Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Kansas City GM Allard Baird received perhaps the worst contract of the year when the Royals gave him a two-year extension this July. He's presided over a disastrous unbuilding process and forced out the few executives in the organization that believed in any drafting approach other than targeting high-risk, high ceiling players. His only success is Mike Sweeney's extension, and Sweeney can opt out of his deal after 2003 if Kansas City doesn't post a markedly improved record. They don't even possess a strong core of talent, but fortunately they own a decent quantity of pitching prospects that could develop into a capable major league staff.
Centerfielder Carlos Beltran, DH/LF Raul Ibanez, and 1B Sweeney are the only players with secure starting roles in 2003. Brent Mayne should return as the starting catcher for another year, and Joe Randa should also remain at third base next year, but neither player is even average offensively at their respective positions. Angel Berroa might take over for Neifi Perez at short, but Berroa definitely needs more development time. Carlos Febles has fallen out of favor with the organization even though he's still the best second baseman in the system. Lastly, barring an unlikely expenditure or insightful trade, some combination of Michael Tucker, Mark Quinn, and Dee Brown will join with Ibanez to fill the RF/LF/DH slots.
The lack of changes to next year's draft gave the Royals the biggest reprieve of any team after they refused to trade Paul Byrd, since he'll likely leave as a free agent. Fortunately several young pitchers emerged as potential stars. Runelvys Hernandez looks like the best prospect so far, although Shawn Sedlacek, Jeremy Affeldt, and Rule 5 pick Miguel Asencio all could break camp in the rotation. Darrell May, who pitched in Japan prior to 2002, occasionally impressed and seems their best option as a veteran starter if they refuse to pay Jeff Suppan, who pitched so poorly after the All-Star break that he lost his rotation spot. More than perhaps any other team in the majors, the Royals desperately need to add one or two veterans if they allow Byrd and Suppan to leave, or else they risk blowing out the arms of the youngsters and forcing more seasons out of contention.
Roberto Hernandez was the lone Royals' reliever with more than one save, and he'll likely leave as a free agent. Jason Grimsley is the only reliever signed through next season, and Scott Mullen should return as the top lefty. Kansas City likely will fill the rest of the pen with some combination of Jeff Austin, Ryan Bukvich, Brad Voyles, Jeremy Hill, Dan Reichert, and Mike MacDougal, and any of the first four of those relievers could wind up closing games. Of course, I expect Baird to waste money on an established closer, and he'll at least explore veteran free agent alternatives to using a bullpen full of rookies and sophomores.
While the Royals possess a few prospects with significant upside, I only particularly like a couple of their pitchers, leaving Beltran and Sweeney as the solitary elite players in the organization. They're unlikely to coast above .500 with Allard Baird using an archaic development system that wastes a first round pick every year upon ridiculously risky high school pitchers. I suspect owner David Glass will fire Baird in the second half of 2003, perhaps installing another of the Alderson/Beane disciples after he sees the continuing development of Toronto under Ricciardi and even Texas' rebound with the help of Assistant GM Grady Fuson. Oakland Assistant General Manager Paul DePodesta is the next logical candidate for any GM position under an owner wishing to win.
Ken Harvey, 24, 1B-R
He's perhaps the only credible hitting prospect in the organization, and while he didn't post exceptional numbers this year, Harvey's crushing the weak AFL pitching, posting a .533/.583/.767 line in his first 30 at-bats. Unfortunately he lacks discipline and relies almost entirely upon a .83 contact rate to maintain his average. Harvey owned a .359 career BA entering this season, so more development time might allow him to regain his formerly excellent batting stroke. Since he's limited to 1B/DH, I'd like to see him return to AAA while the Royals respectively start Ibanez, Quinn, and Dee Brown at DH/RF/LF. Once they either trade Ibanez or tire of Quinn or Brown, KC can promote Harvey, placing the remaining two players at LF/RF. I'd stop bidding under $10 if Harvey starts 2003 in the majors, as although his BA upside remains impressive, I don't expect him to contribute impressive numbers before 2004 at the earliest.
Ryan Bukvich, 24, RH Reliever
Bukvich relatively leaped to the majors after completely dominating batters from both the Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues. Few pitchers compiled ratios of 2.9 K:BB, 12.0 K/9, 3.9 H/9, and 0.0 HR/9 at any level, although since Kansas City only allowed him 12 games in AAA, he either needs two more months in Omaha or they should expect him to struggle in the first half. I'm somewhat biased against him due to his control struggles in the majors, but when considering his entire season, I'm forced to conclude that he's very close to emerging as valuable fantasy property.
