Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
With the best player in the game and several top offensive prospects, Texas faces an intriguing situation in the near future. The Rangers need to remain competitive in the toughest division in baseball while integrating their prospects and slowly allowing veterans to leave. Buck Showalter is an ideal manager to advance this team to World Series contention, although John Hart may depart following the season with Assistant GM Grady Fuson, another Billy Beane disciple, taking control of the organization. Texas forfeited their 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th round picks in 2002 for signing Chan Ho Park, Juan Gonzalez, Todd Van Poppel, and Jay Powell, however 10th overall pick Drew Meyer should emerge as ARod's keystone companion. If they won't re-sign Ivan Rodriguez, Kenny Rogers, or Todd Hollandsworth, Texas at least should add several solid college pitchers with their compensation picks to bolster their offensive depth, but the departure of IRod and Rogers will leave gaping holes in their roster.
Offensively, Texas is set for the next decade with ARod, one of the few players on the team who's earned his salary the past two years. Rafael Palmeiro's good at first through next year, Mike Young won't hit arbitration for another year, and either Hank Blalock or Herb Perry should provide above average production at third base. The outfield and DH slots are more complicated as Rusty Greer, Carl Everett, and Juan Gonzalez will combine to earn $28.5M in 2003, so if healthy, all three should start. Since Kevin Mench established himself, Travis Hafner is ready to DH, Ryan Ludwick and Jason Hart won't need much more seasoning, and Mark Teixeira is nearly ready to challenge for playing time, Texas needs to make the difficult decision to quickly phase out the veterans. Perhaps they should only retain Frank Catalanotto as Cat can play 2B or OF while giving them a mostly established leadoff hitter with a good OBP. Their pitching is not ready for an extended playoff run, so trade Greer, Everett, Gonzalez, and even Palmeiro to anyone who will take them. Certainly don't move Blalock(although as a Cubs fan, I'll be ecstatic if Chicago acquires him for a package headlined by Juan Cruz), and slot Teixeira at 1B, Hafner at DH, Ludwick in CF, Mench in RF, and Jason Hart in LF. Laynce Nix and/or Jason Botts will challenge Hart and Hafner by 2005, and Drew Meyer should emerge at 2B by the time Young gets expensive. The vital missing piece is at catcher, where Texas needs to make every effort to keep IRod regardless of price. He'll catch indefinitely, and while they possess some intriguing catching prospects in the system, we always advocating keeping future Hall of Famers on your team at almost any price. Even at over $10M per year for 100 games, he gives them a significant advantage over nearly every other team in baseball. They'll need to make a bold move to replace him, and while a trade of a couple expensive relievers for Todd Hundley or a similar contract boondoggle would help both teams' payrolls, I still think Texas will try to re-sign IRod.
Among their starting pitchers, only Chan Ho Park appears under contract, potentially forcing them to field a 2003 rotation of Park, Joaquin Benoit, Doug Davis, Colby Lewis, and some combination of Aaron Myette, Ben Kozlowski, Travis Hughes, and Rob Bell. They really need to look for one or two minor league free agents or inexpensive major leaguers willing to take minor league deals with a Spring Training invite. While I like the upside of most of these arms and believe Park can lead this staff now that Oscar Acosta has given way to Showalter and Orel Hershiser, Benoit, Davis, and Lewis slot much better in the 3-5 slots.
Aside from Francisco Cordero, who's emerging as one of best values of 2003 closers, the rest of the bullpen appears uncertain. Jay Powell and Todd Van Poppel are solid albeit overpriced relievers, Juan Alvarez is a relatively competent lefty, and someone like Rob Bell might impress out of the pen. Once again, Texas needs to grab a few inexpensive relievers and hold auditions in Spring Training, although they probably should release almost everyone they don't keep to avoid the temptation to rotate relievers after every bad outing. I could envision this revised unit boosting them towards the Wild Card if Jeff Zimmerman returns in 2004 but it currently remains a huge weakness.
Despite Tom Hicks' ridiculous rhetoric regarding his payroll and the labor contract, he still possesses a very promising franchise if he avoids more rash moves. Trading one of the young prospects for a centerfielder would help, allowing Palmeiro to stay as a third veteran batter, providing left-handed balance between ARod and IRod while on his way to the Hall of Fame. If they can add one veteran starter, retain IRod and Palmeiro indefinitely, and deal the expensive outfielders to any team with the slightest interest, I see no reason for Texas not to challenge for a playoff spot in 2004 regardless of their divisional competition.
Jermaine Clark, 26, 2B/UT-L
Texas acquired Clark with Derrick Van Dusen from Seattle for Ismael Valdes in August in their only veterans-for-prospects trade of the year. Unfortunately he's never posted a SLG above .400 since reaching AA in 2000, so while with playing time his consistently solid OBP and speed could help a roto team, he doesn't appear likely to start for the Rangers. Although if Texas can trade Frank Catalanotto, Clark is an ideal replacement given his overall offensive potential and position flexibility. I could see him reaching double-digits on the basis of a solid BA and SB with more than 350 at-bats, and his consistently solid plate discipline insures he shouldn't hurt your team even in limited at-bats.
