Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
New York's disappearing minor league depth finally cost the Yankees during the playoffs as they lacked any hard-throwing youngsters to dominate opponents. The Jeff Weaver trade, in addition to essentially exchanging Ted Lilly for Jeff Weaver, cost them their best pitching prospect in Jason Arnold and their best hitting prospect in John-Ford Griffin. They've lacked a few top picks in each of the past few years due to free agent compensation losses, and while the Posada/Jeter/Soriano/Bernie homegrown core remains exceptionally strong, none of these four players is even above average defensively.
At least their four up-the-middle starters are Yankee property for the next few years, as are Jason Giambi and Nick Johnson at 1B and DH. Juan Rivera seems likely to start in one outfield corner, leaving Raul Mondesi, Rondell White, and Shane Spencer to battle for time in the other, although I expect New York will make every effort to move Mondesi and/or White. If they can somehow manage to deal both, they'll look to grab either Hideki Matsui if they win the bidding for the Japanese star, or they could pursue a veteran centerfielder or second baseman, sliding Bernie to LF and potentially moving Soriano to center. With third base as the only complete question mark, I'll be shocked if they don't re-sign Robin Ventura, potentially to a one-year deal with an option, since Drew Henson clearly needs more minor league time.
Mike Mussina will certainly own one rotation spot, and David Wells made his two-year deal look like a bargain in 2002. Even if Andy Pettitte's option is somewhat expensive, New York should exercise their right to keep him, and then Jeff Weaver, after resting his arm for half the year in the bullpen, will approach 20 wins at the back of their rotation. I'll be quite surprised if they either don't re-sign Roger Clemens or obtain a similar name pitcher, relegating Orlando Hernandez and Sterling Hitchcock to the bullpen if they can't manage to trade them. El Duque should at least command a solid package, or perhaps the Yankees will deal him to one of the teams looking to increase payroll for only a low-level if prospect if they'll also take one of the outfielder's contracts.
Assuming Rivera returns to full health by the spring, he and Karsay at least give them very reliable late-inning relief. I can't see Mike Stanton leaving after six years in pinstripes regardless of budgetary concerns, although they might explore a cheaper option to Ramiro Mendoza. Randy Choate should finally spend a full year in New York as the second lefty, and someone like Hitchcock should wind up in long relief.
New York's incredible offensive core, combined with some of the more consistent pitchers in the game, will keep them in contention for the next few years. Their chances of continuing to win the division and advance in the playoffs rest on their ability to either begin rebuilding their farm system with some smart picks of college players or signing a few young players on the rise, perhaps a couple of guys non-tendered in December. King George should insure the Yankees remain at the forefront of the New York baseball scene and sports' sections, but given their currently shallow development system don't expect a notable contribution from many rookies over the next couple of years.
Drew Henson, 22, 3B-R
While I've seen his projected upside sharply downgraded by many prospect observers, I also see a 22-year-old with two years of AAA experience and significant power potential. New York essentially started him at AAA once he committed to baseball full-time, and since he won't run out of options until 2004, he can enjoy a third year continuing his development in central Ohio. Henson still needs to make significant progress to take full advantage of his power gifts, but he also improved from a .14 BB:K last year to .25 BB:K this season and moved from a .04 walk rate to .08 while maintaining a .68 contact rate. Although his contact rate is still awful and he lacks the patience necessary to succeed above AA, his long-term upside remains very strong. If his owner is looking to deal this off-season, happily acquire Henson with the expectation he'll earn around $12-15 in 2004.
Juan Rivera, 24, OF-R
Perhaps the primary reason for the sputtering of New York's talent pipeline is a complete inability to properly evaluate where to place and when to promote prospects. New York appears to focus entirely on outdated outcome statistics like BA and ERA rather than examining their skills. While his .858 OPS and .85 contact rate suggest he's ready for the majors, Rivera lacks both the develop power and plate discipline to post even average production for a corner outfielder. I expect the combination of a respectable BA and quantitative numbers will leave him with a 2003 value over $10, but he's not ready to star and probably isn't worth the price he'll cost in most leagues.