Kiko Calero, 27, RH Starter
Calero looked ready for AAA after posting an 11-9 record on 100:44 K:BB in 127.2 IP over 22 GS with 120 H, 15 HR, and a 4.44 ERA...in 1997. Kansas City allowed him to spend almost all of the last six seasons in Wichita, where he's compiled a 46-24 record on 436:229 K:BB in 565 IP, and after an initial K:BB mark of 2.3 in 1997, he posted successive ratios of .8, 1.6, 2.0, 1.8, and then 3.0 in 16 innings this season. With a very credible performance at AAA on his stat sheet, I believe he'll be one of the top available minor league free agents this off-season. Calero deserves a shot at a major league rotation right now after the Royals likely cost him several million dollars by stranding him at AA, and any team that needs a promising older pitcher would be lucky to sign him. Fortunately the Royals don't need him since their rotation is set with a half-dozen solid vetera...on second thought, they should beg him to re-sign.
Jeremy Hill, 25, RH Reliever
Hill converted to pitching in 2001 after showing nothing with the bat other than a dozen doubles for four straight years. He dominated last year, compiling a 2.4 K:BB, 11.9 K/9, and a 4.8 H/9 in A-ball, so his continued effectiveness at AA doesn't surprise me. While he's probably behind Jeff Austin and Brad Voyles for save opportunities, Kansas City's shown little reluctance to trust pitchers with very little AAA experience. I wouldn't be surprised if Hill grabbed a bullpen job in Spring Training and found a dozen saves by the end of the year. Of course, a year in AAA also would benefit his development.
Brad Voyles, 25, RH Reliever
Voyles remains the Royals' rookie most likely to see save opportunities in 2003, but only his 9.5 K/9 particularly impressed me from his AAA stat line. Kansas City rushed him this year without allowing him sufficient development time, so we don't really know if he needs another few months in AAA or could succeed in the majors. I suspect they're hoping for him to break camp with the team after a strong showing in March, and unless they're prepared to reward Jeff Austin with the closer's job following his successful conversion to relief, Voyles is as good as any other internal candidate. Don't overbid since he lacks the demonstrated skill foundation usually necessary for immediate success.
Angel Berroa, 24, SS-R
Juan Brito, 22, C-R
Brito's spent the past four seasons bouncing between the Royals' three top affiliates, and he's demonstrated no power potential and little plate discipline. However, looking at the bright side of his career, he now possesses six years of minor league experience at an age where many catching prospects have just left college. He's reportedly strong defensively and should spend another season with Kansas City, potentially even as Brent Mayne's back-up if they don't find a superior external candidate, although Brito's value rests in his minimum salary and limited at-bats, insuring he shouldn't hurt you if you need an injury replacement.
David DeJesus, 22, OF-L
Kansas City assigned DeJesus to the AFL after a very strong debut season. A fourth round draft pick out of Rutgers in 2000, DeJesus didn't play until this year due to injury. He compiled some impressive numbers, although I suspect the Royals don't realize the importance of his 1.08 BB:K and .14 walk rate. DeJesus also should develop power as he matures, and he looks like a solid power-speed prospect at this point, although I'll need to see more AA numbers before recommending him for fantasy purposes.
Josue Espada, 27, IF-R
Espada can handle all infield positions except first base, but despite a fairly strong minor league history, he's only found work as a AAA reserve in the last three years. Good plate discipline, solid speed, and decent fielding usually earn similar players a shot to make a roster in Spring Training, however no one's shown much interest in Espada in the past. While he possesses the skills necessary to contribute in the majors, he also doesn't appear prepared for the jump after his offensive problems this season.
Alexis Gomez, 22, OF-L
Gomez spent a full season at AA after 342 at-bats in Wichita last year, and while he demonstrated more power and plate discipline this year, he's still not an impressive prospect. His 60% stolen base success rate indicates poor baserunning instincts, and his improving power numbers only suggest he might develop more power in a few years. He's a poor fit for a Royals' team desperate for power, so I expect him to spend another complete season in the minors barring the need for an injury replacement in the majors.
Pat Hallmark, 28, OF/CR-R
After missing all but 32 games of last season due to injury, he returned for his third season at Wichita, again displaying excellent speed and some on-base ability. Hallmark hasn't regained the power potential that led to an .864 OPS, including a .409 OBP, back in 2000, but his SB potential at least warrants a look in AAA as a reserve outfielder. His limited position flexibility also improves his chance to spend a couple of years in the majors, and a strong camp could place him in competition for the 25th roster spot on a shallow team.
