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Thursday 14th Dec 2017

The draft season is getting thicker and thicker, which is both fun and challenging. And, as I have been looking at depth charts and games and prospect lists and mocking and then actually drafting, I thought I could share a few more names who have crossed my radar, but maybe not yours.

Of course depending upon the depth of your league and the league's rules and rosters, these names will be of varying value to you, but any of these players who succeed in the 2017 season will surely be plucked in just about every league there is.

Don't forget next Saturday's "Bed Goes Up" will feature my annual Tout Wish List.

Cory Spangenberg (2B, Padres): Spangenberg was the Padres #1 pick in 2011, and he moved up the chain, hitting the show in 2014 with a nice .290-2-9 line over 20 games. Injuries ruined 2015, but Spangenberg bounced back, hitting .271-4-21 over 303 at-bats, but 2016 again went the way of the hurt body. Whatever else the Pads have going on, I don't think Ryan Schimpf is a short-term, or Yangervis Solarte a long-term answer at second, but if given a shot, Spangenberg could be a really good everyday keystone guy, befitting a first rounder with a .354 minor league OBP.

Daniel Mengden (SP, Athletics): I have discussed the Oakland starter before, and most folks will run screaming from Mengden's 2-9, 6.50 line of last year over 72 innings. But, the fourth-round pick out of Rice in 2014 tossed 240 minor league innings with a 20-6, 2.78 mark with 237 strikeouts and a 1.13 WHIP before joining the Majors, and even though Mengden got knocked around last year, he did whiff 71. Once he overcomes the minor command issues, Mengden is going to be good.

Eloy Jimenez (OF, Cubs): As if the Cubs needed more and better prospects, this 6'5" outfielder beat the crap out of the Midwest League to the tune of .329-14-81 with 40 doubles over 112 games with a .901 OPS. Now 20, Jimenez should move to Double-A, but the bigs are not that far off, whether Theo Epstein makes room for him, or another team trades for the privilege of his skills. Keep this kid on your reserve list sights.

Kevin Pillar (OF, Jays): A draft darling last year after his .271-12-56 2015, we all seemed to think Pillar was going to take a Michael Brantley leap forward last year. But, regression was the name of the game and Pillar has pretty much fallen to Mixed League reserve fodder at best. I think he is better than that, good for potential double-digits in steals and dingers.

Aaron Altherr (OF, Phillies): Another kid who was hot speculative stuff going into 2016 following his .241-5-22 line with six swipes over 39 games. In fact, in my Strat-O-Matic league--where defense counts--Altherr was one hot commodity come draft time. The Phillies outfielder was hurt virtually all last year, so again, most have simply forgotten or dismissed another flychaser with double-digit potential all around.

Robbie Grossman (OF, Twins): In an outfield full of youth, Grossman, who has speed and on-base skills, becomes kind of fun. In case you didn't notice, in 332 at-bats last year, he hit .280-11-37 with a solid .386 OBP. Grossman did swipe 131 bags in the Minors, suggesting he has the skills to nab a few bases for your team.

Michael Tonkin (RP, Twins): If your league is deep, and you need to cover a pitching slot, say because you drafted Sonny Gray for $9 and you need to put Gray on the DL, Tonkin could well be a great $1 FAAB selection. He did give up 80 hits over 71.3 innings last year, with 14 of them being homers. But Tonkin also struck out 80 and I am guessing he settles into a solid bullpen role while providing a few wins and some whiffs in AL-only leagues.

Alex Wood (Dodgers, NL)/Alex Cobb (Rays, AL): If they could simply stay healthy, these guys might be good. Cobb (36-24, 3.44) and Wood (27-30, 3.35) are both old enough and experienced enough to deliver. And, if there was a season to be healthy, this contract year for each makes a big year of 180-plus innings a big deal.

Find me @lawrmichaels. 

This past weekend saw the annual LABR AL and NL auctions, and as usual I participated in the American League setup, coordinated by our good friend Steve Gardner and hosted by USA Today.

It was a tough draft as usual, as drafting against solid players can be, so this year was no exception. I did, however, try to modify my strategy a little, for I usually like to build with a strong starting pitcher--like Chris Sale or David Price when there are no questions about his health--and then get hitters who in theory will give me numbers that will compete, but without dumping too much on any given player.

That is, I try to get good everyday players, something I did try to do this year, but without the benefit of a so-called ace, but also without spending more than $30 on a player so I would have largely $8-$15 everyday players everywhere. To augment this, I did try to make sure I had two closers and at least enough speed to put me in the middle of the pack.

And, the results are that I like my team, but as usual, ask me in October about "just how much?"

The highest-priced player was Jose Altuve, who went to Clay Link for $45, three more than Mike Trout fetched. See the full draft results here.

What does my roster look like, and what are my expectations?

C: Sandy Leon ($5): I did not want to dedicate much money for my catchers, so I am hoping Leon can simply hit .250-6-40. Of course, if he can do more, fine, but set the bar low.

C: Josh Phegley ($2): Everything I said about Leon applies here, but Phegley does crush lefties, and if he can hit that .250-6-40 line for $2, he might even turn a profit for me.

1B: C.J. Cron ($12): Cheap homers and as a full-timer all year, perhaps Cron can even get close to 30 big flies to go with the supporting stats.

2B: Dustin Pedroia ($18): In retrospect, I wanted Devon Travis or Jason Kipnis, but both went for more than I anticipated, so I held out for Pedroia and pretty much paid what I might have for Travis. Not a big loss, though, as "Laser" can still rake, even if he doesn't swipe much anymore.

3B Trevor Plouffe ($14): Saved my money for the end game and did get an everyday third sacker. I did want Nick Castellanos, but again, too rich for my blood.

MI: Eduardo Escobar ($2): Steady, flexible, and probably good for 350 important at-bats in the middle slot.

CI: Rob Refsnyder ($1): Corner infield crapshoot on a player I like and one who would have gone in the reserve draft for sure. Another flexible position possibility here, and player with pretty solid minor league totals on his side.

OF: George Springer ($27): My big gun, I had figured I would get Carlos Santana as my most expensive purchase at the $27 tag, so when Springer's bidding slowed around $24, I jumped in and changed paths.

