catcher in the Minors, Mejia hit .297-14-52 over 92 minor league games, making pretty good contact with just 24 walks and 52 strikeouts (.348 OBP). Mejia made a brief September stop at Progressive, but at worst should back up Yan Gomes in 2018.

Mitch Keller was a second-round selection of the Pirates in 2014 out of Xavier. The righty burned through three levels, finishing at Double-A Altoona, going an aggregate 8-5, 3.03 over 116 innings with 116 strikeouts and 32 walks (1.00 WHIP). Over 293 minor league innings, Keller has 318 punchouts and a 1.05 WHIP.

Boston drafted Sam Travis in the second round back in 2014, and he probably would have been the Sox first sacker this past season, but a leg injury that sidelined him for the bulk of 2016 put that on the skids. However, Travis hit .307-9-78 over 131 games in 2015 and in 2016 was .272-6-29 over 47 games before the injury at Pawtucket, and went .270-6-24 at Triple-A and .264-1-6 over 76 big league at-bats. Travis, 24, has Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez standing in his way to regular playing time, meaning he will likely get that opportunity shortly.

The Rays' Willy Adames, a 22-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic, should soon be ready for a big league try. At Durham last year, Adames was .277-10-62 with 32 doubles and 11 swipes. He walked 65 times to 132 whiffs, good for a .360 OBP, but those numbers should equal out if the infielder's past (56 walks to 44 strikeouts in 2013) and experience tie together. 

Oakland is flush with hot prospects, but the future shortstop is 21-year-old Venezuelan Franklin Barreto, who went .290-15-54 with 63 runs and 15 swipes at Triple-A this season. Barreto needs to improve his zone judgement, as witnessed by his 27 walks to 141 whiffs (.336 OBP), but he should move Marcus Semien to second and be a fixture in Oakland shortly. 

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

The final week of the season is here, but the Hotpage will continue as we spend the off-season looking at the various minor league levels and leagues, identifying some players we like or not, coupled with the Top 250, which is projecting a November publication. Of course the Winter Meetings and other Hot Stove stuff will be covered, so we can have some fun during the off-season, following the game(s) we love.

For now, it is awhile till Draft Day, but who are some names I am thinking about in terms of 2018? And, if you follow me, and the site, there will indeed be a lot of baseball mocks and analysis throughout the off-season.

So, last week we took a look at a cluster of players I am going to avoid next year. This time, how about some names that intrigue?

Matt Olson (1B, Athletics): Talk about coming out of nowhere, Olson has been a home run machine, belting 24 over just 189 at-bats this season. A first-round pick in 2012, Olson banged 124 homers in the Minors over 689 at-bats with a good .364 OBP over that spread. What is reassuring about Olson's future to me is he had 21 at-bats last year, with a similar average and OBP to his totals of this year despite no RBI or homers during that stint. Oakland has some good and interesting young players in their clubhouse, and right now Olson leads the pack.

Alex Wood (P, Dodgers): A second-rounder out of Georgia, Wood was selected by the Braves and then swapped to the Dodgers as part of a largely ignominious eight-player swap at the deadline in 2015. L.A. is good at securing and developing pitching talent, and though the now 26-year-old does carry injury risk, he has developed into a front-line starter but maybe can be had for less than ace dollars. His 15-3, 2.71 season with 150 whiffs over 141.3 frames pretty much tells the story.

Luis Severino (P, Yankees): I am pretty sure Severino will get a lot more attention than Wood, but he is going into a third season with a good 13-6, 3.03 ERA to go with 221 strikeouts over 187.3 innings with a 1.05 WHIP. The 23-year-old is poised to be the next big thing in pitching in the American League, methinks.

Zack Godley (P, Diamondbacks): Probably lowest on the radar of the masses among the three starters noted here, Godley, 27, still has some major upside. A 288th overall pick of the Cubs in 2010 and then received by Arizona in exchange for Miguel Montero, Godley stepped into the rotation this year, delivering 158 strikeouts over 149 innings with an 8-8, 3.20 line including a 1.11 WHIP. Godley, along with Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke, could comprise the best top three starters in the league next spring.