Erick Almonte, 24, SS-R
While I perhaps overestimated Almonte's immediate upside after he posted .287/.369/.464 with a .49 BB:K and .13 walk rate at Columbus in 2001, no one expected he'd perform so poorly this year that he'd earn a trip back Norwich. He continued struggling at AA, and unless he rebounds very strongly in 2002, teams will likely express reluctance towards even using him a utility role. I still believe he could start at shortstop in the majors given the offensive weaklings employed by some teams, although I can't recommend him at the moment and don't know if he'll return to the majors with New York. Of course, we'll reevaluate his situation if he changes organizations in the off-season, but he doesn't seem likely to contribute to any fantasy teams in 2003.
Kary Bridges, 29, 2B/UT-R
Bridges committed all of 8 errors in 120 games between second, first, and shortstop. He's demonstrated superb plate discipline throughout his career, posting a 1.60 career BB:K and 1.77 mark this year. While he lacks power, the combination of a strong batting eye and excellent defense should earn him consideration as a utility infielder every spring, but he's never even sniffed the majors in his 10-year minor league career. Bridges would not hurt you if promoted, and with a career .301 average prior to this year, he also deserves an extended big league trial.
Kevin Gibbs, 28, OF-S
Gibbs never reached the majors in six seasons with LA despite excellent plate discipline(career .98 BB:K), superb speed(77% career SB success rate, including seasons of 60 and 49 steals), and a lifetime line of .298/.406/.392. Unfortunately he's suffered from injuries his entire career, needing four shoulder surgeries in the last five years, and his problems apparently started when the tore the muscles in his throwing shoulder playing football in his junior year of high school. He skipped surgery at the time, preferring to rehab, but he couldn't throw for nine months. In 1997 he posted a .335/.451/.444 line for AA San Antonio along with 49 steals and a 72:48 BB:K in 358 at-bats despite missing time with a sore shoulder. Gibbs then managed all of 139 at-bats from 1998 through 2001, and he only played one game with Colorado after the Rockies acquired him as the third player in the Goodwin/Hollandsworth trade. This year he tore his rotator cuff slightly while warming up in Spring Training with the Yankees, however they let him rehab in extended spring training before filling an opening in Norfolk. If he can ever remain healthy, he looks like a fantastic fourth outfielder and potential late-blooming leadoff man. Look for him in next year's Dollar Days if he breaks camp with a team.
Brian Myrow, 26, 3B/OF/2B-L
Purchased from Winnipeg in the Northern League last summer, Myrow looks ready to begin next season at AAA after an excellent 2002 split between Tampa and Norwich. Anyone posting a .441 OBP in 61 AA games needs the challenge of AAA, but after playing last season at second base and this year at 3B, expect him to return to 2B Norwich while Andy Phillips, Erick Almonte, and Drew Henson fill the Columbus infield. I suspect he'll reach New York either next September or in mid-2004 as a very solid utility infielder who the press will mistakenly ignore as another Clay Bellinger while Myrow's skills indicate a much higher upside.
Andy Phillips, 25, 2B-R
Prior to this season, he'd displayed good power, a decent walk rate, and some overall offensive potential, but I don't think anyone expected him to post a .999 OPS in 272 AA at-bats. The Yankees sent him to the AFL, and he'll need more AAA time, however after only committing 10 errors in 113 games at second base, he could theoretically push Soriano to the outfield in 2004. However he's probably more likely to head elsewhere as an overrated prospect contaminated by the mystique that settles over all pinstriped minor leaguers, so despite a marginally bright future, he's a poor fantasy pick.
Kevin Reese, 24, OF-L
The Yankees dealt future Padre starting second baseman Bernabel Castro to San Diego last December in a rare prospect-for-prospect deal, but despite jumping Reese past A+ to AA, they should be pleased with his overall performance. While I don't envision him as a future starter for New York and his 61% SB success rate worries me, both his .89 walk rate and .15 BB:K indicate a strong future as a back-up. After a year of AAA, he should challenge for a roster spot in 2004, spending a few years as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner before moving onto a bigger role on another team.
