PT TOMORROW: AL West—Down the stretch...

Oakland Athletics

Firmly entrenched at or near the AL West bottom and facing a system thinned out by trades and injuries, the A's will use these final six weeks as an opportunity to get a first-look at a few of their better prospects. And entering 2016, all of Renato Nunez (3B/1B, OAK), Matt Olson (1B/OF, OAK) and Chad Pinder (SS, OAK) had full Double-A seasons under their belts, along with performances that hinted at readiness for a September debut at the very least. But these names have either stalled or underperformed badly at Triple-A—and even recently, only Nunez has perked, with a .352 BA and 3 HR through 54 August AB. Still, given his overall BB/K regression (26/94 BB/K) and .242 BA YTD, anticipating a Nunez call-up would be a mistake. Add service time considerations into the mix, and it's extremely difficult to project big offensive contributions coming from anyone not already on the 25-man roster—although Pinder will get a shot, per late-breaking Tuesday news of his promotion.

OAK pitching prospects might be better speculations over these final weeks, partly due to a collapsing rotation, and also because a couple of names are turning heads down the stretch. Recently-acquired Jharel Cotton (RHP, OAK) has been nothing but impressive since coming over from LA, allowing just four runs while posting a 21/3 K/BB over 21 IP in three starts. Cotton has terrific stuff, as suggested by 140 Ks in 118 Triple-A IP. His 19 HR allowed say that poor command and gopheritis remain issues—and with some effort to his delivery, some observers predict a bullpen career. But the A's are more likely to give Cotton a long look as a starter before that happens.

Raul Alcantara (RHP, OAK) has allowed just three runs over 31 IP with fine command (22/3 K/BB, one HR allowed) since his recent Triple-A promotion, which could also get MLB consideration. But now after coming off of Tommy John surgery, Alcantara has already thrown 121 IP compared to 48 IP in 2015—and may be bumping up against his limit. Cotton's lengthy Triple-A exposure and his superior bat-missing ability make him a better bet for some September starts. 


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Seattle Mariners

Entering Tuesday, the Mariners were winners of 11 of their last 13 games since August 2, and suddenly just two games out of a wild-card spot. And the Mariners received good news out of the bullpen on several fronts. First is Steve Cishek's (RHP, SEA) seemingly quick recovery from a small labrum tear in his hip. Cishek made his first rehab appearance August 15 in A-ball, allowing a run but whiffing three in his lone inning of work, suggesting that he could be ready to return well before the end of the month, and perhaps sooner. Despite 25 saves, a 3.9 Cmd and a 3.40/3.17 ERA/xERA, Cishek was removed from the closer role immediately following back-to-back late-inning disasters in late July—and immediately before he landed on the DL. But though Mgr Scott Servais commented then that the move wasn't necessarily permanent, Cishek's return to the ninth inning is hardly guaranteed.

The reason for this is the performance of current closer Edwin Diaz (RHP, SEA) who has been perfect in seven save attempts in Cishek's absence, allowing just a single earned run over 8 IP with an 11/1 K/BB thus far in August. Overall, high-90s velocity, 1.64 ERA and ridiculous 21% SwK through 33 IP suggest he's more than capable of holding down the job. Cishek's injury, lesser stuff and six blown saves—not to mention SEA's current tear when every game counts—suggest that the Mariners aren't likely to make a change immediately, if at all.

That said, the Mariners are likely to employ an all-hands on-deck approach down the stretch, and ex-minor-league starter Diaz could be required for high-leverage situations prior to the ninth, and even some multi-inning appearances. Another late-inning weapon may be Tony Zych (RHP, SEA), a dark-horse closer candidate entering the season following his 18 IP, 24/3 K/BB, 2.45 ERA debut from 2015. Zych is also reportedly heading out on a rehab assignment after missing most of the season with rotator cuff tendinitis, which makes him inherently unreliable over the short-term. But if he returns at full-strength, Zych is another name that will make the back of the SEA pen worth watching over these final weeks.

 

Houston Astros

Following a resurgence vs. the AL's worst pitching staff in MIN, the offense continued to sputter, scoring just nine runs in a three-game series vs. TOR. And there was more bad news in terms of outfield depth, as it was announced that Colby Rasmus (OF, HOU) would be out a month or more following surgery to remove a cyst from his ear. Rasmus' recent 3-for-66 performance makes us wonder how much he'll play if and when he returns, though expanded rosters and offensive issues could still offer opportunity.

