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Mining For Cole

Fantasy Risers: NL Central

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Drew Silva identifies some up-and-coming fantasy options from the National League Central

This week was set to see the major league debuts of two of the game's top five pitching prospects, but a rainout had to go and push back the Mets' Zack Wheeler until next week, when he's expected to debut in the June 17-20 series against the Braves. At least the Pirates' Gerrit Cole is still slated to pitch Tuesday against the Giants.


Cole's arrival seemed unlikely just a week or two ago, what with Charlie Morton (Tommy John surgery) and James McDonald (shoulder) slated to return from the disabled list this month. And then both Jeanmar Gomez and Wandy Rodriguez left their starts last week with forearm injuries.

It's going to be interesting to see how the Pirates play this going forward if all of their starters prove healthy. Francisco Liriano has been dominant, and A.J. Burnett and Rodriguez are assured spots. Jeff Locke would seem to nominally be the fourth starter, based on his 5-1 record and 2.45 ERA so far. That would leave just one spot for Cole, Morton, McDonald and Gomez. McDonald is probably going to end up bullpen bound in that scenario, at least for a bit. The Pirates could have room for both Cole and Morton for a little while, depending on what happens with Rodriguez.

Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, will make his debut after going 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA, 47/28 K/BB and just four homers allowed in 68 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis. Three of those homers came in a single start last month. He pitched 14 scoreless innings in his last two outings. The surprise is Cole's modest strikeout rate. He certainly has swing-and-miss stuff; he occasionally touches 100 mph with his fastball and possesses a hard slider and a decent change. Last year, he fanned 136 in 132 innings.

Despite the strikeout total, there's no arguing with the results this year. He struggled some with walks in April, but he's been better there lately (13 BB in 44 2/3 IP since the beginning of May). Right-handers have hit just .144 against him. In Pittsburgh, he'll be able to take advantage of a forgiving ballpark and a strong outfield defense. He possesses perhaps the highest ceiling of any pitcher to debut this year, with the caveat that he just hasn't been as dominant as one would like given his stuff and pedigree. It'll be worth taking a chance on him in all fantasy formats, even though he may well end up back in the minors later this month.

Now back to Wheeler. Unlike with Cole, it's pretty close to a certainty that Wheeler is in the rotation for the rest of the season, or at least until he hits his innings limit. The 23-year-old Wheeler was the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Giants, and the Mets got him two years ago in return for Carlos Beltran. This year, he's posted a 4.14 ERA in Triple-A, which doesn't sound very impressive until one factors in that he's been pitching in Las Vegas. It's a horrendous environment for pitchers, and Wheeler has amassed a 5.88 ERA and given up six homers in five starts there. On the road, he has a 2.92 ERA and just two homers allowed in seven outings. Overall, he's struck out 66 and walked 25 in 63 innings.

Wheeler doesn't quite have Cole's velocity, but he throws his fastball in the 95-mph range, and he has better feel for his slider and changeup than Cole does. Command can be an issue. He's averaged just 5.25 innings per start this year, which is partly due to some higher pitch counts and partly because the Mets want him to pitch into September. Last year, he was right at six innings per start, throwing 149 innings (in 25 starts) in all. He should be able to go beyond that to 170 innings or so this year.

I'm not wild about Wheeler's fantasy prospects for this year; he's going to be a 5-6 inning pitcher on a bad Mets team, which should make victories hard to come by. The shorter starts will also diminish his strikeout totals. I don't expect he'll make the same kind of impact Matt Harvey did last year, though for the long term, that duo could prove to be one of the majors' best one-two punches. He'll still be worth a flier in shallow leagues, but I'd take Cole first and I wouldn't drop a reliable starter for him.


- I'm not going to spend an enormous number of words on the possibilities of 50- or 100-game suspensions for Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and others. My guess is that they won't materialize, at least not during the season. It's just a guess, and Braun owners should certainly be worried about the repercussions. But MLB would essentially be declaring war on the MLBPA if it tries to issue mass suspensions without positive tests, and I don't see how that benefits anyone.

