Fantasy Focus is a regular MiLB.com feature in which we use a Minor League perspective to give you the edge in your fantasy league. Have a fantasy question? Tweet it to @MiLB or @AshMarshallMLB with the hashtag #fantasyfocus.
In this week's Fantasy Focus, we look at how Taijuan Walker has been able to settle down in Jackson, why Chien-Ming Wang's groundball ratios earned him a big league return and how the unsettled first base situation in Milwaukee could help Hunter Morris' stock.
There's a roundup of the Minor League rehabs of Austin Jackson, Will Middlebrooks and Chris Capuano as well as a recap of what MLB.com's top 10 prospects have been doing the past seven days.
Stock Up, Stock Down
Stock Up: Taijuan Walker
The guy's seen the Fresh Prince of Bel Air pilot about 30 times. Enough said. His stock is up.
OK, OK. There are baseball-related reasons to his spot here, too. After putting up a 4.69 ERA in his age-20 season at Double-A Jackson, Walker seems to have settled in with the Generals this season with a 2.52 mark through 12 starts. His WHIP is down as well (at 1.09 from 1.37) while his strikeout rate is up (to 9.7 from 8.4 K/9). Stuff-wise, there was a lot to like from Walker last year, especially for a pitcher that young at such an advanced level, but the results are truly coming this year.
Meanwhile, the Mariners have struggled to find anything in the way of consistent pitching at the Major League level outside Felix Hernandez or Hisashi Iwakuma, and they haven't been scared to promote prospects (Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino) when the big league options aren't working. Walker could soon join them.
Stock Down: Allen Webster
The Red Sox turned to their No. 4 prospect twice earlier this season for spot starts, but given recent control issues, they may not be doing that again soon. Webster has issues six walks and six hit-by-pitches over his last three starts (15 1/3 innings) at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Two of those bean balls resulted in ejections, including one last Thursday against Charlotte that caused his night to be cut short in just the fourth inning. Truth be told, it wasn't a great outing from the 23-year-old right-hander to begin with (3 1/3 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 3 HBP), although manager Gary DiSarcina told the Providence Journal that he believed an early warning hurt Webster's effectiveness.
Still, the Red Sox -- along with potential fantasy owners -- will want to see those issues ironed out before they give him another start.
Under the Radar
But Morris hit two home runs in his first game back after sitting out the week, and he's looked right ever since, raising that OPS 138 points in a month, with nine homers since May 18.
Morris primarily brings power (he's hitting .245/.326/.505 in 54 games this year), and, with the Brewers having been largely unsettled at first base throughout the year, there's a shot he'll get a chance at the big league level soon enough.
If you're in an NL-only league and need homers and RBIs, Morris might be of help in the near future. Or if you're in a deeper keeper league, the 24-year-old who hit .303/.357/.563 for Double-A Huntsville last year could develop into an interesting option at first.
Will He Stick?
Gerrit Cole Mania began Tuesday night with the 2011 first overall pick making his Major League debut. The fireballer certainly performed admirably, allowing two runs on seven hits and no walks while striking out two in 6 1/3 innings in the Pirates' 8-2 win over the Giants and Tim Lincecum.
The 22-year-old right-hander earned the start after putting up a 2.91 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 12 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis. He looked like he had hit a rough patch in mid May -- allowing 12 runs and three homers in two starts -- but evened that out with a pair of scoreless seven-inning starts before the promotion. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was non-committal about whether Cole is in Pittsburgh to stay but did add that part of that decision depends on the former UCLA star's performance in the Majors.
He got off to a good start Tuesday and should get another outing this weekend against the Dodgers. You should already own him in keeper leagues, and you should give him chance to win a spot in your mixed-league rotation as well.
Rehabs of Note
Shane Victorino was 2-for-4 with a solo homer and a strikeout in his only Triple-A rehab start for the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday. The right fielder was hitting .283 with a pair of homers and 10 RBIs in 36 big league games before his injury, but if you didn't want him on your roster before his rehab, you probably don't have too much need for him now, either. For those who have him, he should be a decent source of runs scored, OBP and steals in the outfield.
More interesting is the progress of Will Middlebrooks. The third baseman was 5-for-17 with two homers and six RBIs in five games for Boston's International League affiliate. He had eight homers in 47 big league games, so if your team can cope with a potential dip in average (he was batting .199 before the injury), his power is worth a gamble had some owners dumped him on waivers last week.
Austin Jackson went hitless in his first rehab start for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens on Monday, striking out three times and walking once. On Tuesday, he was 1-for-3 with an RBI single and one punchout.
Out since May 14 with a pulled left hamstring, Jackson could rejoin the team at the end of the week. With a scheduled day off Wednesday, Jackson could get one more Minor League start before the Tigers choose whether to bring him back Friday.
The center fielder was batting .272 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 34 games with Detroit this year.
On the 15-day DL with a left shoulder strain, Dodgers pitcher Chris Capuano may be worth keeping an eye on for NL-only owners. MLB.com reported he planned to throw a bullpen session Tuesday, with the possibility of making a Triple-A rehab start for Albuquerque on Friday.
He was 1-4 with a 5.45 ERA in eight big league appearances, but there's a chance his inflated hit rate (37 hits in 33 innings) was as much due to a fatigued arm than just an unexplained drop in performance.
