Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Hiring Alan Trammel was a strong move towards recapturing the Tigers' winning tradition even if he's more a symbol of past triumphs than likely to boost them towards future success. Now GM Dave Dombrowski must continue gradual rebuilding if the Tigers expect to return to playoff contention in the next few years. They need to dump the remainder of the bad contracts, including Bobby Higginson, Dmitri Young, Damion Easley, Steve Sparks, Danny Patterson, and Matt Anderson, so those players must play as much as possible until someone volunteers to deal for any of them.
Carlos Pena owns the only secure position on the field at first base. Easley, Damian Jackson, Shane Halter, Ramon Santiago, Omar Infante, and even Hiram Bocachica will fight for playing time in the middle infield. Hopefully they'll favor Easley and Halter, while allowing Santiago and Infante to develop for another season in AAA. Only Santiago appears even mildly ready for the majors. Some combination of Dean Palmer, Eric Munson, and Craig Paquette will field third, and either Palmer or Munson will probably DH. Detroit needs to deal Rob Fick and Randall Simon now while their values are peaking, thereby allowing them to slot Dmitri Young in left, Higginson in right, and either George Lombard or Andres Torres in center. Mike Rivera's now proved himself at AAA and ready for the majors, so at least they should have upgraded production at catcher.
Unfortunately the moronic decision to move the fences closer to the infield will destroy Comerica's uniqueness and damage the club's ability to develop young pitchers in a similar fashion to the disaster suffered by KC after they altered their park dimensions a couple years ago. I'd like to see a rotation of Steve Sparks, Mark Redman, Mike Maroth, and a couple of inexpensive veteran free agents who can only find minor league contracts. Detroit's bullpen could be a strength with Matt Anderson, Juan Acevedo, Franklyn German, Adam Bernero, Nate Cornejo and lefties Jamie Walker, Eric Eckenstahler, and Jason Jimenez all prepared to succeed in Detroit; Danny Patterson will join them when he returns from season-ending elbow surgery.
Nothing about this team impresses me other than perhaps the potential of youngsters like Pena and Rivera, but they own an improving farm system and lots of prospects with significant upside if they receive the right tutelage. Detroit needs to avoid signing all but the most inexpensive free agents as they develop a corps of productive youngsters to excite their shrinking fan base while moving out even the younger veterans like Matt Anderson to augment some of the power prospects already in the majors. Santiago and Infante should occupy the middle infield by September, combining with Pena, Munson, and Rivera for one of the youngest regular infields in the majors.
I'd like to see players like Craig Monroe receive regular playing time, so if they can add one or two corner outfielders with power, a bench of Damian Jackson, Bocachica, Lombard, Monroe, and Brandon Inge offers solid defense and speed, even if you can't trust them to pinch-hit. While this isn't a team that will compete for more than a .500 record in 2004, a Tigers' team featuring inexpensive youngsters augmented by the expected yearly influx of prospects could develop in a manner similar to the current Twins' major league roster.
Omar Infante, 20, SS-R
Infante's frequently touted as a top prospect, but while I liked his AA numbers in 2001, his performance this season doesn't indicate he's ready for the majors, regardless of the propaganda offered by new Detroit hitting coach and 2002 Toledo manager Bruce Fields. Not only did Infante commit 26 errors in 120 games, but a 56% SB success rate, .57 BB:K, and .06 walk rate all indicate that he doesn't possess the baseball skills necessary for a regular job with the Tigers. Fortunately they possess enough middle infield depth to allow Infante to spend most of 2003 back in Toledo refining his abilities, and after another September call-up, he should be prepared to start in 2004. If Detroit rushes him, don't expect much roto value from him next season, but if given sufficient development time, his upside looks intriguing. Assuming he begins the year in the minors, I'd rank him among the top shortstop prospects in any minor league draft.
