Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
If a group of toddlers wandered about a hardware store, randomly selecting power tools and then playing with them, the resulting collection of useless tools and hospital visits would resemble the state of the Devil Rays' organization. Of course the toddlers likely have a better chance at assembling a championship ballclub within the next few years.
Of the forty-five Devil Rays that played in the majors this year, only Aubrey Huff, Toby Hall, Randy Winn, Carl Crawford, and a couple of pitchers displayed any indication of owning the abilities necessary to advance the organization to playoff contention, and Winn appears likely to leave this off-season. None of their top prospects display the plate discipline normally essential to major league success, and aside from the seemingly overrated Rocco Baldelli, all their best prospects for 2003 are already in the majors. Tampa could trade two players among Steve Cox, Ben Grieve, Greg Vaughn, and Randy Winn to save money, leaving the last two to play right field and 1B/DH. Huff will anchor the lineup at 1B or DH, and Brent Abernathy and Jared Sandberg seem respectively set at 2B and 3B. Crawford returns to left field, and Baldelli is expected to debut in centerfield for Tampa next spring. With Toby Hall returning as the only catcher with major league experience, Tampa's only essential need is to acquire a starting shortstop after cutting ties with Chris Gomez. Unless they're serious about either Wilmy Caceras or Jason Smith, expect them to add someone like Neifi Perez to insure they won't produce offensively.
Fortunately their pitching looks somewhat brighter. Tanyon Sturtze went 4-18 but at least provided 224 innings to take the pressure off a young staff. Joe Kennedy and Paul Wilson continued developing into respectable starters, although Wilson might leave for salary reasons. If healthy, Ryan Rupe's earned a slot, Victor Zambrano impressed towards the end of the year, and Jorge Sosa, Delvin James, Luis de los Santos, and Dewon Brazelton will compete for any remaining spots.
The bullpen is a complete disaster after Esteban Yan and Travis Phelps bombed this past year. Hopefully they'll deal Yan, let Travis Harper and Lance Carter compete to close, and look at Jesus Colome and rookies as developing middle relievers. Despite a respectable season in relief, 2002 Rule 5 pick Steve Kent might start next season, so they also need to find a lefty or two after letting Doug Creek and Jason Jimenez depart the organization.
Aside from 2002 #2 overall pick B.J. Upton, Tampa's top prospects are all outfielders and pitchers, so any immediate promise for the team rests with the continued development of Huff, Abernathy, Sandberg, and Hall. They could compose the core of an improving infield in a couple years, combining with Upton and some grouping of the outfield talent for a speedy young team with good power potential. However the lack of any hitting instruction that focuses on selectivity and patience may doom them to the second division indefinitely. Only Baldelli and Carter seem likely to contribute to roto teams, and after rushing through the system, Tampa really should give Baldelli a full year of AAA. Despite their apparent youth, Tampa is a poor target for immediate fantasy help, and I'll be truly impressed if they don't lose 90 games next year even if they get to Piniella to manage.
Rocco Baldelli, 21, OF-R
Baldelli compiled some impressive numbers this year, and he certainly deserves consideration for one of the strongest minor league seasons; I also really like his long-term upside and believe he'll help give the Rays a very strong outfield. However, aside from the batting average, few people would have noticed this season had he merely spent all year compiling these numbers at Bakersfield as expected. Even if he remained at AA and somehow held his .942 OPS through more than 17 games, he would barely rank among the top outfielders in the game. Analysts should not reward a prospect for the stupidity of his team, and Baldelli's 0:23 BB:K as Durham's leadoff man illustrates why he desperately needs more development time. Among players at AA, Brad Hawpe(1.034) and Victor Martinez(.993) posted significantly better offensive numbers, and even Baldelli's Bakersfield teammate Jonny Gomes looked more impressive at a 1.003 OPS. So while Baldelli combined youth, OPS, speed, and defense, the difference in overall value leaves Martinez a step above a second tier of prospects that includes Baldelli, Gomes, and Minnesota's Lew Ford, who managed a 28/34 SB% and an .899 OPS while hitting in a more difficult environment. Expect Baldelli in the majors no later than mid-June, but while he's worth a top draft pick due to the possibility of a .270/50/12/55/15, he appears to need at least a full season of development in the upper minors to insure immediate success upon promotion.
