Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Baltimore might finally emerge from a half decade of decadence if the rumors regarding Syd Thrift's departure from the organization transpire. Under his short-sighted guidance, the Orioles gathered more semi-competent outfielders than pitchers, hurt those half-dozen decent pitchers by moving the fences closer to the field, and essentially negated one of the most vociferous home crowds in baseball. Their minor leagues are so barren that long-time AAA franchise Rochester disowned them after almost a half-century of affiliation, and all reports indicate that the Orioles were lucky that Ottawa even agreed to host their AAA team in 2003.
Among Orioles position players, only Tony Batista is guaranteed a starting spot at 3B, and a smart organization would slide him back to SS given their need for offensive improvement; expect him to stay at third. They may stay with Geronimo Gil at catcher, and Jerry Hairston, Jr., Brian Roberts, and Melvin Mora are the current favorites for middle infield jobs. Their OF/1B/DH situation is far more complicated, as the expensive contracts of Jeff Conine, David Segui, and Marty Cordova dictate their starting jobs. Jay Gibbons and Chris Richard both deserve regular playing time, however Gary Matthews, Jr. probably will stay in centerfield. Even assuming these six can share five jobs, Baltimore still lacks a place for Larry Bigbie, Luis Matos, or any other youngster with a chance of improving their woeful lineup.
Fortunately their pitching finally has a chance to improve following the discovery of Rodrigo Lopez and belated promotion of John Stephens. They should combine with Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson to provide an acceptable staff. However the Orioles should probably look to move Ponson and Johnson for offensive help, even if they can only acquire a couple of AA hitting prospects for each, and then target inexpensive free agents who they might be able to deal for more prospects in July. Not trading Scott Erickson when other teams reportedly expressed interest ranks as one of the worst moves of this past season, so Baltimore should probably let him either start or close for a month in the hope that some team offers to take his contract.
Barring that unlikely scenario, Jorge Julio should be able to hold their closing job indefinitely. Aside from the likelihood that Buddy Groom, Willis Roberts, B.J. Ryan, and Rick Bauer will start the season in middle relief, almost every bullpen spot might be available at some point in 2003. The Orioles lack a single proven star, and only Gibbons, Stephens, and Julio seem likely to own spots on the next Baltimore team in the playoffs. They can afford to audition anyone they please at this point, so nearly everyone on this list might get a look sometime during the season.
I don't expect a single prospect from the Orioles' minors to earn double-digit value next year.
Darryl Brinkley, 33, OF-R
Brinkley has never shown notable power or speed in his nine-year minor league career, and considering his age and limited upside, he'll be very lucky to even spend a few days in the majors. The Orioles obviously are not a team with many outfield openings, and since none of his skills look particularly impressive, he won't emerge as more than an occasional pinch-hitter even under the best of circumstances.
Napolean Calzado, 25, 3B-R
Calzado remains one of the better Baltimore prospects even though he gained three years in agegate last off-season, leaving him an older 25 instead of a young prospect of 22. While I don't see the offensive upside for Calzado that some scouts project, his speed alone could allow him to amass significant roto value if given an opportunity in the majors. He's a quality defender at 3B and SS, so he's most likely to develop as a utilityman unless he discovers previously non-existent power potential. Calzado's hit exactly 20 doubles in each of the last three years as he's risen from the Sally league to AA, so now I expect Baltimore will advance him to AAA, where he's unlikely to even hold a .600 OPS. When he eventually reaches the majors, consider him only if you need SB.
Howie Clark, 28, OF-L
Despite owning the best batting average of any Oriole with more than three at-bats and the fifth best OPS on the ballclub, Baltimore first demoted him after a month in the majors and then outrighted him off the 40-man roster in September. Clark spent nine years in the minors before dividing his 2001 season between Yucatan of the Mexican League and Chico of the Western League. His AAA career numbers include a 110:77 BB:K in 981 AB for an excellent 1.43 BB:K and .11 walk rate, so there's no question in my mind he deserves an extended look in the majors over veteran retreads like Ron Coomer or Dave McCarty. Clark would not hurt your fantasy team if you needed him as an injury backup, although unfortunately he lacks any power or speed potential.
Luis C. Garcia, 27, OF-R
The White Sox originally drafted Garcia in 1994, and after a few uneventful seasons in A-ball that included Tampa Bay selecting him in the 1998 minor league Rule 5 draft, the Rays loaned him to Mexico City for the last three years. Garcia demolished the Mexican League, compiling a .350 BA over 1000+ at-bats, along with over a .375 OBP and .570 SLG. He even stole 63 bases at a 76% success rate during those seasons. Baltimore signed him prior to this season, but I don't understand how he merited a call-up given his fairly horrendous numbers for Rochester. I think Garcia could emerge as a capable back-up in a couple of years, but he needs to head back to AA in 2003 if he expects to ever develop into a decent major leaguer.