D.J. LeMahieu (2B, Rockies): LeMahieu always scored high on my Top 250 lists, but he always seemed to be a sort of poor man's Wade Boggs. You know, hits well, gets on base, but doesn't seem to produce enough all-around offense to rate high in too many leagues save maybe in OBP leagues. Well, if I can get him at a lower price or later round, and blow my money or high picks on power and speed, the second sacker fits right in.

Tommy Pham  (OF, Cardinals): Raise your hand if you thought Pham would pass by Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk on the depth chart? Well, a .310-22-71 season with 23 steals and a .410 OBP is pretty hard to deny. Pham, drafted by the Cards in 2006 (#496 overall), has simply hung in there and learned his job. With 65 walks (113 strikeouts), Pham looks to have earned a full-time slot and could be another undervalued hitter, while realizing a bit of a jump in numbers with a full complement of games in 2018.

Marcell Ozuna (OF, Marlins): .308-36-118 in the shadow of Giancarlo Stanton, and in the outfield with Christian Yellich. At 26, Ozuna could get better, and hitting around Stanton, he will get some good pitches to look at.

Avisail Garcia (OF, White Sox): Kind of the American League counterpart to Ozuna with a monster .331-18-80 season over 130 games, also at age 26, just like Ozuna. I like to think this troika of outfielders could be copped say rounds 5-7 in a standard 15-team draft, allowing me to focus on some pop and pitching elsewhere for my first four rounds.

Remember to go to the Tout Wars site for our Friday picks. And, tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

As 2017 winds down, the baseball junky within each of us begins thinking about next year and the draft and our keepers and just who we covet, or on the other side of the fence, the players we are looking to drop at worst and avoid at best.

Bearing in mind we have five months till some Spring games, who are the players I am looking to avoid come Draft Day 2018?

Ryan Zimmerman (1B, Nationals): What a great story was the resurgence of Zimmerman this year, a player largely dismissed and undrafted in shallower mixed formats. Zimmerman, who will be 33 next season, had a smoking hot first half of .330-19-63, but his--and a bunch of his colleagues on this list--ran out of steam in the second half. For Zimmerman, that meant a .175-point drop in OPS, and a .051-point drop in OBP, giving a second half line of .246-12-32. Zim does deserve draft consideration next year, but hardly at the inflated price his first half suggested.

Greg Holland (RP, Rockies): Holland's first half was so ridiculously good at 1-1, 1.62 with 28 saves, and while the 31-year-old does have 12 second half saves, so does he hold a 7.08 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. Holding a closing job seems to be more and more ephemeral in the Majors as holding a lead these days. Holland will likely have a gig going into 2018, but his recent numbers and injury history are enough for me to run away.

Matt Holliday (DH, Yankees): He's 37 (will be 38 in January) and is having as miserable a second half (.174-3-11) as was his attitude playing in Oakland. I make it a point to try not to wish ill on a human, but it is about time the hits ran out of Holliday's bat. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Mike Napoli (DH, Rangers): Maybe it is just me, but it seems like the 2017 baseball season could be called "The Search for Chris Carter," and Napoli sort of defines the phrase. Yeah, he's hit 29 homers thus far, but with a .193 batting average, a .258 OBP, and just 66 RBI. Seriously, how different would the season have been for the Rangers had another guy taking Napoli's roster spot hit .275-11-60 with a .345 OBP? I suspect a lot. 

Curtis Granderson (OF, Dodgers): As long as we are visiting the elder players, Granderson is having a .207-23-60 year, albeit with a much better .321 OBP, but he's hitting just .164-10-23 this second half and will be 37 next season. I would like to say this is getting old, but there are more players to come.

Jose Bautista (OF, Jays): Remember all those questions about why it took so long for Joey Bats to sign? Well, the Jays must have known something as witnessed by the disappointing .208-22-59 season that Bautista has produced. Bautista, who has "enjoyed" a 50-point drop in OBP, has hit .170-8-20 this second half as a 36-year-old.