Lance Carter, 27, RH Swingman
I didn't recommend acquiring Carter in July due to his uncertain role, but he improved his command over the second half of the season to 7.5 K:BB and pitched very effectively after his promotion. Anyone who can hold a command ratio above a 6.1 K:BB deserves serious consideration, and with Tampa apparently comfortable leaving him in the pen, he enters Spring Training in a battle with Esteban Yan and Travis Harper for save opportunities. Carter's superb control may give him a slight edge over the two more established pitchers, however he's almost as likely to remain a $5 middle reliever all year. I suspect his dominance will improve in a full-time relief role, so assuming he goes into the season with no new competition for saves, you could easily bid him to almost double digits while still expecting a profit.
Brooks Badeaux, 25, 2B/3B-S
He demonstrated great plate discipline and a promising future until the Tampa promoted him too quickly in 2000. Back at AA last year, his walk rate didn't recover and he posted a .304 OBP after three seasons compiling a career OBP of .375. The Devil Rays allowed him back to Durham this year, but his contact rate hasn't improved and his walk rate remains under 10%. Badeaux still possesses a future as a major league utilityman if he can regain the patience necessary to post a consistent .350+ OBP at the highest levels of the system, although until you see an uptick in his BB:K, he's not worth considering for your team.
Andy Beinbrink, 26, 2B/3B-R
After two years in Orlando and only 2 games at Durham, Beinbrink should need to spend at least all of 2003 perfecting his on-base skills while he continues developing into a utility infielder. He owns decent speed and good plate discipline, so while his OPS remained essentially the same, over the past two years, I'm glad his BA and steals improved. I don't see anything particularly special in his skills, although he seems likely to help as a middle infielder capable of stealing several bases a year.
Wilmy Caceres, 29, SS-S
Cincinnati traded him to Anaheim two years ago for the perpetually injured Seth Etherton, and Caceres lost the starting shortstop derby to some guy named Eckstein. Anaheim then dealt him to Tampa for Mickey Callway a year ago, and Callaway solidified the Angels' rotation down the stretch and might receive a World Series' ring. Meanwhile Caceres gained 5 years in agegate, diminishing his potential value to a minimal amount. A poor BA will negate any steals, leaving Caceres lucky if he finds a starting job at AAA in the future.
Matt Diaz, 24, OF-R
Diaz hit 40 doubles and 17 homers at A+ Bakersfield last year, although he only managed 24 walks in 524 at-bats. While he needs another few months at AA until his OPS improves, his shocking SB performance might force an early promotion. I don't believe he's a particularly strong prospect, but I could see him spending time at DH in Tampa or making a larger contribution in another organization. Certainly wait until he posts some nice AAA numbers and makes the majors before considering him for your team.
Ryan Freel, 26, 2B/OF-R
I was shocked when Toronto cut him even after repeatedly compiling a good BA, great OBP, excellent plate discipline, and impressive speed, and even though Tampa needed an infusion of all these qualities, they didn't promote him at any point. His walk rate slipped below .10 for the first time in a minor league season this year, however he remains an intriguing roto player due to his somewhat unique skill combination. If he signs with a smarter organization, he could approach double digits off the bench, although he's not worth a draft pick given his age.
Hoover now owns a career .219 BA at AAA, and he still departed the organization following his removal from the 40-man roster, leaving Toby Hall as the only rostered catcher. His position flexibility at the corners is relatively unimportant considering his terrible production, so he'll likely be lucky to land a job above AA. I see very little to like in his current skills set, although he displayed great plate discipline prior to AAA in 2001. If he can rediscover the patience that allowed him to hold a career .381 OBP before 2001, he might reemerge as a promising roto option.