OF: Khris Davis ($23): I don't think he will hit 40, but I do think he can hit at least 30, and check out his second half K/BB and on-base numbers last year. He's legit.

OF: Kole Calhoun ($17): No one really thought anyone else would get him, right?

OF: Steven Souza ($11): Some power and some speed possibilities here.

OF: Cameron Maybin ($9): Another good speed option.

UTIL: Colby Rasmus ($6): Some pop as a utility guy at a cheap price.

SP: Aaron Sanchez ($17): Since I tried to eschew the expensive pitchers, I hoped to build around Chris Archer and Danny Duffy, but they went for $25 and $17 respectively, and I had them pegged for $17 and $14. So, I targeted Sanchez, who is solid and should improve and is on a good team. I do think the gamble is a few bucks more than I might have imagined the hurler's value, but surely he can turn a profit. I needed someone as a sort of anchor, and within that context he was nominated.

SP: Michael Pineda ($11): Cheap price for whiffs and related wildness, but Pineda has the stuff, is now a veteran, and is in a contract year. I am hoping for a harmonic convergence of the three.

SP Marco Estrada ($10): Not much question anywhere how much I like Marco. Kind of like my affection for Calhoun, so his presence on my squad is hardly a surprise.

SP: Blake Snell ($9): A lot of strikeouts (98 over 89 innings) and a lot of walks (51) and not that many homers (5). Clearly, command is the issue, but the lefty gets the season to get the hang, and well, potential dominance is there.

SP: Jordan Zimmermann ($5): Remember last year when he was brilliant, then lousy, then hurt? Well, I am not sure he is brilliant, but if he isn't hurt, he surely is not lousy, and on a big hitting team. With his resume, Zimmermann makes for a nice bounceback investment.

RP: Roberto Osuna ($17): I like having two closers, and I like to try and get them for less than $45, so anything under $22 gives me some flexibility elsewhere, like even with a second closer.

RP: Cody Allen ($14): Closer II and again at a good price.

RP: Ryan Madson ($5): It never occured to me that I would have a third potential stopper. In fact, I thought maybe Ryan Dull would fill this slot for $3 or so. But when the bidding stalled at $4 on Madson, I figured very little was hurt by bidding one more on the likely Oakland closer to start the season. If Madson earns eight saves through the year, that is great coupled with Allen and Osuna's projected production. But, if the Oaklander really is the closer all season, that could give me some fabulous trade flexibility.

RES: Brock Holt: Valuable multi-position player who has some pop and speed. The big trick is making sure Holt is active when he is hot.

RES: Mikie Mahtook: Hot first start followed by a stall last year, I think Mahtook is lurking waiting for another chance, and ideally he has learned from the struggles.

RES: Peter O'Brien: Potential power source who could get his chance this year.

RES: Michael Bourn: He has a busted finger, but he also has some wheels and should get a chance to contribute some steals here and there.

RES: David Paulino: I really hoped Brent Honeywell would be available earlier, but Paulino is a pretty good prospect as well.

RES: Raul Alcantara: I like having a couple of hurlers on my reserve list, and this time I went with young guys, though Alcantara should have a chance at the rotation this season. Note that I had targeted Daniel Mengden for this last slot, thinking with his 6.50 ERA no one would touch him. But, Mengden did whiff 71 batters over the 72 innings he pitched in the bigs, and his minor league numbers were all great, all across the board. But, he was sniped. However, in your dynasty league, if you have a pitching slot you can gamble with, Mengden is a great gambit.

Hit me up @lawrmichaels.

 

Last Saturday, the Bay Area Rotisserie Fantasy League (BARF) held our second annual experts draft, hosted by Tod Alsam (@RbarTod), the venerable brains behind The Wreck Room (@theWreckRoomSF) in San Francisco. Along with Howard Bender, Ray Flowers, Justin Mason, and other Bay Area industry mates, we again went into a 12-team throwback draft where we selected 28 players.

In the league, we can make daily roster changes, and we count OBP and Quality Starts, making for some fun variables, Last year, I hoped to dominate pitching, selecting Clayton Kershaw with my first pick, and Chris Sale as my third selection, sandwiched around A.J. Pollock. My team did pull as high as third for a week or so at the end of May, but I never really recovered from the loss of Pollock, and Kershaw's injury helped seal the fate of my squad.

So, this year I determined I would not be caught short on hitting, and that I would try to hold off until at least the fifth round, if not the sixth, to select a hurler, hoping that I could grab Chris Archer at that point. The plan almost worked but Sammy Reid beat me to the punch, grabbing Archer with his sixth-round selection, although Ray Flowers told me that the Rays hurler would not have slipped by him either.

So, I postponed taking a pitcher just then, and actually held out till the eighth round before drafting Danny Duffy, as a #1 starter, augmenting with Kevin Gausman, Sean Manaea, Jerad Eickhoff, Robbie Ray, Ervin Santana, Brandon Finnegan and Mike Foltynewicz as starters, while going Adam Ottavino, Dellin Betances, Brandon Maurer and Ryan Dull as bullpen help.

Speed might prove to be an issue, but for once I should not find myself shy of homers and knocks, and ideally should have some power to swap come mid-season.

As I noted, going more hitting heavy is a bit different for me, for usually I build my squads out of strong pitching, assuming I can never have enough, and that should I have that coveted surplus, as with extra hitting, I can swap.

But, I also spent more time truly trying to draft the best available player, not so much the best available player who could fit into the overall squad I am trying to create.

Here are the selections with brief comments (I drafted in the #4 slot).

1) Nolan Arenado (3B): Best hitter in the NL.

2) Freddie Freeman (1B): Coming into his own as the best first baseman in the NL.

3) Yoenis Cespedes (OF): Underrated, and a player who does still have a 45-homer season in him. I think this is the year as he is a vet presence on a good young team.

4) Kyle Seager (CI): A bit of a reach, but nails the corners, and ideally this can be an area of hitting excess I can indeed exploit later on.

5) Khris Davis (OF): If he hits 30, hooray. If he hits more, again, a possible barter point.

6) Odubel Herrera (OF): Again, perhaps early, but decent power and a shot at some speed for a good young player who logged a .361 OBP last season.