Eric Thames (1B, Brewers): Thames is a bit different than the rest of this list in that he is a decade younger than the bulk, and with his hot April (.345-11-19) was almost considered Cecil Fielder redux following a successful stint in Japan coupled with the strong start. Since, the numbers are pretty anemic as Thames did hit .284 in July, but not over .221 in any of the other three months of the season leading into September. What plagues him, in my view, and all his hitting buddies noted, is though Thames banged 31 homers, he has only driven in 59, for 60 seems to be the peak of a skill set where 50 walks balance against 150 strikeouts.

Matt Moore (SP, Giants): Remember everyone in your league just being willing to do anything to get Moore, whom we thought would be another Clayton Kershaw when Moore made his 2012 debut as a 22-year-old? I certainly know I traded for him in a couple of keeper leagues, regrettably, I must add. Even with a pitcher-friendly place like ATT as home, Moore is leading the league in losses at 5-14, with a 5.30 ERA and a 1.505 WHIP. Moore has allowed a gaudy 26 homers over 167 innings in a park where the short porch is in right. Good luck with that.

R.A. Dickey (SP, Braves): Dickey, who will be 43 next Opening Day, can toss 175 innings every year, function as an "innings eater" as they say, but giving very little else in return. Dickey is 9-10, 4.41 over 175.3 frames handcuffed to just 128 strikeouts with a 1.432 WHIP. Because Dickey can indeed produce those garbage innings, he will find a job, but no way should you consider him for your team in even the worst of circumstances.

Remember to go to the Tout Wars site for our Friday picks. And, tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

There are some exciting things--like pennant races and streaks--grabbing the MLB news despite the start of football season. This week, there were a lot of interesting promotions made by the big league teams, shining some light on a cluster of new--and a few old--faces. Let's take a look. Note that next week I will post my annual list of players who make me nervous going into 2018, and the final week those names I really like as the post-season arrives. 

Perhaps the most anticipated call-up over the 2017 second half was JP Crawford, the Phillies #1 pick in 2013. Crawford split 2016 between Reading (.265-3-13) and Lehigh Valley (.244-3-30), showing a little speed (12 swipes) and very good zone judgement with 72 walks to 80 whiffs, good for a .349 OBP in lieu of a .250 batting average. Crawford spent the total of 2017 at Lehigh again, batting .243 with 15 homers and 63 RBI, continuing with the solid eye, logging another .350 OBP. He is surely the shortstop of the Phillies future, at least at this moment in time and space, and is worth stashing in any kind of keeper format.

Another anticipated player--though a return this time--is the Pirates' 6'8" hurler Tyler Glasnow. A high school pick from the fifth round in 2011, Glasnow has indeed been dominant in the minor leagues, logging a 45-21, 2.02 mark over 117 starts and 593.3 innings, with 785 strikeouts and a terrific 1.07 WHIP. As of yet, those skills have not translated to the big league level with a 2-8, 6.49 mark over 73.3 innings. Glasnow, at 9-2, 1.93, was great at Indianapolis this season, but not so much with Pittsburgh (2-6, 7.45), and at 24, it is time for the lanky right-hander to show us what he can do. Expect Glasnow to make or break for the Bucs rotation next year. Make means success, break a likely life in the pen.

The Mets have been trying to figure out what to do at the hot corner since David Wright began his injury dance a handful of years back. Perhaps Phil Evans, a 15th round high school pick in 2011, is the answer. Evans ran a .260-30-266 line over 609 minor league at-bats, with 193 walks to 359 strikeouts, good for a weakish .323 OBP. The 25-year-old might make a decent utility player, but he probably is not the "right" answer at third in Citi Field.