AL Notes (Rotoworld MLB news - Rotoworld on twitter - Matthew Pouliot on twitter)

- The Detroit Tigers invested $80 million in Anibal Sanchez over the winter, even though he has a lengthy history of shoulder problems. Now he's experiencing shoulder stiffness. That doesn't necessarily spell disaster -- all early indications are that it's a mild problem -- but it baffles me that the immediate response wasn't to put him on the DL. Instead, they're having him skip one start and taking a wait-and-see approach. This is a team that 5 1/2 games up in a division that presents no real challengers. The Tigers aren't playing to get to October; they're playing to win in October. On what planet does it make any sense to have Sanchez start next weekend? Rest him and get it right.

- After living with Erick Aybar in the leadoff spot for couple of weeks too many, the Angels decided they couldn't take it anymore Saturday and moved Mike Trout back there, even though they have Peter Bourjos (hamstring) coming off the DL as soon as Monday. It seems unlikely that the plan calls for Trout and new No. 2 hitter Josh Hamilton to return to their old roles after just two days, so Bourjos will probably hit low in the order upon returning, making him a weaker play in mixed leagues.

As for Hamilton, the switch should prove beneficial. I don't buy the idea that he'll get many more fastballs hitting ahead of Albert Pujols -- the goal remains to get him out, even if it means letting Trout take second on a breaking ball once in a while -- but he'll get more at-bats and more runs scored as a No. 2 hitter.

- With Luke Scott and Kelly Johnson having cooled off of late, the time seems just about right for Wil Myers to get his chance in right field for the Rays. His late May surge has spilled over into June, as he's hit .387 with three homers in his first seven games of the month for Triple-A Durham.

- I find this kind of weird: on May 26, the Rays' Sean Rodriguez homered and walked against the Yankees to raise his OPS to .803. He hasn't gotten a start or had more than one at-bat in a game in two weeks since. Maybe he'll be the casualty when Myers debuts.

- The White Sox's Hector Santiago had been struggling since being shifted back to the pen, but he impressed Sunday against the A's in his return to the rotation. He's due to stay there at least through the All-Star break after Jake Peavy's unfortunate rib injury. He makes for an excellent play in AL-only leagues and a decent spot starter in mixed leagues. He's certainly worth using with the Astros, Twins and Mets next on the schedule.

- If Vernon Wells goes 3-for-20 with a homer and four RBI in his next handful of games, he'll have the same exact line this year that he finished with for the Angels last year. Of course, that would actually mean picking up his pace, as he's currently 3-for-29 with no homers and one RBI during June. The Yankees might start giving more of his at-bats to Lyle Overbay, and his struggles are good news for Ichiro Suzuki, not that Suzuki is doing much anything for fantasy owners while going 1-for-3 or 1-for-4 every night. While Suzuki's average is on the rise again, he hasn't homered or stolen a base in a month.

- Astros center fielder Justin Maxwell (hand) went 0-for-13 with six strikeouts in the first four games of his rehab assignment, so it doesn't seem likely that the team will be quick to activate him early in the week. Either Jimmy Paredes or Trevor Crowe will be dropped once Maxwell is ready to return. Crowe is nothing if not expendable, but Paredes is hitting just .205/.259/.295 in his 78 at-bats so far and the Astros may prefer he play regularly in the minors than make two or three starts per week in right field.

- The Royals' Jarrod Dyson (ankle) is in the same boat as Maxwell, having gone 0-for-8 in the first two games of his rehab assignment. David Lough has done nice work with Dyson sidelined, hitting .293/.317/.431 in 58 at-bats, but that probably won't be enough to allow him to retain his roster spot. The alternative to sending down Lough would be for the Royals to release Jeff Francoeur, which isn't going to happen. Dyson should return as the Royals' center fielder against right-handers, with Francoeur continuing to play primarily against lefties and Lorenzo Cain rotating between right and center.

- It's pretty ridiculous that the Royals have kept Mike Moustakas around as a part-time player rather than send him down to Triple-A and give him a chance to hit again. They might as well just let Miguel Tejada start at third base for a two or three weeks and see what he can do.

