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MLB Skinny: Farm fresh

I'm coming off Closing Time duty and it's admittedly hard to motivate myself for a MLB Skinny so soon after posting something of a similar ilk. So I thought I would go a little minor league/prospect heavy here this week, since this is typically considered the opening of prospect season in MLB – Jenifer Langosch, a writer for MLB.com, explains why in her latest article about Pittsburgh prospects Pedro Alvarez(notes), Jose Tabata(notes) and Brad Lincoln(notes):

"By holding a prospect back for the first part of the season, teams put themselves in position to delay a player's first year of arbitration eligibility, because each year, the top 17 percent of players who have between two and three years of major league service time are eligible. The rest must wait to complete a third year. There isn't a defined cutoff date for this "Super Two" period, but it has usually fallen about a week from now."

Yes, major league managers and GMs can talk about a player's need to mature, but it's curious how that learning curve seems to so often last about two months into the season.

Alright, let's get to the weekly trip around the diamond …

CORNER INFIELD

Brett Wallace(notes) has a hit in 15 of his past 16 games for Triple-A Las Vegas and owns an OPS mark of .983, which is tied for sixth in the PCL. Meanwhile, in Toronto, first baseman Lyle Overbay(notes) has yet to step to the plate at any point this season with his batting average above the Mendoza Line. But as I stated in last week's Skinny, Wallace's manager said his young thumper was still a month or two away from being ready to be an everyday first baseman. It still looks like Wallace could be in Vegas until the All-Star break, or even the trading deadline.

Pedro Alvarez has been hot of late, with 5 HRs in his past 16 games and a batting average north of .300 in May at Triple-A Indianapolis. But as Langosch explains in her column (linked above), Alvarez's call-up does not appear imminent and won't likely happen before June. Alvarez's plate work against southpaws has been uninspiring and Pittsburgh has not started laying the groundwork for a promotion – like starting to give Andy LaRoche(notes) work at second base in preparation for Alvarez taking over at the hot corner.

Logan Morrison(notes), the Marlins' No. 2 prospect for 2010, according to Baseball America, narrowly lost out in spring training to Gaby Sanchez(notes) for the team's starting first base job. And while Sanchez has taken off in the month of May (.881 OPS in 15 games), Morrison has sat all month because of a bruised shoulder that is likely to keep him out of action for Triple-A New Orleans until the end of the month. Morrison may have to make a switch to the outfield if Sanchez continues to progress as he has. Or, if the team falls far enough back in the NL East race, trading Sanchez is a possibility.

Here's my top 5 of the 5-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Conor Jackson(notes) (Hitting only .240 in first seven games back from DL but still the most upside in the bleak sub-five percent group)
2. Eric Hinske(notes) (In the "get 'em while they're hot department," Hinske hitting .417 in May as he's seeing regular playing time in the ATL outfield). 3. Edwin Encarnacion(notes) (Returning from the DL on Tuesday and is expected to get his everyday 3B job back now that Travis Snider(notes) is on the DL with a sprained wrist).
4. Lyle Overbay (Yeah, the BA is obviously terrible but he does have just two fewer RBIs than Ryan Howard(notes) and Toronto isn't going to sit him anytime soon)
5. Andy LaRoche (In this group, something to be said for being a regular lineup fixture)

MIDDLE INFIELD

Freddy Sanchez(notes) (12-percent owned) is expected to return from a shoulder injury this week. He's been at Single-A San Jose on a rehab assignment, where he's gone 6-for-9 with five doubles in his first three games. Sanchez is an ideal No. 2 hitter who owns a career .299 batting average. He should settle back in near the top of the Giants' order and has more value right now as a fantasy commodity than more-highly owned second basemen Felipe Lopez(notes), Skip Schumaker(notes) and Clint Barmes(notes) or Maicer Izturis(notes), if owners happen to be playing the latter two at second base.

Scott Sizemore(notes) was sent back to Triple-A on Saturday after producing just a .206 BA (and .289 SLG%) in 97 ABs with Detroit this season. Taking his place on the roster was Danny Worth(notes), who went 1-for-3 in his major league debut on Sunday. Worth is a light-hitting stop-gap at second base for Detroit – it has been announced that once Carlos Guillen(notes) returns from the DL (slated for late May), he'll likely be moved to second base. Guillen has a hard time staying healthy, but he's always been able to hit, and his bat plays much better at second base in fantasy. Guillen's only owned in 4 percent of Yahoo! leagues, so he's available in a lot of deep leagues for owners that may be in the market for a 2B upgrade. If you can afford a bench spot for a couple weeks, go grab Guillen now.

Here's my top 5 of the 5-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Carlos Guillen (For the long-term good of my 2B spot, I'd be willing to add him now and wait)
2. Mark Ellis(notes) (According to reports, Ellis could rejoin the A's next weekend following a rehab assignment for Class A Stockton this week)
3. Reid Brignac(notes) (Has maintained productivity despite fluctuating playing time)
4. Luis Castillo(notes) (Same old story – you know you'll get respectable BA, some SBs and Runs)
5. Willy Aybar(notes) (Has a couple of home runs in past week and is seeing more DH time with Pat Burrell(notes) out of the picture)

STARTING PITCHER

Jeremy Hellickson(notes) might be the top pitching prospect not named Stephen Strasburg(notes). He's sitting at 6-1 with a 2.93 ERA and a 49/9 K-to-BB ratio for Triple-A Durham – in his most recent outing, he allowed no runs or walks and struck out 11 in six innings against Columbus. Hellickson is now 12-2 with a sub-3.00 ERA in more than 100 innings at the Triple-A level, so he's clearly ready for his first big league shot. Unfortunately, there's no room at the inn. The Rays have used only five starters this season and not one of them currently has an ERA higher than 3.38. Be it injury, or Wade Davis'(notes) luck, something will eventually give. And when it does, you'll want to be quick to Hellickson.