Raimel Tapia has been up and down with the Rockies this season, filling in at Coors while posting a ridiculous .369-2-30 mark with 45 runs scored over 58 games at Albuquerque. The 23-year-old Dominican native hit .279 with a couple of dingers and five swipes over 136 Rockies at-bats, all of which point to a fun potential future. Tapia does seem to make decent contact, but he will need to improve his zone skills with just 160 walks to 405 whiffs. Still, there is some serious promise, with the bottom being a #4 outfielder at this point. 

As if the Dodgers were not just good, but deep enough in arms, their #1 selection from 2015, out of Vanderbilt, Walker Buehler, was promoted for the fall roster push. The right-hander signed at the end of 2015, then spent the bulk of 2016 on the DL. But in 2017, Buehler has whipped through the team's system, moving from Rancho Cucamonga (0-0, 1.10) to Tulsa (2-2, 3.49), and then on to Oklahoma City (1-1, 4.63), putting together a season of 4-3, 3.25 over 88.6 frames with 125 strikeouts and a 1.11 WHIP, allowing opposing batters just a .208 average. Buehler is more than worth tracking during the off-season and into the spring.

While we are looking at the Dodgers, if you were wondering just how Joc Pederson has fared since his demotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City, the results are dismal, as 20 games and 72 at-bats gave way to a .167-3-9 line with a .552 OPS. Not good, and maybe trade time for the Bums?

A couple of more quick shots on those promising but underachieving prospects, Deolis Guerra, who has always scored high on my Top 250 Prospect List, might have found a home in the pen. Guerra, now 28, turned in 41 innings for the Angels' minor league affiliate at Salt Lake City, going 4-1, 1.98 with a pair of saves, 41 whiffs, and a solid 0.83 WHIP. Guerra could challenge for ninth inning time in 2018. 

The Mariners swapped for Daniel Vogelbach last year during the trade deadline, acquiring the former second-rounder in 2011 from the Cubs. Vogelbach surely has power, as witnessed by his .287-100-438 line with an .866 OPS over 669 minor league games. Vogelbach has a decent eye with 412 minor league walks to 491 strikeouts (.390 OBP), though that skill still has not translated to the Majors, as exhibited by his .138-0-1 line over 15 games. The first sacker should be ready to take over a starting gig next spring after hitting .290-17-83 this season at Tacoma over 125 games that included 76 walks to 98 strikeouts. He looks to be good once he adjusts, kind of like how Joey Gallo has got the hang.

Austin Hays, a third-round selection of the Orioles in 2016, has also produced a solid season, hitting .329-32-95 while scoring 85 runs to go with 32 doubles spending his time split between Frederick and Bowie. The 22-year-old outfielder will likely start his 2018 season at Triple-A, but Hays has a .330-36-113 line over 166 minor league games with 42 two-base hits. Hays does need zone work with 36 walks to 113 strikeouts, but he is close and again worth tracking.

Remember to go to the Tout Wars site for our Friday picks. And, tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

Ah, Labor Day Weekend and the theoretical beginning of fall, the football season, and the time of roster expansion in the Majors, meaning a lot of wannabes or hope-to-bes will be gracing the Major League lineups, looking for playing time as we try to juggle our rosters and scrounge as many at-bats or innings as permits.

Of course there are a lot of names and players involved, so let's take a peek at a few of them, looking both for playing time this year, and maybe even beyond depending upon your league and set up.

The Dodgers, who are playing like the Cubs last year, have a ton of outfielders in general and Alex Verdugo, a second-rounder from the 2014 draft, is the latest advancement. Verdugo has had a solid line over his three-plus seasons as a pro, notching a .305-31-277 line over 421 games with a good .362 OBP accentuated by 137 walks to 200 strikeouts. However, this season Verdugo has shown great zone strides, walking 52 times to just 50 whiffs while posting a .315 average with six homers and 62 RBI. The outfielder, who is just 21, should gain some gap power, especially the way the balls fly these days, and could be a solid contributor come 2018, even getting some chances as the Bums steam towards the post-season.

