Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Seattle still owns a quality group of major league players and a few high ceiling prospects, but unless GM Pat Gillick completes a very impressive off-season, the Mariners might be stuck rebuilding like Cleveland over the next few years. Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, Jamie Moyer, James Baldwin, Ruben Sierra, and Dan Wilson could all leave this off-season, and while they have enough pitching to replenish their staff, and Ben Davis can catch, they need to either keep Edgar, Olerud, and Sierra or find a way to replace the lost offense.
The Mariners' major league acquisitions also have largely gutted the farm system. Seattle didn't have a true first round pick last year and overdrafted Michael Garciaparra, who looks promising but four years away. This year they couldn't sign first rounder John Mayberry, Jr., and top prospects Ryan Anderson, Antonio Perez, Chris Snelling, and Jeff Heaverlo have all missed significant time due to injuries. With Lou Piniella likely leaving to move east, and Bret Boone and Jeff Cirillo both on the downsides of their respective careers, Mariner fans should prepare for two last place seasons unless ownership will commit money beyond their stated goal of playoff competition.
Any lineup with Ichiro, Boone, and hopefully Edgar and Olerud will always provide some offense, and Carlos Guillen remains an above average player. However Mike Cameron performed poorly this year and left field remains a gaping hole. They also might be stuck with Desi Relaford and Ben Davis respectively at third base and catcher depending on their off-season decisions. While Seattle should remain a strong defensive team, their offense seems down to an average level instead of the league-leading excellence expected after recent years.
Freddy Garcia and Joel Pineiro will anchor a rotation filled out by Ryan Franklin, John Halama, and Rafael Soriano unless they're willing to spend to re-sign Moyer or find a replacement. While youthful and prone to health problems, this rotation at least appears quite promising. Kaz Sasaki should be fine for next season after minor surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, and Arthur Rhodes and Jeff Nelson can handle the late inning work. Doug Creek should return as the second lefty, and young righties likes Aaron Taylor and Allan Simpson can compete for middle relief innings. Although the Mariners could exercise Shigetoshi Hasegawa's option, they also might spend that money on someone like Moyer, the bumping Franklin or Halama to the bullpen.
The best course of action for Seattle is probably to make one more run after re-signing Edgar, Olerud, and Moyer while acquiring a potent bat for left field. Then Edgar and Moyer could retire, and if no draft changes happen next season, they can just offer arbitration to Mike Cameron, Arthur Rhodes, and Jeff Nelson, hoping each will depart for more money elsewhere. Olerud and Bret Boone should both bring attractive packages in trade. With Chris Snelling and Jamal Strong ready for the majors, Seattle could look to spend the suddenly available $40M on perhaps Vlad Guerrero and Jose Vidro, teaming those two studs with Ichiro and anyone acquired in the Olerud/Boone trades for an amazingly potent lineup. Perhaps this plan appears too ambitious, but it allows for a strong run this year, and if Gillick leaves after the season as expected, a rising prospective GM could remake the franchise in one off-season, keeping the ballclub very competitive while developing the farm system and retaining the enthusiastic crowds.
Willie Bloomquist, 24, OF-R
Unfortunately he'll only qualify as an outfielder in most leagues, but he should pick up 2B, SS, and 3B in some leagues by the end of April and nearly every league by the All-Star break. Seattle apparently realized that he lacked nearly any power potential or a good OBP, although they recognized that with his speed and versatility, he'll develop into a great replacement for Mark McLemore. So they let him spent 39 games in the outfield, 20 at second base, 25 at third base, and 19 at shortstop for AAA Tacoma this season. Bloomquist should spend all of 2003 in Seattle essentially as Luis Ugueto's replacement on the roster, and he'll pinch-run, play in most games as a defensive sub, and emerge as the second utility player while McLemore theoretically tutors him. The only way I see him earning double-digit value is if Seattle slots him at third base with McLemore and perhaps Relaford after the potential Jeff Cirillo departure, otherwise he'll remain in the $5-8 range with fantastic position flexibility.