Gerrit Cole makes his ML debut tonight, with Zack Wheeler going a week from today. Exciting up and coming top pitching prospects- Dave Morelli (@DaveMorelli) June 11, 2013
Transaction of Note
Don't look now, but the last few months have gone very nicely for Chien-Ming Wang. The veteran right-hander registered a perfect 0.00 ERA in 12 innings with Chinese Taipei during the World Baseball Classic in March and then started out with a 2.33 ERA in 58 innings with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to begin the regular season.
Wang succeeded with the RailRiders riding the same formula he always has -- getting ground balls while limiting walks (he has a 25/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and home runs (two allowed on the year).
The Yankees released him from his contract early in June so he could pursue other opportunities, and the Blue Jays wound up giving him a deal on Tuesday. He made his season debut in the big leagues the same night to mixed results (five runs in 7 1/3 innings) -- but if he can find his old form and replicate some of the success he'd had this year in the International League, he'll at least be able to give AL-only owners a boost in categories like ERA, WHIP and, quite possibly, wins as well.
Keep an Eye On
Sure, Javier Baez's four-homer game caught headlines -- including our own -- and would be enough reason to feature the Cubs top prospect in this spot, but his recent success goes beyond that one game. The 20-year-old shortstop has turned it on of late, turning a .238/.271/.462 slash line on May 15 into .291/.339/.570 after Monday.
A big part of that is he's produced 10 multi-hit games in 22 chances since that time, including a 5-for-6, six-RBI performance June 1. Baez's bat has always produced buzz in the Cubs organization, yet it's runs like these that really make people think he's beginning to hit his stride. He won't hit the Majors until late next year at the earliest, but start keeping tabs now.
Top 10 Prospects
|Jurickson Profar||Profar was 5-for-30 (.192) with a double, two walks and a run scored in six games for Texas this week. He struck out eight times as the Rangers went 3-3.|
|Dylan Bundy||Bundy will not need elbow surgery, but he will be out at least six weeks after Dr. James Andrew prescribed a platelet-rich plasma injection. A mid-June return is possible if perhaps aggressive.|
|Oscar Taveras||After a three-week spell on the DL with an ankle injury, Taveras returned to the Memphis lineup on June 8. In four games this week, he's 4-for-13 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs.|
|Wil Myers||Bulls right fielder Myers was 8-for-27 in seven games last week. He homered three times and plated seven runs.|
Walker gave up one run on three hits while striking out nine batters over 7 1/3 innings for Jacksonville against Chattanooga on Saturday.
|Travis d'Arnaud||d'Arnaud has been cleared to begin weight-bearing rehabilitation exercises for his fractured left foot, which is now out of its boot.|
|Zack Wheeler||Wheeler allowed four runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out seven batters over 4 2/3 innings in Tacoma on Friday. He will make one final Triple-A start on Thursday before making his big league debut Tuesday in Atlanta.|
|Gerrit Cole||In his big league debut for Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Cole allowed two runs on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings. Last Wednesday, he fired seven three-hit innings in a win against Triple-A Durham.|
On Sunday, Skaggs allowed five runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out four batters over five innings -- the shortest of his three big league starts this year -- in a 6-2 loss to the Giants.
|Billy Hamilton||Hamilton went 8-for-32 with three runs scored and two RBIs over the past seven days. He has also stolen eight bases without being caught in his previous four games.|
A Wild, Wild Whine
Ed. note: This section is on the lighter side of fantasy baseball, where staff writer Danny Wild bemoans his continued bad fortune as a fantasy owner. Shoot him an email if you can relate, or maybe some fantasy advice would be more appropriate.
Dan Haren is so bad, it's actually satisfying to see him get lit up on my bench. With Zack Wheeler expected to get called up this week, it looks like Haren will be the underachiever I release. I've benched him for his last two starts, and he's rewarded my managerial moves with two terrible outings.
Haren hasn't won since May 8. He's allowed three earned runs or more in four of his last five starts. After Tuesday's "gem," he falls to 4-8 with an ERA near 6.00. Hilariously, CBS projected him to finish 14-12 with a 3.60 ERA. Right now he's on pace to lose about 18 games.
So will Wheeler provide any amount of help to my last-place pitching staff? Other somewhat optimistic bits of news:
- Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco could be traded soon, with the Yankees, Orioles and Giants among the rumored buyers. That's good news for Nolasco owners (are there many of them besides me?) since he'd be heading to a winning team.
- Wheeler will be joining a horrendous Mets roster, but he's got more upside for the second half of this season than Haren, right?
- Kenley Jansen finally knocked out Brandon League for the closer's role in Los Angeles, which is why I drafted him - I knew he'd be good for holds to start the year (I'm in first place with nine holds!) and that he'd probably take over the ninth inning by summer. So can he help my team (second-to-last with 20 saves thanks to Greg Holland and Jonathan Papelbon) make up some ground?
Random notes: Josh Donaldson (.323-9-42) is isn't even in the top five in All-Star voting at third base. … My late-round flier on Ryan Howard hasn't produced much -- he's hitting .251-7-30. ... Josh Hamilton has 20 RBIs and it's June 12. ... My best producers this season have been free agent pickups: Howie Kendrick (.317-8-32), Donaldson, Jhonny Peralta (.340-6-26) and to a lesser extent, Travis Hafner (10 HR, 29 RBIs) and Scott Feldman (5 wins, 3.20 ERA).