Rasmus' shelving and Carlos Gomez's DFA following last week's piece leaves LF and CF in the hands of Jake Marisnick, Tony Kemp (OF, HOU) and newly-promoted blank slate Teoscar Hernandez, with whomever produces over the near-term winning more AB. Now seeing strong-side platoon AB in LF, the left-handed-hitting Kemp's historical plate skills and .288 BA, .367 OBP and 12% bb% vR over 52 AB—7-for-24 (.292 BA) with three walks since his August promotion—would seem to give him the best chance of sticking and producing, despite sub-par HR power.

The big question remains the positioning of Alex Bregman (3B, HOU) following Luis Valbuena's return from the DL and Yulieski Gurriel's eventual promotion from the minors. After a slow start, Bregman's 11-for-39 (.282 BA) with three walks are keeping him in the lineup. But with Gurriel ticketed for 3B, left-field looks more and more like a potential destination for Bregman. And despite playing some center-field at AAA-Fresno, Kemp has yet to be trusted there in HOU. To be continued.   

 

Texas Rangers    

While Prince Fielder's retirement and now Shin-Soo Choo's fractured forearm immediately benefit the playing time prospects of Jurickson Profar, Delino Deshields and recently-recalled Ryan Rua, don't dismiss Joey Gallo (3B, TEX). Still splitting his time between third-base and first-base at AAA-Round Rock, Gallo will likely join the Rangers when rosters expand in September, if not before. And with MLB time in left field as well as both infield corners, a left-handed 80-power bat (on the 20/80 scale) should see plenty of opportunity to do damage during the season's final five weeks.

More importantly over the longer haul, Fielder's departure and the pending free agency of first-baseman Mitch Moreland leaves the 2017 1B/DH spots wide open for Gallo, whose power-and-patience profile will fit in a strong-side platoon role at the very least. Gallo's .252 BA and 60% ct% in Triple-A remain problematic. But his thump, pitch recognition skills (23 HR, 64 BB through 290 AB) and development age more than compensate, as long as one doesn't expect too much too soon. If the Gallo owner in your keeper league is tired of waiting and/or has too many swing-and-miss types on his roster, now may be the time to give him a call.

 

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Entering Tuesday with the division's worst record and worst farm system, the Angels will play out the string and look toward 2017. And something they'll try to determine over the season's balance is whether anyone in the current organization can fill the left-field back hole going forward. A first-baseman by trade, Ji-Man Choi (1B/OF, LAA) has been the primary LF over recent weeks, posting a horrific .185 BA over a small sample 81 2H AB. That said, Choi's 9% bb%, 79% ct% and .278 xBA speak to something better; his biggest problem has been a 17% h%. And Choi's 2H power metrics—5 HR, 134/141 PX/xPX—are encouraging. He has work to do defensively.

With C.J. Cron (1B/DH, LAA) likely returning from a fractured hand soon and well before initially anticipated, interim first-baseman Jefry Marte (1B/3B/OF, LAA) may also see more outfield reps. Marte is similar to Choi in that he's not a natural OF, and in fact DH may be his best position. Marte isn't as patient (5% bb%) as Choi, but he makes similar contact and with more proven power. Marte has also hinted recently at more offensive upside in a small sample, posting a .269/.271 BA/xBA, 79% ct%, 136 HctX, 4 HR, and a 140/142 PX/xPX through 67 2H AB.

Both Nick Buss and Gregorio Petit have seen left-field time recently, though neither is a serious candidate for more full-time play due primarily to sub-par secondary skills. On the surface, a more interesting name might be Kaleb Cowart (3B, LAA), the still-just-24-year-old prospect. Though currently blocked at third base by Yunel Escobar, Cowart has seen some outfield time in the past and is athletic enough to make the transition. But despite another .285 BA, Cowart's plate skills (35/96 BB/K through 403 AB) and power (9 HR) have improved little at hitter-friendly AAA-Salt Lake City—and he's whiffed in 20 of his 50 ABs in limit MLB exposure. At the risk of repeating ourselves, it's not a great system in which to find end-of-season fantasy contributors.   


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