Eric Munson, 24, DH-L
Although Munson's only one at-bat shy of losing his rookie eligibility, he's now out of options, so Detroit will keep him in the majors for the foreseeable future. Munson will start at DH if Dean Palmer can play third base and the Tigers somehow find room for Higginson, Fick, and Dmitri Young in the outfield. Unfortunately Munson's performed terribly in two September trials, and while his .16 walk rate at AAA impress me, his .76 contact rate indicates he'll hurt your batting average. While you can gamble a few bucks on him if you need someone with decent power potential, Munson is not ready to provide a noteworthy contribution to most fantasy teams.
Andres Torres, 24, OF-S
Scouts have rated his speed among the best in the minors since Detroit drafted him in 1998, and with a 78% success rate and 42 steals in AAA this year, he should be a very prolific basestealer in the majors once he's able to reach base consistently. He'll perform acceptably if he can hold his .11 walk rate above AAA, although any improvement in his .75 contact rate could push his BA closer to .300. Torres is also still recovering from missing half of 2001 after surgery on his throwing shoulder, so I suspect he'll maintain or improve his current level of plate discipline in the majors. He's a potential $30 player within the next couple of years due to his speed, although I'll be surprised if he breaks $15 in 2003; make sure he's the unquestioned starter before investing heavily in him.
Franklyn German, 22, RH Reliever
German's perhaps the best closing prospect in the game after converting to relief work in mid-2000, and Detroit will not allow him to remain in the minors unless he posts horrible numbers in the spring. I expect the Tigers will let him apprentice for a couple of months in a set-up role until they can deal Anderson and/or Acevedo, whereupon he should begin grabbing all the available save opportunities. His command actually improved upon reaching AAA, and with minor league skill ratios of 2.6 K:BB, 12.7 K/9, 6.4 H/9, and not a single homer allowed this season, I'll be shocked if German doesn't reach $10 even if he doesn't close in 2003.
Kurt Airoso, 27, OF-R
Airoso spent his fourth straight season with Detroit's AA affiliate, and I definitely suspect he'll leave as a minor league free agent as soon as possible. Even if he's not a great offensive prospect, he deserves a season at AAA since he's shown some power potential and owns a solid career AA walk rate of .15. He'll probably only see one or two brief call-ups to the majors unless he suddenly starts cracking more doubles, so there's no reason to expect any roto contribution from him in the near future.
Chad Alexander, 28, OF-R
After five seasons in Houston's minors and two years at AAA Tacoma, Alexander again failed to reach the majors with an organization that needed quality outfield back-ups this year. As his patience at the plate decreased, his nonexistent speed and only minor power improvement suggest he already may have peaked. Alexander should see some major league time in the next few years, but he no longer appears the same prospect that demonstrated a disciplined bat at almost every level of the minors.
Charley Carter, 26, 1B-R
After four seasons with Houston including a 2001 spent at AA Round Rock, the Astros shipped him to Detroit as the future considerations in the Lyle Mouton trade from August 31st of last season. So after moving from one of the best hitters' ballparks in baseball to a park that favors right-handed hitters in a pitchers' league, Carter capitalized on repeating AA, improving all his averages and his skills. The combination of fifty-four extra-base hits and a .10 walk rate should merit him a year of AAA time, and while he lacks the power to contribute regularly in the majors, Carter should emerge as a AAAA professional hitter within the next few years. He probably wouldn't hurt you if needed as an injury replacement, but he certainly needs more time to develop his bat.
David Espinosa, 21, 2B-S
When the Marlins refused to meet the asking price of this Scott Boras-advised top shortstop prospect, Espinosa fell to the Reds with the 23rd overall pick of the 2000 draft after almost going 1st overall. Cincinnati eventually signed him to an eight-year major league deal that keeps him secured through 2008 but exposes him to waivers in 2004 if his team tries to send him down. Detroit added him for Brian Moehler, but instead of reporting to A+ Lakeland, Espinosa missed the rest of the season with back spasms. He should open 2003 in AA as the Tigers need to push him in the hope that both his bat and defense will merit a regular job the following year. Fortunately his .17 walk rate and .60 BB:K, the latter a nice improvement over a .46 mark at A Dayton in 2001, suggest he'll at least hold a decent OBP, and his speed gives him impressive upside. There's even a hint of developing power in his skills, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him in September. Since Espinosa needs to outplay about a dozen players to secure a role at second base, shortstop, or even centerfield, he's probably too risky to consider in all but the deepest of minor league drafts.
