Just a couple of weeks ago, we heard MLB general managers making the standard excuses about why their top prospects weren't quite ready for the big leagues. However, the tone has magically changed over the past few days. It's no coincidence.
In recent years, we became accustomed to top prospects being called up at the end of May or early June, but details of the new collective bargaining agreement changed the calendar a bit. As always, it's all about gaming service time.
In Anthony Rizzo's case, the Cubs wanted to get an extra year of team control. While the 22-year-old first baseman still figures to qualify for arbitration as a Super Two player thanks to appearing in 49 games with the Padres last year, he will now remain under team control through 2018 as opposed to 2017. As for Trevor Bauer, the Diamondbacks have virtually assured that he will not have enough service time to qualify for Super Two status following the 2014 season.
The Nationals were also strategic in the way they called up Bryce Harper. Because they waited until late April to make the move, they will now have him under team control through 2018. Had the 19-year-old outfielder made the team right out of spring training, they would have risked him hitting free agency a year earlier.
With most of these service time concerns in the rear-view mirror, we should see a wave of prospects make their way to the majors in the coming days, weeks and months. That's really good news for fantasy owners. Tyler Skaggs, Danny Hultzen, Matt Harvey, Wil Myers, Mike Olt, Jake Odorizzi, Ryan Wheeler and Jedd Gyorko are among the names I have my eye on for the second half.
Bobby Parnell RP, Mets (Yahoo: 27 percent owned, ESPN: 34.2 percent)
After Frank Francisco landed on the disabled list on Sunday with an oblique strain, Mets manager Terry Collins wasted no time by naming Parnell as his replacement at closer. You may remember that Parnell auditioned for the job after the All-Star break last year and fell flat on his face, but given the underwhelming alternatives in a pretty terrible bullpen, he should have a pretty lengthy leash in the interim. The hard-throwing right-hander has a 3.19 ERA and 31/8 K/BB ratio over 31 innings this season and deserves to be owned in most formats.
Trevor Bauer SP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 44 percent owned, ESPN: 44 percent owned)
This should be fun. After months of anticipation, Bauer is scheduled to make his major league debut Thursday against the Braves. I have some concerns about his control (4.6 BB/9), but the 21-year-old right-hander has been unhittable in the minors this season, posting a 2.23 ERA and 116 strikeouts over 93 innings between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno. And while it's a rough development for the Diamondbacks, Daniel Hudson's torn ulnar collateral ligament means that Bauer should have a rotation spot even after Joe Saunders returns from a shoulder strain. My guess is he'll face an innings limit eventually, but he's worth a speculative add in all formats on potential alone.
Jared Burton RP, Twins (Yahoo: 11 percent owned, ESPN: 10.1 percent)
When Matt Capps first went down with right shoulder inflammation, most fantasy owners rushed to the waiver wire to pick up talented set-up man Glen Perkins. It was an understandable impulse, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has flipped the script on fantasy owners by giving Burton each of the last two save chances. Perhaps it shouldn't be much of a surprise, as Burton has the advantage of being right-handed. Finally healthy, he also owns a solid 2.90 ERA and 29/6 K/BB ratio in 31 innings this year and has induced ground balls 46.4 percent of the time. Perkins should still get a look in certain matchups and is well worth owning if you're scrounging for saves, but Burton appears to have the edge right now.
Stephen Drew SS, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 24 percent owned, ESPN: 15.7 percent)
After missing more than 11 months following right ankle surgery, Drew finally returned to the Diamondbacks' lineup on Wednesday night, finishing 1-for-4 with a strikeout. Happy now, Ken Kendrick? The 29-year-old shortstop is expected to get regular rest over the first couple of weeks, so fantasy owners will have to be patient initially, but he could prove to be a savvy addition if he feels comfortable and shakes the rust at the plate. And let's be real here, it won't take much for Drew to be relevant at the shortstop position.
Bud Norris SP, Astros (Yahoo: 42 percent owned, ESPN: 35.8 percent)
It seems some fantasy owners dumped Norris on the waiver wire after he was placed on the disabled list earlier this month with a left knee sprain. The 27-year-old right-hander is scheduled to return to the Astros' rotation Friday against the Cubs, so there's no better time than now to rectify that. While Norris has a 4.81 ERA on the year, he still has an impressive 81/28 K/BB ratio over 73 innings and has allowed three runs or less in nine out of his 13 starts. He should be useful in all formats the rest of the way.
