Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
We've extolled the virtues of Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi since the Blue Jays hired him last year, and almost every move he made this year benefited his new team. Dealing Billy Koch for Eric Hinske and Justin Miller, Alex S. Gonzalez for Felix Heredia and Jim Deschaine, and Dan Plesac for Cliff Politte dumped three expensive players to add solid system depth. Even though the respective team Presidents reportedly completed the trade, the Yankees' acquisition of Raul Mondesi for Scott Wiggins removed a roadblock to the young outfielders and added a decent young lefty. Moving Cesar Izturis and Paul Quantrill for Luke Prokopec and Chad Ricketts didn't really help Toronto, but Izturis had no place to play and Quantrill's salary didn't belong on the Blue Jays. Trading Brad Fullmer for Brian Cooper also only succeeded in shedding payroll, although the move eventually created the necessary opening for Josh Phelps.
Ricciardi quietly added players like Jason Kershner, Corey Thurman, Pete Walker, and Tom Wilson, all of whom should have helped rebuild the franchise. Firing Buck Martinez, promoting Carlos Tosca, and grabbing Brian Butterfield even added some younger teachers for the rookie. My main problem is that he allowed players like Dave Berg and Ken Huckaby to receive serious playing time for no good reason, and he also apparently held grudges against Orlando Hudson and Felipe Lopez. One weakness of Beane disciples is that they tend to quickly sour on some players and never change their mind, and reportedly both Hudson and Lopez almost left the organization in mid-season trades. He also failed to move Chris Carpenter, Steve Parris, and Esteban Loiaza, potentially due to the lack of a good class of minor league free agents waiting at AAA. A few pitching prospects reached the majors too soon, and the system lacks high upside players.
Fortunately a deep and talented offense could allow them to compete for a Wild Card spot by 2004. Carlos Delgado and Phelps look solid at 1B/DH, although the former could depart to add prospects and free payroll. Hinske, Hudson, and either Chris Woodward or Felipe Lopez will anchor the infield until 2002 1st round pick Russ Adams can replace one of the middle infielders. Vernon Wells developed into an impressive baseball player, and while Shannon Stewart and Jose Cruz, Jr. remain in the middle of most Blue Jay trade rumors, Jayson Werth is barely ready for the majors and Gabe Gross and the other outfield prospects need at least another year in the minors. Catching is also still very weak, although Kevin Cash should be ready by the end of 2003. With almost all of these starters on the upside of their careers, a 900+ run season might be in Toronto's near future if everyone continues developing plate discipline.
The Blue Jays' pitching is a relative mess. Roy Halladay is now an established if overworked ace, Kelvim Escobar is fine as closer, and Cliff Politte appears promising in the late innings. Mark Hendrickson and Justin Miller showed promise in the rotation towards the end of the year, and Ricciardi will look for inexpensive free agent help to augment potential starters like Mike Smith, Corey Thurman, and Pete Walker. Jason Kershner should emerge as the primary lefty in the pen, and Toronto will have little problem holding Spring Training auditions to fill their bullpen.
With a new five-year contract insuring he'll remain in Toronto, Ricciardi looks prepared to guide this franchise back to World Series' contention. I expect to see a few of this year's high selections of college pitchers reach AA by the end of 2003, and Francisco Rosario and Dustin McGowan both rank among the better right-handed prospects in baseball. This system lacks depth, but with a likely long-term lineup of Cash, Phelps, Hudson, Adams, Hinske, Werth, Wells, and Gross, along with perhaps Shawn Fagan at DH, Toronto can concentrate on drafting pitchers in the next few drafts. The Blue Jays' possess the financial resources to re-sign all eight starting position players for several years, while retaining Halladay and either Escobar or Politte. Don't expect a wonderful 2003 season on the major league level unless they're able to pick up capable #2 and #3 starters at minimal cost, potentially by dealing Carlos Delgado, however Toronto's future looks very bright.