Jack Hannahan, 22, 3B-L
Detroit selected Hannahan in the third round last year and he's already receiving press for quickly rising to spend half of 2002 at AA, an AFL berth, and an apparently successful battle with alcoholism. These speedy promotions seem rather surprising since his stats and skills are quite unimpressive, and scouts also harbor defensive questions, even suggesting he might settle at catcher instead of third base. There's nothing in these numbers that indicates he's a solid sleeper, so even though he might be the starting third baseman by the end of 2003, he's a poor draft pick unless he compiles a stunningly impressive AFL campaign.
Rodney Lindsey, OF-R, 26
His poor plate discipline and weak bat negate his SB value, leaving him unlikely to see consistent playing time above the AA level. He offers intriguing possibilities as a pinch-runner, but I don't see Lindsey contributing to many fantasy teams.
Nook Logan, 22, OF-S
While Detroit's actively added several burners in recent years, Logan may own the best pure speed in the organization. Scouts expect he even could improve on the 61 steals he's averaged over the last two years. However his plate discipline again deteriorated as he advanced to a higher level, and neither a .36 BB:K or .08 walk rate appear acceptable for a powerless outfielder. When a player only owns one or two tools, he should possess the skills necessary to exploit his gifts, and these numbers indicate he needs more time in A-ball. Let someone else gamble that he'll learn augment his speed with the necessary on-base ability.
Derek Nicholson, 26, OF/CR-L
Despite good plate discipline and hints of developing power, Nicholson's only received a little over 600 plate appearances over the last two years, a number that seems far below the playing time these skills deserve. He looks like he should emerge as a competent utility player and pinch-hitter, potentially similar to John Vander Wal, except with the ability to play both corners. While Nicholson lacks roto value now, his respectable offensive skills make him usable as safe roster filler when he's eventually promoted to the majors.
Corey Richardson, 25, OF-S
Richardson may be the most disciplined speed merchant in a loaded Tigers' organization as he owns career marks through this year of a .76 BB:K, .17 walk rate, and an 80% stolen base success rate. This skill combination should enable him to continue his success as he reaches AAA next year. Though he'll probably peak as a fourth outfielder due to his lack of power, Richardson could be a valuable roto contributor by 2004, but he currently doesn't merit significant attention.
Brian Rios, 28, 3B/UT-R
Rios posted a .325/.368/.543 line last year but substantially regressed this season after Detroit didn't even give him a look last September. He has some experience at most positions so offers flexibility and moderate offensive potential, although his relatively disastrous 2002 likely will keep him from the majors for another couple of years. I expect him to switch organizations this off-season, so hopefully his agent can find him a team with a few utility infield openings that will hold an open competition in Spring Training for qualified minor league veterans.
Cody Ross, 21, OF-R
The combination of his relatively young age, five-category production, and decent base skills outweighs the advantages he gained from Erie's home park. Ross may be Detroit's most balanced of their many touted outfield prospects, and if he continues developing in the AFL and next season at AAA, he should emerge as Detroit's starting right fielder in 2004. I'm somewhat concerned about his .51 BB:K but even the .51 is an improvement from last year's .46 BB:K at A+ Lakeland, and given his acceptable walk rate, plus speed, and power potential, he's a worthy selection in most minor league drafts.
Jorge Sequea, 21, 2B-S
Sequea may peak as only a utility infielder, but he's now posted decent plate discipline in two straight seasons while demonstrating both a little speed and some power potential. He also only committed 8 errors in 95 games at 2B, a somewhat impressive total given the errors registered by other middle infielders in the system. If he continues progressing at AAA next year, he should emerge as a Detroit reserve in 2004, but if they send him back for another year in Erie, he might develop into a more valuable player.