- Jeremy Bonderman had a nice showing Friday against the Yankees, but the Mariners starter I'm waiting for is Erasmo Ramirez. The 23-year-old righty pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out seven, for Triple-A Tacoma in his third minor league start Saturday. He's due to pitch at least once more in Triple-A, but he should make his Mariners season debut soon afterwards, perhaps as a replacement for Aaron Harang. Ramirez's elbow is still a bit of a question mark after he was limited at the end of the spring and the first two months of the season, but he has the talent to be one of the AL's top 15 or 20 starters right away.

- I'm still a Kevin Gausman believer, and in AL-only leagues, I'd stick with him for as long as the Orioles do. However, mixed leaguers can probably move on, at least for now. His next four starts will come against the Red Sox, Tigers, Indians and Yankees, so it's going to be quite a chore for him to lower his ERA.

- Josh Lindblom will get the initial start Monday for the Rangers after Alexi Ogando's shoulder setback, but depending on how that goes, the team could go to Martin Perez afterwards. Perez has looked good for Triple-A Round Rock, allowing just three runs over 19 innings in his last three starts. He'd be a more intriguing option in AL-only leagues than Lindblom.

- The Red Sox got Shane Victorino (hamstring) back on Saturday, and Will Middlebrooks (back) should follow within a few days. He homered in two of his first four games on his rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket. It sounds as though Pedro Ciriaco could be cut loose to make room for Middlebrooks, with hard-hitting Jose Iglesias sticking around as a utilityman.

- Austin Jackson (hamstring) could rejoin Detroit's lineup on Friday, but it's not enough of a sure thing to make him worth playing in AL-only leagues this week.

- The Twins' Trevor Plouffe (calf) will begin his rehab assignment Monday, and he should come off the disabled list on Friday, the first day that he's eligible.

NL Notes (Rotoworld MLB news - Rotoworld on twitter - Matthew Pouliot on twitter)

- One possibility is that Wheeler will make his major league debut opposite Brandon Beachy in his return from Tommy John surgery in the June 18 Mets-Braves doubleheader. Beachy has been pretty good in his rehab, posting a 2.84 ERA and an 18/8 K/BB ratio in 19 innings. On Saturday, he allowed one run in five innings and fanned eight for Triple-A Gwinnett. If Beachy is somehow still available in your league, grab him now. I'd pick him over both Wheeler and Cole for the rest of the season.

- Because of that doubleheader, the Braves won't have to make an immediate decision on how to create room for Beachy in the rotation. Kris Medlen was starting to look like a bullpen candidate, but now he's responded with back-to-back terrific outings. Julio Teheran, the other option, flirted with a no-hitter last time out. Tim Hudson is the one Braves starter "struggling" at the moment, going 0-4 with a 5.29 ERA over the last month, but even that comes with a 23/6 K/BB ratio and just two homers allowed in 34 innings. Maybe the Braves can make up a little injury for Hudson and rest him for a couple of weeks, but I don't suspect that's going to happen. Sending Medlen to the pen for 4-6 weeks in order to save his arm for September and October would likely be the best strategy, even if the demotion is completely unwarranted.

- Matt Kemp (hamstring) won't be back this week after all and Carl Crawford (hamstring) figures to miss another 2-3 weeks, so any Yasiel Puig-fueled outfield crunch in Los Angeles will wait a while. Obviously, Puig is locked into playing regularly until Crawford returns, and there won't be any taking him out of the lineup beyond that if he keeps hitting like this. As for whether he will or not, I still have my doubts, though he's so far done a better-than-expected job of laying off bad breaking balls. The power is obviously for real.

While Puig has been stinging the ball, Andre Ethier has floundered, going 3-for-27 this month. He hasn't driven in a run since May 20. Not only do the Dodgers need more for him so that they can win some games, but they'd certainly like to see him build some trade value over the next month. He's going to receive regular playing time for as long as Crawford out, but he can't take anything for granted beyond that.

Puig's emergence will be bad news for Scott Van Slyke, who hit six homers in his first 55 at-bats without receiving quite as much fanfare. Van Slyke is starting in left field for now, but he'll probably be limited to playing against lefties once Kemp makes it back.

