Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Sox GM Kenny Williams dealt veterans Ray Durham, Kenny Lofton, Bobby Howry, and Sandy Alomar, Jr. to theoretically add pitching depth to the system, and yet he only added one impressive prospect from those trades. When Williams replaced Ron Schueler following Chicago's Division Championship in 2000, he immediately dismantled the core of the team, most notably adding Royce Clayton for "defensive improvement" over Jose Valentin, even though Valentin, despite more errors, displays much better range. The David Wells trade was another disaster, but at least he had the right idea, although he should have tried to move Parque. Unfortunately, between injury troubles, a terrible development system, and one sickening trade with Pittsburgh that cost Chicago two top starting prospects, Williams has depleted the fantastic minor league depth that Schueler left him. Now he's attempting to retool the franchise, and fortunately he possesses a couple of top prospects to help push the Sox towards contention, although they desperately need to add at least one competent veteran starter to avoid burning out Mark Buehrle.
Joe Crede established himself as a very promising third baseman and prospective team leader while Paul Konerko, D'Angelo Jimenez, and Jose Valentin complete an intriguing infield with both solid defense and above average offense at each position. Double-A catching stud Miguel Olivo should reach the majors for good sometime in 2003, and 2000 1st rd pick Joe Borchard will also take an outfield position next year. With Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas signed for a few more years, the only real offensive question is whether Borchard can play center, or if Willie Harris will take over there, shifting Borchard to left and Carlos Lee out of the organization as top trade bait.
Buehrle, Danny Wright, and Jon Garland all developed nicely this year, and with Jon Rauch nearly ready for the majors, Williams only needs to find one veteran. Greg Maddux would be an ideal choice to mentor this young staff, with Woody Williams and maybe even Paul Byrd as acceptable options. If they can't sign any of these three, Chicago needs to try to acquire an arbitration-eligible pitcher like Ryan Dempster, Paul Wilson, Brad Penny, or even Kevin Millwood, offering Carlos Lee if necessary.
Keith Foulke, Damaso Marte, and Antonio Osuna comprise one of the best short relief teams in the majors as long as everyone's role is clear, and Matt Ginter, Kelly Wunsch, and rookie Edwin Almonte should provide valuable contributions in middle relief. Either Rocky Biddle or Gary Glover can return as a long reliever since the need to avoid overworking the youngsters requires an extra reliever.
I expect Tony Graffanino, Jeff Liefer, and Aaron Rowand to return as bench help while Mark L. Johnson and Josh Paul should platoon at catcher until Olivo is ready, giving the Sox 24 solid players going into the off-season. All they really need to contend in 2003 is to add one established starting pitcher and good health, and given the relative youth of the team, the lack of premium prospects at the lower levels of the organization shouldn't hurt them. Kris Honel, their top pick in 2001, could be an ace, and 2002 1st rounder Royce Ring should rise very quickly to give Chicago a top lefty reliever.
The one glaring problem in the organization is its inability to develop pitching talent. Scouts love the arms that Chicago drafts, but the six pitching prospects at AA Birmingham with 10 or more starts combined for a horrendous 1.4 K:BB and unimpressive 5.8 K/9, and righty Delvis Lantigua was the best in both stats at 1.9 K:BB and 7.0 K/9. Historical odds indicate that at least a couple of their dozen middling young pitchers should develop into major league contributors, but the Sox need to fix their development system, particularly AA pitching coach Curt Hasler.
I'm also particularly unimpressed with AA manager Wally Backman even though he's frequently cited as a rising managerial prospect. Six Birmingham Barons stole 17 or more bases as the team amassed 220 total steals, but with only a 63% success rate, Backman cost them runs with his aggressive tendencies. He also allowed his team to total 130 sacrifice hits, a total greater than all but three major league teams despite playing in 22 less games. I'm stupefied that Birmingham finished with the best overall record in the Southern League, a testament to Backman's selfish focus on winning instead of player development. As a scrappy second baseman who won a World Series' ring with the '86 Mets, he only managed career numbers that included a .349 OBP and .339 SLG. Of course he also led the NL with sacrifice hits in 1985 and finished 3rd in that category in 1986, so he clearly seems blinded by the extent of his success. Backman appears the complete antithesis of a modern, sabermetrically-inclined manager, and until I see another explanation for both his offensive strategy and cadre of pitchers with weak command, I'll remain somewhat apprehensive of any prospect that spends a significant amount of time under his tutelage.