Here's my top 5 of the 50-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Mike Leake(notes) (Mixmaster Mike is living on the edge, as in painting his pitches down and away, and is 6-of-7 in Quality Starts)
2. Ted Lilly(notes) (Getting by with a subpar fastball, but that should only improve as he builds strength over time)
3. Mat Latos(notes) (Just three hits allowed, no walks and no runs in past 17 IP)
4. Carl Pavano(notes) (Like Leake, six of his seven outings have been Quality Starts, and striking out nearly five hitters for ever walk)
5. Kris Medlen(notes) (Taking Jair Jurrjens(notes) spot in the rotation; love the 20:3 K-to-BB ratio)

OUTFIELD

Andy Behrens issued this Desmond Jennings alert on Friday and mentioned that Jennings would only get call-up consideration in the near-term if the team decides to move Ben Zobrist(notes) to second base on a regular basis. And I think there's a good shot at that happening, but with Matt Joyce(notes) (elbow) embarking on a rehab assignment that could also have him back in the Tampa mix soon, it could be Joyce who gets the next outfield shot in Tampa. Either way, expect Sean Rodriguez(notes) to be on his way to Triple A soon to make room on the Rays' roster.

Mike Stanton(notes) has gone six games without a home run for Double-A Jacksonville, his longest dry spell of the season. But the hype and anticipation for Stanton's arrival in Florida is far from drying up. Last Thursday, the Miami Herald's Clark Spencer wrote a column about Stanton that takes the prospect's promotion to a new level. In the story you'll find the claim that Stanton's bat speed trumps that of Albert Pujols(notes), and you'll see Jacksonville pitching coach Jeff Allison's quote about what it sounds like when Stanton hits a ball – "The ball off his bat is a different sound. It's like dropping a huge wooden rocking chair from 200 feet and hearing it crash into the ground. That's the sound the ball makes on his bat. And the ball travels. He can hit the ball over the wall, off the wall, and through the wall."

The column concludes, like everyone else has, that it's not going to be long before Stanton is gracing the Marlins' outfield. Jacksonville's GM has a Mike Stanton jersey night promotion set for May 29th because, as he says, "We figured we didn't want to wait longer than that."

Here's my top 5 of the 5-percent (and under) crowd:
1. Conor Jackson
2. Nate Schierholtz(notes) (Getting regular PT and his .857 OPS validates his regular spot in the lineup)
3. Coco Crisp(notes) (Return from broken pinky should happen by this weekend)
4. Lastings Milledge(notes) (.282 in May with 8 RBI and 2 SB in 12 games)
5. Michael Saunders(notes) (Punchless M's can't afford to sit Saunders and his .296 BA right now)

CATCHER

Aubrey Huff(notes) said he'd be willing to move to the outfield if the Giants want to promote Buster Posey(notes) (.985 OPS at Triple-A Fresno) to play first base. Posey once played all nine positions on the diamond in a single game for Florida St., so he's definitely got the versatility to handle a move from behind the plate. But, reading between the lines of Giants head coach Bruce Bochy, it doesn't sound like Posey is close to being promoted and if Huff is to move to the outfield, it's more likely to be because Edgar Renteria(notes) is returning from the DL and moving Pablo Sandoval(notes) to first base would allow the team to keep Juan Uribe(notes) in the lineup (at 3B). The ETA for Posey is likely to be sometime in June, at the earliest.

The latest thing Cleveland has Carlos Santana(notes) working on at Triple-A is his conversations with an umpire. Said manager Manny Acta, "We are doing everything possible to get this guy ready for when he comes over here. We are simulating situations such as having discussions with the umpires and talking to pitchers on the mound. " This is merely more posturing by the Indians while they wait for the service time issue to pass, at which point Santana gets an immediate promotion. Count on it.

Recent rumors have the Rangers interested in Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski(notes). Consider this speculation that has some teeth. Not only is Chicago pretty much sunk in the standings while sitting on one of the top power hitting catching prospects in the game in Tyler Flowers(notes) (.901 OPS at Triple-A Charlotte), but the soon-to-be-free agent Pierzynski is also closing in on a no-trade trigger in his contract and making a move now would save the White Sox millions of dollars. However, Texas is in the process of being sold, which could ultimately be the fly in the trade ointment. While you wait for a Posey, Santana or Flowers to arrive, I'd suggest you kick the tires on Rangers backstop Max Ramirez(notes), who has 2 HRs in his past four games. It was only a couple years ago that Ramirez slugged 17 HRs and hit .354 in 69 games at Double-A. And it looks like Texas is giving him favored playing time over Matt Treanor(notes) at the moment.

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