Travis Hafner, 25, 1B-L
I suppose the average shouldn't surprise us considering he hit .346 at A+ Charlotte in 2000, however Hafner only managed a .282/.396/.545 last season; his .342 BA this year ranked seventh in the minors and his .463 OBP ranked first. With career best marks of a 1.04 BB:K, .20 walk rate, and .81 contact rate, he's more prepared for the majors than any other minor league hitter, and if he gets regular playing time, he should be the favorite for 2003 AL Rookie of the Year. Even though he lacks speed, the combination of his power potential and plate discipline makes Hafner's upside look very intriguing for any owner.
The Rangers split his playing time between first and the outfield, as the presence of Rafael Palmeiro, Travis Hafner, and potentially Mark Teixeira leaves little room at 1B/DH; since flopping in his first year at AAA in 2001, Hart also currently lacks the offense necessary for those positions. If he can handle the outfield, he gives Texas more lineup flexibility as they try to reduce the number of older, injured players on the team. Unfortunately, while Hart's always held a walk rate comfortably above 10%, he's never struck out less than 102 times in a full season. Without prodigious power or the ability to handle a difficult defensive position, I don't envision him receiving significant playing time given his perpetually poor BA. Only look to add him if you're desperate for power since he might wind up as a AAAA player unless he impresses someone in the near future.
Ryan Ludwick, 24, OF-R
Aside from a walk rate that fell from .126 to .125, Ludwick improved all his skill ratios and statistical averages while jumping from hitter-friendly AA Midland in the Texas League to Oklahoma. He spent most of June in the majors during Texas' great centerfielder hunt, however he missed the last two months of the season after he needed surgery to insert a screw in his left hip to help a stress fracture heal. We really like his potential and he seems ready to start in right field as soon as next spring, however make sure he's healthy before drafting him since there's a small chance this injury could severely curtail his career.
Jeff Pickler, 26, 2B-L
Texas added Pickler in last year's minor league Rule 5 draft from Milwaukee, promoted him to AAA for all but 6 games, and watched him prove his excellent on-base skills, decent speed, and some position flexibility. The only problem is that most scouts hate him for his weak tools, especially his complete lack of power, and he's probably battling Frank Catalanotto, Jermaine Clark, and maybe even Mike Lamb for one roster spot unless the Rangers make some desperately needed trades. He's likely a stronger leadoff man than Mike Young, so I listed him up here in case Pickler turns into David Eckstein and earns a job in Spring Training, but I suspect we'll see Pickler back at Oklahoma again in 2003.
Mark Teixeira, 22, 3B-S
He's holding a .353/.452/.745 line in 51 at-bats in the AFL, so I'm growing more worried that Texas will rashly start him in the majors if he keeps hitting in Spring Training. While Tex split 2002 between Charlotte and Tulsa, I'd send him back to AA to crush the pitching for another two months to refine his plate discipline before promoting him to AAA until September. They can allow Travis Hafner to win the Rookie of the Year in 2003, giving Teixeira every minor league award and then the 2004 AL ROY. He's struggled to remain on the playing field due to injuries and nearly missed all of 2002 due to a damaged left ulnar collateral ligament, however the prescribed rest and rehab allowed him to begin playing in June. Although his eventual position is uncertain and he may need all of 2003 in the minors, he'd produce helpful numbers if promoted early, and if he's available, Teixeira should go in the top three picks in any minor league draft.
Colby Lewis, 23, RH Starter
An intelligent organization would allow their best starting prospect a few months in AAA to refine his skills before subjecting him to the majors. Texas chose to open the year with Lewis in their pen thanks to their idiocy in trading Luis Vizcaino to Milwaukee for yet another left-handed reliever who never pitched for the Rangers this year. Fortunately Lewis rebounded strongly during his time in AAA, however he still barely pitches through the fifth inning in an average start. His overall skill ratios should allow him to find nearly immediate success in Texas' rotation, but his win totals, and therefore his roto value, will depend on the ability of the offense to score him runs early in the game. As he ought to be available for a couple bucks in most drafts thanks to his poor major league numbers, he should definitely make your draft list as a solid sleeper with great upside.
Danny Ardoin, 28, C-R
Ardoin lacks any noticeable offensive skill but with no catcher under 2003 contract for the Rangers, many receivers could emerge as back-up candidates, and Texas will likely begin their search with internal candidates. A glance at his averages illustrates his uselessness to fantasy teams, so despite a regularly respectable walk rate, he's not someone you want near your roster.