Joe Borchard, 23, OF-S
He missed the first month of the season after breaking his right foot in early March, but he still managed 73 extra-base hits this year. A .70 contact rate indicates he'll likely struggle if promoted to the majors at the beginning of 2003, although a .13 walk rate also demonstrates good patience. Borchard's production should rapidly improve if he can maintain his power as he shortens his swing. While I'd like to see him spend another couple of months in AAA until he can hold an OPS over .900, I wouldn't be surprised if he excels in Spring Training and earns a starting job immediately. Borchard possesses as much power potential as any minor leaguer and should approach $15 on his quantitative numbers alone when he's recalled.
Miguel Olivo, 24, C-R
I'm not sure whether I'm more impressed by his 29 successful steals or his 42 attempts, but Olivo's probable fantasy value only ranks behind Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez among minor league catchers. Scouts love his arm and he excelled in the AFL in 2001, however I'm somewhat concerned in that Olivo compiled these stats in his second full year of AA. He didn't noticeably improve his plate discipline and he showed less power, so only his improved BA and speed jump out at me. Of course his speed alone gives him significant roto value as a catcher, and he's worth owning in almost any fantasy league.
Edwin Almonte, 25, RH Reliever
While I don't know why the Sox didn't recall him in September, he continues to demonstrate excellent pitching skills and he's now dominated every level of Chicago's minor league system over the last five years. Almonte's shown so much talent that he absolutely deserves to break camp with the Sox regardless of the quality of his pitching in Spring Training. He could emerge as the closer by the end of April depending on Keith Foulke's situation, and while I'd prefer to see most relievers pitch effectively in the majors before recommending them, there's no visible flaw in Almonte's skill set. Most fantasy owners should be happy to roster him, and he's almost essential for Foulke's owner if Foulke exits Spring Training as the closer.
Jon Rauch, 24, RH Starter
The 6'11" future ace earned the fifth starter's job in Spring Training, but the Sox skipped his rotation turn whenever possible, generally providing a disastrous environment for him to recover from simple shoulder surgery in 2001. His AAA numbers indicate he's practically ready for the majors, although I'm also worried about his persistent home run problem and weaker ratios in BB:K and K/9 than he displayed prior to his injury. While I'd like to see him spend another month or two in AAA with Rocky Biddle or Gary Glover holding the 5th slot in the rotation until Rauch returns to dominating hitters, his upside also makes him an attractive target in fantasy drafts, especially in leagues that count strikeouts.
Scott Bikowski, 25, OF-L
Bikowski's poor .692 OPS demonstrates his obvious lack of power, but both a .15 walk rate and .85 BB:K suggest his plate discipline might keep him in the upper minors for the foreseeable future. I'm also somewhat impressed that he only committed 6 errors in 119 games in the outfield. Although there's nothing particularly appealing in his skills, the Sox liked him enough to complete a rare 2-for-2 trade of prospects last December, and he might emerge as a capable reserve outfielder in the next couple of seasons, especially since he could start 2003 in AAA.
Ryan Hankins, 26, 1B/3B-R
The main problem with Hankins is that his advancing age limits his already minimal power potential. He certainly lacks the power to develop as a first baseman and I don't expect the Sox will look to replace Joe Crede any time soon, leaving his path blocked in Chicago. Hitters like Hankins appear plentiful around AA, though at least his relatively solid plate discipline should keep him employed. Like Scott Bikowski, I could see Hankins receiving some time as a major league reserve if he impresses after reaching AAA.
Tim Hummel, 23, IF-R
Chicago's second round pick from 2000, he dominated A-ball after he signed and also displayed impressive skills last year in AA, even displaying solid power potential in a pitchers' park. He's a capable fielder at all four infield positions and only committed 12 errors in 142 games around the entire Charlotte infield. Unfortunately, while he appeared completely prepared for AAA, he bombed upon reaching the International League, and the presence of Jose Valentin, D'Angelo Jimenez, and Willie Harris ahead of him in Chicago has spurred suggestions that Hummel's only a utility infielder at best. However Chicago sent him to the AFL this year and I see nothing indicating that he's incapable of rebounding next season, making him an intriguing sleeper even as he currently lacks the tools to give him significant projectable value.
Darron Ingram, 26, OF/DH-R
Ingram showed nothing in his first AAA trial after eight years in the minors, compiling a woeful .566 OPS and terrible .63 contact rate. He at least continued to display both decent power and a solid walk rate of .13. The 26-year-old needs some team to commit to giving him an extended shot at AAA, preferably somewhere in the PCL to boost his power numbers, or he likely won't even reach AAAA status despite a career .463 SLG. I don't expect much from him in 2003, although he might see some duty as a major league injury replacement since his quantitative numbers should always attract attention from some organizations.