Chris Snelling, 20, OF-L
Seattle promoted him to the majors after only 23 games above A-ball when ownership was too cheap to go acquire an established bat to replace the injured Edgar. While Snelling started very strong in his Texas League debut, he doesn't seem prepared for anything more than AAA, however he also could emerge as the starting left fielder in the spring if the Mariners decide to cut payroll. He missed the last four months of this season after tearing the ACL in his right knee when he stepped the foot of third base coach Dave Myers in early June. This indicates more troublesome long-term health issues since he also won the California League BA title in 2001 while playing with a stress fracture in his right foot. In 2000 he broke a hand and injured a wrist by crashing into the outfield wall, so while some scouts compare him to Lenny Dykstra, Rusty Greer is the unfortunate comparison I envision. His overall plate discipline, developing power, and baserunning instincts would allow him to reach the $10-12 range if he wins the starting job, although I truly believe his chances of stardom depend on more development time, and possibly moving to 1B to help him avoid further injury. Snelling is a solid yet risky pick who you likely should continue to admire from afar until he's more established.
Jamal Strong, 24, OF-R
Strong attracted immediate attention after winning the MVP of the short-season Northwest League in his debut season by posting a .314/.422/.368 line with a 60/74 SB% and 52:29 BB:K. Instead of regressing against better competition, he exploded in 51 games at A Wisconsin last year for a .353/.478/.429 with a 35/39 SB% and 40:27 BB:K. Seattle promoted him to A+ San Bernardino for the last 81 games of the season, and he again dominated the competition, hitting .311/.411/.356 with 47/55 SB% and 51:60 BB:K. Unfortunately his lack of power and age advantaged over his competition finally caught up to him this season as he barely managed respectable numbers for a leadoff hitter. Considering his complete lack of power potential, neither his .71 BB:K nor a .12 walk rate suggest he's ready for AAA, so the Mariners have two choices. First, they can promote him again, likely pushing him to the majors by mid-season as a utility outfielder and pinch-runner, which might allow him to grab significant roto value by the end of 2003. Second, and more likely, Strong can return to AA to rediscover his plate discipline and contact abilities so that he'll be prepared to challenge for a starting spot sometime in 2004. He seems to slot nicely as a left fielder given his great range and average arm. Fantasy owners agree to a definite risk when drafting him that he'll peak as a back-up or even wind up traded given the league-wide desire for speedy leadoff men. Of course he could remain in Seattle and start scoring 100 runs a year with 75 steals as Ichiro's running buddy. Figure he'll wind up with a career including elements of both paths, meaning he should be owned in leagues with farm systems no later than next spring even as you shouldn't spend a top pick on him.
Andy Barkett, 28, 1B/OF-L
Barkett finally reached the majors with Pittsburgh last season after seven minor league seasons, and now since he's a 1B/OF who's never exceeded a .456 SLG above Rookie-ball, he'll probably spend the next half-dozen seasons bouncing between organizations as useful roster filler. He's capable of performing respectably at either AA or AAA, although he just doesn't appear likely to help a major league team. Avoid him barring a major upswing in his power skills.
Blake Barthol, 29, C-R
Barthol's spent the last two years as one of the Rainiers' catchers. He's certainly not a prospect given his age and lack of power above A-ball, although he walks at a good rate and could find a job as a back-up. If Dan Wilson leaves and Ben Davis starts at catcher, Barthol might be in competition for the Mariners' reserve job, but his overall offensive profile indicates you won't want him on your team.
Greg Connors, 28, OF/3B/UT-R
In his six years in the Mariners system after signing as a nondrafted free agent back in 1996, Connors has gradually developed into an all-purpose utilityman with a little power, sporadically good walk rate, and little chance of making an extended contribution in the majors. His continually weak plate discipline restricts him to a position as a quality organizational soldier who's unlikely to see more than an occasional cup-of-coffee above AAA. Connors therefore doesn't appear able to contribute to fantasy teams.
Aaron Holbert, 29, SS-R
Aside from three at-bats in one game back in 1996 with St. Louis, Holbert's remained in the minors for all of his thirteen professional seasons. He's mostly failed to advance because he offers no plate discipline or power, restricting his contributions to an empty batting average and decent middle infield defense. Due to the combination of a low walk rate and weak .43 career BB:K, he doesn't appear to possess the skills necessary to help fantasy teams.