7) Jason Kipnis (2B): Some power, some speed, 20/20 potential, and pretty steady. 

8) Danny Duffy (SP): Had to start somewhere with starting pitching, and I think Duffy will build on his solid 2016 and become the ace of the Royals.

9) Kevin Gausman (SP): Another guy with some upside, and like Duffy, as third-year full-timers, I expect those 30-plus starts and ideally a lot of quality ones.

10) Evan Gattis (C): Part of my insatiable quest for homers, it is nice to stash him behind the dish. And, Houston my have a lot of hitters, but if Evan hits like he has the past few years, he will get his swings.

11) Brad Miller (SS): I think Miller can repeat the 30-homer totals of last year, and such production from shortstop is fine. And, we may get some position flexibility come the season.

12) Sean Manaea (SP): Another young arm, but a good one, with a hurler in a pitcher's park. Whiffs are part of the profile, too.

13) Kevin Kiermaier (OF): If he can stay healthy, the Rays outfielder could also be a 20/20 guy. If.

14) Jerad Eickhoff (SP): Solid season last year with almost 200 innings and a 1.16 WHIP.

15) Robbie Ray (SP): Perhaps another premature grab, but a lot of strikeouts and will probably do 200 innings.

16) Kole Calhoun (OF): Surprised Kole was still out there, and happy to have him on my roster, as always.

17) Brandon Crawford (MI): More pop up the middle, and good to remember Crawford has knocked in 84 each of the past two seasons. And with Miller and some position flexibility, Crawford can slide into the shortstop slot.

18) Dellin Betances (RP): Since this is a 12-teamer, I waited for relievers, but with daily trannies, Betances was too good to pass up at this point.

19) Adam Ottavino (RP): Likely the Rockies closer, and a guy who will get whiffs.

20) Brandon Finnegan (SP): Another guy I have been a fan of since Day 1, Finnegan will step it up a level this year a la Gausman.

21) Brandon Maurer (RP): More whiffs and maybe more saves with good peripherals.

22) Ervin Santana (SP): Remarkably consistent, and another good guy to stream.

23) Leonys Martin (OF): Crappy on-base totals, but power and needed speed. And, I think he can improve upon that OBP.

24) Kevin Pillar (OF): A favorite last year, dismissed this year, but I think there is still some good stuff in there, at least in terms of steals.

25) Robert Gsellman (SP): Crapshoot starter, but a good one at this point of the draft.

26) Mike Foltynewicz (SP): I like the former first-rounder of the Braves, who showed he is learning what it takes to be a big league pitcher. On an improving team, he goes with the flow.

27) Derek Norris (C): Gotta have two catchers, and Norris has been a decent on-base guy, and is not nearly as bad as last year suggests. And, well, if he is bad, not much invested here.

28) Ryan Dull (RP): I have four good relievers I can stream, and in theory, all four could wind up closing. For sure, all will get strikeouts.

Here are the final results of the BARF Draft, 2017.

Drafts are, in the Dickensian sense, "the best of times and the worst of times." Even mock drafts trigger the best and worst within us to a degree. Early this season during an online mock, someone commented that his queue was having technical problems and asked if anyone else was experiencing anything. I replied, "I am having major queue issues: every time I drop a player into mine, he gets taken."

In the coming week, I have three more mocks coming up, peppered in with that are an MLB.com 12-team slow mock draft, my Strat-O-Matic MW League rookie and supplemental drafts, and the Baseball Prospectus Rookie Draft, the latter of which are handled online, two of them via e-mail.

Mind you, I am not one to knock drafting, and whereas I do try to keep the actual number of leagues in which I play down to a reasonable number (I think it is six), I will mock all over, all of the time.

Where things get dicey is in remembering which draft is where and what might have a clock and where the wish list for Strat--which features players who had never appeared in a Major League game and where i coveted Chris Devenski--is different than MLB.com (where I picked first, took Mike Trout, and then waited for three days before I made my next pick), to the Rookie League where I did pick at the wheel, and was happy to grab Josh Hader and Gleyber Torres with my first picks Friday afternoon. Sometime tomorrow, I might be able to make my next Rookie picks, and maybe the day after will be Strat and MLB time.

In the meantime, there will be a mock tomorrow night, and well, I have a couple of rounds of golf scheduled during the week, and my band has a gig at The Bistro in Hayward Friday, so that means extra practice.

And, though the drafts are slowish--which is fine with me--there are indeed always those guys who get antsy if a pick is slow, but equally difficult is both waiting out the other selections as you hope no one notices that despite Daniel Mengden's surface numbers (2-9, 6.50), he is just shy of 24, did strike out 71 over 72 big league innings during his first exposure to the Show, and really had excellent minor league totals. So, in Strat-land, that is a guy who will eat some innings this year, and could be really good in a year or two.

So, between my #116 selection and my next pick at #132, I regularly checked my e-mail and pushes to make sure the Athletics hurler fell, and I did draft Mengden, but this strikes me as an almost obsessive amount of attention for such a presently insignificant player. But, hey, Daniel could be really good in a year or two.

In fact, in the Strat draft, I had swapped my first-round pick, so I didn't even get a selection until player #51, and as fate would have it, that pick came up right in the middle of the FSTA Mixed Draft in which Todd and I participated. Complicating matters, Todd is also in the league, so as long as I am picking ahead of him--or vice versa--we can discuss projected picks. But, carefully.

Well, I had my eyes on Jett Bandy, whom i knew would turn out to be a good defensive player in Strat, at that point since all the players I dreamed might fall, like Tyler Naquin and Devenski, were long gone. And, depending upon team need, no one is safe.

Bandy did in fact come to me right around the time Z and I picked Yoenis Cespedes in the FSTA.

A couple of days later, as we left Nashville and the FSTA festivities, I discovered I had the first pick in the MLB draft on my way to the airport, as I sweated out the potential Strat selection of Brian Flynn, and knew that five Rookie picks had been made.

The issue was I was getting on a plane, and I don't really like to pay for WiFi on a plane, so I hoped picks, slow or not, would not fall to me at some inopportune time.