Aaron Miles, 25, 2B-S
I examined Miles about a month ago and didn't find him a particularly good candidate for a September call-up, but he definitely developed in his second year at Birmingham. His batting average, steals, and .89 BB:K earned him attention in the upper levels of Chicago management, and there's little wrong with 49 extra-base hits from a AA second baseman. However his 61% stolen base success rate is bad, a .08 walk rate indicates he needs to develop more patience, he committed 26 errors in 129 games, and he faces significant competition throughout the system. Miles should leave as a minor league free agent for an organization desperate to find the next David Eckstein, as while he lacks Eckstein's upside, only a solid couple of AAA months stand between Miles and a regular major league job.
Scott Morgan, 29, OF-R
Chicago acquired Morgan from the Padres for a PTBNL in late May when the Sox simply needed someone qualified to stand in a AAA outfield after a rash of injuries. He was a top prospect in the Cleveland organization until reaching AAA in 1999, where his lack of plate discipline finally curtailed his ascent. Morgan actually rebounded with AAA Salt Lake City last year, racking 70 extra-base hits and boosting his career minor league OPS to .880. He's certainly no longer a prospect, but I'll be shocked if he doesn't reach the majors in the near future, perhaps after a stint overseas to enhance his credentials. Anyone signing him can expect a few homers, a passable walk rate, and lots of strikeouts.
Anthony Sanders, 28, OF-R
The Sox acquired Sanders from Cincinnati for future considerations to replace the retired Jose Canseco in Charlotte's outfield about a week before they picked up Scott Morgan from San Diego. This is the first year since 1998 that Sanders hasn't spent at least a few days in the majors, although he didn't exactly sign with an organization last off-season that desperately needed outfield talent. Of course he's compiled at least 40 extra-base hits in four of the last six seasons, so he's earned his AAAA card and should continue to roam outfields in the upper minors. Sanders lacks the plate discipline to earn a regular big league back-up job, but he'll definitely see more time in the majors as an injury replacement and roster filler.
Danny Sandoval, 23, SS/UT-R
Although Sandoval committed 23 errors, he played every position except catcher and spent the majority of his time at shortstop. Aside from his position flexibility, he also displayed decent plate discipline and power potential. My main concern here is a 62% stolen base success rate, which causes me to question both the lofty SB totals of several Birmingham Barons, as well as Sandoval's baserunning instincts. After a year-and-a-half of AA, I expect Sandoval to move to AAA in 2003, and considering he possesses some tools and can field seven positions, he'll be an attractive September call-up unless he can't maintain an OPS around .700.
Mario Valenzuela, 25, OF-R
After a surprisingly impressive AFL campaign and solid Spring Training, he missed the entire season following Tommy John surgery. Once he returns to AAA in 2003, he should continue developing into either a respectable big league back-up or potential starter in another organization.
Jon Adkins, 25, RH Starter
Adkins pitched in AAA all year aside from one start at Modesto, and now he's pitching in the AFL. Upon his acquisition from Oakland for Ray Durham, he became one of the White Sox's prospects most prepared for the majors. His hit rate dropped to 9.1 after joining Charlotte, a welcome departure from the 13.0 that Oakland's weak minor league defense provided him. While he's not ready for much success in the majors, I'd like to see him spend the first half of next season either starting at AAA or pitching in long relief in the majors. If he masters a third pitch while displaying above average dominance, he could move into Chicago's rotation after the All-Star break. However, considering the competition he faces for that rotation spot, he's a risky pick in the spring.
Carlos Chantres, 26, RH Starter
He returned to the White Sox organization after a horribly unimpressive 2001 with Milwaukee and weak numbers with the Devil Rays in the first half of this season. Unfortunately, Chantres continues to post a respectable ERA with awful skill ratios, leaving him an overrated starter who should only reach the majors after converting to relief. As he's never reached even a 2.0 K:BB for any team above A-ball, he certainly doesn't belong on any fantasy teams.
Felix Diaz, 22, RH Starter
Diaz's major problem is an inability to remain healthy for any length of time, but he impressed us in Spring Training as the Giants used him to finish a few games even though he hadn't pitched above the Sally League. He was one of the very few pitchers to post solid skill ratios in Birmingham's rotation, and although he could succeed in relief in Chicago now, Diaz could develop into a top starter after a season in AAA. He'll again need to remain healthy to avoid a conversion to relief work, but he offers a lot of upside for the gambling fantasy owner.
Clay Eason, 26, RH Reliever
Eason spent three years with the Phillies and the last two seasons in the Northern League before the White Sox picked him up for 2002. While spending most of the season in Birmingham, Eason displayed excellent command and good dominance in establishing himself as a viable relief prospect. I think he needs at least another half-season at AAA, and he'll probably remain a risky pick until he demonstrates solid skills in the majors.