Pierre-Luc (Pete) LaForest, 24, C-L
While looking on Google for the reason LaForest missed all but 7 games in 2001, I found a page on LaForest in French; the translation of the page into English is quite amusing. LaForest hails from Quebec, explaining the extensive site's original French text, and two posted interviews with LaForest provided a detailed commentary on his injury. He tore the meniscus in his left knee in the Australian League before 2001, and he tried to play after rehab, but pain from undiscovered bone chips forced him to the bench and the resulting operations kept him out for the season. LaForest converted to catcher last season, and he remained Orlando's primary catcher for most of 2002. I definitely expect Tampa to protect him on the 40-man since he's already attractive trade bait, and he should emerge as a promising rookie backstop in 2004. Unfortunately I wouldn't spend a draft pick on him because of Toby Hall's presence, although you should definitely monitor his progress in AAA next season.
Josh Pressley, 22, 1B/DH-L
Tampa jumped him past A+ to Orlando in 2001, and he only managed 111 at-bats while missing most of the year with a broken wrist. Pressley seems destined to DH, although he doesn't appear to possess the power necessary for that position, however we shouldn't be too surprised by his lack of power as wrist injuries don't usually heal quickly. He's 6'6" and hit 44 doubles at A Charleston-SC in 2000, and he displayed excellent plate discipline this year, compiling skill ratios of a .94 BB:K, .13 walk rate, and .86 contact rate; these are very strong skills that indicate a bright future even if he never develops power. Fortunately I expect he'll post some very impressive AAA numbers, and he could dominate AA if they leave him at Orlando for another couple of months. Look for him to reach the majors in 2004, and since most owners won't show much interest in a first baseman without power, take advantage of the situation to draft him in a lower round. If Tampa leaves him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, several teams should consider selecting him and just letting him learn in the majors given his impressive upside.
Andy Thompson, 27, OF-R
Thompson's skills have regressed quickly in the two years since he posted an .808 OPS at AAA Syracuse. He played himself out of a starting job and then left Toronto completely after 2001, and now he can't even manage more than a .650 OPS for Durham. While Thompson still owns enough power potential to return to the majors at some point, I don't foresee any roto value for him in the next couple of years.
Brandon Backe, 24, RH Swingman
He spent three years as a struggling hitter before Tampa moved him to the mound last year, and he quickly began dominating in A-ball. Backe's 2002 was far less impressive, and I can't believe Tampa promoted him this year over some of their AAA pitchers. As he couldn't even handle AA batters, he belongs back at that level in 2003, likely in the bullpen as he found success in relief last year. He's obviously not a candidate to help any fantasy teams next year.
Cedrick Bowers, 24, LH Reliever
Tampa finished converting him to relief this year despite some promise as a starter. After he compiled a 67:56 K:BB in 94 AAA innings last year, his future didn't appear that bright. However after his success this year, now supported by more impressive skills, I expect he'll compete in Spring Training for a spot as a situational lefty. Bowers is a poor fantasy choice at the moment due to the Rays' lack of wins and his questionable control, although he might emerge as a decent pitcher in a couple of seasons.
Dewon Brazelton, 22, RH Starter
While I'd like to see him receive another full year in the minors, Tampa might advance the development of the 3rd overall pick from 2001. There's absolutely no reason to rush him considering his impressive debut season and his contract; Brazelton signed a major league deal that began in 2002, so Tampa has two more years of options left if he needs the time to refine his pitches. I realize the Rays want to see results now, largely to justify the efforts of the current management team, but with only marginal command two levels below the majors, he barely deserves to start 2003 in AAA, yet most people expect him to compete for a job in Spring Training. At this point he's far too risky to allow on your team if he breaks camp in the majors, however I'd consider a high draft pick if he returns to AA or even potentially AAA since his path to Tampa is clear and he seems likely to develop into a star.
