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Farm Tracker: Checking in on Jharel Cotton and Matt Garza

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This weekend Jharel Cotton made his third start since returning to the OKC rotation, while Matt Garza made his second rehab start for Low-A Wisconsin. Their results were similar, but the impressions they left were very different.

MLB: Spring Training-Texas Rangers at Milwaukee Brewers Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s Farm Tracker checks on two players--one upper-level prospect and one rehabbing veteran--who might be able to help your fantasy team in some capacity later this season.

On Friday evening RHP Jharel Cotton took the mound for the Oklahoma City Dodgers (Dodgers) against the streaking Iowa Cubs (Cubs). Cotton entered the game as the reigning PCL Pitcher of the Week, so I thought his start would be well worth watching, and I was not disappointed.

The thing to watch with Cotton is his devastating plus-changeup. Sure enough, Iowa 2B Arismendy Alcantara, the game’s first batter, went down looking on a changeup. The next hitter, C Willson Contreras, struck out swinging on a breaking pitch, and Cotton was off and running. He set down 11 of the first 12 Iowa batters; one batter reached on an E6 but quickly was erased on a 6-3 double play. Through four innings Cotton had faced the minimum and had his fastball, changeup, and curveball working. He also mixed in a developing cutter.

Cubs 2B Dan Vogelbach broke up the no-hitter with a leadoff double in the fifth, but the real difficulties came one inning later. In the sixth, a leadoff walk to the Google-worthy SS Munenori Kawasaki, a sacrifice bunt, and a four-pitch walk to Alcantara set up a three-run home run by Contreras. Again, the thing to watch with Cotton is the changeup. Sometimes he falls in love with it. After getting ahead in the count, 0-2, he threw the changeup for a strike, but Contreras was sitting on the pitch and proceeded to drive it over the leftfield fence.

Cotton’s final line (6 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) is respectable enough, but it does not reflect the overall quality of his start. Fourteen of twenty-three first pitches went for strikes. He was in complete control until mistakes undid him in the sixth inning. Those mistakes, however, are part of the story with Cotton, for this was only the third time all season that he managed to pitch more than five innings in a start. Until the Dodgers allow him to go deeper into games, pitch count and durability will remain question marks.

Having spent several weeks pitching out of the bullpen, Cotton once again appears ticketed for an extended stay in the Oklahoma City rotation. Injuries, meanwhile, continue to mount in Los Angeles. Should he receive the opportunity, Cotton possesses the pitch-mix and strikeout potential to succeed as a Major-League starter. He’s not quite a must-add upon arrival, but he will be a solid option even in mixed leagues.

Much to the chagrin of Brewers fans and fantasy owners, RHP Matt Garza since the beginning of 2015 has been anything but solid. In 25 starts last season, Garza finished 6-14 with a 5.63 ERA. Opponents hit nearly .300 against him. He was expected to claim a spot in the 2016 Milwaukee rotation, but an injury at the end of the exhibition season has left him on the shelf until now. On Saturday evening he made his second rehab start with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Brewers) of the Low-A Midwest League.

Garza’s final line (4.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K) against the Kane County Cougars (Diamondbacks) suggests that he made a successful start, but the eye test suggested something different. After struggling with fastball command through most of last season, Garza surrendered a solo home run on a high fastball to Kane County 3B Fernery Ozuna. Starting in the third inning, his delivery looked awkward. He had trouble throwing strikes in any count and threw first-pitch balls to seven of the final eight hitters he faced; the eighth hitter swung at the first pitch. Twice Garza was saved when Wisconsin C Max McDowell gunned down Kane County baserunners trying to steal second. In total, he threw only 29 of 51 pitches for strikes, and most of those came in the first two innings, when he was more efficient.

It appears that Garza will make one more rehab start before rejoining the Milwaukee rotation, perhaps at the expense of RHP Wily Peralta. Delivering better numbers than Peralta’s should not be difficult, but if Garza is to make himself relevant in fantasy leagues he’ll have to discover much better and more consistent fastball command. Fantasy owners probably don’t need to be told this, but I’d steer clear until he does.