Brooks Kieschnick, 30, RH Reliever/DH-R
The Cubs selected him with the 10th overall pick in 1993 as a credible two-way prospect, rushed him to AA as an outfielder and didn't even give him 120 at-bats in the majors before leaving him available to the Devil Rays in the expansion draft. He didn't impress Tampa, spent most of 1999 on loan to Anaheim, and then played a full season each with Cincinnati and Colorado, receiving a brief call-up with both teams. While he still could find some success as a hitter, the White Sox let him return to pitching this year, and he demonstrated he's lost very little skill while resting his arm for the last decade. The combination of a short reliever and left-handed pinch-hitter creates intriguing possibilities for a creative manager, although I don't believe Kieschnick will find the necessary opportunity to emerge as a viable major leaguer in Chicago. I wouldn't even know whether to advise drafting him as a hitter, pitcher, or both, so you should wait until he secures a specific role before acquiring him.
Corey Lee, 27, LH Swingman
Chicago acquired him as the PTBNL for Herb Perry, and Lee finally looks healthy and ready to contribute in the majors, albeit in the bullpen and not the rotation spot the Rangers expected when they selected him 32nd overall back in 1996. Considering both his role flexibility and excellent control, I'm somewhat surprised that the Sox didn't look at him late in the year, especially since I believe he's eligible for minor league free agency. While Lee shouldn't hurt a fantasy team after he makes the majors, I also don't see any particular skills that make him worth owning.
Arnaldo Munoz, 20, LH Reliever
Munoz almost broke camp with the team despite only playing in the Sally League last year and not turning 20 until June. Chicago instead jumped him to AA, and he continued dominating while even improving his control. A year of AAA time certainly wouldn't hurt him given his age, although the Sox are eagerly looking for a reliable young lefty. As he's only 5'9" he likely lacks the stamina for starting, but with two great curves and an impressive pick-off move, he should consistently earn between $5-10 once he reaches the majors. While he's not a viable draft pick, he should join Damaso Marte and Royce Ring by 2004 to form perhaps the strongest lefty relief corps in the game.
Joe Valentine, 22, RH Reliever
Montreal selected him with the 4th pick of the Rule 5 draft and then sold him to Detroit, and then despite Valentine's excellent 83:37 K:BB in 76 innings of A-ball last year, the Tigers returned him to the White Sox immediately before their relievers began joining the DL in groups. So Valentine proceeded to lead the minors in saves at AA. His control wasn't wonderful but his 5.5 H/9 and .2 HR/9 indicate a truly dominant pitcher. The Sox should protect him this winter as they recently opened a few 40-man spots, and after a couple months in AAA I expect him to compete for a middle relief job in the second half of the season. If he can maintain these ratios after his promotion, Valentine might become one of the few minor league closers to continue saving games in the majors.
Edwin Yan, 20, 2B-S
Chicago acquired Yan with Damaso Marte for Matt Guierrer at the end of Spring Training, and while Andy Salvo also may own more baseball skills, Yan will receive many chances to succeed after leading the minors in steals. Fortunately an 82% success rate shows he has good instincts, and both a .74 BB:K and .88 contact rate are promising given his age. Even a .09 walk rate is fairly good, although committing 29 errors in 130 games at 2B won't endear him to many young pitchers. Yan is a very risky selection given the middle infield depth throughout the organization and his complete lack of projectable power, but he'll be a popular pick in some deeper AL leagues.
Kris Honel, 19, RH Starter
Honel won't turn 20 for another month, and if the Sox didn't need to protect him from the Rule 5 draft in 2003, they might consider looking at him next September. His arm is relatively unworn as he's from suburban Chicago and couldn't play baseball year-round, so there's actually a decent chance he might avoid major injury. Of course his skills are simply superb, giving us little reason to believe he couldn't bounce back from the usual maladies that plague high school pitchers. He compiled a 2.9 K:BB, 9.1 K/9, .7 HR/9, and 7.4 H/9, all of which probably place him as the fourth best prospect in the organization behind Borchard, Rauch, and Olivo. While Honel carries the same inherent risk as all immature arms, and I'm concerned about the Sox's development strategies, I like his upside a lot and can envision him developing into a dominant starter.
Chris Amador, 19, A Kannapolis(Sal) 2B-R
Wyatt Allen, 22, AAA Charlotte(IL) RH Starter
Current organizational ranking by potentially helpful fantasy depth:
1. Chicago White Sox(J.Borchard, J.Rauch, M.Olivo, K.Honel)
7:00: San Francisco@St. Louis
While most of you know that minor league closers almost never successfully continue amassing saves in the majors, any pitcher with good skills will receive chances at a more significant role. Jorge Julio was one of the few rookie relievers in the last few years with almost immediate double-digit roto value, and in spite of historical precedent, Edwin Almonte looks even more prepared than Julio to begin compiling saves.
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