Chris Wakeland, 28, OF-L
Wakeland hit .270/.351/.500 with a .12 walk rate at Toledo in 2000. Detroit left him there for another season, where he managed a .283/.338/.481 while slipping to a .07 walk rate. After giving him a brief look last September, they booted him off the 40-man roster when they claimed Endy Chavez in early January, and then the Tigers' left Wakeland in Toledo for a third year. I suspect his new organization will treat his talents with more respect, and I could easily see him emerging at least as a bench contributor on several teams. His latent skills intrigue me to the point where we still own him in one league with a deep minor league system, so I selfishly hope that he stays in the AL to reward our patience.
Tim Adkins, 28, LH Swingman
While pitching in his eleventh minor league season, Adkins finally spent most of the year in AAA for the very first time. His performance with AA Norwich(EL) in 2001 indicates he'll likely spend the next few years as a AAAA swingman, and I don't see the command necessary for him to ever emerge as a regular big league contributor. I don't expect him to reach the majors until he demonstrates better skills in AAA.
Pat Ahearne, 32, RH Starter
Ahearne was one of Detroit's better starting prospects...in 1995. They traded him to the Mets before 1996, and after a stint in the Northern League, he bounced to Los Angeles, Bridgeport of the Atlantic League, Seattle, and then Florida. He returned to Bridgeport for the first half of this season before Detroit again required his services, so he finished 2002 with Toledo. Ahearne's a decent AAAA starter with no real major league hopes at this point unless he tries to improve his dominance by pitching in relief.
Jason Beverlin, 28, RH Starter
Beverlin helped both Cleveland and Detroit set new team records for most pitchers used in a season, although Detroit outrighted him off the 40-man roster a few days ago to open space for younger prospects. If they're lucky and able to re-sign him, Beverlin would be one of their pitchers most prepared to start in the majors, likely meriting the 4th starter's slot. The Yankees failed to harness his skills for seven years, but the Angels finally tapped his potential in 2001, and now he's a capable AAAA starter on the verge of emerging as a valuable big league starter if some team will give him an extended opportunity. I'd have little problem with rostering him if I knew he'd receive more than a couple of token starts, since his minor league skills indicate an intriguing fantasy future.
John Birtwell, 23, RH Reliever
Normally I'd slot any pitcher with no A+ experience at the end of a prospect article or in the draft pick section, but the irregularities of minor league relief pitchers make Birtwell a poor selection for minor league drafts. However his stunning skills caught my eye and warrant a more detailed review. Detroit selected him out of Harvard with their 30th round pick last year, and he proceeded to post a 1-2 record and 7 Saves on 43:6 K:BB in 26 IP with 25 H and 1 HR for A- Oneonta(NYP). In 2002, he compiled skill ratios that included a 5.6 K:BB, 11.5 K/9, .3 HR/9, and a 5.4 H/9. While I recognize that he was a few years older than much of his competition, they are simply fantastic levels that indicate he at least should dominate through AA. If he starts receiving more press next summer, you'll know that he possesses the background necessary to maintain his development.
Jeremy Bonderman, 19, RH Starter
The 18-year-old Bonderman was the first high school junior ever drafted last season after earning his GED. After spending last year in the instructional league due to his late signing, Oakland started him with their lowest full-season affiliate, and instead of pitching decently until he could join a short-season team, he excelled while starting all his games. Bonderman may own a higher ceiling than even Carlos Pena and Franklyn German, the two players that Oakland sent to Detroit with Bonderman in the Jeff Weaver deal. Any normal starter at A+ who posted a 2.9 K:BB, 9.8 K/9, 1.0 HR/9, and a 8.0 H/9 would rank among the best prospects in baseball, but we have to consider that Bonderman was about two years younger than most of his competition, forcing us to rank him with the best starters in baseball. Considering his talent, age, and lack of competition in the organization, Bonderman probably should be the first starting pitcher selected in most AL minor league drafts next season. However he shouldn't reach the majors until 2004 since Detroit doesn't need to place him on their 40-man roster until the 2004 Rule 5 draft, so avoid Bonderman if you're only targeting players to help in 2003.