Scott Seabol, 27, 1B/UT-R
I don't expect him to survive this winter as a member of their 40-man roster after they didn't promote him this September. He's simply not fulfilling the promise he demonstrated back at AA Norwich in 2000, where he hit .296/.355/.517 with 67 extra-base hits. Andy Phillips and Brian Myrow both look more likely to contribute at the major league level, but at least Seabol managed one at-bat in a Yankee uniform in September of 2001. He offers some promise as a right-handed pinch-hitter and utilityman, although after committing 17 errors in 117 games spent mostly at 1B, he seems destined for a AAAA career.
Marcus Thames, 25, OF-R
After shocking everyone with a .321/.410/.598 line in his third season at AA Norwich in 2001, Thames spiraled back to earth in his first AAA experience, perhaps disappointed that the Yankees didn't give him a longer look this year, instead acquiring Rondell White, John Vander Wal, and Raul Mondesi. He returned to the AFL for a second straight season this fall, and hopefully will regain some of his lost prospect luster. I don't believe he'll ever consistently start in a Yankee outfield filled with Juan Rivera in right, Bernie Williams likely soon moving to left, and perhaps Soriano or Hideki Matsui in center. However New York will eagerly prop him until they can package him with another low-level prospect or two when they have the chance to acquire another rising star like Jeff Weaver. Thames is too risky to own in most leagues, and if he excels in the AFL, look to deal him on the basis of those potentially strong numbers.
Jason Anderson, 23, RH Reliever
As he hadn't pitched above the Sally League prior to this season, Baseball America's suggestion that "he could move faster in a short-relief role" certainly proved true. Anderson owns good command of four pitches and showed solid stamina prior to some injuries last season, but now he's ready for fight for a job in a potentially depleted Yankee bullpen next spring. I'd like to see him spend a couple more months in long relief at AAA unless he completely wows everyone in the AFL and Spring Training, leaving him as a viable fantasy candidate by sometime next summer. Don't expect fantastic numbers since he doesn't have much experience, although I think his future looks very promising, especially if he moves back to starting in a couple of years.
Andy Beal, 23, LH Starter
I almost left him listed as a potential minor league draft selection below, but he could reach New York in the middle of next season. While he pitched effectively when beginning his second season at Tampa, he began dominating after a promotion to Norwich, posting a 61:22 K:BB in 62.2 IP over 10 GS. So New York sent him to AAA, where he understandably struggled with a 31:21 K:BB in 44.2 innings. As long as the Yankees give him sufficient development time, he should emerge as a solid starter, although he's not a great minor league pick due to the frequency of New York minor leaguers matriculating to other organizations.
Danny Borrell, 23, LH Starter
Although he'll need to spend most of next year in AAA, the Yankees' second rounder from 2000 looks like a promising starter. I'm not overly impressed by a 2.4 K:BB, 6.4 K/9, or a .4 homer rate, but these are solid ratios that indicate future promise. Like every New York pitching prospect, he has no guaranteed of reaching the majors with his current team, however Borrell at least seems likely to continue developing in the system for another year or two.
Julio DePaula, 23, RH Starter
New York picked up DePaula in April of 2001 as the player to be named later for Craig Dingman, so the Yankees essentially stole their best pitching prospect from the Rockies since Colorado later DFA'd Dingman. He's always demonstrated very good dominance but lost his control upon reaching A+ in the second half of last season. The Yankees still promoted him to AA on the basis of his 3.58 ERA and 8.3 K/9, and he rewarded their faith with one of the best AA seasons of any pitcher. He's probably the strongest of their pitching prospects, although I'm not sure if he's the young starter in the organization most likely to reach the majors given their need for a second lefty starter. Only consider him for a mid-round pick.
Craig Dingman, 28, RH Reliever
Cincinnati signed him last winter and used him in middle relief at Louisville until trading him to the Yankees(while Dingman's wife was nine months pregnant). He needed season-ending arm surgery after two games with New York, so at least he had time home with his family. Dingman's historical minor league numbers are even stronger than he managed this season as he owns a career 3.4 K:BB and 8.9 K/9. There's no reason he can't contribute to a major league bullpen as soon as he's healthy, and as long as he looks good in AAA next year, feel free to pick him up once he's promoted.