Shawn Fagan, 24, 1B/3B-R
Fagan appears similar to a right-handed Eric Hinske with less power potential, as Hinske's 2001 Southern League season of .259/.373/.486 with 50 extra-base hits and 78:133 BB:K in 436 AB roughly compares with Fagan's 2002, although Hinske was close to two years younger than Fagan when he played in AA. Toronto will give Fagan every opportunity to develop power after he improved nearly all his skills and ratios aside from a small SLG drop upon reaching AA. Only his .79 contact rate will limit his upside considering his 1.17 BB:K and .24 walk rate, so while he could replace Carlos Delgado in the lineup, I'd much rather see him in AAA than struggling to reach double-digit value as a starter. Although he's not worth more than a low round draft pick, Fagan's a much better selection than anyone who spent this year in Rookie ball and any player that I don't recommend drafting from A-ball.
Jayson Werth, 23, OF-R
Kevin Cash pushed both Josh Phelps and Werth out from behind the plate. I suspect he'll eventually develop significant power, however he's far less valuable in the outfield than as a catcher. His contact rate has also fallen from .82 in 2000 to .74 last year and .72 this year, leaving his immediate potential value dependent almost exclusively on his power-speed numbers. I only list him here due to the persistent trade rumors involving Shannon Stewart and Jose Cruz, and the latter appears more likely to leave the organization at some point in the next year. Werth will take over right field when Cruz leaves, and he could offer similar value in a couple of years.
Jimmy Alvarez, 23, 2B-S
Alvarez likely needs another two years in the minors to develop his plate discipline, refine his baserunning, and convert his doubles' power into homers. However the middle infield depth in the organization might cause a quicker promotion into a utility role if no one offers sufficient compensation in trade. He currently offers a little power and speed without much BA potential due to his .76 contact rate, so I don't consider him a worthy draft pick in most leagues.
Gary Burnham, 28, 1B-L
Even though his BA, OBP, and SLG improved both years that he repeated AA, Philadelphia almost sent him back for a fourth season at Reading before releasing him at the end of Spring Training. Toronto signed him a few days and later and gave him the first base job for the Skychiefs. While he's not a long-term prospect, a left-handed hitter with a .806 OPS in AAA and batting skills that include a .77 BB:K, .10 walk rate, and .87 contact rate is closing on AAAA status. He could earn $10 if the Blue Jays start him following a Carlos Delgado trade, and he wouldn't hurt you in a back-up role. While not worth a draft pick, he's a good target in Dollar Days if he breaks camp in the majors.
Kevin Cash, 24, C-R
Cash owns a fantastic arm and the best catching defense in the organization, so the Blue Jays moved both Josh Phelps and Jayson Werth to different positions to remove any impediment to Cash making the majors. I think Toronto's rushing him since he only managed an .850 OPS at Tennessee and he's capable of more impressive numbers. However he also managed exactly 100 total bases at each level as he approximately split his time evenly, and after another half-season at Syracuse, I suspect he'll begin starting for the Blue Jays around the All-Star break. With a nearly guaranteed starting job as soon as he's ready, Cash is one of the safest draft picks available, and despite striking out too much his power potential makes him a very attractive prospect.
Gabe Gross, 22, OF-L
Instead of dwelling on this mostly disastrous season, let's focus on what we know about Gross. Drafted 15th overall out of Auburn in 2001, he compiled some of the best debut numbers of any '01 draftee, mastering the Florida State League and reaching AA for 11 games. He was ranked among the most prepared college hitters and owns the range and arm necessary to excel in right field. With Vernon Wells, Shannon Stewart, and Jose Cruz, Jr., there's currently no need for Gross in the majors before 2004 at the earliest. Gross also suffered through a hairline fracture in his right ankle that almost caused him to miss the last couple months of the season. Unless he stuns everyone with a great AFL campaign and solid Spring Training, he'll need more time at AA, pushing back his likely arrival in the majors to mid-2004. He remains a very solid hitting prospect who should eventually prosper, and you should attempt to acquire him this off-season before his value shoots up.