Another flychaser, Greg Allen, a sixth-round selection of the Indians in 2014, is coming off a decent season displaying his speed, featuring 24 swipes (caught just twice) to go with a .267 average and 40 runs scored over 76 games. Allen is a speedstar with 145 minor league swipes over 388 games with a solid .379 OBP with 181 walks to 220 strikeouts. Allen, a switch-hitter, could develop a little power but he does seem to have the resume of a leadoff hitter. The question is if he is up to the challenge?

Another newbie outfielder would be the BoSox Tzu-Wei Lin, a diminutive (5'9", 155 lbs.) outfielder from Taiwan signed in 2012. Lin, who has 69 steals in the Minors over 501 games, does rely on speed but needs to work on his on-base skills with a .240 average to go with a .312 OBP, though the flychaser does have a pretty good 201 walks to 330 strikeouts, meaning he has an eye, but his contact rate is not too good. Lin is probably not much more than a fourth outfielder, if that.

Orioles catching prospect Chance Sisco was advanced with the call-ups following a decent .267-7-47 season at Norwich that included 23 doubles. Sisco does need to work on his plate discipline with 195 walks to 340 strikeouts, for though his OBP in the Minors was .390 over 455 games, that was augmented by a strong .311 average to go with 25 homers and 266 RBI, 98 doubles, and an .815 OPS, Still just 22, Cisco was a second-rounder in 2013 and is a little ways off from serious fantasy consideration. But come spring, he could pose an interesting option.

With the swap of Justin Verlander, maybe the next-in-line starter for the Tigers is Artie Lewicki, and eighth-round pick in 2014 out of Virginia. Over 56 minor league starts, Lewicki is 22-18, 3.36 over 337 innings with 303 strikeouts to go with a 1.23 WHIP and just nine homers allowed. He spent this year split between Erie (9-4, 3.76) and Toledo (5-0, 2.03), giving a cumulative 14-4, 3.38 line over 141 innings with 123 whiffs and a WHIP of 1.18 (135 hits, 31 walks). Lewicki, 25, makes a nice FAAB pickup for the final month and particularly going into next season. 

Most of us waited for the arrival of Rymer Liriano while he was a Brewer, but Milwaukee let him go and the White Sox grabbed the 26-year-old, who has a .275-83-430 minor league line over 861 games. Liriano has some power (.432 SLG) and major speed (195 steals), but he also strikes out a lot (318 walks to 885 strikeouts). Liriano has posted a .207-1-6 mark over 40 games at the Show, which includes nine walks to 43 strikeouts, a .273 OBP, and a pathetic .523 OPS. He has some talent, and he is in a situation wherein if he can improve his contact rate, he has some promise, and even a chance to get some playing time. But for now, he remains a disappointment. 

The Mets brought forth hurler Jamie Callahan, a 23-year-old selection from 2012 by the Red Sox who was sent to New York in a deadline swap for Addison Reed last July. In 2015, the Sox moved Callahan to the pen, where he has relieved 104 times since, converting 17 of 23 save chances. The righty has 373 strikeouts over 384 minor league frames, and he is good at keeping the ball in the yard with just 25 homers allowed and 388 hits. But Callahan does give up the walks, as in 174. Callahan is worth watching while the Metropolitans try to figure out exactly what their pen will be. As far as this year, he looks like a safe gamble, and he could develop into a solid reliever, but not just yet.

Finally, the Royals just brought up Andres Machado, a Venezuelan hurler who does have some spotty numbers as in a 13-24, 4.76 line over 279.6 innings with a 1.52 ERA. However, Kansas City moved Machado to the pen this season and he responded with 111 whiffs over 111 innings, and a couple of saves over his seven games in the pen. At age 24, Machado could indeed be one of those guys who has power, but cannot manage as a starter, and that is the thing closers are made of. So, track accordingly. 

Remember to go to the Tout Wars site for our Friday picks. And, tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET.

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

A week prior to roster expansion, a bunch of players came up for the first time while a few interesting starting pitchers returned for a look in the Show. It is the relievers, however, who garner most of the attention today. If you are protecting your WHIP and ERA at this point, several of these guys could be of value. And, the way things are going, several could wind up competing for saves as early as next season.