Rontrez Johnson, 25, OF-R
Kansas City added him as a minor league free agent from Boston last off-season, and after assembling an intriguing stat line, he deserves a Spring Training invitation with a promise of open competition for a roster spot. The combination of his solid speed, strong plate discipline, and developing power makes him both a decent prospect and a great candidate for a bench job. Johnson's a solid gamble in Dollar Days for SB alone if he earns a job, and I'd like to see him find an opportunity to contribute in a more significant role.
Donzell McDonald, 27, OF-S
Kansas City bizarrely DFA'd him after only two weeks in majors last July, and he slipped through waivers to return to Omaha. While he maintains a struggle with strikeouts, he continues to walk at a good pace, demonstrates excellent speed and baserunning ability, and looks like a competent fielder at all three outfield positions. McDonald is an excellent candidate to emerge as a quality reserve outfielder next spring, and like Omaha teammate Rontrez Johnson, he might earn notable roto value on his speed alone.
Rich Paz, 25, 3B/SS-R
Paz now owns a career 1.19 BB:K and an OBP just under .400, but the combination of his limited power and the defensive lapses indicated by his 29 errors in 137 games this season has prevented him from advancing beyond AA. Either he should find an organization that will allow him to DH and hit at the top of the order at AAA, or he should move overseas until he finds a franchise that admires his on-base ability. He's still relatively young after playing seven minor league seasons, so I expect him to develop into a worthy roto contributor.
Kit Pellow, 29, 3B-R
Regardless of his terrible plate discipline, his power numbers merited a regular job in the big leagues, especially since he could likely produce better numbers than incumbent 3B Joe Randa. After five seasons spent mostly in Omaha, Pellow might take advantage of Kansas City removing him from the 40-man and seek gainful employment at a franchise that appreciates his potential to contribute in the majors. He's clearly a BA risk, but he'll help teams that need a power boost.
Chan Perry, 30, 1B-R
Perry really doesn't offer much to a major league team since he's already peaking and yet can't even manage an .850 OPS in a AA hitters' league. He probably wouldn't hurt your BA if you needed him as roster filler, but I don't see any power potential and he lacks plate discipline. I don't expect Perry to receive much more than one or two September call-ups, so you probably won't need to consider him for your fantasy teams.
Mike Rose, 26, C-S
I don't understand why Arizona sold him to the Red Sox in August of 2001 after he posted excellent AA numbers in two straight years, and while Rose definitely played terribly in all of a couple weeks with Boston this year, he's still a rather youthful hitting prospect. Of course he's also a switch-hitting catcher with good defense and a .377 lifetime OBP. Rose should have been the Royals' first choice when they needed a catcher in the last week of the season, and while I expect him to change organizations in the offseason, he'd be a fantastic back-up to Brent Mayne next year. He owns a .86 BB:K and outstanding .19 walk rate in 946 at-bats between AA and AAA over the last few years, making him a solid $1 pick whenever he earns his first promotion to the majors.
Dusty Wathan, 29, C-R
Instead of promoting Mike Rose, who's earned a job in the majors with consistent offensive production, Kansas City instead allowed Wathan to debut with the Royals at the end of the season. While he's a solid minor league backstop, he's still unproven at AAA and didn't appear to deserve a week in Kansas City. I'll assume the decision didn't involve his dad John, the former Royals' manager and current special assignment scout in the organization. Hopefully Dusty will find a AAA job as he strives to merit another call-up on the basis of his theoretically beneficial contribution to a big league team.
Ryan Baerlocher, 25, RH Swingman
He missed time with various injuries this year, but his arm remained healthy all year, allowing him to continue moving towards the majors after almost making the Padres out of Spring Training as a Rule 5 pick. I'm somewhat concerned about his weak command since he managed a 2.3 K:BB and 6.2 K/9 while starting in AA last year. A move to relief might enable Baerlocher to find more success, although he deserves another year or two in a minor league rotation to see if he can still emerge as a viable starter.
Ian Ferguson, 23, RH Starter
While I'd only recommend him as a draft pick from most organizations, the Royals' willingness to use any pitcher with decent AA numbers increases Ferguson's chances to contribute this year. We can discount his 109.1 innings at A+ since he also pitched 96.1 innings at Wilmington last year with comparable numbers. However his 3.5 K:BB, 7.1 K/9, .8 HR/9, and 7.1 H/9 ratios in 11 AA starts rank him as a very promising right-handed starter, and he's started to receive press for leading the minors in wins. He may be closer to succeeding in the majors than almost any other Royals' starting prospect since he possesses both solid command and decent dominance, although he really needs at least a half season in AAA. A smart organization might allow Ferguson to develop for another season, so I expect him to reach Kansas City before the All-Star break, making him a decent draft pick in deeper leagues.