Kenny Kelly, 23, OF-R
Kelly missed the last month of the season with shoulder tendinitis, an unfortunate situation considering that he runs out of options next spring. I expect Seattle to keep him as their fifth outfielder given his power-speed potential, but he even needs more AA time at this point. With weak plate discipline and undeveloped power, Kelly's potential might remain untapped unless a rebuilding organization that lacks better options will just insert him in the lineup for a year or two. If Pittsburgh or Montreal wants to give him a shot in center, he might surprise for a minimum investment, although expect a poor BA and limited quantitative help. His long-term upside remains high as long as he's not forced to "develop" while sitting on the bench for a couple years, a decision that almost would insure he remains only a reserve outfielder.
Scott Podsednik, 26, OF-L
Milwaukee claimed him a couple of days ago but he doesn't seem much more likely to find a regular job for the Brewers than with the Mariners. His 35 steals this year were the best total of his career, and with career marks of a .11 walk rate and a .79 BB:K, he owns enough plate discipline to warrant strong consideration for a major league bench role. Unfortunately his limited power potential and inconsistent batting averages limit his value to any bases he steals, and I don't foresee him earning significant big league playing time in the near future.
Juan Thomas, 30, 1B-R
Ron Wright has the potential to develop into a hitter of Thomas' caliber in the next few years, as even though Thomas slumped this season after a .300/.351/.523 in 2001, he remains a viable offensive threat who deserves a look in the majors. If he returns to Seattle and Edgar needs more DL time, he should be the first guy recalled since he offers solid power potential with a decent walk rate; only an abundance of strikeouts keeps Thomas from an impressive major league career. He'll offer good power numbers and a troublesome BA when he reaches the majors, so make sure you know his role before adding him.
A top power prospect back in 1996 when Atlanta packaged him with Jason Schmidt for Denny Neagle, Wright will only turn 27 in January, so he should be peaking now. There's no reason he can't emerge as a solid platoon first baseman for a few years, although he really needs to bribe Billy Beane for plate discipline tutoring in AA next season. I still really like his potential for a productive major leaguer career, however he's not worth fantasy consideration at the moment.
Scott Atchison, 26, RH Swingman
In his four-year minor league career, Atchison has never posted a command ratio below 3.0 K:BB, spending one season each at A-ball, high-A, AA, and now AAA. Most surprisingly, he improved his strikeout rate from 5.5 to 8.1 K/9 and hit rate from 11.3 to 8.9 H/9, both while moving from AA San Antonio in 2001 to Tacoma this year. I don't view him as an elite prospect, but if Ryan Franklin stays in the rotation next year, Atchison looks ready to take his spot in long relief. He's a $1 sleeper who could earn a few bucks of profit.
Bobby Bevel, 29, LH Reliever
He's gradually risen up the ladder, either remaining at his previous level or receiving a promotion until moving to Seattle this year and dropping back to AA San Antonio for a month. While displaying generally solid control and good dominance, Bevel's only a year away from turning 30, when all the good little AAA left-handers earn their Brotherhood of Left-handed Pitchers' card, guaranteeing employment in baseball for the next dozen years. Bevel's maturing right on track with the established timeline, so while he could help some teams now, wait one more year before adding him to your fantasy team.
Ken Cloude, 27, RH Starter
Cloude missed the last half of the season with bursitis in his shoulder, an injury that kept him from joining the Mariners when they needed starters after the All-Star break. He tore a ligament in his elbow back in June of 2000, and between Tommy John surgery that August and a ruptured achilles in his left leg in January of 2001, Cloude needed to sit out all of last year to rehab. While his skills remain solid in AAA, he's shown no ability to maintain his effectiveness after a promotion, so even as he could rebound to emerge as a strong starter, wait until Cloude establishes himself in the majors before looking to acquire him.
Brian Falkenborg, 24, RH Starter
After missing all of 2000 and part of 2001 following Tommy John surgery, Falkenborg demonstrated sufficient skill at AA San Antonio to warrant a promotion. He wasn't impressive in 48.1 AAA innings last year, but he looked great for the first two months of 2002 before tendinitis in his elbow forced him out for the season. Falkenborg should compete for a rotation spot when healthy, so check his effectiveness in Spring Training before deciding on your bid if he breaks camp with the team.