Bo Donaldson, 28, RH Swingman
Donaldson's pitched for five different organizations in the last five seasons, and after compiling an impressive array of numbers for the Yankees this year, he deserves a chance to compete for a major league job in Spring Training. He started emerging last season as a capable relief prospect and now looks ready to contribute to a big league pitching staff. I'd like to see him post solid skills for a few weeks in the majors before picking him up, although he also might wind up as a AAA pitcher if he can't find an organization willing to give him an extended chance.
Nate Field, 26, RH Reliever
After posting solid AA numbers last season and opening the year with a 13:8 K:BB in 16.1 AAA innings, Kansas City promoted him for several days as part of their plan to upset the development of nearly all their best pitching prospects. When the Royals DFA'd him, New York grabbed him off waivers and sent him to AAA. Unfortunately he showed little command at either affiliate, so I expect the Yankees to move him off the 40-man this winter. He should re-emerge as viable bullpen material within the next two years, but he doesn't seem likely to accrue much roto value in 2003.
Alex Graman, 24, LH Starter
Graman caught Steinbrenner's eye at Tampa back in 2000 and almost appeared in several significant trade rumors. However the Yankees kept him and he's actually improved his command over the last two seasons. A 6.7 K/9 will leave him in competition to fill Ted Lilly's role as New York's second lefty and long reliever, and while he doesn't possess Lilly's dominance, he could easily earn several dollars of value in 2003. I don't believe he's a great draft pick, but feel free to add him if he breaks camp with the team.
Brian Rogers, 25, RH Starter
After spending most of the last three years at Norwich, the Yankees finally promoted him to AAA where he only managed a 5.68 ERA on 51:27 K:BB in 71.1 innings. He won't emerge as a starter in New York given his lack of dominance, however he should develop into a viable AAAA starter or potentially useful middle or long reliever if he converts to relief. Don't expect much from him in the next two seasons, although I still like his upside.
Jay Tessmer, 30, RH Reliever
I'm fairly certain he's still a rookie despite spending parts of four of the last five seasons in the majors. Somehow I think he'll continue returning to New York for most of the rest of his career, since while he doesn't strike out that many batters, he owns a career minor league K:BB of 3.6. Tessmer may remain on the edges of the Yankee bullpen indefinitely, but he's not a great candidate for fantasy teams due to his weak dominance.
Dave Walling, 23, RH Starter
As a 6'6" right-handed starter with a fantastic 3.9 K:BB and projectable dominance, he should rank among the best pitching prospects in the majors. Unfortunately he left Columbus in June for the same reason he briefly retired last May, missing most of 2001: he suffers from a nearly uncontrollable compunction to repeatedly throw to first once a runner reaches base. If his current stint of counseling helps him overcome this issue, he should re-emerge as a pitcher with tremendous upside, but since he's now missed significant development time battling this problem, we obviously don't know when or if he'll resume his career. Walling's obviously not a viable fantasy pick until we see if he returns to baseball next season.
Charlie Manning, 23, LH Starter
A 9th round pick in 2001, Manning was one of the only Yankee prospects who received a mid-season promotion and actually improved his skills after jumping levels. He's compiled a very strong skills set of 2.6 K:BB, 8.1 K/9, 7.6 H/9, and .3 HR/9, all ratios which indicate a pitcher with both solid command and dominance who should continue succeeding as he rises in the system. I'd like to see him split 2003 between AA and AAA to allow him to consolidate his tremendous progress this season, however he also looks like prime trade bait given New York's need for another young starting pitcher. As long as he's with a club in Spring Training who believes he'll contribute for them in the majors, consider spending a low draft pick on him, but if the Yankees just re-sign Clemens and don't add someone to partner with Weaver in the future, Manning won't be worth the risk.
Sam Bozanich, 23, A+ Tampa(FSL) 2B-R
Manny Acosta, 21, A Greensboro(Sal) RH Starter
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 the lower levels of each system:
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
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