Jason Gilfillan, 26, RH Reliever
Gilfillan's slowly risen through the organization, earning at least one mid-season promotion in each of the last five seasons. He didn't seem likely to succeed in AAA after posting a 2.63 ERA with only a 31:27 K:BB in 37.2 AA innings. Fortunately he somehow improved his skills at Omaha, where he managed a 3.69 ERA on 28:14 K:BB in 39 IP. Given his career pattern, I expect him to pitch solidly at AAA until July, when he'll receive his first opportunity in the big leagues. While he appears likely to emerge as a respectable middle reliever if he continues to develop, I don't see him as a closer.
Jimmy Gobble, 21, LH Starter
Gobble battled a groin injury all year, and while he pitched quite well through part of May, he only made one start in the final four months of the season, instead spending much of the second half rehabbing his injury in Florida. With two very solid seasons under his belt in A-ball, he should return to Wichita for a month or two in 2003, and I expect him in the Royals' rotation by the end of next season. Since his arm's fine and he can continue rehabbing his groin all winter, you can probably safely target him in minor league drafts as long as you hear he's healthy and pitching in Spring Training.
Junior Guerrero, 23, RH Reliever
He was a top starting prospect a couple of years ago before suffering two injury-plagued seasons, and now he's re-emerging as a quality relief prospect who will likely spend most of 2003 in AA. Guerrero's obviously still rather young and could earn a September call-up with a strong performance. While he's too risky to draft in fantasy leagues, his former prospect status and decent skills make him an interesting sleeper.
Brett Laxton, 29, RH Starter
Laxton returned to starting in 2002 after a successful season spent almost entirely out of the bullpen. Acquired from Oakland three years ago for Jeremy Giambi, Kansas City has kept Laxton in Omaha each of the last three seasons. He appears likely to change organizations in the off-season, and while he might find some success as a fifth starter, I think he'll stand a better chance at extended major league time if he returns to relief work. See how he performs when he reaches the majors before rostering him.
Mike MacDougal, 25, RH Starter
After suffering a fractured skull last September when a bat struck him in the Kansas City dugout, MacDougal's rehab took him to four affiliates before he reached the Royals. Aside from the skull fracture, his career is a textbook case on how to incompetently develop perhaps the best arm in the organization. The only time his skills supported his success was back in the Northwest League in 1999 after he first signed. Kansas City jumped him to the Carolina league in 2000, and while he posted a 3.92 ERA, his command was quite weak. After a promotion to Wichita before the end of 2000, he spent nearly all of 2001 at AAA, posting a less respectable 4.68 ERA with even worse skill ratios. Instead of the gradual promotion that most top talents need, the Royals repeatedly rushed him up the organizational ladder, and he only managed a .6 K:BB in 17.2 AA innings and a .5 K:BB in 53 AAA innings. Not only does he need more AAA time, but MacDougal should probably take the Roy Halladay path back to the majors. A smart GM could obtain a potential ace by offering a competent middle infield prospect to Allard Baid, so while you simply can't draft MacDougal next spring, his long-term future remains very bright.
Wes Obermueller, 25, RH Starter
After pitching less than 70 innings over the last two seasons due to injury, he excelled in eight games at Wilmington, compiling a 44:14 K:BB in 45.2 innings. Since he plays for the Royals, they didn't allow him to consolidate his gains, instead inserting him into Wichita's rotation where he posted a 2.90 ERA despite a shoddy 65:40 K:BB in 105.2 IP. Now he's pitching in the AFL after two September starts in Kansas City, and they're probably considering him for a rotation spot next spring even though he barely appears ready for AA. Avoid Obermueller until he either starts excelling in the majors or receives the development time necessary to refine his skills.
Brian Sanches, 24, RH Swingman
Sanchez improved all his skills in his second year as Wichita's swingman, and he appears ready for a season at AAA. We won't know if he'll continue developing into a solid big league pitcher until we see his AAA numbers, especially since we should discount some of his 2002 numbers since he repeated AA. Although he doesn't currently appear to be a particularly enticing roto target, he could emerge as either a solid starter or reliever depending on the Royals' wishes and the quality of available instruction at the top levels of the system.
Aside from players listed above, no other Royals' prospect deserves consideration in roto drafts.
Odannys Ayala, 22, A Burlington(Mid) OF-R
Winston Abreu, 25, AA Wichita(TL) RH Reliever
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)
Kansas City's farm system hasn't produced a polished hitting prospect in many years as even Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran developed much of their skills in the majors. New Royals' hitting coach Jeff Pentland should help batters in KC, but I've seen no indication of improvement in their method for developing hitters. None of their hitting prospects appears worth drafting even in deeper leagues, and all but perhaps their top one or two young pitchers lack dominance, reducing their value to fantasy teams.
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