Jorge Cordova, 24, RH Reliever
Cincinnati moved him to relief this year despite respectable ratios in the California League in 2001, which included a 7.7 K/9 and 2.0 K:BB. Unsurprisingly, he prospered out of the bullpen, jumping two levels before his post-season trade to Detroit to complete the Brian Moehler trade. More time in AA wouldn't hurt him, but I expect him to open 2003 in AAA and continue his quick rise to the majors. Cordova should reach the majors around the All-Star break after the Tigers deal some of their veteran relievers, likely providing pending closer Franklyn German with a solid set-up man.
Eric Eckenstahler, 25, LH Reliever
While a 4.6 BB/9 suggests he might benefit from another month or two in the minors, the Tigers' need for a dependable left-hander should enable him to break camp with the team. He demonstrated relatively solid skills after his promotion, but a 9.3 K/9 in AAA from a 6'7" lefty will impress his organization. A trip to the AFL should cement his credentials, and he wouldn't be a bad selection if you're desperate for middle relief strikeouts in Dollar Days.
Jason Jimenez, 26, LH Reliever
Tampa Bay waived him for some unknown reason after only a couple of big league innings following a six-year minor league career over which he developed into one of the better left-handed relief prospects in the minors. Between Eric Eckenstahler and Jimenez, the Tigers should field two of the best young lefties in baseball, both of whom aren't even eligible for arbitration until after the 2005 season. Jimenez's skill ratios this year include a 3.4 K:BB, 9.6 K/9, and .5 HR/9, and nothing in these skills indicates he needs more seasoning. Like Eckenstahler, he's a solid late round pick in deeper leagues.
Tim Kalita, 23, LH Starter
Kalita started strong, but missed most of the mid-summer, though he returned towards the end of the season and joined the Tigers' AFL squad. I'm somewhat concerned about his fluctuating dominance since after posting a 7.6 K/9 in his 1999 debut, he followed that mark with a 6.4 K/9 in 2000, a 6.6 K/9 in 2001, and now only a 4.8 K/9 upon reaching AAA. His solid command, acceptable secondary ratios, and relative youth place him among Detroit's more promising pitching prospects, and after racking 200 innings at age 22 last season, perhaps he's moved past the injury problems we'd expect from overworking a young pitcher. While I'd like to see him spend another couple of months in AAA, he's close to producing for both the Tigers and fantasy owners.
Rick Kirsten, 24, RH Starter
Despite posting skill ratios in 2001 at Erie of 2.7 K:BB, 8.0 K/9, 1.2 HR/9, and 9.0 H/9, Detroit sent Kirsten back to Erie this year. He only managed eight innings due to an unknown injury, so I really can't anticipate his probable role in 2003. His 2001 season indicated he deserved a AAA berth this year, but I assume he'll at least begin next season at AA until he proves he's healthy.
Preston Larrison, 21, RH Starter
Instead of opening at A West Michigan as expected, Larrison moved straight to A+ and dominated in limited innings. Detroit selected him with the 55th overall pick last year, and his performance since joining the Tigers indicates he could merit a September call-up in 2003. While I definitely like his skills thus far, I want to see him accumulate more innings at a higher level before recommending him as a draft pick.
Shane Loux, 23, RH Starter
In 2001 at Toledo, Loux compiled a 10-11 record on a 72:73 K:BB in 151 IP with 203 H and 22 HR, so he drastically improved his control and homer rate while also slightly increasing his strikeout rate. His tremendous hit problems still bothers me, although I'm mostly comfortable attributing the huge amount of hits to Toledo's defensive deficiencies. Loux's probably fairly close to owning a regular rotation spot, but as he's only 23, Detroit can send him back to Toledo for another couple months. Since his current ratios don't indicate he'd pitch effectively in the majors, don't roster Loux until you see his dominance improving.
Miller missed almost the entire season after straining his shoulder in his second game of the season with the Tigers. He eventually underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, and he'll be lucky to be ready to return to pitching in the spring. Like Jamie Walker, Eckenstahler, and Jason Jimenez, Miller is a competent lefty who's ready for a regular major league role, although I wouldn't expect him back in the majors until mid-2003.