Kelly Dransfeldt, 27, SS-R
He looked ready to emerge as Texas' starting shortstop back in 1998 but he fizzled upon reaching AAA and the Rangers decided upon a slightly more expensive alternative. Now off the 40-man roster, Dransfeldt's barely maintained decent power, and neither his average nor OBP are anywhere close to deserving major league time. After committing only 14 errors in 140 games, I envision some club giving him a shot as a back-up, however no one with this offensive profile belongs on your team.
Jason Jones, 26, 1B/OF-S
After a 56:48 BB:K in 375 at-bats with A+ Charlotte in 2001, Jones continued developing his on-base abilities in an impressive Texas League season. Unfortunately he faces several problems in trying to advance, as Texas owns a lot of promising hitting prospects just reaching the majors and he committed 22 errors in 137 games, spent almost entirely at first base. Jones appears capable of holding an .800+ OPS in the majors if his power continues to develop, but he's nearly as likely to end up as a AAAA player. He shouldn't hurt you if Texas promotes him at any point, although he also isn't a worthy draft pick right now.
Gerald Laird, 22, C-R
As the only promising catching prospect in the organization following Scott Heard's repeated failures, the Rangers may rush Laird even though he appears to need more time to refine his offense in the hitter-friendly Texas League. With excellent defense and a promising bat, Texas needs to nurture their future starter, and re-signing Ivan Rodriguez is still their best option, thereby giving Laird up to three more years in the minors and a couple of seasons apprenticing under one of top players to ever play the position. While I don't expect Laird to be ready for the majors until mid-2004 under the best of circumstances, he's a reasonable low draft pick if Texas lets IRod go as Laird will have an essentially clear path to the majors.
Julio Mosquera, 30, C-R
Aside from 11 games and 30 at-bats in 1996 and 1997 with Toronto, Mosquera's played all nine years of his career in the minors, a somewhat surprising circumstance given his career line of .275/.334/.378. He must be a terrible defensive catcher to keep returning to AAA, but he only committed 4 errors in 66 games in the field. While Texas reassigned him for seven games elsewhere in the minors during times of organizational need, he continued posting a good batting average with a little power at Oklahoma. I see no reason he shouldn't spend the next few years as a back-up capable of outhitting at least a third of the current reserve backstops, and if he gets that chance, he should help some fantasy teams for a buck.
R.A. Dickey, 27, RH Swingman
Dickey appears stuck in Texas for another year in 2003, and he'll probably return to Oklahoma for a fifth straight season. He appeared ready for the majors after he compiled an 11-7 record and 3.75 ERA on 120:45 K:BB in 163 IP with 164 H and 14 HR during 24 starts last year, but Texas only gave him four innings in relief before removing him from the 40-man roster. Now he still seems like one of their most prepared starters even if he lacks the upside of most of the other Redhawks this year. Given his weak dominance, we'd need to see solid major league skills before recommending him, so he's likely not a good roto option as long as he remains in the Rangers' system.
Reynaldo Garcia, 28, RH Reliever
Garcia appeared to realize he needed to move quickly after gaining four years in agegate, so pitching exclusively in relief for the first time, he demonstrated the skills necessary to briefly reach the majors. While certainly no longer a sleeper prospect at 28, he appears capable of contributing in middle relief the next few years if the Rangers give him a chance. Although you should wait until he's posting solid skills during the season, he might be a helpful midseason addition.
Tom Graham, 24, RH Reliever
I'm somewhat surprised he didn't receive a September call-up after completely dominating in 25 games at Charlotte and 24 games at Tulsa, but Texas still should protect Graham on the 40-man roster since he seems very close to the majors. With no obvious holes in his skills set, he could use several more AAA innings to make sure he'll remain a top reliever against higher competition, however he might develop while in a big league bullpen. If he maintains these skills upon reaching the majors, look to pick him up cheaply since he could grow into a significant bullpen role.
Travis Hughes, 24, RH Starter
Despite a general belief that he'll wind up in the bullpen, Hughes vindicated the Rangers' placement of him on the 40-man roster by impressing as a starter in his second season at Tulsa after a year in the pen. His command indicates he'll find more success as a reliever, so I'd like to see Texas change his role again when he reaches AAA Oklahoma in 2003. Hughes regained a lot of potential with his great stats this year, however I don't expect him contribute to any fantasy teams for another year.
Ben Kozlowski, 22, LH Starter
Rangers' management should be ecstatic after swiping Kozlowski from the Braves for Andy Pratt in April, especially since they were about to lose Pratt on waivers. He finished 6th in the minors in ERA and 4th in OBA among starters, and I see no indication that he won't continue developing into his 6'6" frame and emerge as one of the most dominant starters in baseball. Kozlowski obviously wasn't prepared for the majors after only 8 starts above A-ball, but with another year in the high minors, he should be ready for the Rangers' rotation sometime in 2004. Definitely consider spending a lower draft pick on him since he could have a very bright future.