I was able to grab Trout in the airport, but when the plane touched down as part of our layover in San Diego, it was my pick but my laptop was out of juice and I couldn't remember how to get into my Strat league on my iPhone. So, I sent an e-mail to the league saying if permitted, my pick was Flynn, and that I was at the whim of a dead computer and obscure password. 

A couple of hours later, Diane and I were home and I logged in to see that the league gave me Flynn, and it was my turn to go in the Rookie league, and I got my guys.

So, in the end, things worked out well, despite all the clock watching and sweating. And, I don't think of these neuroses as odd, just "focused." However, it does make me wonder what I might accomplish if I really "focused" on something important?

Hit me up @lawrmichaels. 

Welcome back to all of us from the Hotpage, as we go into our 21st year of covering baseball with a fantasy bend.

And, to kick off the New Year and our first Hotpage of this cycle, we are indeed releasing the Top 250 Prospects for this year, a list I have indeed been producing for almost as long as we have been posting the Hotpage.

In the past, the Top 250 went deep into prospect-land, looking at level of success relative to age, relative to power skills, relative to strike zone judgement, and came up with players who were usually a few years away, perfect for your Ultra or Dynasty format. Well, I have not changed the format at all, but over the years, the number of prospects coming up, getting a chance, and even making an impact has increased dramatically such that the number of rookies generally debuting these days is nearly double the number who were brought up when I first started playing Fantasy Ball in 1989.

If you tuned into Bed Goes Up a few weeks ago, you will have seen my sneak preview in which I tossed a few names to whet your appetites, but also noted the likes of Trevor Story (#241) and Willson Contreras (#112) might have been far off big league and fantasy rosters 20 years ago, but both players ranked at the number shown last year, and each had my special sleeper highlight.

And, like last year, I give the players, their organization, the player's rating, a brief comment on the player, and again I highlighted players who I think are either a little under the radar, or poised for some instant karma.

In addition to level of play, and age, players are ranked on strikeout-to-walks and also innings pitched, on-base and OPS skill, extra-base hits to hits ranking only play at Low-A and above when the pitcher has hurled 70 innings, or the hitter has batted 200 times over the course of the season.

Of course since age is a significant factor in determining potential success, clearly the better a player is, at a higher level, at a younger age, the better. And, this year, the top handful of picks are indeed youngsters, likely not on a lot of radar units. But, that is the way it goes, for in the past names like Jurickson Profar and Carlos Zambrano have topped the list on the good side, while Cody Buckel was a top banana without "appeal."

One final thought: The list looks at 3000 players, largely between the ages of 20-25, so the difference between the number 15 slot on the list and the number 150 slot is just 1.6, as in #15 (Logan Allen) scored 24.40 points while #150 (Corey Zangari) logged in at 26, meaning there were 135 players mashed in between those two totals. So, if you wonder why Dansby Swanson rated so low (215), "low" is contextual. One final note: all ages are factored upon what the player's age will be on Opening Day.

The Top 250 is indeed free when you subscribe to our Platinum Package, driven by the one and only Lord Zola, and the final list should be up and downloadable in the next 48 hours.

So, here is this year's Top 10.

1) Roniel Raudes (P, Boston, 19): Raudes, who will turn 19 this week, finished a full year in the Sally League last year going 11-6 with a 3.64 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, with 104 whiffs across 113.3 frames. The lanky (6'1, 160) Nicaraguan was signed as a 16-year-old.

2) Ozzie Albies (2B, Atlanta, 20): Hit .321-4-33 at Mississippi before advancing to Gwinnett where there was a little struggle (.248-2-20 over 56 games), but Albies did just turn 20 last week, meaning he was just out of 18's-ville when 2016 began. When you add it up, Albies played 138 games, going .298-6-53 with 33 doubles and 30 steals, showing great zone judgement with 52 walks to 96 strikeouts. 

3) Franklin Perez (P, Houston, 19): Perez played a full season at the Midwest League as an 18-year-old, striking out 75 over 66.6 innings, allowing just one homer, going 3-3, 2.84, starting ten games, and earning a save over one of five relief appearances.

4) Kolby Allard (P, Atlanta, 20): Allard began the year in the Appalachian League, then advanced to the Sally League and did 60.3 innings, going 5-3, 3.73 with 62 strikeouts, posting a 1.23 WHIP.

5) Mike Soroka (P, Atlanta, 20): The tall (6'4") Canadian played in Rome with Allard (I suspect we better watch out for the Braves in the future, no?) and went 9-9, 3.02 with 125 whiffs over 143 innings with just three dingers allowed. 

6) Anderson Espinoza (P, San Diego, 19): Espinoza, who doesn't turn 19 until March, split his season between Greenville (5-8, 4.38) and Ft. Wayne (1-3, 4.73), whiffing 100 over 108.3 total innings last year. He is a little raw (1.38 WHIP) but San Diego thought enough of him to swap Drew Pomeranz in exchange.

7) Spencer Adams (P, White Sox, 21): Moved up to Double-A after 107.6 innings in the California League, going a cumulative 10-12, 3.98 over 163 innings with 100 total strikeouts and a 1.29 WHIP with just four homers allowed. Not overpowering, but excellent control and is probably Comiskey bound sometime this year.

8) Imani Abdullah (P, Los Angeles, 20): In his first full season, Abdullah went 4-4, 3.61 over 72.6 innings with 59 strikeouts, but just 12 walks, good for a 1.19 WHIP at the Midwest League. He did allow ten dingers, but otherwise pretty stellar numbers for the kid.

9) Ariel Jurado (P, Texas, 21): Went 1-4, 3.30 in the Texas League after going 7-2, 3.86 at High Desert resulting in an 8-6, 3.66 mark over 123 innings with 106 whiffs.

10) Nick Neidert (P, Seattle, 20): Second round pick in 2015, Neidert went 7-3, 2.57 over 91 innings at Clinton with 69 strikeouts to just 13 walks (0.970 WHIP), with just 75 hits allowed.

You can follow me @lawrmichaels.

What a sad, sad Sunday it was with the passing of Jose Fernandez. Not much I can say beyond what we already feel or know. Shades of Ken Hubbs and Tony Conigliaro, losing not just a young player, but such a talented one.