- Logan Morrison (knee) came off the DL on Sunday and Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring) will follow on Monday, making Marcell Ozuna the Marlins' new center fielder. Fortunately for Justin Ruggiano and Juan Pierre, Chris Coghlan's calf forced him to the DL on Sunday, otherwise Coghlan might have been looking at getting the bulk of the time in left. Now those two will battle for at-bats for a little while. Eventually, Christian Yelich will supersede all of them, yet he just went back on Double-A Jacksonville's DL with an abdominal strain. Regardless, those counting on Pierre for stolen bases need to prepare themselves for the likelihood that he might be a twice-a-week guy after the All-Star break.

- Shame on the Padres for trying to send down Kyle Blanks last week to make room for Cameron Maybin when he had been arguably their best hitter to date. Given a reprieve by the Yonder Alonso hand injury, he made the decision look particularly foolish with homers in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. Blanks may well be a better player than either Alonso or left fielder Carlos Quentin, and if he keeps hitting while Alonso is out, he should get a long look in right field afterwards.

- The Brewers' Jim Henderson (hamstring) came off the DL prior to Sunday's game and will get his closing gig back, though manager Ron Roenicke indicated that he'd probably be eased back into action with a couple of middle relief appearances first. It makes sense to hold on to Francisco Rodriguez for at least another week.

- Congrats to Roenicke on proving his point and sitting Rickie Weeks for three days after he homered and tripled on Monday. As frustrating as Weeks can be to own in fantasy leagues, it must be 10 times as bad to sit there and watch him from the dugout during one of his slumps. But to sit him in favor of Scooter Gennett when he might finally be heating up is crazy, and Roenicke lessens his team's chances every time he does it. If not for a couple of 0-for-1s, Weeks would be riding a 12-game hitting streak right now.

- Ike Davis is swinging the bat better now than he was a two or three weeks ago, but the Mets finally decided to send him down Sunday. Mike Baxter, who went 0-for-4 in his first start in 11 days, got dropped, too. There's no official word as of this writing, but it seems like a given that Josh Satin will get one of those two spots after hitting .306/.421/.491 in 216 at-bats for Triple-A Las Vegas. In truth, he's a platoon guy against left-handers at best. The Mets, though, might as well give him a look as a regular and try to catch lightning in a bottle. He's worth picking up in NL-only leagues.

- While it's a given that Rick Ankiel wasn't the answer for the Mets, there's little reason to expect Kirk Nieuwenhuis will be much of an upgrade. His .232/.339/.486 line with 40 strikeouts in 36 games in Triple-A wouldn't have been very impressive even before accounting for the fact that he played in Las Vegas half of the time. On the road, he hit .173/.295/.373 in 18 games. I also don't understand why the Mets have Juan Lagares up and only playing against left-handers. He's just 24 and clearly not ready for the majors. He needs at-bats, and he's not getting them while platooning for the Mets. If they didn't want to option him down, then they should have just made him the full-time center fielder and kept Ankiel as a reserve.

- Tony Cingrani is going to get another look in place of Johnny Cueto in the Reds' rotation and is worth playing in all formats. He'll start Tuesday. Cingrani had allowed four runs and struck out 23 in 17 innings since being sent back down to Triple-A. Between the majors and minors, he has a 90/20 K/BB ratio in 64 1/3 innings this year.

- Tyler Moore hasn't been getting the job done against lefties, so the Nationals may hold on to Chris Marrero for a while after calling him up Sunday. The injury-plagued former first-round pick was hitting .306/.355/.502 for Triple-A Syracuse. Unfortunately, that came with a reverse platoon split; he was hitting .303/.329/.424 against lefties. First baseman Adam LaRoche isn't one of the Nationals struggling against lefties, so it's hard to imagine Marrero possessing any fantasy value.

- You'll want Stephen Strasburg (lat) active this week. Barring a setback in his simulated game Tuesday, he will come off the disabled list and start Sunday.

- Mixed leaguers should bench Pablo Sandoval this week based on the possibility that his foot injury will put him on the disabled list. NL-only leaguers in need of at-bats could give Juan Perez a try. The third baseman-outfielder was called up by the Giants after hitting .296 with nine homers and 12 steals for Triple-A Fresno.

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