Luke Scott OF/1B, Rays (Yahoo: 16 percent owned, ESPN: 17.5 percent)
Another player who has fallen off the fantasy radar due to injury, Scott is on track to return from the disabled list Thursday. The 34-year-old struggled after getting off to a great start in April, but he still has nine homers and 35 RBI in just 177 at-bats. With Matt Joyce on the disabled list and Hideki Matsui scuffling, Scott shouldn't have any trouble finding regular at-bats in the short-term. I prefer him as a plug-and-play option against right-handed starters, but his pop and multi-position gives him plenty of appeal outside of shallow leagues.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! and ESPN.com leagues)
Wilson Betemit 1B/3B/OF, Orioles (Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 0.7 percent)
No, Betemit is not going to save your fantasy team, but he can still be useful in deeper leagues. Thanks to a red-hot June, the 30-year-old is hitting .265 with 10 homers and 30 RBI over his first 200 at-bats this season. He's currently riding a seven-game hitting streak which has helped raise his batting average by 30 points. Betemit has been awful against left-handed pitching for two years running, so he's best utilized in a daily format, but his multi-position eligibility should come in handy.
Franklin Gutierrez OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 3 percent owned, ESPN: 3.1 percent)
After missing the first two months of the season due to a torn pectoral and plantar fasciitis in his right heel, Gutierrez is hitting .256 (11-for-43) with two homers, two doubles and nine RBI over his first 12 games. It's a good sign for the 28-year-old center fielder, who had just one home run in 322 at-bats last season while playing through a stomach ailment and an oblique injury. Keep in mind that Gutierrez is a .256 career hitter and has an underwhelming 6.6 percent career walk rate, so the upside is limited, but he has shown an ability to reach double-digits in homers and steals in the past. He's worth considering in five-outfielder formats.
Marco Estrada SP/RP, Brewers (Yahoo: 1 percent owned, ESPN: 0 percent)
One week after mentioning Estrada under my NL-only recommendations, I'm ready to give him a shot on the mixed league side. I mean, why the heck not? In his return from the disabled list Tuesday against the Reds, the 28-year-old right-hander struck out a career-high 12 batters while allowing three runs over six innings. While Estrada doesn't have overpowering stuff, you might be surprised to learn that he has 166 strikeouts over 166 innings in the big leagues. With Chris Narveson done for the season and Shaun Marcum nursing an elbow issue, he should continue to get chances in the Brewers' rotation. Estrada has the Marlins on tap next week, who enter play Thursday 27th in the majors in runs scored, so this is a good spot-start opportunity at the very least.
Andrew Cashner RP, Padres (Yahoo: 6 percent owned, ESPN: 0.7 percent)
The Padres sent Cashner down to the minor earlier this month to stretch him out as a starting pitcher. So far, so good. After posting an outstanding 1.88 ERA and 22/3 K/BB in 14 1/3 innings over three starts with Double-A San Antonio, the 25-year-old right-hander will be recalled to start Thursday against the Astros. I have some concerns about his control and his ability to hold up as a starter after a scare with his shoulder last season, but those in deeper leagues can afford to take a flier on his swing-and-miss stuff. Making half of his starts in the spacious PETCO Park will allow him to get away with some mistakes.
Luke Hochevar SP, Royals (Yahoo: 7 percent owned, ESPN: 1.4 percent)
Many bought in on Hochevar as draft day sleeper this spring following his strong second half last year, but he really burned fantasy owners by posting a 9.00 ERA over his first six starts. However, the 2006 No. 1 overall pick has turned things around quite nicely of late, compiling a solid 3.20 ERA and 50/16 K/BB ratio over his last nine starts. This includes his current streak of 16 2/3 scoreless innings. Could Hochevar make us all look silly again? I certainly wouldn't put it past him. But those in deeper formats can afford to ride the wave and see where it takes them.
Tyler Moore OF, Nationals (Yahoo: 1 percent owned, ESPN: 0.5 percent)
Dare I say it? It looks like Moore is going to make it after all. Sorry, terrible joke. After slugging his way up the organizational ladder, the 25-year-old has four homers over his first 52 major league at-bats, including a two-homer game earlier this month and a pair of bombs this week. He's playing mostly against left-handed pitching right now, but with starting left fielder Steve Lombardozzi really struggling this month, there has been talk of putting him in the lineup against righties, as well. If you're looking for fifth outfielder in a deeper league, he's a pretty good one to speculate on.
Ruben Tejada SS/2B, Mets (Yahoo: 7 percent owned, ESPN: 3.6 percent)
While his recovery from a quad strain took a bit longer than originally anticipated, Tejada finally returned from the disabled list on Sunday. The 22-year-old hasn't shown any signs of rust thus far, collecting five hits in 18 at-bats over his first four games. There isn't a ton of upside with Tejada at the moment since he doesn't have much power and isn't active on the basepaths, but he has a knack for making contact and gets on base at a solid clip. He should continue to bat near the top of the Mets' lineup, so there's value here. However, I like him best in leagues which use on-base percentage or where you can plug him in at a MI (middle infielder) spot.