Within that context, maybe it is a good thing that we finish the 2016 season looking ahead at some of the young players I am high on for 2017. That does mean this is the last Hotpage of our 20th year, and that means the Hotpage itself goes into Winter mode. There will be a column in November covering the 2017 Top 250 Prospects, and in December we will review the Winter Meetings and trade circus.

Ideally, come January, I will be #MockDraftArmy-ing with my mate Howard Bender (@RotoBuzzGuy), and will report back from the FSTA convention in Nashville. Come February, we will go back into full tilt mode, covering Spring Training, LABR, Tout Wars, and some other fun stuff.

So, let's finish off, as noted with some young talent I think has some serious room to grow as we look towards next spring.

Kyle Barraclough (RP, Marlins): Let's start with the Fish, who seem to be marked, losing their franchise arm and unable to keep their star outfielder healthy all year. But, perhaps some good things are coming from the Northern California native who looks to be the next closer in the Miami area, drafted in the seventh round in 2012, then swapped for Steve Cishek in 2015. In the Minors, the now 26-year-old righty was 6-6, 2.70, with 28 conversions over 146.3 innings with 185 strikeouts, although 80 walks contributed to an ungainly 1.316 WHIP. Barraclough, who debuted briefly last year, has settled down, going 6-3, 2.76 over 71.6 innings this year with an awesome 110 strikeouts, good for a 13.8 K/9. He did walk 44, but allowed just 42 hits (1.200 WHIP) and looks like a guy to invest in now.

Trevor Story (SS, Rockies): Not much of a secret is the shortstop who replaced Troy Tulowitzki and then led the NL in homers the first few weeks of the season. In fact, Story was a top pick all over following his .277-18-63 2012 at Asheville as a 19-year-old. He then faded into the fabric of the Minors. But last year, Story had a solid 69 games at New Britain (.281-10-40 with 15 steals) and then off to Triple-A Albuquerque for 61 more games (.277-10-40 with seven steals), and that was good for a .279-20-80 mark with 22 swipes. Story hit the #242 slot on last year's 2016 Top 250 Prospect List, including getting blue fill in his cell on the spreadsheet for being a sleeper in my view. So, I will let the words I wrote on January 11 of this year speak for themselves. Looking ahead, though, I think the 23-year-old will get better, especially playing half of his games at Coors.

Jett Bandy (C, Angels): I just like this guy, and though I am not totally sure how good he will be as a Major Leaguer, let alone fantasy gamble, I am certainly willing to risk a dollar on him in Tout and LABR next year. But, in my Strat-O-Matic Dynasty League, I am surely looking at Bandy, who has hit .239-8-25 over 66 games and has some pop with over one-third of his Angels hits going for extra bases. Since catchers develop their hitting later, working on defense and calling games, two areas which Bandy is already pretty good (he has nailed 40% of base runners trying to steal), I am guessing Bandy will have a great Strat card. He will be a guy I can draft in the fourth round or so looking towards the future.

Jon Gray (P, Rockies): Yeah, yeah, Gray is a Rockies pitcher, but he was the #3 overall pick made in 2013 out of the University of Oklahoma. Gray whiffed 285 hitters over 282.3 minor league innings, with a 20-12, 3.76 mark. But he really did target missing bats this year with 182 strikeouts over 162.6 innings, great despite the 4.54 ERA, as witnessed by the 1.233 WHIP. Gray will get better, and possibly be dominant enough so that it really doesn't matter where he pitches.

Whit Merrifield (2B, Royals): A ninth-round selection in 2010, Merrifield, now 27, has had a slow crawl up a system that has been chock full of future stars. But he seems to be one of those quiet kind of middle infielders that can do everything ok, but nothing really spectacularly. He has hit .273-43-265 over 719 minor league games, banging 169 doubles and stealing 142 bases while walking a modest 238 times to a manageable 476 strikeouts (talk about a two-to-one ratio). Nothing flashy, but I still have a feeling that the keystone player, who has hit .282-2-25 with seven swipes with the big club this year, will get some nice quiet full-time play next year, and put up a season-long mark along the lines of his history: .270-10-50 with ten swipes. The thing is he will be a $1 investment in auctions and a reserve pick in most drafts, meaning well worth the price.

Alex Dickerson (OF, Padres): Some good things seem to be working in the land of the Friars, including Dickerson, a third-round pick of the Pirates in 2011 who was then swapped to San Diego for Jaff Decker in 2013. Dickerson assembled an impressive minor league line of .309-58-325 over 524 games with 153 walks to 366 strikeouts (.367 OBP) and an .867 OPS. The 26-year-old is .259-10-37 with five steals over 78 games this year, but I would expect a nice jump next year, and a chance at becoming one of the big hitters in the NL come 2018.

Ender Inciarte (OF, Braves): Some of the spoils from the worst trade of last year, Inciarte was a hot commodity after his .303-6-45 performance with 21 steals for the Diamondbacks last year, which is part of why the Shelby Miller swap seemed odd. But, Inciarte was injured in the spring, making a late debut and getting going slowly this year. But, the end results were a fine .296-3-29 line with 16 swipes over 125 games. Inciarte will likely be an afterthought/filler in a lot of leagues next year, but he should help a lot with swipes and average and runs scored, great for a late-round selection.

Tanner Roark (SP, Nationals): After a great 15-10, 2.85 season in 2014 pitching 198.6 innings, Roark disappointed us all in 2015, going 4-7, 4.38 over 111 innings and a frustrating season. But, Roark, now 29, rebounded in style this year, going 15-9, 2.70 over 200.3 innings with 162 strikeouts and a 1.163 WHIP.  Still, based upon the ups-and-downs, Roark will be a fourth starter for a lot of owners, and maybe lower in shallow mixed leagues. Take the gamble: he is good.

With a couple of more weeks left in the regular season, let's continue our prep and look at a bunch of guys you might want to be a tad wary of when 2017 rolls around.

In contextualizing this, I must say that this year an alarming number of players actually performed as predicted. We may have had doubts about D.J. LeMahieu, or Rick Porcello, but as examples both comported themselves well, actually improving upon the 2015 numbers we were not sure were there to stay.