A.J. Cole has been up and down after originally being drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft by the Nationals. Still just 25, Cole has a solid enough minor league resume with a 50-43, 3.53 mark over 817.3 innings that also produced a 1.30 WHIP to go with 740 strikeouts and 840 hits. Cole is big (6'5") and has promise but has been a bust at the Show (2-6, 5.00 over 72.6 innings) and I really don't see much in his future aside from long relief or a bullpen job. Despite the promise of being a helpful starter, don't bite.

On the other hand, the White Sox Lucas Giolito is back for his second try and first games of this year. The 23-year-old, also originally drafted by the Nationals but in the first round back in 2012, struggled a little, allowing four runs over six innings in facing the Twins. The 6'6" right-hander, obtained in exchange for Adam Eaton last year, has a 31-25, 3.15 record over 497.6 minor league innings with a solid 531 strikeouts to go with a 1.25 WHIP. He has a ton more promise, meaning Giolito is worth the crapshoot for this season and into next. 

Detroit might be using Shane Greene as a closer at present, but keep an eye on 24-year-old Zac Reininger, a reliever groomed for relief since being drafted. Reininger has moved up four levels this season alone, starting at High-A Lakeland and now being on the Tigers roster as a result of a 3-2, 2.54 season during which he has notched a pair of saves over 63.6 innings. The righty has 60 whiffs and a 0.94 WHIP this year with opposing hitters batting just .193. Over his four minor league seasons, Reininger has 26 saves across 184.6 innings with 180 whiffs and is a perfect deep league acquisition to protect your pitching numbers.

The Reds promoted 24-year-old reliever Alejandro Chacin, a free-agent signed out of Venezuela. Chacin has completed 398 minor league relief innings, striking out 458 while notching a mark of 25-18, 2.46 complemented by a 1.28 WHIP and 90 saves. This year at Louisville, Chacin was 0-3, 2.60 over 69.3 innings with 63 strikeouts.

Another A.J., that is A. J. Minter of the Braves, is another reliever who made a big jump this season, starting things at Rome, Florida, then Mississippi and finally Gwinnett prior to the Braves grabbing his contract last week. The compensation pick from 2015 who is only 23 has tossed just 24.3 innings with 30 strikeouts, adding to a brief minor league career line of 2-2, 2.14 over 59 innings with a couple of saves and 77 strikeouts. Minter has some wicked stuff apparently, so another kid worth tracking.

Minnesota promoted their sixth-round pick in 2014, John Curtiss, who attended Texas. Curtiss advanced from Double-A Chattanooga to Triple-A Rochester this year, posting a 2-0, 1.28 line with 19 saves over 49.3 frames, striking out 60 while registering a WHIP of 0.91. Over 195.6 minor league innings, Curtiss struck out 245 with a great WHIP of 1.21, converting 26 of 28 saves before his call-up.

Texas brought forth Nick Gardewine, a seventh-round pick in 2013. Gardewine has decent minor league numbers with a 21-17, 3.64 mark over 304.3 innings with 14 saves, 280 strikeouts and a 1.24 WHIP. His numbers--save the WHIP--really improved this year with Gardewine toiling at Double-A Frisco, going 1-2, 2.34 with five saves over 34.6 innings during which the righty struck out a solid 50 batters, though with a 1.36 WHIP. Still, that jump in strikeout effectiveness makes the right-hander worth watching.

Moving to a position player to close out the week, Cleveland brought up third sacker and Cuban import Yandy Diaz from Columbus following a .350-5-33 line over 85 games that featured a tremendous .450 OBP that included 33 walks to 60 strikeouts over 309 at-bats. Diaz hit .315-23-184 in the Minors over 419 games during which he posted a .414 OBP (258 walks to 247 strikeouts). He makes for a more than interesting gamble going into the stretch and even next year. 

Tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET and you can follow me @lawrmichaels.  