Doug Gredvig, 23, 1B-R
Gredvig is probably the closest to the majors of the minor leaguers labeled as "prospects" at AA Bowie this season, although he's blocked by the major league depth at 1B and DH. After a 2001 season at A+ Frederick(Car) where he racked 57 extra-base hits despite a poor 37:125 BB:K in 484 AB, he's lost power this season while improving his plate discipline, suggesting he possesses enough batting skill to reach Baltimore. He really needs another year of AA to refine his swing, although his newfound patience might help him succeed at AAA. Nevertheless, he's unlikely to earn a promotion before September at the earliest, and I don't expect Baltimore to waste a 40-man slot on him given his limited tools.
Mike Moriarty, 28, SS-R
Despite signing the best class of minor league free agents in all of baseball with Rodrigo Lopez, Travis Driskill, Howie Clark, and Moriarty, the Orioles lacked the necessary patience with the offensive veterans. They demoted Moriarty on May 21st after only allowing him to play a total of 8 games over the first seven weeks of the season. He's a perfectly capable defensive replacement who deserves significantly more major league time in the future than a Donnie Sadler or Mike Caruso, and I wouldn't be afraid to roster Moriarty if I knew he'd find enough playing time to prevent his skills from stagnating.
Tim Raines, Jr., 23, OF-S
Instead of letting him develop in a second full season at A+ Frederick, Baltimore promoted Raines to AA, AAA, and even the majors last year to let him play in the same outfield as his dad; while a laudable goal, he's not developed in the last two years. Both his .34 BB:K and .07 walk rate are completely unacceptable for anyone with this little power, and his baserunning instincts are far below what we'd expect considering his dad's Hall of Fame career. Nap Calzado deserves a 40-man spot far more than Raines considering his positional flexibility and intelligent use of his speed, so I'm not sure if Raines, considering he's already 23, will ever deserve a starting job in the majors. He seems like a AAAA defensive backup at best unless his plate discipline suddenly improves.
Keith Reed, 24, OF-R
The Orioles' system is regarded so poorly that Reed, labeled their top prospect by Baseball America prior to 2001, was left unprotected and went unclaimed in last year's Rule 5 draft despite performing decently in 2001. I almost didn't even discuss him since he desperately needs another year of AA, but scouts continue to rate his tools among the best players in the system. Unfortunately he lacks any semblance of baseball skills, and he probably should still be in A-ball at this time. He's displayed little power, plate discipline, or baserunning instincts, and his best path to the majors would be in an organization that can rectify his weak batting skills. There's no reason to consider him a viable candidate for any spot on your fantasy team at this time.
Ed Rogers, 24, SS-R
We hope that his promotion to the majors at the end of the season was only for the Orioles to see that Rogers lacks any significant talent and should depart the 40-man roster. He didn't look like a true prospect when he was only turning 21 this year, and now at 24, his glaring lack of plate discipline practically eliminates any remaining potential for stardom. However he at least developed some power this year after an unwise promotion to AA, so if he concentrates on improving his limited skills, he might emerge as an infield reserve with some power off the bench. Of course that's still no reason for you to own him in the near future as he needs a second year of AA in 2003.
Steve Bechler, 22, RH Starter
Although Bechler appeared ready for AAA after an excellent 2001 season, he needed more time at AA to develop his dominance; he only managed a 13:6 K:BB in 23.2 IP before the Orioles kicked him to Rochester. His 1.5 K:BB and 4.6 K/9 are fairly terrible, and instead of considering him for a rotation spot in 2003, Baltimore needs to seriously consider starting him at AA again and only promoting him when he's striking out a batter an inning. While he might eventually wind up in the bullpen if his command doesn't improve, he deserves a couple more years in a rotation before the Orioles should consider that move. Avoid him until he shows good skill ratios in AAA.
Lesli Brea, 24/28?, RH Reliever
While Brea's probably 28 despite Baltimore continuing to list him at 24, he's compiled very impressive AAA stats over the last two years, including a 173:72 K:BB in 168.2 IP over 123 G with 161 H and 10 homers. The Orioles either need to promote him to their bullpen next year or allow him to leave the organization, since he possesses both the dominance and command necessary to pitch effectively in the majors. I'd be happy to roster him in deeper leagues as a middle reliever who shouldn't hurt you, and he might even develop into a late-blooming closer.