But, that meant the focus this year is on a lot more younger players than normal, as we focus on high fliers who have become underachievers, so that simply means let your leaguemates take the high level risk, but should many of these youngin's slip to the later rounds, suddenly you may indeed have a sleeper.

J.A. Happ (P, Blue Jays): OK, Happ had a solid 2009 (12-4, 2.93, 1.235), but essentially Happ is a career 81-65, 4.00 hurler, with a 1.336 WHIP and just 7.7 whiffs per nine innings. Yes, the Toronto lefty has had a monster year and will likely win 20 (at present he is 19-4, 3.27, 1.164), but we are talking a career high in innings (176.3 at present) and no real history of being anyone other than Ryan Vogelsong after he toiled for nine years and suddenly became good. I have had Happ on teams a lot, and normally, the junk baller is effective in April, then loses it thereafter. Happ is a decent $9 gamble as a #3 or #4 starter, but I would not risk much more on him.

Adam Duvall (OF, Reds): OBP will indeed be a common theme today, and Duvall, who is 28 and just completing his first full season, has a ton of power but not a lot of discipline at the dish. In the stats world, we have an .800 OPS fueled largely by a .505 Slugging Percentage, barely augmented by a .295 OBP. Duvall has struck out 149 times this year to just 36 walks, but even in the Minors, he recorded 216 walks to 527 strikeouts (.338 OBP), so the outfielder had trouble getting his bat on the ball. Clearly, MLB has given in to homers even if they come with a high number of strikeouts (think Chris Carter), but I would be a lot less enamored of the drain on my other numbers the homers might try to offset.

Byron Buxton (OF, Twins): A stark contrast to Duvall, Buxton is six years younger than the Reds flychaser, but his contact rate is not much better in the Majors, as he has logged .219-9-37 totals with a .269 OBP and 23 walks to 144 strikeouts. Buxton does indeed have a bunch more upside and potential, as the Twinkies outfielder had a solid .380 OBP in the Minors over 325 games, and he could well start to really deliver the numbers in a few years (think Wil Myers), but I am guessing 2017 will not be much happier on the stats.

Tim Anderson (SS, White Sox): Another youngster who has comported himself well enough as a rookie (.280-7-25 with 10 steals) but who does not look like any kind of long-term solution to much at the top spot of the order. Anderson has struck out 101 times this year, to just 10 walks at US Cellular, but his minor league numbers of 78 walks to 461 whiffs doesn't bode that well, and once there is a book on the kid, he must adjust or languish, most likely on reserves or in Triple-A.

Yoan Moncada (3B, Red Sox): Maybe Moncada will be a big star, but with one walk to ten strikeouts this year, I am guessing at best he is a few years off. With Travis Shaw solid enough in the interim, I would simply not expect much for a few more years when positions and maturity push the now 21-year-old infielder--who arguably can rake at the lower levels--into the limelight. Moncada is worth grabbing and stashing, but I am not expecting much of a serious contribution until 2018, if not later.

Melvin/Justin Upton (OF, Jays/Tigers): So strange: Melvin hits .241-20-61 (albeit with 26 swipes) and resurrects his career at 31, while Justin goes to Detroit and hits .236-24-74 and his career looks like it is tanking. Truth is they have both simply become big swingers who just are not the complete players we once imagined, and more recently hoped for. Melvin has a .264 OBP this year while Justin is at .297. I don't care what anyone says, the objective of baseball is to get on base and score runs. Neither has convinced me they will improve their skills, and the investment in either suggests more towards erosion of said abilities.

Jason Heyward (OF, Cubs): He is hitting .228-6-43 over 491 at-bats with the best team in baseball? Double Ugh. The .618 OPS makes it Triple Ugh. I just don't know about this guy, but with the riches the Cubbies have all over, and their experience now as a very fine team, Theo can kiss Jason goodbye. Where he lands, I don't know, but I would not trust Heyward again until 2018, and that depends on his contact and on-base numbers in 2017. I don't even like Heyward (or the Uptons, for that matter) as sleepers next year.

Collin McHugh (P, Astros): Truth is he was never as good as his solid 2015 (19-7, 3.89) and was always much more like his 162-game mean of 14-12, 4.22 with a 1.302 WHIP. This year he is 11-10, 4.66, with an awful 1.475 WHIP, much more down to earth, and what we expected. But, as a fifth or sixth starter, I prefer Ervin Santana and Nathan Eovaldi by a long shot.

As we wind down the 2016 Baseball Season, let's finish off the next few weeks with some annual traditions, starting with my looking at prospects who are worth keeping on your radar (or Ultra reserve list) and who might make an impact in 2017 (not that my 2017 Top 250 Prospect List will be out in November).

Hunter Renfroe (OF, Padres): Though there are indeed some Triple-A hopefuls, Renfroe's big league team could really use his potentially big stick. A first-round selection of San Diego in 2013 (Renfroe was a 31st rounder in 2010 but opted to attend Mississippi State), the outfielder moved through the ranks, debuting at Triple-A El Paso in 2015 with a .333-6-24 line over 21 games, and then played a full complement there this season. The results produced a PCL MVP to go with .306-30-105 totals with 34 doubles. Strike zone judgement is an issue as Renfroe only walked 22 times, but he only whiffed 105, which ultimately suggests pretty good contact. Of all the prospects on this list, Renfroe might be the most vulnerable, but similarly at this point he has the best chance of earning full-time play next year.

Gleyber Torres (SS, Yankees): If Renfroe represents the top shot playing at Triple-A, then Torres is the long-shot. The 19-year-old shortstop started at the Carolina League as a member of the loaded Cubs minor league system, and then went to the Pinstripes as part of the Aroldis Chapman deadline swap. Before the trade, Torres hit .275-9-47 in the Carolina League, then finished at .254-2-19 as part of the Florida State League. That made for a .270-11-66 line with 40 extra-base hits, 21 steals and a pretty good .354 OBP (58 walks to 110 strikeouts). Torres will start the 2017 season at Double-A, and is a long-shot to hit Yankee Stadium until maybe a year from now, but he is a real talent and will get a chance to earn the shortstop gig on a retooling team before long.

