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Second-Half Spark Plugs

Well, it’s the last day of June. There are still three more months of baseball to play before the post-season begins, but a few teams can all but pack it in. Today, we’re going to take a look at the five teams that have the misfortune of being the furthest down in the standings. I am going to highlight one minor league player for each club that could (should) come up in the second half of the season and offer a spark for fantasy baseball managers in dire need of some help.

The Arizona Diamondbacks (18.5 games back):
Arizona’s No. 5 pitchers have been downright awful this season and No. 5 starter Jon Garland has not been much better. If it eats a little salary, the club might be able to spin 2008/09 free agent signee Garland (who’s on a one-year deal) to a playoff contender before the trading deadline. Right-handed pitcher Cesar Valdez is having a nice season in triple-A and is the top option to receive a look in the second half of the year. He has modest fastball velocity, but Valdez possesses a plus changeup, a pretty good splitter and knows how to change speeds. So far this season in triple-A, he has allowed 72 hits in 76 innings of work. He also has a walk rate of just 2.72 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 6.16 K/9. He’s not flashy, but Valdez should be a more-than-adequate No. 4 starter for an organization that lacks premium prospects at the upper levels of the farm system.

The Washington Nationals (17.5 games back):
We’ve already seen quite a few young pitchers perform for the Nationals this season and the organization is still recovering (especially in the upper minors) from years of MLB control, which hampered draft budgets. With starting pitchers like Craig Stammen and Ross Detwiler having modest-at-best results, the club could still afford to take a look at a couple triple-A hurlers who have yet to receive a taste of the Majors this season: Collin Balester and J.D. Martin. I won’t get into Martin’s case too heavily, since Dave took a look at the former Cleveland prospect the other day over on the FanGraphs side of the site and made a pretty convincing argument for his promotion. Balester, on the other hand, made 15 starts for the 2008 Nationals and showed that he still had work to do after allowing 92 hits in 80 innings and posting an ERA of 5.51 (5.11 FIP). This season in triple-A, he’s still been a little too hittable with 89 hits allowed in 81.1 innings, but he’s trimmed his home run problem from a rate of 1.60 to 0.33 HR/9. Balester has also trimmed his 2008 triple-A FIP of 4.92 down to 3.59 this season.

The San Diego Padres (15 games back):
PETCO Park and Mat Latos just might be a match made in heaven. The 21-year-old right-hander has been absolutely dominating in the minors this season – originally in high-A ball and now in double-A. In 11 combined appearances, the hurler has a 1.28 ERA and has allowed just 37 hits in 63.1 innings of work. At double-A, he has a walk rate of 2.13 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 9.00 K/9. His FIP is 1.99. Latos, though, is a fly ball pitcher (despite allowing just one homer this season). It helps that he has a repertoire that includes a fastball that can touch 97 mph, a wicked slider and a developing changeup. With help from PETCO’s larger-than-average dimensions, he could be a very dominating pitcher in short order.

The Baltimore Orioles (13 games back):
The organization has already debuted the most highly-anticipated rookie of 2009 in catcher Matt Wieters. It also has outfielder Nolan Reimold making a legitimate charge at the Rookie of the Year award in the American League. With rookie starters Brad Bergesen and Koji Uehara also pitching well, you might think the high-level prospect cupboard would be bare, but it’s not. The triple-A rotation contains three promising rookie pitchers in Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and Troy Patton. Tillman, though, is probably the closest to being MLB-ready. The right-hander, unlike the other two hurlers, has spent the entire season in triple-A and he has posted a 2.97 ERA (2.80 FIP). Tillman has allowed 62 hits in 72.2 innings of work and he’s posted rates of 2.60 BB/9 and 9.29 K/9. His repertoire includes a low-90s fastball, plus curveball and good changeup.

The Cleveland Indians (12 games back):
You’ve already seen him once and he struggled a bit in his first taste of MLB action, but it’s hard to keep a good prospect down. Left-fielder Matt LaPorta hit just .190/.286/.286 in his first 13 MLB games, but he’s gone back down to the minors and worked hard. He’s trimmed his strikeout rate from more than 20% in his career down to 16.7%. The former college catcher has also continued to hit above .300 while also hitting the ball with authority (.219 ISO, 22.7 LD%). Sooner or later, the club is going to tire of Ben Francisco’s (lack of) hitting: .225/.303/.356 in 236 at-bats.