Mike Drumright, 28, RH Swingman
Detroit rushed him up the ladder after selecting him out of Wichita State University with the 11th pick of the 1995 draft, starting him at A+ Lakeland for all of 21 innings before a jump to AA. While he missed half of the 1996 season, he looked very promising when healthy, but then Detroit promoted him to AAA Toledo after 28.2 AA innings in 1997, and he never posted a K:BB better than 1.3 until last year when Florida moved him back to AA. He's finally fulfilling some of his potential now, displaying his best command since 1996, although he still doesn't appear ready for the majors. Drumright faces a tough decision in that he's unlikely to ever emerge as more than an occasional fifth starter, however he could find significant success if he shifts to the bullpen and focuses on improving his strikeout rate. He's not worth rostering until he moves to relief work.
Eric DuBose, 26, LH Reliever
After Oakland selected him with the 21st overall pick in 1997, he failed to progress beyond AA before changing teams three times in less than a year, winding up with Baltimore after missing all of 2001. They left him in relief at AA and he pitched so well that they assigned him to their AFL team this year. DuBose posted skill ratios of a 2.9 K:BB, 9.1 K/9, .3 HR/9, and 6.5 H/9, suggesting he could replace Buddy Groom in 2004 if needed. While I doubt he'll ever amass significant roto value, he looks like solid roster filler if he can maintain his dominance and command at upper levels.
Rafael Pina, 31, RH Swingman
After spending two years playing Rookie ball for Minnesota in 1991 and 1992, he spent five years in the Mexican League and one year in Taiwan before returning to Rochester in 1999. He's pitched most of the last four years with the Orioles, although he also briefly joined the Western and Mexican Leagues in 2001 before again returning to Baltimore. Pina's compiled better numbers in AAA over the last few years than he even managed with Mexico City, and considering his solid command this year, he might deserve a promotion to the majors in the near future. I'd like to see him spend the first half of next season exclusively in relief to see if his dominance improves, since otherwise he's unlikely to succeed if he receives that shot in the big leagues.
Aaron Rakers, 25, RH Reliever
He's currently with Baltimore's AFL team after dominating for a third straight year at AA. His career AA numbers include a 12-7 record and 32 Saves on 140:42 K:BB in 137.1 IP over 111 G with 112 H, 16 HR, and a 2.36 ERA, and I have absolutely no idea why he's not closing in AAA. I certainly like his potential to succeed at higher levels, although he'll need to post comparable skill ratios in AAA before you can comfortably roster him upon his eventual promotion.
Jay Spurgeon, 26, RH Starter
He missed half of last season after dislocating his left shoulder last July, although fortunately he only needed surgery on his non-pitching shoulder. Before the injury, he appeared rather effective at AAA with a 4.55 ERA on 61:27 K:BB in 87 IP with 85 H and 12 HR. The combination of the elevated homer and hit rates with his questionable dominance suggests he should consider a move to the bullpen in 2004 if he can't rebound next year. However he deserves one more year in Baltimore's AAA rotation to determine if he can regain the promise he showed before his injury.
Jeff Wilson, 26, LH Reliever
After two mostly unimpressive years of starting in the upper minors, Baltimore shifted him to the bullpen this season and should be pleased with the results. While his 7.8 K/9 is below the level of some of his teammates, there's nothing wrong with his 2.5 K:BB, .5 HR/9, or 7.1 H/9. He's not someone who I expect will reach the majors in 2003 barring an equally impressive AAA performance, but I like the overall skills he's displayed over the last few years. He might emerge as decent roster filler in the near future.
Jancy Andrade, 24, RH Swingman
He's now spent 8 years in the Baltimore system, so he might be one of the prize minor league free agents this winter. While Andrade appears to need about two seasons to master each level, all his 2002 skill ratios, including a 2.8 K:BB, 9.4 K/9, .9 HR/9, and 8.5 H/9, indicate that Baltimore might have a potentially excellent starter here. Although he was shelled in his one AA appearance, Andrade merits a full season at AA in 2003 to determine if he can continue developing in the upper minors. Depending on where he lands next year, he deserves consideration in deeper minor league drafts.
Erik Bedard, 23, LH Starter
Bedard had pitched only 242 innings over his three professional seasons before this season, but while he dominated AA until July, he missed the second half of this season and needed Tommy John surgery in August to repair a tear in his ulna collateral ligament. He'll miss most of next season and won't approach the majors until 2004, but after his performance at Bowie, his future looks very bright once he's healthy. He's only worth drafting in leagues where you can stash him on a minor league DL or something similar for 2003.
Bryan Bass, 20, A Delmarva(Sal) SS-S
Richard Bartlett, 21, A+ Frederick(Car) RH Starter
After two days of these articles, I see about a dozen minor leaguers I'd like to pick up in minor league drafts from Anaheim's system and not a single player I'm comfortable ranking highly on the Orioles. I'll be quite shocked if Baltimore reaches the playoffs in either of the next two years barring a sudden and unexpected desire by a half-dozen GMs to propel them back into contention. Do not target Orioles for wins, and generally avoid most of their pitchers except for Julio, Groom, and any starters that appear both healthy and effective.
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