Willy Adames (SS, Rays): A 2014 pcik by the Tigers, then swapped to Tampa as part of the David Price deal, Adames put up .274-11-57 numbers with 89 runs scored and 13 steals. Just 21 last week, Adames also contributed 30 doubles and worked 74 walks to 121 strikeouts, good for a solid .372 OBP. 

Jake Bauers (OF, Rays): Tampa set the tone for complete rebuilds via prudent drafting and prospect acquisition over a decade ago. The team is again undergoing reconstruction, not just with Adames, but also Bauers. Another 2014 trade acquisition, the Rays copped Bauers from San Diego as part of the Wil Myers deal. A month younger than Adames, Bauers notched a .274-14-78 line with ten swipes and 207 Total Bases. Similarly patient, Bauers garnered 79 walks to 89 strikeouts, good for a .370 OBP.

Barrett Astin (P, Reds): Cincy has done pretty well assembling a group of young arms, and Astin could indeed join the ranks. Playing at Pensacola last year, Astin logged a 9-3, 2.26 line over 103.3 innings, striking out 96 while walking just 25 (0.96 WHIP). Astin made 11 starts and 26 appearances in relief, earning one save (he has six in the Minors), so it looks like the pen might indeed be his future and that means a potentially faster path to the Show.

Dylan Cozens (OF, Phillies): A 22-year-old, signed in 2012, Cozens toiled in Redding last year and delivered some major offensive totals, hitting .276-40-125 with 38 doubles, meaning 56% of his hits went for extra bases. Cozens did strike out an awesome 186 times, but walked a decent 61 while also stealing 21 bags. He should get a shot at joining Aaron Altherr and Odubel Herrera in one of the more potentially exciting outfields in the Majors.

Rowdy Tellez (1B, Blue Jays): A Northern California product, Tellez produced a solid .297-23-81 mark with 29 doubles at New Hampshire last year. He is a big (6'4", 240 pounds) guy who is not a speedster, making him a potential perfect power source at the corner. Tellez also displayed a good eye, walking 63 times to 92 strikeouts, good for a solid .387 OBP. 35% of his minor league hits have gone for extra bases.

Matt Chapman (3B, Athletics): A 23-year-old drafted out of Cal-State Fullerton, Chapman is a guy who I have written about before. The third sacker posted .244-29-83 totals at Midland before finishing at Nashville (.197-7-13), good for an aggregate .237-37-96 with 27 doubles. Chapman too has to work on his zone judgement as he has whiffed 173 times to just 68 walks, but Oakland management is looking at Chapman as the future at third, not Ryon Healy.

Francis Martes (P, Astros): Finishing with a hurler on a team that desperately needs a dominant guy on the hill, Martes went 9-6, 3.30 at Corpus Christi last year, in a hitters league, wherein he struck out 131 over 125.3 innings. The right-handed Dominican is just 20, and was originally a Marlin who came to Houston via the 2014 Jarred Cosart swap. As a minor leaguer, Martes has 307 punchouts over 321.3 innings with a 1.20 WHIP.

If you were a statistician with MLB.com, your nightmare month would be starting this week with roster expansion as you tried to track replacements between innings for teams giving their fuzzy faced youngsters a chance (note that Jackie Robinson Day, when everyone wears #42 is actually even tougher).

But, for the fantasy world, this means both a look at newbies and a chance for dominant teams to pick upon the weaker squads, and that means roto teams with a complement of players with postseason possibilities can pad some stats with the likes of Jose Altuve matching up against the likes of Henry Owens.

Speaking of the Red Sox, the team advanced one of their most prized prospects in Yoan Moncada, a 21-year-old Cuban import who hit .277-4-28 over 101 games in his home country, also bagging 21 steals while posting a solid .388 OBP (40 walks to 69 strikeouts). The youngster has kept impressing, biding time while hitting .287-23-100 over 187 minor league contests with 91 steals and a spectacular 52% of his hits going for extra bases. Moncada will get every chance to become the starting third sacker at Fenway, and should be owned in all formats, now and till he proves he is not worth the investment or roster slot. But, the bottom line, he looks dynamite.

The Royals, no strangers to having prospects, advanced Hunter Dozier, the younger sib of the Twins' Brian, and a player I have been watching for a few years. A third sacker who has also played some outfield, Dozier has a .262-50-240 line over 456 minor league games wherein he swiped 21 and managed a .344 OBP (203 walks to 407 strikeouts). Just 25, Dozier has some possibilities on a team with some question marks for the coming season, but owning Dozier is not nearly as compelling as the chance to own Moncada.

Pittsburgh also took the cue, and promoted 23-year-old Domincan infielder Alen Hanson, another fellow I have tracked since he went .309-16-62 with 35 steals and 13 triples playing for West Virginia as a 19-year-old in 2012. The mostly shortstop has been toiling at Triple-A Indianapolis for the past two seasons, hitting .265-14-75 with 75 swipes over 227 games played at that level. Hanson does have some strike zone issues with 69 walks to 169 strikeouts (.316 OBP) playing the International League, and as an investment, is somewhere between Dozier and Moncada on the lick your chops scale. Hanson should have a chance to play full-time starting next season.

The Fish are pretty well set at catcher with J.T. Realmuto, but the team also has Venezuelan Tomas Telis, a 25-year-old who has impressive numbers (and strike zone judgement), notching .290-42-380 totals over 755 minor league games. Over that span, Telis made great contact, walking 149 times and whiffing in just 305 at-bats. This past year, Telis hit .310-6-45 over 336 at-bats with 26 walks to 42 whiffs (.362 OBP). Telis might not see daylight with Miami, but he should get a chance to play somewhere, and as a result is worth tracking.

There are many more prospects to look at, but let's save some for the coming weeks and focus a bit on players we gambled on over the past couple of years who struggled, and now are back, starting with the Mets and Michael Conforto. We all drooled over Conforto after he posted .297-12-54 totals in the Minors last year, and then splashed at Citi Field, going .270-9-26. But he struggled with full-time play, hitting just .220-11-33 over 87 games and showing how overmatched he was with just a .301 OBP. Conforto certainly needs no more time at Triple-A after hitting .422-9-28 at Las Vegas following this year's demotion, but he probably needs next season to get comfortable and understand he belongs. That is if he can get that. I am banking he will, and will be quite good, meaning Conforto might be a dismissed sleeper in 2017.