Josh Klimek, 28, 3B-L
Toronto grabbed him from Milwaukee in the minor league Rule 5 draft and gave him his first full season at AAA. Unfortunately he failed to post the numbers we expected after improving his BA, OBP, and SLG in his last two seasons at AA Huntsville. Even his formerly solid plate discipline slipped, and he may depart the organization in the off-season. However Klimek didn't play horribly, and I can envision him maturing into a reliable and inexpensive cornerman in the next few years, although until he posts an OPS over .800 at AAA, he's not worth fantasy consideration.
Pedro Swann, 31, OF-L
In September Toronto gave Swann only his second cup-of-coffee in a twelve-year career. His .812 OPS is actually the second best average he's managed in six years at AAA, and he doesn't appear to possess either the tools or the plate discipline necessary to remain in the majors for any extended time. While Swann might not hurt you in a limited role, I don't expect him to win a regular back-up job, so he doesn't belong on fantasy rosters.
Brian Bowles, 26, RH Reliever
Bowles now has struggled with his command in each of the last two years, compiling a 1.8 K:BB at AAA despite an 8.8 strikeout rate. Fortunately his overall abilities are approximately major league caliber, and Toronto can comfortably leave him in the pen next year. Unfortunately I'm uncomfortable recommending him due to his inconsistent control, so don't seek Bowles until he displays solid all-around skills in the majors.
Vinny Chulk, 23, RH Starter
With four solid pitches and consistently good command, Chulk still needs to pitch effectively in AAA before he deserves consideration for the majors as he lacks impressive dominance. However, though Toronto's rushed Chulk up the minor league ladder, he's responded by remaining an effective pitcher after each promotion. Considering the abundance of AA pitchers with good strikeout rates, don't place Chulk high on your draft lists, although I expect he'll see some time in the majors next year.
Pasqual Coco, 25, RH Swingman
I'm not sure why Coco survived Ricciardi's pitching purge of the 40-man roster since he hasn't demonstrated much command or dominance in his two years above AA. He deserves about three more months to post acceptable skill ratios, and if he's still scuffling around his current levels next July, Toronto needs to attempt to harness his potential in the bullpen. Hold off on Coco for now due to his uncertain role and don't acquire him until you see him post some solid skills.
Robbie Crabtree, 29, RH Reliever
San Francisco refused to promote Crabtree even after two seasons in which he demonstrated great skills in a total of 142.1 relief innings, a stat history that ranks him as roughly the best reliever in the minors in both 2000 and 2001. So Crabtree exited Spring Training and promptly posted a 7.91 ERA over his first 24 games, finally earning his freedom from the Giants. Toronto scooped him up a few days later, and now he appears ready to compete for a bullpen job in the spring. Normally I'd recommend him without hesitation, but as his skills definitely slipped to some extent this year, wait for him to compile acceptable ratios in 2003 before adding him to your team.
Dave Gassner, 23, LH Starter
Normally I wouldn't list someone with only five starts above A-ball, but Gassner displayed great command in his first full-season of minor league ball. He's a college lefty who should rise quickly in this organization even without good dominance. I expect he'll receive some starts by the end of the year given Toronto's comfort with giving him a AAA start at the end of this season. Gassner should head back to AA for another month or two before a quick promotion to AAA leaves him within range of contributing in the majors. Don't draft him since he won't rack up strikeouts, although he might help as a free agent in the second half.
Mark Hendrickson, 28, LH Swingman
The 6'9" former basketball player doesn't really possess projectable power, however his solid command at AAA earned him his first call-up. By the end of the season he'd entered the rotation and he should begin Spring Training penciled into a starting spot. I don't see any obvious evidence that Hendrikson will succeed as a starter, I expect him to return to relief in the near future to see if his dominance will improve. You should probably hold off on adding Hendrickson for now, but like several other Blue Jays' pitchers, he might look intriguing after a few weeks of 2003.