Chad Coward, 24, RH Reliever
Tampa's willingness to promote guys from either Durham or Orlando forces us to consider pitchers as potential call-up candidates who should normally remain in the minors for another season. Coward effectively replicated his numbers from 2001, with only his command suffering to some extent in the move to AA. He probably won't suffer from a premature promotion, although I'll need to see great AAA skills if I'm to recommend him at any point in 2003, and I wouldn't expect him to accrue significant value until 2005.
Luis de los Santos, 24, RH Swingman
After missing all of 2001 and most of the previous two years with injury, the Yankees released him and he signed with Tampa. De los Santos would see more success out of the bullpen given his weak dominance, although perhaps he'll rediscover his former prospect status now that he's remained healthy for a year. While he appears too risky as a starter, he could contribute to some fantasy teams out of the bullpen.
Bartolome Fortunato, 28, RH Swingman
Fortunato looked like a slowly rising prospect after converting to pitcher in 1999, but he gained six years in agegate, which explains why Tampa jumped him to A+ and rushed him all the way to AAA in 2002. He displayed excellent skill ratios at both lower levels, so while Fortunato needs more than just 4.1 AAA innings before he's ready for the majors, I expect they'll look at him next summer to see if he can contribute. Hold off until he's succeeding for the Devil Rays before considering adding him to your team.
Gerardo Garcia, 22, RH Starter
Garcia played Rookie-ball in 1998, didn't pitch for two seasons, and then headed to the Mexican League in 2001. Tampa Bay signed him in Spring Training and split his season between Orlando and Durham. He pitched great at AA but struggled while starting all 15 games at AAA, only managing a 50:30 K:BB in 63.2 innings. While he probably needs another year in the minors, his impressive performance at AA in his first full minor league season should place him on some prospect lists.
Lee Gardner, 27, RH Reliever
After a succession of impressive minor league numbers at the lower levels over the last four years, Gardner finally dominated at AAA all season. He ran into control problems following his promotion to the majors, although his overall skill and effectiveness merit more time in Tampa Bay. I'm not sure if they'll give him the necessary opportunity, but he could contribute to some roto teams with a strong spring.
Talley Haines, 25, RH Reliever
Haines needed two years at AA Orlando before he began soundly dominating the competition, so while his first extended AAA stats include great command, he needs more development time before reaching the majors. He possesses the skills to boost all his ratios, and he should begin contributing to the Ray's pen before 2003 ends. Due to Haines habit of needing two years at each level to post solid numbers, don't pick him up until he compiles impressive major league ratios.
Delvin James, 24, RH Swingman
James owns one of the more unique careers in the history of the Tampa organization following his selection in the 14th round of the 1996 draft, the first in the franchise's history. While he's remained one of their better prospects throughout the last seven years, his off-field life is more interesting. Back in September of 2000 he joined with two teammates in chasing down a suspect in a St. Petersburg bank robbery and then returning the money to the bank. Then at the beginning of this September, James and a friend were shot, apparently accidentally, after a gunman opened up outside a Raleigh Waffle House in the early morning. As he only suffered minor injuries to his left shoulder, James returned to pitch for Durham in the IL playoffs and even started the last game of the season for Tampa. James also missed about a month in late spring with shoulder tendinitis, however he demonstrated solid skills in the minors when healthy, and he's prepared to spend next year in the majors. Unfortunately Tampa plans to let him compete for a rotation spot, and while he still could emerge as an effective starter, I'd leave him in relief considering their need to reinforce the bullpen. Given his unusual 2003, I'd wait until he's producing in the majors before considering him for my team.
Mark Malaska, 24, LH Starter
Malaska dominated in 15 A+ starts, compiling ratios of 7.8 K:BB, 9.3 K/9, 9.7 H/9, and .5 HR/9. His strikeout rate dropped to 6.2 upon reaching AA, and considering he's not a particularly hard thrower, he'll need a strong 2003 season to remain in Tampa's rotation plans. While he's very likely to reach the majors in some capacity, we need to see strong skills at Orlando before recommending him for fantasy teams.