Erasmo Ramirez, 26, LH Reliever
Texas acquired Ramirez from San Francisco for Andres Galarraga late last summer, and now he's emerging as one of the more impressive lefty relief prospects in the upper minors. Prior to 2002, he owned a career 228:52 K:BB in 238 IP with 216 H and 18 homers allowed, so his maintenance of these skills through AAA isn't a major surprise. I'm somewhat disappointed that his dominance slipped this year, however with Texas' perennial need for solid lefty relievers, I expect the Rangers to protect him on the 40-man roster and give him a shot to win a bullpen job in Spring Training. Ramirez needs to demonstrate good skills in the majors before I can recommend him, but I see nothing in his history that suggest he shouldn't earn $5-10 a year once he's established in a bullpen.
Mario Ramos, 25, LH Swingman
Ramos turns 25 today and I suspect he's quite happy to move past his 2002 season. Perhaps no prospect in baseball disappointed analysts more than Ramos as he appeared practically ready for the majors when Texas acquired him from Oakland in the Carlos Pena deal. I can't remember the last top prospect that immediately found himself charbroiled while staying in the same league with hitters he dominated the previous year. Normally we'd expect a hidden physical problem in this situation, however we've heard nothing of that nature all year. Many owners might be tempted to ignore Ramos for the foreseeable future, but his AFL stats suggest a pending rebound. While the sample size is small at only 4 starts, he's compiled a 12:3 K:BB in 16.2 IP with 16 hits and no homers allowed against some of the better hitting competition in the minors. The major question Texas faces is whether he deserves a 40-man spot, and considering his potential rebound and considerable upside, I don't expect them to leave him exposed when he'll surely go first in the Rule 5 draft. If he continues dominating the AFL, try to acquire him cheaply this off-season, since the risk-reward ratio for Ramos currently appears very favorable for buyers. At this time next year, Ramos could be anywhere from out of baseball to planning his Rookie of the Year ceremony, and I suspect he'll finish closer to the latter scenario than the former.
Brian Schmack, 28, RH Swingman
As the second pitcher traded from the White Sox in the Royce Clayton deal, Schmack's proved even less impressive numbers than the continually underachieving Aaron Myette. Schmack showed decent command last year without much dominance, and he mainly continued that pattern in his third year of AAA work. He could contribute as a long reliever on some teams, and Texas could give him a shot, but he just doesn't appear ready to help the Rangers or any fantasy team at the moment.
Derrick Van Dusen, 21, LH Starter
Obtaining Van Dusen and Jermaine Clark for two months of Ismael Valdes ranks as one of the more impressive trades of the year, however Van Dusen might need another two years of development time. He's earned a 40-man slot and is pitching decently in the AFL, but his AA numbers weren't overly good and he lacks projectable dominance. While I like his upside a lot and believe he'll succeed at upper levels, he's a poor 2003 draft pick considering the Rangers' recent tendency to rush pitchers, and he's not prepared to help fantasy teams.
Jason Botts, 22, OF/1B-S
Since signing before the 2000 draft as a 46th round draft-and-follow, Botts has begun switch-hitting and playing the outfield rather than his natural first base position. At 6'6"' with ratios of a .76 BB:K, .19 walk rate, and a somewhat weak .75 contact rate, he possesses the skills necessary to find success at higher levels. The only hole in his game is power, but once he finishes filling out and adding more loft to his swing, he could emerge as a premier offensive prospect. While he's probably behind teammate Laynce Nix on the Rangers' charts, they'll make room for his switch-hitting power if he continues developing. For roto purposes, he probably ranks right behind Tampa's Josh Pressley among future power hitters with great plate patience.
Laynce Nix, 21, OF-L
While he didn't impress many with a .278-8-59-9-50 line in his first full season of A-ball at Savannah in 2001, Nix won the Florida State League MVP this year as this former high school quarterback developed into a pure seven-skill prospect. He finished third in the minors in RBI, demonstrated superb baserunning instincts, and cracked 51 extra-base hits despite playing in a park that limits left-handed batters. At a .69 BB:K, .14 walk rate, and .79 contact rate, his ratios aren't quite as strong as his close friend and teammate Jason Botts, however his raw speed-power upside exceeds almost every Rangers' prospect. His presence largely negates the urgent need to trade for a centerfielder since both Carl Everett and Ryan Ludwick are adequate in center, and Nix should push Ludwick to right field no later than 2005.
Inocencio Acevedo, 24, A+ Charlotte(FSL) IF-R
Paul Abraham, 22, A Savannah(Sal) RH Reliever
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
7:00: San Francisco@Anaheim
World Series Games 1, 4, 6, & 7 normally seem to provide the most drama, so certainly make every effort to catch tonight's contest.
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