Jason Kershner, 25, LH Swingman
After seven very productive yet uneventful years in the Phillies' system, San Diego added Kershner as a minor league free agent and allowed him to compile some impressive numbers in AAA. He continued pitching reasonably effectively with the Padres before their pitching carousel forced Kershner onto waivers, and Toronto promptly claimed him with the idea that he'll replace Felix Heredia in next year's pen. Kershner's skills are still a little too weak for me to recommend him, but he could easily merit a pick-up by Mayday.
Mike Smith, 25, RH Starter
Toronto began promoting him early in the year to cover their rotation vacancies and he never seemed to grow comfortable at any level. He at least managed fairly good AAA stats even if his skills were somewhat weak, but Smith is more prepared for a spot in the Blue Jays' rotation than almost anyone else in the organization. While I don't expect a great performance from him, he also seems able to rack 150+ innings without a hurtful ERA or WHIP, so consider a Dollar Days' bid if Smith breaks camp with the team.
Scott Wiggins, 26, LH Reliever
I didn't expect Toronto to remove him from the 40-man roster after he surprisingly continued developing following his acquisition from the Yankees for Raul Mondesi. Wiggins posted excellent skills at the upper minors and essentially seems prepared for a major league role. If he pitches well in the AFL, anyone seeking a decent lefty might take him in the Rule 5 draft unless Toronto moves him back onto the protected list. Like most other lefties, you should probably wait until Wiggins compiles respectable skills in the majors before acquiring him.
Russ Adams, 22, SS-L
He'll stay at shortstop unless he shows the Blue Jays that he needs to switch positions, however his offense and speed are truly intriguing. Even most college kids don't leave school to immediately display skill ratios of a 1.50 K:BB, .16 walk rate, and .89 contact rate, along with an 86% SB success rate in A-ball. While Adams is a risky pick due to the organization depth at his positions, Toronto loves him and might even start him at AA in 2003. Barring a shocking rise to the majors, he should remain in the minors all year to avoid the need to protect him for the 2003 Rule 5 draft, however I can envision him competing for a starting job during Spring Training in 2004. If he starts strong next season, I expect he'll garner significant value in trade, so consider adding him in your draft.
Dustin McGowan, 20, RH Starter
Toronto grabbed him with the 33rd pick of the 2000 draft as the compensation selection for losing free agent Graeme Lloyd. After a poor debut, he pitched quite well at A- Auburn in 2001 before this extremely impressive stat line this season. Unfortunately, despite his very bright future, he'll rank near the bottom of potential 2003 fantasy draft picks as he's a high school pitcher with no experience above A-ball. I really like his skills and envision him gaining significant future value, although you should only pick him next year in the deepest of roto leagues.
Francisco Rosario, 22, RH Starter
Following two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and an unimpressive 2001 at R+ Medicine Hat, Rosario emerged as one of the brightest pitching prospects in all of baseball. He compiled skill ratios of a 3.7 K:BB, 9.9 K/9, .6 HR/9, and 5.8 H/9, all of which rank him very favorably for both his age and level. If he continues pitching effectively in the AFL, he'll open 2003 at AA with a chance to reach the majors quickly. Rosario's a mildly risky pick with only one season of dominance on his record, but with Toronto's need for pitching and this collection of extremely impressive skills, he could even help your team before next season ends.
Shannon Carter, 23, A+ Dunedin(FSL) OF-L
James Abbott, 25, AAA Syracuse(IL) RH Starter
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
7:00: San Francisco@Anaheim
I expected the teams to split in Anaheim, so with San Francisco defying our projection last night, I'll pick the Angels for a second day.
Toronto possesses well over a half dozen impressive middle infield prospects. Only Russ Adams is guaranteed a starting job after Toronto drafted him with the 14th overall pick this season, and despite the upside of players like Jimmy Alvarez and Manuel Mayorson, I expect Hudson to hold second base after his impressive debut. You should probably avoid selecting players like Alvarez due to their questionable future playing time. Conversely, Francisco Rosario and Dustin McGowan will receive every opportunity to advance given the relatively unimpressive pitching in the organization, making them intriguing draft picks for some teams.
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