Rett Johnson, 23, RH Starter
Johnson split 2001 between Seattle's two full-season A-ball teams, and after 7 more starts at high-A this year, he continued impressing in 21 AA starts. However his command slipped to under 2.0 K:BB in San Antonio, a disappointment considering his 3.0+ career mark below AA. Johnson's a solid prospect who should enjoy a lengthy major league career, but he also might wind up in relief if he can't adequately develop his changeup. Hold off on drafting him until he demonstrates both excellent command and dominance at higher levels.
Justin Kaye, 26, RH Reliever
The Mariners stupidly left him at AAA for another season even after he posted a 2.3 K:BB, 12.5 K/9, .6 HR/9, and 6.0 H/9 in 77 innings at Tacoma in 2001. He clearly appeared ready for the majors this year, and yet they added Shigetoshi Hasegawa and James Baldwin, the latter keeping either Ryan Franklin or John Halama in the bullpen most of the year. After a somewhat understandable removal from the 40-man a couple of weeks ago, Kaye should find an organization willing to focus on his past accomplishments instead of his poor 2002 numbers, which actually look like a close match to his 1999 stats at A+ Lancaster(Cal). He needs to pitch solidly for a month or two of AAA next year, and then Kaye deserves an extended audition in some team's bullpen.
Aquilino Lopez, 27, RH Swingman
After raving about him a few months ago, we recently discovered that Lopez was a full five years older than his listed age of 22, illustrating why scouts never considered him an intriguing prospect. So while I no longer consider him worthy of a 40-man slot (unless he's on the 25-man) given his limited upside and the competition he faces, any pitcher with AAA skill ratios of 3.8 K:BB, 8.5 K/9, .5 HR/9, and 7.3 H/9 deserves a long look in the majors regardless of his age. Lopez could help several teams out of the bullpen now, and he shouldn't hurt you in Dollar Days if he breaks camp with the Mariners next spring.
Josue Matos, 24, RH Starter
Matos missed all of 2001 with a right shoulder strain, so I'm rather surprised that Seattle promoted him to AAA after only three AA starts. Prior to his injury, he'd only started 14 games at high-A and 14 more games at AA, and while he demonstrated good skills throughout his four-year minor league career, his overall poor performance this year suggests he needs more development time. Look for some solid AAA ratios before considering him in 2003.
Chris Mears, 24, RH Swingman
While he needed seven seasons to reach AA, his solid command at San Antonio should earn him another promotion if he remains with the Mariners next year. I don't believe he possesses the skills necessary to succeed as a starter at higher levels, although his profile makes him a logical candidate for relief work. However I won't be comfortable considering him for a roster spot unless he dominates in AAA for a couple of months before any promotion.
J.J. Putz, 25, RH Starter
Despite appearing ready for AAA following a AA season in 2001 where he compiled a 7-9 record on 135:59 K:BB in 148 innings, Seattle returned him to San Antonio for the first few months of 2002. His skills regressed as he only managed a 3-10 record and 3.64 ERA before they finally promoted him. Putz still ranks as an impressive prospect, but his Missions' teammates at AA will push him at AAA, insuring he'll need a strong 2003 to remain in the Mariners' long-term plans. Even if he might help during the season, I'd rather gamble a pick on the younger prospects with more upside, especially since guys like Travis Blackley and Clint Nageotte won't reach the majors much behind Putz.
Wascar Serrano, 25, RH Swingman
He was the only one of the 6 players involved in last December's San Diego/Seattle trade not to play in the majors this season, and despite strong historical stats as a starter, Seattle left him in relief this year. Surprisingly his command has plummeted since the Padres started moving him to the pen last year, and we've also seen his dominance fall. Even if doesn't possess significant upside, he's too young to limit to the pen given his impressive numbers while starting in the past. I expect he'll make a solid Rule 5 pick if no team wants to trade for him, although he might rebound if he accepts his new role. Serrano's certainly a risky selection, so I'd want to see 2003 stats before acquiring him.
Allan Simpson, 25, RH Reliever
Simpson blossomed following his conversion to relief in mid-1999, and while he needs to continue refining his control, he's not far from a major league job. I expect him to begin 2003 at AAA with the hope that he'll naturally improve his command while retaining his impressive dominance. Although he'll likely need at least another full minor league season, he should challenge for a big league bullpen spot in 2004.