J.J. Pearsall, 29, LH Reliever
Pearsall signed with Detroit following his release from Florida after posting a 7.43 ERA despite decent skill ratios in 13.1 innings at AAA Calgary. He's proven that he's mastered AA over the last few years, so Pearsall needs to join an organization for 2003 that will allow him to pitch for a few months in AAA as he attempts to move closer to the majors. He could surface next year with a fantastic AAA performance, but I suspect he'll first need to spend a couple years establishing his AAAA credentials.
Terry Pearson, 30, RH Reliever
Aside from allowing too many hits like several other Detroit pitchers in the upper levels of the system, Pearson compiled very respectable ratios, including a 2.1 K:BB, 6.0 K/9, and a .3 HR/9. Pearson spent four seasons in independent leagues before Detroit signed him and sent him to Erie last season. He probably needs a little more AAA time, but despite his advancing age, he's a decent relief prospect who probably could contribute in the majors in the near future.
Fernando Rodney, 21, RH Reliever
Baseball America rated his fastball as the best in the organization prior to the season, and he reportedly can reach 98 mph. While his major league numbers indicate he probably needs another half-season in AAA, he posted a 25:9 K:BB in 22.2 IP over 20 G with 13 H, 1 HR, and a .81 ERA in Toledo. Rodney and Franklyn German are the best two relief prospects in the organization, and both players should secure important roles in the Tigers' bullpen by the end of 2003. I don't expect Rodney to close within the next few years, and he's a risky pick on draft day, but if he maintains solid ratios at AAA next year, he'll help some fantasy teams as a mid-season pick-up.
Andy Van Hekken, 23, LH Starter
Van Hekken's most notable achievement is a sterling 50-22 career record, but he also demonstrates excellent control and even held a decent strikeout rate until this year. While he posted a 1.82 ERA in 49.1 AAA innings, he only managed a 19:11 K:BB in those seven starts, and his awful 5:6 K:BB in 30 major league innings indicates he needs more development time. He almost certainly will struggle if forced into the Tigers' rotation next spring, so while he's a decent minor league pick, I wouldn't look to draft him in the spring if he breaks camp with Detroit.
Gary "Noochie" Varner, 21, OF-R
If your league's minor league draft regularly includes the top couple of college players, then I'll be shocked if Varner isn't selected next spring. While he's a moderately less impressive prospect as an outfielder than when he stood near third base, he's emerging as a significant outfield prospect with 30-30 potential. Detroit acquired Noochie as one of the two PTBNL for Brian Moehler, and his performance with Dayton for all but seventeen at-bats suggests he could post similar numbers at A+ Lakeland in 2003. Unfortunately, despite his power potential and disciplined baserunning, he may not rush to the majors since scouts believe he'll resist the necessary adjustments to succeed at higher levels, and both his .26 BB:K and .06 walk rate support that assessment. He's at least two full seasons away from contributing, so even with his intriguing upside, you should probably let someone else draft him for now.
Matt Coenen, 22, LH Starter
The 6'6" Coenen both owns solid skills now and projects as a dominant starter. A 2.2 K:BB, 7.7 K/9, .3 HR/9, and 8.1 H/9 gives him a solid skills' set on which to develop over the next couple of years. Aside from Jeremy Bonderman, Coenen is perhaps the Tigers' best pitching prospect with no AAA experience. Only draft him in especially deep minor leagues, but I'm not concerned about arm problems and think he could move quickly if he starts strong at A+.
Juan Camilo, 24, A+ Lakeland(FSL) OF-L
Kenny Baugh, 23, AA Erie(EL) RH Starter in '01; injured in '02
Current organizational ranking by potentially helpful fantasy depth, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, and consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from lower in each system:
1. Cleveland Indians(B.Phillips, V.Martinez, A.Escobar, & a dozen young SP)
3:00: St. Louis@San Francisco
Detroit is a relatively safe organization in which to target prospects as they're so desperate for any potential starters that any decent minor league player with a noticeable baseball tool should receive a chance in the majors. Only the three players acquired in the Weaver deal, Pena, German, and Bonderman, appear likely to develop into All-Stars, and every other player at A+ Lakeland or above should peak no higher than as a major league regular.
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