Evan Rust, 24, RH Reliever
Tampa grabbed him as a nondrafted free agent after the 2000 draft, and now Rust might earn a 40-man spot this winter after an impressive season in which he finished tied for fourth in the minors in saves. He demonstrated strong skills with a 2.9 K:BB, 11.0 K/9, and .2 HR/9; only his 9.1 H/9 indicates any problems. With only 24.1 innings above A-ball, I'd like to see him split 2003 between Orlando and AAA Durham, preparing him for a September call-up and then hopefully several years in the Rays' bullpen. Until he demonstrates these skills at AAA, I wouldn't pay him much attention.
Bobby Seay, 24, LH Swingman
As one of the two 1996 bonus babies that Tampa overpaid following their original clubs' failure to promptly offer contracts, Seay's struggled through both injuries and ineffectiveness to even reach a point where he's close to contributing in the majors. I thought he deserved a look as a reliever after he posted some decent skills in a late-season trial in 2001, but the Devil Rays instead sent him to Orlando after he missed most of the first three months of the season with a left elbow strain and shoulder tendinitis. He's demonstrated that he no longer needs AA time, and he also pitched very effectively in AAA. While I'd like to see him challenge for a bullpen spot next spring, another year in the minors would help his development. Regardless of his destination or role, he shouldn't wind up with much roto value in 2003.
Jason Standridge, 23, RH Starter
As he's never shown any command above A-ball, I'm pleased to see this development in his second season at AAA. While his strikeout rate still indicates he needs another few months in the minors, Standridge demonstrated that he could succeed at the upper levels for the first time since leaving A Charleston-SC. Don't consider him for your teams until he's demonstrating good command in Tampa, but he could break camp with the team and emerge as a sleeper fantasy contributor by mid-season.
Doug Waechter, 21, RH Starter
He returned to Charleston-SC to begin this season, but after compiling a 36:16 K:BB in 36.1 innings, Tampa promoted him to A+, where Waechter continued dominating hitters with a 101:29 K:BB in 108.1 IP over 17 starts. After finishing the year with four mildly troublesome AA starts, he'll start 2003 at Orlando with the chance to move quickly since he merits a 40-man slot this winter. While he'll probably need most of the next two years in the minors, the Devil Rays could always promoted him quickly if they need starters, but you should avoid him in 2003 unless he shoots through the system while holding fantastic skills.
Jonny Gomes, 21, OF-R
Although Tampa drafted his older brother Joey this year, Jonny remains the best prospect in the family and a potential star if he controls his strikeouts. Jonny skipped directly from the Appalachian League to Bakersfield and posted one of the best overall offensive seasons in minor league baseball. A career 81% SB success rate further supports his five-tool talent. However, while his .20 walk rate is outstanding and .53 BB:K is acceptable, few hitters can succeed with a .61 contact rate. He needs to identify and correct the problem between his pitch recognition, pitch selection, and eyesight even though his power-speed combo will allow him to rise to AA regardless of his plate discipline. A sabermetrically-savvy organization like Oakland should really swap a couple of pitchers for this guy as they could groom him as Jermaine Dye's successor. I wouldn't be surprised to see Gomes hit 50 homers someday even if he can't post better contact numbers than Russ Branyan, and if he's available in your league, there's no AL outfield prospect below AAA I'd rather own than Jonny Gomes.
Josh Hamilton, 21, OF-L
After an off-season traffic accident prior to the 2001 season, Hamilton only managed 100 at-bats between A-ball and AA due to back, leg, and quadriceps ailments. Hamilton again missed time during the early part of this season due to back and quad problems before losing the entire second half of this season after surgery to repair his torn left rotator cuff. His doctors expect he'll be fine by Spring Training but I still see no plate discipline developing and the need for another year or two in the minors. I don't expect him in the majors before September, and he always could miss more time with another injury since he appears very fragile right now. Hamilton still possesses incredible upside, although don't draft him with the idea that he'll contribute in 2003, and I don't foresee significant value until 2005.
Wes Bankston, 18, A- Hudson Valley(NYP) OF-R
John Benedetti, 24, A+ Bakersfield(Cal) RH Reliever
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
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