Playing first base for the Yankees this season is a lot like being a keyboard player for the Grateful Dead, with Garrett Cooper and Greg Bird exploiting the DL in deference to one another. So, we have to ask ourselves here at the Hotpage, how does this bode fo Tyler Austin? A 13th round high school selection in 2010, Austin hit well enough at Double-A (.429 over five games at Trenton), which we should expect from a 25-year-old, and that fostered the move to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where Austin hit .292-7-27. Still, the long ride up the Minors coupled with a .369 OBP in the Minors make Austin worth following, at least until Bird gets fully healthy, which might not happen for awhile.

The Reds advanced 25-year-old flychaser Phillip Ervin for the second time this year. Ervin, a first-round pick in 2013 out of Samford, has decent pop with a .251-50-259 line over four minor league seasons and 526 games, featuring a .256-7-40 line this season at Louisville. Ervin does not have huge zone command with 83 whiffs to 37 walks, good for a .328 OBP, but he does have 24 swipes this season and 137 as a minor leaguer. Still, I would not expect a huge contribution from Ervin right now and presently he projects to be little more than a fourth outfielder, if that. 

Looking at a couple of backstops, the Royals advanced Cam Gallagher in deference to the Sal Perez injury. Gallagher was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft, and was hitting .294-5-34 at Omaha when summoned. The 24-year-old, however, has a .243-26-157 line over 462 games with a measly .318 OBP to go with a .668 OPS, so not much there.

Similarly, the Astros are beat up behind the plate, so they brought up Max Stassi, a fourth-round pick of the Athletics in 2009 who grew up in Northern California. Stassi was hitting .266-12-33, which seems pretty pedestrian. But of interest is the jump in OBP Stassi enjoyed this season, walking 38 times to 67 whiffs, handcuffed to a .383 OBP. What makes this noteworthy is that Stassi has a minor league OBP of .318 including this year's numbers, meaning prior to 2017, he had 288 walks to 588 whiffs and that represents a serious number shift. Whether Stassi has mastered the zone is another question, but he is worth watching in deference to remembering that in general, hitting develops later for catchers than for other position players.

While we are at it, even a better gamble looks like Mitch Garver, 26, of the Twins. Garver was nabbed in the third round of the 2013 June draft and has a pretty solid minor league resume of .271-51-286 over 508 games with 249 walks to 370 whiffs and a fine .364 OBP. This includes 50 walks to 85 strikeouts this year, where he has a .387 OBP and a .928 OPS. Of the troika, I like Garver the best.

While we are at it, the Twins also brought forth hurler Aaron Slegers, a fifth-rounder also in 2013. Siegers, a right-hander, also happens to be 6'10" (245 pounds). He posted a 13-4, 3.18 record this season over 130.3 innings, striking out just 97, while walking only 27. Siegers is pretty good at keeping the ball down with just seven homers allowed this year and just 32 over 583 innings. He has a 41-29, 3.46 line over those games with a 1.19 WHIP and with that height and angle poses an interesting possibility. (Note: Slegers was optioned the day after his 8/17 start, but with roster expansion coming in September, look for his return shortly.)

Gavin Cecchini of the Mets is back for a second time with Jose Reyes hurt, but Reyes is a lot more expendable and the Mets infield, with Dominic Smith and Wilmer Flores, could have some real potential. The 23-year-old Cecchini was a first-round pick of the Metropolitans in 2012 and has hit .283-30-237 with a pretty solid 219 walks to 327 strikeouts, although his OBP is .348. Cecchini is not as good as his Royal brother Garin but still has a lot of upside. 

As the first Lithuanian-born big leaguer, the Pirates' Dovydas Neverauskas deserves some attention. The 24-year-old relief pitcher posted a 22-26, 4.05 line over 433.6 minor league innings. Neverauskas whiffed 332 over that span, but allowed 431 hits and posted a 1.42 WHIP, so despite 12 saves even at Triple-A this year, I would shy away.

You can follow me @lawrmichaels and listen to the Tout Wars Hour every Thursday from 9-11 PM ET (6-8 PT) on the FNTSY Sports Network.

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