Much the same can be said about 22-year-old Twins prospect Byron Buxton, who hypnotized us with .302-39-182 totals over 325 minor league games that featured 40 triples and 112 swipes. Buxton managed well controlling the zone in the Minors, with 149 walks to 303 whiffs and a .380 OBP. However, those numbers have not as yet translated in the Majors with a .211-5-27 line and .258 OBP over 112 games. Like Conforto, this is a good time for Buxton to grab some sea legs at the Show and move towards really settling into full-time play next year. But, he is a commodity worth owning. 

On the other hand, there is now 30-year-old Darin Ruf, who went .317-38-104 in 2012 at Double-A Reading and set the ownership Pavlovian motions in order. I was never that high on Ruf. He did have a fine year, but at age 25, he was old to be making a mark at that level, especially in the context of the other prospects mentioned today. Let him go. Ruf will never be more than a Brandon Wood pipe dream.

We can finish with one of the more frustrating hurlers of this decade in Alex Cobb, who has been injured every year since 2011, but then missed all of 2015. The problem is when Cobb pitches, he is very good with a 35-23, 3.22 line with a great 1.189 WHIP over 503.6 innings (433 whiffs). Still just 28, Cobb went five innings allowing a couple of runs while striking out seven in his first start since returning from the MASH unit, and I would certainly gamble on him down the stretch. Over the course of a season, however, I would tread lightly and bring a lot of slings and bandages.

It is the last week before the insanity of roster expansion, but that did not stop the big league clubs from promoting a potential star for now, and one who was supposed to be a few years back.

The Nationals drafted hurler A.J. Cole in the fourth round in 2010 out of Oviedo High School in Florida, and he toiled in their system for three years before moving west to Oakland as part of the big Gio Gonzalez swap in 2011. But, the Nats coveted Cole enough to get him back as part of a three-way Seattle/Oakland/Washington swap that involved John Jaso and Mike Morse a couple of years later. Cole had pretty good minor league success, going 46-39, 3.63 over seven seasons, with 689 strikeouts over 730.3 innings. But, Cole's dominance has dropped with promotions, as he whiffed 10.2 batters per nine at A-ball, while that number dropped to 7.2 in Triple-A. Cole has turned in 22.3 innings in the Majors with an 0-1, 5.32 record over 22 innings. The big (6'5") 24-year-old is interesting, and on a good team, but worth worshiping only from afar at this juncture.

Alex Reyes actually made his debut with the Cardinals a few weeks ago, and made a tough start against the Athletics. The 22-year-old (today is his birthday) had a solid 20-21 resume in the Minors with a 4.10 ERA and a 1.314 WHIP, but that belies a terrific 449 whiffs over 339 innings, which translates to 12.1 strikeouts per nine. The Saturday start against Oakland was the first for Reyes, and the patient Athletics hitters made the youngster pay, chasing him after 4.6 innings. But, Reyes pitches for a great team and a manager who knows pitching, and has a promising future.

If you are looking for a stabilizing bullpen arm for now who might turn into a closer later, take a peek at another of the young Yankees in Ben Heller. A 22nd-round pick of the Tribe in 2013, Cleveland swapped Heller to New York as part of the Andrew Miller deal, and he has impressed in the Minors. With 233 strikeouts over 178.3 innings, Heller managed a 9-9, 2.72 line along with 32 saves in the Minors. This year, he was 3-3, 1.69 over 48 innings with 55 strikeouts and 13 saves at two levels with three teams. 

As long as we are cashing in on trade spoils, the Braves recalled Aaron Blair, the former #1 pick of the D-backs in 2013, whom the Braves nabbed along with Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson in the ill-fated Shelby Miller deal. Blair has pretty good minor league totals of 28-17, 3.46 over 76 starts and 434.6 innings, with 403 whiffs, going 5-4, 4.65 at Gwinnett this season, a far cry from his 0-5, 7.99 totals in Atlanta. I cannot recommend Blair on a contending team. But, going into the final month, with roster expansion and younger players, if the Braves throw Blair into their rotation and give him 4-5 starts on which to grow, the righty becomes an interesting potential keeper and similar play for 2017.

Remember how deep the Dodgers were in starting pitching and outfielders? Hah. Meaning it is time to look at Rob Segedin, the 27-year-old who was the Yankees third-round pick in 2010. The Pinstripes dealt Segedin early this year as part of the Ronald Torreyes trade, and he was hitting .319-21-69 at Oklahoma City when summoned. With 215 walks to 397 strikeouts (.357 OBP), Segedin logged a minor league OPS of .800 on the nose and is hitting .263-2-12 with the big club, and similarly looks to be getting everyday play during the team's stretch run.

Let's turn now to a few names who continue to haunt, starting with a former star and top pick gone awry, Carlos Gomez. Gomez, whom I will say I never trusted, had a hot run between 2012-14, hitting 66 homers and swiping 111 bags while driving in 197 runs. But last year the wheels started to come off, and this year's .210-5-29 line with the Astros made it such that the team flat out released the $8 million a year outfielder (Gomez is a free agent at the end of this year). Do I think the move to the Rangers will help? Nope, not for a guy with a .310 career OBP. Pass unless desperate.

This was supposed to be the breakout year for Taijuan Walker, but the young hurler was relegated to Tacoma after his 4-8, 5.17 line over 18 starts and 95.6 innings. Walker made a pair of starts for Tacoma, going 1-0, 3.60 over 15 innings, and he's now back with the big club. Walker had a pretty good second half last year, going 4-1, 4.14, and Seattle has a decent team. I actually like Walker as a gamble for the rest of the season.

Much the same could be said about Matt Wisler, who was 5-11, 4.92 and went down to Gwinnett, where the righty went 2-1, 3.71 over four starts and 26.6 frames. The Braves will be iffy for a few years, but Wisler, a 7th round pick in 2011, should be ok. Like Walker, he will be working through a lot of expansion rosters. For next year, however, bets are still off.

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. 

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