Brian Sweeney, 28, RH Starter
Sweeney finally received a full season in AAA after six years in the minors, and while only his command appears ready for the majors, I expect he'll receive consideration as a mid-season injury replacement. Like most pitchers, he seems to improve his dominance when repeating a level, so if needed sometime next summer, Sweeney likely wouldn't be a bad choice as roster filler.
Aaron Taylor, 25, RH Reliever
He missed the first 60 days of the 2001 season after he briefly retired due to his unhappiness at the direction of his career. Taylor returned to compile a very impressive 50:11 K:BB in 29.1 innings at A Wisconsin, so Seattle jumped him to the Texas League. You can observe his dominance by glancing at the stat line above, and he certainly maintained his command during a September cup-of-coffee. After a year in AAA, he should be ready to replace Jeff Nelson as the Mariners' primary right-handed setup-man in 2004. He'll need some luck to end up with many saves, so while he's not a good draft pick, I'm comfortable recommending him based on his 2002 performance for fantasy use during any mid-season call-ups.
Shin-Soo Choo, 20, OF-L
Choo likely could make the majors as a left-handed pitcher with a mid-90's fastball, but the Mariners prefer his seven skill potential in the outfield. Scouts expect he'll continue developing power as he matures, and both the BA and OBP are right where we'd like to see them. I'm concerned about his offensive speed in that a 64% SB success rate at A-ball isn't impressive, however he at least possesses the raw speed to steal if his manager wishes. You might be able to wait another year in some leagues since he should only reach AA in the second half of 2003, I don't envision him holding a starting job until 2005, and he's potentially trade bait.
Jose Lopez, 18, SS-R
A quick glance at his stats doesn't give the appropriate impression since I'd normally worry about a shortstop who committed 31 errors in 119 games and only managed a .60 BB:K and .05 walk rate. So we'll look at him from another perspective: Lopez won't turn 19 until late November and spent most of 2002 as the youngest player in the A+ California League after skipping A Wisconsin entirely. His combination of a .91 contact rate and .60 BB:K gives him significant BA potential even if he doesn't increase his walk rate, and since he's reportedly an excellent defender, he might be ready to displace Carlos Guillen by 2005. I see no reason for Seattle not to give him a full year at both AA and AAA, so while Lopez is only a long-term fantasy prospect, consider him with a later pick as he could hold significant trade value if he continues hitting at AA.
Travis Blackley, 19, LH Starter
Another product of Seattle's fantastic Pacific Rim scouting, Blackley joined Jose Lopez in jumping from short-season Everett in the Northwest League to the Cal League, a particularly surprising accomplishment considering Blackley broke his elbow in last fall's instructional league. He needed a pin in his elbow and therefore started the season late. So his ratios of 3.5 K:BB, 11.3 K/9, 7.6 H/9, and .8 HR/9 rank him with the best pitching prospects in baseball even before accounting for his age disadvantage compared to the rest of the league. Blackley's combination of great command and a dominant 2002 that included the fourth best strikeout rate among all minor league starters places him firmly in the Mariners' future plans, and he seems like a perfectly reasonable draft pick.
Glenn Bott, 21, LH Swingman
Seattle apparently forgot about their Midwest League team in Wisconsin as Bott, like Jose Lopez and Travis Blackley, skipped straight to the California League. Unlike Lopez and Blackley, Bott didn't dominate his competition but merely pitched very effectively. The Mariners signed him right after the 2001 draft as an undrafted free agent, and now he ranks among their stronger pitching prospects. I'll need to see his stats after a few months of starting full-time at AA next season, although Bott's a stronger prospect than some pitchers I've profiled in this space over the past ten days.
Clint Nageotte, 21, RH Starter
Considering the six promising starters in San Bernardino's rotation this year, AA San Antonio's starting staff next year should compare favorably to Oakland's outstanding group of prospects at AA Midland this season. After leading the Midwest League in strikeouts in 2001 and the entire minors in strikeouts this season, Nageotte is the established ace of any team he joins. He owns three excellent pitches and a developing change-up, and as long as the Mariners monitor his high pitch counts, his ceiling ranks with any pitcher in baseball. I'll be shocked if he's not drafted next spring in every AL 5x5 league with a farm system.
Blake Bone, 23, A+ San Bernardino(Cal) 1B/3B/OF-L
Craig Anderson, 21, AA San Antonio(TL) LH Starter
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
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